An abandoned or dead beehive may have some honey left over in the combs.
But that seems like such a waste of lovely honey!
If you’ve been in this situation, you probably wondered if harvesting this honey is safe and what it can be used for.
For example, is it safe for human consumption, or can it be fed back to other bees?
All these questions and much more will be answered below 🙂
So What Should You Do With Honey From A Dead Hive?
Capped honey in a dead hive is suitable to eat or feed other bees if the beehive did not die from poisoning and if you have not used chemicals for pest control. In addition, uncapped honey can be provided to other bees if it has not become fermented.
Suppose you find one of your beehives dead or abandoned, and there is still honey in the frames. In that case, you may be in a dilemma about whether you can harvest it for various purposes.
Whether this honey is safe depends on why the hive is dead and no longer functional. So as the beekeeper, your first course of action should be to investigate the possible cause of why the colony is no longer active.
Firstly, the results of your investigation may teach you why the hive died out so that you can avoid making the same mistakes again!
But you’ll also be able to figure out if the remaining honey can be harvested and what it can be used for.
Should I Harvest Honey From A Dead Hive?
The bees worked hard to produce the honey, so you should definitely harvest honey from a dead beehive and find a use for it in your beekeeping operations.
The conditions that resulted in the hive dying out will define what you should use the honey for. If the honey is good, you can eat it, or you can feed it back to your bees.
Honey is a valuable commodity for the beekeeper that should not be wasted, whether you use it for sale, consumption, or reuse in the beekeeping operation.
So, is the honey good or not?
Does Honey In A Hive Rot?
Honey has natural antibacterial and antiseptic characteristics that allow it to remain viable for a long time. Researchers have found honey sealed in Egyptian pyramids for thousands of years that was still edible!
Does this same longevity characteristic apply to honey from a dead hive? The answer depends on the state of the honey left over by the bees.
Uncapped honey in a beehive is honey that was not fully dehydrated by the bees to the point where the moisture content was sufficiently low to cap the cell. This uncapped honey is known as unripe honey to beekeepers.
The high moisture content in the unripe honey will react with the sugars in the mixture and cause the honey to ferment. The fermentation process produces alcohol, among other chemicals in the reaction, which are toxic for bees.
Feeding fermented honey to bees is a risk. It can aggravate Nosema disease or cause bee dysentery.
Uncapped honey can be fed back to other bees in your apiary if it has not yet fermented. To do this, you can leave the uncapped honey frames in the open near your other beehives, and the bees from these colonies will clean out the comb and take the honey back to their hives to ripen.
Fermented honey has a slightly acidic smell like vinegar and will taste a little bit sour.
Unripe honey should not be mixed with ripe honey since this will raise the overall moisture content of the raw honey, which could cause the entire batch to ferment.
Note: Unripe honey can be harvested from a dead hive and allowed to ferment intentionally to produce mead, but this is a subject for another time 🙂
Can You Safely Eat Honey From A Dead Hive?
Capped honey is where the bees have dehydrated the raw honey to the proper moisture content. The honey is ripe and ready for consumption. Any capped honey in the dead hive will be safe to eat or sell unless the colony dies due to poisoning.
A sure sign the bees have succumbed to poisoning will be dead bees scattered around the outside and inside of the beehive.
If there is a suspicion that the hive has been poisoned, you should not eat this honey nor feed it back to your other bees. Poisoning often results from the indiscriminate use of insecticides by nearby gardeners and farmers.
Another condition to look out for in a dead hive is the presence of mold. If there is any sign of mold on the comb or the frames, the honey is not safe for human consumption.
How To Extract Honey From A Dead Hive
Once you have established whether the honey is good to eat, you can extract it from the dead hive.
Before extracting, you should clean the comb of debris as best as possible. A double or triple filtration should remove any other smaller debris.
Honey from the dead hive can be extracted using regular techniques, either by crushing the comb or spinning the honey out of the frame and comb. (Note: An uncapping tub like this one makes the harvesting process much quicker – Amazon).
I prefer an extractor because it saves so much time, and you can extract precious honey without destroying the frames. Make sure you use an extractor made from food-grade material like this stainless steel one. (Amazon)
Can You Feed New Bees With Honey From Dead Hives?
Honey from a dead hive can be fed back to your bees in a new beehive if the honey is not contaminated with insecticides.
You should not use honey from other beekeepers or unknown sources to feed your bees. This is a sure recipe for spreading disease and parasites in your apiary!
If you want to feed the honey back to your other bees immediately, you can cut the comb from the frames or leave the comb on the frame and place the comb on a tray about 330 feet or 100m from your other beehives. This distance will prevent bees from robbing weaker colonies.
If you want to store the honey to feed to your bees later, you can extract the honey in your usual way and freeze it in jars until you need them for your bees.
Other Uses For Honey From A Dead Hive?
You can find several other uses for honey from inactive hives if the honey is not suitable for human consumption.
Suppose you are trying to attract a new colony to your nuc during the swarming season. In that case, you can try the following
- mix a concoction of old or unsuitable honey with some beeswax and propolis and melt it down.
- Then, add two or three small drops of lemongrass essential oil to the final mixture.
- Paint the frames’ tops and the nuc’s inside walls with broad brush strokes.
The mixture will act as an irresistible aroma for scout bees on recon in the area, especially as the sun warms the interior of the nuc 🙂
Honey is a precious resource for the beekeeper that should not be wasted if possible.
I would say the only time there is no use for honey from a dead hive is if the hive is not your own or the colony dies due to poisoning. Unfortunately, honey should not be used for any purpose in this situation.
Capped honey is suitable for consumption or to feed to your bees instead of sugar water during times of low resources (Uncapped honey can be provided to other bees if it has not become fermented).
If you don’t have an immediate use, store it for a future honey dearth!