Can you harvest honey from a dead hive?
As a seasoned beekeeper myself, there’s nothing like walking between your beehives, listening to the humming sound of your bees. Sometimes disaster strikes and a whole swarm of bees die. Although a tragedy, some things can still be salvaged.
You can extract honey from a dead hive if there’s no sign of diseases like American Foulbrood (AFB) or European Foulbrood (EFB) and if the honey is not contaminated with mite treatment. Only then, the honey can be extracted for consumption or preserved to feed to other swarms during wintertime.
When you discover a dead hive, it’s best to take care of it as soon as possible to prevent pets and wax months from destroying your frames. Ants and yellow jackets will rob salvageable honey and destroy valuable assets.
Let’s take a look at the best & efficient way to extract your honey from the dead hive. Some parts of the comb are still usable, and other parts you need to recycle or burn if necessary. It might sound harsh to tell you to burn a hive, but it’s sometimes required to save your other swarms.
Before we can genuinely answer this question of what is usable and what is not, we need to investigate why the hive died. There’s a couple of reasons this tragedy can strike.
What are the Primary Causes of Death Among Hives
Let’s take a quick look at what to look out for to keep your beehives alive.
The two significant diseases you need to look out for are American Foulbrood (AFB) and European Foulbrood (EFB). Foulbrood is a sticky and ropey brood if touched with a stick or a twig. It also got a very distinctive smell. The spores can last up to 40 years. To prevent the spread, you must burn all frames and the hive itself. Do not salvage the honey from this hive. It would be best if you instead burned it along with the rest of the hive and frames.
Varroa mites o feeds on the fat cells of adult bees and the hemolymph (bee blood). They also leave the host with a virus infection. The majority of beekeepers will treat for Varroa Mites at least once a year. Honey is not consumable while treating for mites. The label states that you should not have honey supers on the hive while you have treatment strips in the hive. No one should eat honey contaminated by treatment.
Predatory insects like Yellowjackets and wasps can wipe out a weak colony easily. Once they infiltrate the hive, they will eat the brood, rob the honey and kill adult bees as far as they go. You can still extract and consume any leftover capped honey. Uncapped honey will ferment because of the higher moisture content. Bees will only cap honey when the moisture content is at the correct level.
Harsh winter Elements
When the temperature drops below zero degrees Celcius, hives will die if they don’t have enough food to last them throughout the winter. When looking at the dead bees and their heads in the cells and rear ends sticking e up, they may have died from starvation. The bees were trying to get that last bit of food from the cell. If there’s any capped honey left, you can extract and consume it.
Can honey go bad?
Honey will never go bad if handled correctly. Archaeologists found sealed jars of honey in pyramids in Egypt, and it was still perfectly edible. So keep your honey sealed. If you leave honey in open jars or containers, it will absorb water from the air, creating a more suitable environment for bacteria to grow.
How to extract the honey and reusing the drawn comb
You have the option of extracting the capped honey from the drawn comb, or you can keep the honey inside the comb.
When you care about honey production, you would want to save the drawn comb for reuse. You will use an uncapper to remove the combs’ cappings to expose the honey. Now you can place the uncapped frames inside a honey extractor to extract the honey and keep the drawn comb intact.
The honey extractor spins the frames round in a circle. The centrifugal force spins the honey out of the uncapped drawn comb leaving the comb structure intact and the honey against the extractor’s sides.
The honey will slowly flow down to the collection point at the bottom of the tank, where you can use the honey tap to pour your honey into your containers.
I recommend using a metal honey sieve when pouring out your honey from the extractor into your container. The Honey sieve allows you to train pollen, dead bees, and pieces of beeswax from the honey. It’s a combination of two sieves attached on top of each other. On top, a coarse sieve and a very fine sieve at the bottom. You will have pure, clear golden honey to bottle in your containers.
You can place the empty frames back in the hive, and the bees don’t need to build out the comb again, thus speeding up the honey production.
If you don’t want to reuse the drawn comb, you can cut out the honeycomb from the frame into usable sizes. People usually are very excited to get their hands on the whole honeycomb as most honey farms reuse the comb.
How to prepare a dead hive for new bees
Bees are amazing and can practically take care of themselves, well up to a certain point. You will still need to do some hive inspections to ensure your hives are doing well and that there’s a queen present. You want to take note of the queen’s egg-laying pattern. We will look at this later.
There’s not much work involved to get a dead hive ready for a new swarm. If no disease is present, scrape out the bottom board, cleaning out old debris and dead bees using the back of your hive tool. Remove the old brood, any dead or alive hive beetle, and if you spot any mold, scrape off as much as you can. The new swarm of bees will take care of the rest. Do not make use of any cleaning products or chemicals. If the hive died because of disease, burn it to prevent further loss of swarms.
What is a brood pattern?
Let’s get back to the queen bee and her egg-laying patterns. It’s vital to check on the queen and look specifically in what pattern she lay her eggs.
The queen lays her eggs in a group. This group will take on a specific shape, which is called the brood pattern. A good and healthy queen will lay her eggs all together next to each other, and a struggling queen will lay her eggs in what we call a shotgun pattern (many empty cells scattered among the capped brood).
What is a shotgun brood pattern?
Shotgun brood pattern typically indicates that something might be wrong, like, for instance, Chalkbrood. Some of the cells get infected by the fungi Ascophera apis. Usually, the bees will remove out all the dead chalkbrood mummies from the hive. The Chalkbrood disease can weaken a colony and reduce honey production and yields. Apiguard or thymol-based treatments are the most common treatment against chalkbrood.
Conclusion: Bees are an essential part of life
Bees play a significant role in our society and take care of pollination. It’s recon that the honeybee pollinates about 35% of our food crops globally. We need our honeybees to keep the balance in our ecosystem.
Did you know that a single beehive can pollinate 300 million flowers in one day? Without bees, we will have fewer seeds, less food and might even be on the brink of a global food shortage. Supermarket shelves will likely have less on offer, causing fruit and vegetable prices to increase tenfold.
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Albert Einstein.