Why I’m Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn’t be)

Why I'm feeding honey to bees (and why you shouldn't be)
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You shouldn’t feed Honey to Bees

Some people might see the title of this piece and feel outraged. That’s because if there’s one thing you should never do when it comes to feeding bees, it’s feeding them honey. At least when it comes from an unknown source. Honey can be dangerous to bees and in some circumstances end up killing them. So why am I feeding one of my colonies gallons of it?

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)
Thick and strong tasting honey that I’ve had for a while now. It came from my bees and now it’s going back to them.

Bulking up Winter Honey Stores

One of a beekeeper’s most important duties is winterizing their colonies. Depending on climate and hive health the individual tasks will be different. One that is universal is ensuring that there’s enough honey to last the winter. If there’s not enough, the bees will need help to prepare for winter.

The most common way to help bees make honey quickly is by using a rapid feeder (these are the ones I use here in Britain).

Traditionally, beekeepers use rapid feeders to feed bees a syrup that they make themselves with white sugar. If the weather is still warm enough, the bees will process it into honey. If it’s not warm enough, the water in the syrup is difficult for bees to evaporate out and they can be left with a wet and sticky disaster.

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)
Honeybees on a frame of capped honeycomb

Bluebell is very low on honey stores

About a month ago I spotted that Bluebell, my blue hive, was very low on honey stores. She was completely reliant on my help to put away enough food to last through the winter.

Contrary to what some might assume, honeybees don’t go completely dormant in the colder months. They go into a state of semi-hibernation where they cluster together for warmth and eat honey to see them through until spring. If they run out of honey, it’s game over.

Now there’s two reasons why I’m not feeding syrup to Bluebell: temperature and choice. It’s getting a bit too cold and damp to give the bees syrup and secondly I don’t like having to do it. I feel that honeybees should be eating honey that they’ve produced themselves from natural sources. I decided instead that I’d feed her back honey I’d previously extracted from both her and Primrose, my white hive.

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)
A bucket of ‘Bakers Honey’ that’s been fed back to Bluebell

Why honey can be dangerous

The danger in feeding honey to bees is that honey can contain and preserve viruses, spores, and bacteria. For the same reason that you never give raw honey to babies, you don’t give raw honey from unknown sources to bees.

The biggest threat is introducing American Foul Brood (AFB), the spores of which can be transferred from colony to colony by beekeeping equipment, tools, and even honey. AFB is a bacterial infection that will kill the bees either directly, or because the colony must be destroyed to stop further contagion.

If you’re wanting to help bees, please do not feed them honey from jars you’ve bought. Or even honey from other beekeepers. You may be hurting more than you’re helping.

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)
The rapid feeders are set directly on top of the frames inside a hive

Feeding honey to bees

However, if you have honey from your own bees and are sure that it’s not infected then it’s perfectly fine to feed it back to them. In fact, they’ll be more than pleased to have it! Honey can be put back into the comb with very little effort.

I’ve had about a couple gallons of honey from previous extractions hanging around the house doing nothing. I actually have more than that but this stuff in particular was of honey that I felt didn’t taste great. It was also thick and crystallized easily so I’d heated it in the oven to re-liquify it.

It was good enough for baking but not the tasty summer raw honey that we all love. The bees would love to have it back though so I took the first gallon up a few weeks ago. Since then they’ve cleared out one of the rapid feeders so I refilled it over the weekend. If the mild weather continues, I’ll keep topping them up until I’m sure that Bluebell is stocked for winter.

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)
Fitting a mouse-guard onto Bluebell

Winterizing the Hives

With that job underway, I’ve also been preparing my colonies for winter in other ways. I speak more on what I’ve doing in the video (watch below) but to recap, I’ve put mouse-guards on the entrances, taken out the empty frames from Primrose, put the insert back into the varroa floors, and tidied around the apiary. I’ve also taken the empty lure hive home to store in the garage until next spring.

If you take anything away from this piece it’s this — it’s important to take care of bees and as a beekeeper that means preparing your bees from winter. If you have some of your own honey that you’d like to feed back to them then crack on as long as you’re sure it’s not from an unhealthy colony. If you’re not a beekeeper and want to help bees, plant bee-friendly flowers and never feed them honey whether deliberately or accidentally. An open jar of honey on a picnic table is an invitation for a honeybee buffet!

Why I'm Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn't be)


  1. Hi there,

    I don’t currently have any bees or hives that I look after due to being time poor, though it is certainly something I will consider in the future. I heard of a company creating ‘bee food’ balls and selling them to the general public and wanted to research if this is good or not good for bees before purchasing. Could you explain why someone without a hive shouldn’t be actively trying to feed bees? I believe they have different formulas for different times of year but don’t know what actually goes into them. Thanks for all your insight 😊

    1. Hi Aisleen, some people try to revive bees by using a drop of honey. Because honey can be contaminated with diseases, it’s far safer for the bee (and the colony) if sugar water is used! Another thing that people might accidentally do is leave an open jar of honey at an outdoor event — or even by an open window in the house. If bees find it, they’ll come en masse to eat it. It’s a terrifying experience for those involved but unfortunately can also lead to the spread of disease. Hope this helps :)

  2. My young son ‘revived’ a very tired looking bee in our garden with a tiny drop of honey from some clear honey purchased in the supermarket. He has then read your article and now thinks he could very well have caused the death of all the bees on the planet by the one bee spreading disease. He does suffer from anxiety which does not help but he really is worried. Please would you be able to provide me with some reassurance that i could pass onto him that it will be ok?

