Is It OK To Keep Bees Without Taking The Honey?

can you keep bees without harvesting honey

When most of us think about keeping bees, we imagine that it’s all about the honey. But what if that is not your intent? 

Perhaps you are just trying to do your part to save the bees. 

Maybe, you just like to watch them interact with the nature around them and have them pollinate your wildflowers. 

Whatever the reason, is it actually possible to have an apiary without harvesting honey?

Can you keep bees without harvesting honey? 

It is OK to keep bees without harvesting their honey. While it is fine to leave the bees to their own devices, there is the possibility that the hive could swarm if they run out of room due to honey not being taken away. As a beekeeper, it is your responsibility to manage this.

While you can certainly have a beehive with no intention to harvest the goods, you still may need to manage your hive, if you don’t want a swarm on your hands. In this article, we will look at what happens with a colony when you leave them their honey.

bees at the hive entrance

Do bees need their honey harvested?

The bees won’t be harmed if you leave the hive alone and do not harvest any honey. Bees know exactly what they’re doing and if you want to give them a nice home, by presenting them with a beehive, they will be completely content managing themselves. 

It does not harm bees when you take their honey either, and by taking some of it away it is actually doing them a favor. 

What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Honey From Bees?

Once a bee colony runs out of room in their hive, because of stored honey, they have a high likelihood of splitting their hive, swarming, and heading off to produce a secondary colony.

This is a completely natural thing to do for bees, though some people, and their neighbors, may not exactly be pleased to have to deal with a roving swarm.

Is Swarming Bad?

Not necessarily. Not for the bees themselves anyway. If the beehive is relatively close to other properties, homes, or business this can certainly cause a problem as there isn’t exactly a way to control where the bees are going to go once they’ve decided to swarm. 

A beekeeper may be able to wrangle them, by containing the queen once they’ve settled down, though that can be a problem in itself. It is possible that the journeying swarm can find itself settling down on a patio…of a restaurant, while people are outside enjoying a meal! 

It has happened!

It’s situations like this that your neighbors will likely not appreciate. 

Measures you can take

Before it happens. That is the best time to stop your bees from splitting up the hive and sending off a rogue swarm to search for a new home. One can do this a few different ways. 

  • Extending The Hive – If your bees are housed in a stackable hive, you could add more and more stacks as they grow. While this works in theory, for a while, eventually you would be left with a skyscraper hive that would be positively oozing with honey. It might not be a sustainable solution, but for some hives, it might work thanks to the seasonal ebb and flow of the creature’s honey production.
  • Splitting The Hive Yourself – It is possible to remove some of the brood and introduce bees into a new hive. By doing this you’ve basically done the action of swarming for them. The new colony will produce a new queen and go on with a new hive and you can continue to watch over your growing bee empire.
  • Set Up Swarm Traps – Swarm traps are like smaller lone hives that you can situate around the perimeter of your property. Once bees decide to swarm, these traps can contain the bees so that they can be returned to the main hive once the swarm has begun to quiet.
  • Do Nothing –  This is also an option. The bees are just doing what bees do. If your property is in the country and the swarm is less likely to get into trouble by nesting where they shouldn’t, then you can certainly just let them do their own thing. They will find somewhere to make a new nest and continue to make honey.

Raise Solitary Bees Instead

If your main goal is to have bees for pollination or even just for entertainment, you may want to think about raising Solitary Bees.  The type of bees that create honey, honey bees, are social bees. They live in large groups with one queen and they generate large amounts of honey and are constantly growing their hive and their colony, before heading out to colonize even further. 

Every solitary bee is her own queen, producing her own food and taking care of her own living area. They also hibernate during the winter, which is another plus for the hands-off beekeeper.

Solitary bees are actually a more common type of bee in the wild. And, you can raise them even easier, and cheaper than you can honeybees!

You can set up your very own beehouse for solitary bees like this one (Amazon). They can be beneficial for bees and your garden!

What Makes Solitary Bees Different

  • They Are Less Likely To Sting – If you don’t intend on harvesting the honey of your bees then you are also less likely to get used to, and tolerate their stings. While honeybees will defend their hive, solitary bees like Mason Bees or Leaf-Cutter Bees are less likely to sting. And their sting, when they rarely do sting, is much milder.
  • They Don’t Make Honey – Each bee works to provide food for themselves instead of stockpiling food for the hive. This means that there will never be honey for you to deal with. 
  • They Don’t Live In Hives – Solitary species of bees don’t make hives. They live in tunnels that they dig in the ground or man-made Bee Houses. These are made of small tubes stacked one on top of the other. There is no honey to remove, no combs to harvest and when you need to move the insects, you just pick it up and relocate it.
  • Pollinate Better – If you want bees purely for pollination purposes, then a solitary species of bee would be the better choice over honey bees. Since each bee is working for their own food, they work a lot harder, and a lot longer. This means a single bee is going to pollinate a lot more plants before it has earned its keep. One single mason bee can do more work than a hundred honey bees.
  • You Might Find Them More Interesting – Darting in and out of the dirt or into the holes of their bee hotel, you can’t help but watch. They don’t seem to mind you watching closely either since they aren’t afraid that you are disturbing the hive. And, since they spend so much more time working, there is more time to observe them in their labors. 

So, we’ve learned that it is OK to keep bees and leave them to their honey. You might have to deal with swarming behavior but it’s not the end of the world, simply the first adventure of a new colony.

And if honey is not your game, but pollination and fun are, you could do worse than to get yourself a colony of leaf-cutter or mason bees. You’ll get all the fun of an apiary on your property without having to deal with a sticky mess of honey you’re not going to use or managing an unruly, stinging swarm.

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