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Can bees eat crystallized honey?

Yes, bees will eat crystallized honey and there is no harm in feeding it to them. Remember that crystallized honey is not a modern invention. Bees have had to deal with it from the beginning and they know what to do.

In the depth of winter when bees cannot get outside, they use moisture that has accumulated in the hive to rehydrate the crystals. This moisture is the natural result of their respiration that condenses on cold surfaces within the hive. The bees take this water and “spit” on the crystals causing them to liquify. Bees eat candy boards, hard sugar cakes, and granulated sugar using the same method.

Some books claim that crystallized honey causes honey bee dysentery, but I do not believe those claims are correct. Honey bee dysentery, which is essentially bee diarrhea, is caused by honey having a high ash content. Ash is the stuff that remains after you burn away a sample of honey. You can think of ash as the “solids” that remain after you remove all the sugars. High ash content is associated with darker honeys.

Crystallization on the other hand is highly influenced by the ratio of glucose to fructose found in the honey. The higher the glucose, the more likely it is to crystallize. Other factors are involved as well, but this piece is critical.

Now, if you put these two facts together, you can see that honey with a high ash content that crystallized is more apt to cause honey bee dysentery than honey with a low ash content that crystallized. It would be easy for someone to feed high ash, crystallized honey to bees and conclude that the crystals caused the dysentery when, in fact, it was the ash that caused it.

If the crystallized honey you feed your bees is only part of their diet, or if the honey came from a variety of floral sources, it will cause them no problems. On the other hand, if you have many, many frames of crystallized honey with a high ash content, it could conceivably promote dysentery. It comes down to using some judgment about how much to give them. You can use the darkness of the honey for a rough estimate of ash content.

If you are trying to get your bees to clean up frames that contain crystals before winter sets in, put the super above an inner cover with a center opening. Uncap the crystallized honey, if necessary, and lightly spray the frames with warm water. The crystals at the surface will start to dissolve and the bees will be encouraged to move the honey down into the brood boxes, assuming they have room down there to store it.

If they still refuse to clean it up, it may mean they are still finding liquid feed—nectar, honey, or syrup—somewhere else. You can always move the crystallized frames down into the brood box or save them for later.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Ken
Reply

Where does the ash come from? I mean how does it get in to the honey??? By the way, we, my son and I,(new be keepers) really enjoy your posts and learn a great deal from them. Please keep them up, you are appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Ken,

Most of the components of ash are absorbed from the soil by a plant through its root system. They are then distributed, via the vascular system, throughout the plant, including the nectar. Much of the stuff in ash is considered to be nutrients or minerals, including things like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, and iodine. Bees need nutrients too, but they get most of what they need from pollen. When too many nutrients build up in the intestine of the bee in the winter, it becomes difficult or impossible for a bees to wait for a “cleansing” flight. Hence, honey bee dysentery.

By the way, dark honey is considered more healthful than light honey for humans, partly because the ash provides so many nutrients.

Angie
Reply

I fed my bees crystallized honey last winter with great success, but it was light colored honey. I powdered regular sugar in a blender and made patties of sugar and honey which I placed on the top frames. The bees did seem to be looking for water on every mild day and I eventually started providing water via feeders on the landing board. All of my hives survived the winter. The State bee inspector told me that too much moister in winter food is what causes dysentery and the resulting diseases. He recommended removing sugar water feeders by the end of October. I have some creamed honey that I don’t like. Can I feed it to my bees?

Rusty
Reply

Angie,

Honey bee dysentery is caused by too much bulk in the honey bee intestine, not too much water. You can compare it to a human eating too much fiber. It may look like too much water, but it’s really a problem of too many solids. That said, if bees take watery feed in the early spring when their guts are already full of solids from the long winter, it can speed things along inside the intestinal tract. This makes it look like water is the cause, but the water is just making the solids swell up and become bulkier. This may seem like a subtle difference, but if there were no solids in the gut, water could not cause dysentery all by itself.

Dysentery in honey bees is not a disease, but the build up of bee feces in the hive is unsanitary and can promote the spread of disease.

Bees cannot eat sugar water once the temperature of the syrup falls into the low 50s because they lose too much body heat. Syrup feeders should be removed as soon as the bees stop taking it because it attracts predators, can grow moldy, and causes excess moisture to build up in the hive.

For more info on these issues see: Why bees can eat solid sugar in winter,
Winter feed Q & A, and Down with dysentery.

You can go ahead and feed your creamed honey to your bees as long as you know the source of the honey (i.e. you know the beekeeper) and you are sure the hives that produced it are disease-free. Honey can easily transmit diseases such as American foulbrood—something you want to avoid.

