If you have a beehive on your property that recently became inactive, you might be wondering, “can you eat honey from a dead hive?” In most cases, yes, you can – but there are some caveats and tips to heed if you decide to do so.
What You'll Learn Today
- Figuring Out Why Your Hive Died – and What to Do Next
- Can You Eat Honey from a Dead Hive?
- What Do You Do With Honey from a Dead Hive – Other Options
- Is All Bee Honey Edible?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: Does honey have a long shelf life?
- Q: Why doesn’t honey go bad?
- Q: Can honey change in color and texture over time?
- Q: If honey changes color, is it still safe to eat it?
- Q: Is crystallized honey safe to eat?
- Q: What happens if honey ferments?
- Q: Are there any exceptions to honey never spoiling?
- Q: What is the recommended storage time for honey?
Figuring Out Why Your Hive Died – and What to Do Next
Finding a dead beehive can be incredibly discouraging, especially to the novice beekeeper, but ultimately, it’s a part of raising bees that you need to be prepared for.
Colonies often die, and while they represent both a waste of money and time, this shouldn’t discourage you from raising bees again in the future.
However, before you do anything with the hive, the honey, or its other contents, it’s important to do some investigating to figure out why your hive died in the first place.
This will help you identify whether the hive death could have been prevented or if it was out of your hands.
Your first step is to figure out a timeline. When did the hive die? If you check your hive very regularly, such as once per week, this should be relatively easy for you to pinpoint.
However, if you got out of the habit of checking on your bees, it may be tougher for you to tell when the bees died.
Often, beekeepers fail to identify dead hives right away because they don’t do regular inspections or because the hive dies during the winter, when the hives are more or less dormant.
In some cases, you may not even realize your hive has died until too late because we see bees moving around the hive – but these are robbers and not residents.
Inspect the Hive
Once you realize your hive has died, it’s time to do a thorough inspection. In some cases, you might see dead bees there, but in others, the hive will be totally empty.
Sometimes this means that the bees left the hive on their own, but in other cases, it means that predators like wasps have cleaned out the dead bees for you. At least you can cross that chore off your list!
Take a look at the hive’s bottom board. If there are droppings from creatures like mice, this will be a good indication of what has killed the bees.
You might also be able to sift through the dead bees to see if there are signs of varroa mites or other pests, which will indicate that your pest control program wasn’t successful.
You may even see small hive beetles and/or their larvae (if this is the culprit, your combs will contain lots of larvae and slime).
If you notice wax moth larvae in the hive, don’t assume that these were the reason behind your hive’s demise. Moths often move in and lay their eggs, but do not cause colony failure because a healthy colony will simply evict them.
Last but not least, inspect the hive to see if there is a sign of disease. The most significant one to be worried about is American Foulbrood. This highly transmissible disease will affect bees in the late larval or capped brood stage of development.
Because of this, you will see dark brown bee larvae and the tongue protruding from the larvae. Brood cells can be ropey, with decaying larvae ultimately drying out and becoming a brown scale that’s tough to remove from the hive.
If AFB is the cause of your hive’s death, it’s important that you not reuse or use any equipment, comb, or honey from the hive.
How Do You Clean a Dead Bee Hive?
The extent of clean-up that you will need to do in your dead hive will depend on exactly what caused the deaths. If you suspect that AFB was the cause, don’t even try to clean the hive – get rid of everything.
However, if disease isn’t the cause of your bees’ death, you can use most of the honeycomb and other equipment inside your hives.
Remove frames that don’t have any damage from pests like wax moths. Remove the old, dark-colored comb and replace it with a new foundation. If you suspect a pest infestation, you can clean the frames simply by freezing them for a few days.
After you’ve removed everything valuable from the dead hive, you will be left with a wooden box. You can rinse this in a light bleach solution. Any wax moth cocoons can be scraped off and discarded.
If you’re still not sure how to best clean out your dead beehive, take a look at this video. It has some helpful tips and focuses primarily on cleaning out a beehive in the early spring.
Can You Eat Honey from a Dead Hive?
In most cases, yes – it is safe to harvest and eat honey from a dead hive. As long as the honey is relatively fresh and clean – and hasn’t fermented – it’s safe to use.