    1. Hi Judith, giving supermarket honey to bees should be avoided. However, the chance that the drop of honey that your son gave to the bee is infected with a virus is probably low. Next time, sugar-water will do the trick :)

  3. Why not heat the honey to a temperature the spores cannot survive? What temperature might that be, and how long? I.e., pasteurize it first.

    1. This suggestion does not seem relevant to me. If you are a beekeeper, you will know if your bees are sick with foul brood or not. In that case, you could feed their own honey back to them or purchase fondant for them in the winter. No proper beekeeper would give foreign honey to their colonies. And if you are not a beekeeper, then you should not be feeding bees with anything other than pollinator-friendly flowers :)

  4. What about propolis? I have a bunch that I bought which I dont eat/use. Is that not safe either? Honeybees for some reason find me FASCINATING. They love my skin and especially if I have buffed my nails (no polish) will come and inspect each one like a flower. I dont wear scents or perfumes. I have never been stung by a honeybee (only a wasp, once). They love to land on my arm or hand or hover around me. I even had one start to waggle dance at me once, and I said “I’m sorry Ms. Bee, I don’t speak bee!” And she stopped, sunned herself a moment, and flew off.

  5. Thank you for the great article. Pulled about 3 gallons from deeps this weekend to free up space for a honey bound hive and a new queen. I was going to save this honey for feeding the bees back this fall. I usually feed with bucket feeders (the kind with the tightly screened opening that gets inverted and set on the inner cover). Wondering if I (or you) had to dilute the honey at all? I suppose it depends on thick the honey is, but in general I am guessing you are not having to dilute at all. Can you confirm?

    1. In the winter I wouldn’t dilute it since the extra moisture could create conditions for bacteria, mold, and fungus. Not good for a hive trying to survive the winter. That’s why we only feed solid food, like fondant, to bees in winter. You could definitely dilute with water when it’s warmer though (fall is fine) and the bees can evaporate it off and store it again as they would with any other nectar source.

  6. I know this is an older post but just found my way here. Curious as to how well this worked out. I was always under the impression that you 100% should never feed bees honey that has been heated. If the honey you chose was crystallized and had to be remelted I assume you had to get it pretty warm. I know there is a threshold for what is considered heat treated and maybe you didn’t exceed that temperature. Just wanted to check in and see how it worked out.

    1. Hi Erin, I feed leftover honey from my hives back to the bees on occasion and have never had any issues. The problem isn’t honey that’s been melted back down in a double-boiler or oven, but honey that’s been melted on direct heat. If honey gets any hotter than 160F, it can burn and will have high levels of Hydroxymethyl furfural, a compound that’s toxic to bees.

  7. Lost all 8 of my hives to a bear… The DNR here put a feed 55 gallon barrel a mile out back to lure bears from the park on the other side of the mountain and he went through everything in a week. I had 2 hives left i put on my forklift and had it 12 feet off the ground and the racoon kept crawling up and pushing them over… next year going to get expanded galvanized metal on 6 inch posts with cement and weld everything up. At times even gardening nature can do damage. Why i say invest in a greenhouse like i did. Maybe that is the way to go i have a 20×70 ft but during summers it would be too hot for the bees. Sharing my experience i have not seen this locally in 30 yrs since I was 10. Now i have 22 gallons of honey and destroyed boxes… i just spent 800 for 2 full hives… lesson learned.

    1. You can also use a sugar paste on the comb for winter. To get rid of some bugs you can throw in non scented swiffer sweeper you get from a dollar store in each hive they will burrow into the thing and get trapped.

    2. Holy cow! Or should I say bear? I like the idea of a greenhouse but like you say, it’s too hot in the summer. And if it’s too close to the summer apiary then it wouldn’t work either since the bees would get lost. Counting my blessings today that there’s no bears or raccoons here.

  8. A great article on honey bee farm and after reading this I will also incorporate the same into my raw honey collection in my honey farm

  9. Hi Tanya will heating your old honey from your hives- like you have- kill potential bacteria, viruses etc? But I guess you’re sure there aren’t any when they’re your own hives? You mean the sugar water is a bad idea- I think it is especially bad i our climate- in Winter- these days Winters are pretty damp and seldom below zero- so disease would spread easily. I have to talk to our honey man- he is doing everything wrong.

    1. Not necessarily so you can’t ever be 100% safe with introducing honey from an unknown source into your colony.

      As for sugar-water — it’s the standard feed given to honeybees in the autumn. As long as the temperature is warm enough for them to process it into honey.

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