Phillip
Reply

I had a lot of jarred honey from last year that crystallized, so I’ve been feeding it to my bees (spring feeding) and it seems to have worked out fine. Nothing to it. I just put the jar of solid honey on its side next to the inner cover hole, cover the whole thing with an empty honey super and let the bees go at it. They don’t seem to get stuck in the honey either.

I also threw in some pieces of comb honey I didn’t get around to eating (comb honey that may have begun to get moldy, but just barely) — and the bees have been devouring all of it. Nothing left but empty comb.

Would the bees get more from sugar syrup in the spring, or is honey, whether solid or liquid, always the best choice?

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

I believe honey is always the best choice. It has the micro-nutrients the bees require, it is the right pH, and as long as they have a water source, they will make it the right consistency for themselves. I like your idea for feeding straight out of the jar. Brilliant.

Anna
Reply

The second paragraph is exactly what I tell people when they make the incorrect statement that bees can’t eat crystallized honey (yet somehow they can consume granulated sugar and candy boards). Logic and thoughtful pondering will often lead the questioner to the answer.

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

The problem is that people practice rule-based beekeeping, instead of logic-based beekeeping. I can’t figure out why people have so much trouble applying their general knowledge of how the world works to a bee colony. It mystifies me.

Phillip
Reply

I syphoned off some honey that had collected at the bottom of my DIY extractor this year, poured it into paper or plastic plates lined with parchment paper and then put it away where it would eventually crystallize. (Most of the fall honey from my extractor crystallizes within a month or two.) The result: A big stack of crystallized honey patties. I plan to use them for winter or early spring feeding.

It can’t be any worse than raw sugar or hard candy patties, right? (I hope.)

Rusty
Reply

New Found Land,

Great idea. I’m still using your brilliant thought from last year: laying a mason jar full of crystallized honey on its side and calling it good. But crystallized patties wouldn’t take so much room . . . a seriously good idea. Keep thinking.

Kathy
Reply

An autumn swarm moved into an old hive which had some stored honeycomb two years old. I am concerned that they will not have time to make enough honey or pollen stores to survive. I do have old crystallized honey in frames in my freezer and in my barn. Is it better to give them the honey kept in the freezer?

I plan to give them uncapped comb now as you suggest but for the winter can I give them a super of the crystallized honey below the inner cover?

They are using the upper entrance as I closed the bottom when the hive died two years ago (massive repeated autumn swarming left it weak). Should I open the bottom? There is a round hole 3/4″ on second super from the bottom so there is cross ventilation. What to do to help such a late swarm?

Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Kathy,

I would feed them both the honey in the old hive and the honey in the freezer. Crystallized honey is fine as well. You don’t have to open the bottom if you don’t want. Three entrances is a lot to defend.

Kathy
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I just checked on the frames in the barn and the combs seem to have absorbed moisture from the air. They are mushy and oozing rivulets. Could they have fermented even if capped? They have a slightly musty smell. I don’t think they are usable. I suspect the ones in the freezer also absorbed moisture.

Sorry to trouble and thank you for your for all the great information on your website!

Rusty
Reply

Kathy,

Your questions have motivated me to write a post, but I haven’t started yet.

First, honey combs stored in a controlled environment normally don’t ferment. But if they are stored in a place with temperature fluctuations (like a barn), condensation lands on the surface. This cold, damp environment allows things to grow (yeast, fungus, mold) that will damage the cappings. Once the cappings begin to leak, you can get fermentation.

If you are getting only a slight musty smell, I would go ahead and feed the frames to the bees. The bees can handle a bit of fermentation. You can always bring the frames inside, rinse them gently with water to remove surface mold, and let them dry inside. Once dry, give them to the bees. I’m speaking from experience, because I always feed fermenting frames to bees. They evolved with the problem and know how to handle it better than we mere mortals.

The frames in your freezer would not absorb moisture. The freezer is an extremely dry environment which is why you get “freezer burn” on things like meat and vegetables. The “burn” is just dried out sections. The water leaves these products and accumulates on the wall of the freezer, or if you have a frost-free freezer, it gets removed with a quick warming cycle.

Kathy
Reply

Sorry forgot to check the notify boxes for previous posts.

Kathy
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thank you so much! I was wondering why they would not recognize the danger, so glad they will be able to handle it. Looking forward to your post!

Parsley
Reply

Rusty,

I have several frames of hard crystallized honey combs possibly oil seed rape or ivy. I might be wrong but I reckon the bees over winter won]t be able to eat through the hard crystals and may die as a consequence. Don’t worry there is plenty of honey in the hives so they wont die but I need the frames emptying in readiness for spring brood. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Parsley,

I’ve never seen honey bees have trouble with crystallized honey. It’s no different than eating hard candy boards or granulated sugar. Moisture from the hive lands on the crystals and dissolves them at the surface. The bees eat that layer, and then moisture lands on the next layer and dissolves that. It’s really nothing to worry about it. I’ve fed crystallized honey to my bees since forever.

Paula Ellen
Reply

Hi Rusty,

We just inspected our two hives (12/29). One of them has a bunch of drones flying so I was worried about the queen. The hive is queen right (didn’t see her, but saw plenty of worker brood) and they were essentially honey bound. This is after giving them 5 frames of foundation earlier this month so they would have enough room, as they were cramming every corner with honey at that time. We stuck two frames of drawn comb in the top brood box, one on each end of the brood nest, plus a frame of foundation, then checker-boarded the super. We just peeked in the super on the second hive which was almost out of room as well. Full of honey, so we pulled two frames of honey from there too. They have no idea it’s winter.

Of the 10 frames we harvested, 5 are crystalized. (They sat for about 36 hours at room temp before we could get the extractor-not sure if that was part of the problem or if it was already crystalized). We are trying to figure out if we should feed them back to the bees (seems unlikely that they need it with all the nectar coming in) vs. trying to somehow warm it enough to extract. Some articles I have read say that if the bees clean the frames of crystalized honey, they will just cause crystallization to continue in other frames by moving the crystals into other frames. I’m curious what you think of this. Is that true?

One thought I had was to freeze them until late summer when its gets really hot, then give them back to the bees since it will key re liquify pretty easily then. (We uncapped them last night, if that information is relevant to your response.)

Finally, if we do give it back tot he bees, should we put it on top? Some things I read say to put them under the brood nest, but I don’t really understand the reasoning for that. Thoughts?

Thank you so much for your time. Happy New Year!

Paula

Rusty
Reply

Paula,

In order to give a proper answer, I need to know where you are. All beekeeping is local.

Since you have drones and worker brood, I will assume you are not especially far north. You do say it’s winter, so I’ll assume you’re not in Australia. How about southern California, does that sound about right?

Paula Ellen
Reply

Hi Rusty, sorry I neglected to tell you I’m writing from the East Bay in northern California. It’s been a very mild winter and we haven’t had the rain that we should so far.

Rusty
Reply

Paula,

If your bees are still bringing in nectar, they won’t be interested in the crystallized stuff. I think I would just save it for emergency feed. But as far as bees moving crystals of sugar and packing them in other cells? I don’t think so. I suppose it’s possible, but that’s a new one on me. And as for placement, I would put any feed above the cluster, not below it.

Do you see flowers where you are? I’m wondering if your bees might be bringing in honey from some other hives (robbing). Storing lots of honey in January in northern California seems suspicious.

Paula Ellen
Reply

Thanks Rusty.

The blue gum eucalyptus stared blooming last month. They make a lot of nectar, I’m told, and they bloom most of the winter. There is a creek less than a mile from me, and there are many trees in bloom right now. The bees are also bringing in lots of pollen.

We are finally getting some rain, and this is the first day they haven’t been able to forage in some time. They are taking a well deserved break!

Thanks again,

PE

Rena
Reply

Hey Rusty

It is almost 10 degrees here and I was waiting for a sunny day to check on my hive.

If they do not have enough honey left I was going to add some framed honey I have left from last year. If I scratch it with my fingernail it is still liquid.

So I was wondering how to give them back a frame without moving frames out since it is still too cold to manipulate the hive?

And how many frames are recommended?

Rusty
Reply

Rena,

First bring the frames to room temperature. Then, just open the hive, quickly pull out a frame from either side of the brood nest and drop the honey frames in. Have everything ready to go and work quickly. The food is more important than a few moments of cold. See “How cold is too cold?

Regina
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I have a strong hive that doesn’t have much honey stored in the brood chambers yet. They were in swarm mode, which I tried to counter by splitting the hive. I’ll see if it worked later this week. They have a western full of capped honey. My experience has been that when I leave hives lots of honey for the winter, they often don’t eat much of it and it crystallizes and ferments. One year one hive starved despite having lots of honey and last year we had a hive abscond.

Is the reason they won’t eat the honey because it’s too far away from the cluster? Usually I pare down to one brood chamber and one box of honey for the winter. Should I put some honey frames in this hive’s brood box? Let them build up their own by using the the inner cover trick? I think there’s still some time in the season here in the Pac NW. I guess what I’m asking is if I should pull any of his honey. If I did I’d continue to feed them throughout the winter if they didn’t have adequate enough stores in the brood box.

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