Just avoid eating the honey if you recently treated the colony for mites or other pests with chemicals. This can seep into the honey and the wax. Of course, that’s true even when harvesting honey from active hives.
You should also avoid eating honey that has been exposed to high temperatures (98 degrees Fahrenheit or so). This can compromise the quality of the honey. Again, make sure there aren’t any signs of fermentation and that you go about all the steps to clean the honey as you normally would.
If you plan on harvesting the honey to eat, begin by banging your frames against a wall to remove the dead bees. Use a brush to scrape off any other debris. Double-check to make sure there aren’t any signs of disease, then store the frames in the refrigerator to avoid the growth of mold.
Extract the honey from the hives by using your extractor or crushing the frames as you normally would.
What Do You Do With Honey from a Dead Hive – Other Options
Eating honey from a dead beehive isn’t your only option.
Many beekeepers save a few frames of honey and pollen to feed to bees later on. You can simply stash the frames in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
Is All Bee Honey Edible?
If you’re new to beekeeping, you might be wondering whether all bee honey produced by your hives, dead or alive, is edible.
For the most part, it is. Harvesting honey from a dead hive is safe, as is harvesting honey from bees that feed on different kinds of plants. Wildflower, manuka, and clover honey are some of the most popular – and healthiest! – forms of honey you can buy.
No matter what kind of honey your bees produce, it’s important to know the best tips for tending to a beehive. This can help you prevent hive death later on.
While it’s possible to eat the honey from a dead hive in most cases, wouldn’t it be better to keep your hive going for years to come?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does honey have a long shelf life?
A: Honey has a very long shelf life. In fact, edible honey has been found stored in ancient Egyptian tombs. It was a highly valued, important food source in ancient Egyptian times, and its delicious flavor and long shelf life were among the reasons it was included in the burial arrangements of the pharaohs. Archeologists have found some jars and pots of honey which date back to 1500+ years BCE. This means they may be more than three thousand years old.
Q: Why doesn’t honey go bad?
A: Honey doesn’t go bad because it is naturally antibacterial. It has a low pH ranging from about 3.26-4.48. This inhibits bacterial growth and makes honey very resistant to spoilage.
Q: Can honey change in color and texture over time?
A: Yes, honey can change in color, from clear to cloudy, and in texture, becoming thicker and grainier. These changes are normal and safe unless the honey becomes exposed to moisture and ferments.
Q: If honey changes color, is it still safe to eat it?
A: Yes, it is safe to consume honey that has been stored in your pantry for years, even if it has changed in color. Honey, when properly stored, never expires or spoils, regardless of how long it has been sitting on your shelf.
Q: Is crystallized honey safe to eat?
A: Yes, crystallized honey is safe to eat. Crystallization is a natural process that occurs in honey, especially in honey with higher glucose content. To slow down the crystallization process, it’s best to store honey at room temperature in glass containers rather than in the refrigerator. Crystallization is not a sign of spoilage; it’s an indication that your honey is raw and unpasteurized, retaining its natural nutrients.
Note that granulation and crystallization can increase the moisture content in honey and make it more susceptible to spoilage by fermentation. However, if stored at room temperature (between 60 and 79 degrees), both raw and pasteurized honey will remain safe.
Q: What happens if honey ferments?
A: When honey ferments, it becomes sour tasting, which is a clear indicator that the honey has gone bad. You can avoid having your honey ferment by storing and handling it correctly. Take steps to prevent moisture, use clean implements and keep your honey container well closed between uses.
Q: Are there any exceptions to honey never spoiling?
A: If honey is contaminated by moisture or any other substance, it will spoil. To prevent this, avoid introducing water, or any other substance into your honey container. Always use clean implements to scoop honey out of the container, and close it promptly and tightly as soon as you have measured the amount of honey you want. To avoid getting crumbs, butter and whatnot into your honey, it’s always a good idea to use a squeeze bottle rather than scooping it out of the container.
Q: What is the recommended storage time for honey?
A: For the best quality, it’s recommended to store honey for up to a year. After this time, the quality may decline, and the honey may become cloudy, crystallized, or solidified. However, this does not pose a safety concern. You can clarify or melt crystallized honey by microwaving it or gently heating it in a pan of hot water.