Where does harvesting honey fit within the ethos of bee-centered beekeeping?

Bee-centered beekeeping holds these priorities in this order:

  • Caring for the honey bees themselves in natural, holistic, and sustainable ways with the goal of helping honey bees return to the vibrancy that they deserve and that the earth needs.
  • Helping to make the earth more flowering and fruitful by caring for these super-pollinators.  We also greatly improve the health of the earth as we learn to improve the pollinator habitat in our own community.
  • Enjoying the benefits to our soul that living in community with honey bees produces.  Hosting honey bees, and creating a healthy habitat for them, connects us to the earth in profound and deeply satisfying ways.
  • Enjoying the benefits to our property that the pollination services of our own honey bee colony(ies) provide.

Honey bees produce and store honey in order to survive the winter.  It is the fuel they consume to feed themselves and to produce the heat they need to live through the winter.  The longer and colder the winter, the more honey they need.  A healthy colony of honey bees in central Colorado may need to store as much as 80 to 100 pounds of honey to survive a particularly long and cold winter.

Producing and storing honey is an extremely laborious process.  It requires the efforts of tens of thousands of bees working together in incredible harmony throughout all of spring and summer, and even into the fall.  A single forager honey bee will fly approximately 500 miles in her very short life.  She will make hundreds of flights to bring nectar and pollen back to the hive.  But, even so, the result of all of her work will be the production of just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.  That’s just 0.02 ounces!  It therefore takes the lives of 80,000 forager bees to produce 80 to 100 pounds of honey.  (Don’t forget that they are also consuming it as they go during their busiest season… so they actually must produce considerably more than 80 to 100 pounds in order to go into winter with enough stores.)

Hopefully, each season, every colony can produce and store enough honey to survive the coming winter.  If they do not, they will likely starve.  If they are able to store enough, but we take honey from them to the point of leaving less than they need, they will starve.  That is called “bee consuming,” not bee keeping.  If we take honey and feed them sugar syrup instead, that is abuse, in my opinion, and is not sustainable.  It weakens the bees in many ways that more and more research is beginning to reveal.  (Imagine trying to live on nothing but Twinkies for an entire winter.  How would you fare?)

Even conventional/commercial beekeepers understand that you cannot expect to harvest any honey the first year.  The bees get a late start in a completely foreign environment, that first year, and are “behind the curve” for storing honey for the winter.

Great additional reading: