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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.

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