Can You Keep Bees Without Harvesting Honey?

Before humans interfered with bees, they built nests in the wild, collected nectar and pollen for themselves, and managed to survive winter in countries with freezing temperatures. They didn’t have to worry about losing more than half their stores to a two-legged mammal with a saw. As long as they could keep away from bears, they flourished.

Then, we came along with our wicker baskets and hollowed logs, tricking them into setting up their operations where we had full access to their stores. We’ve been at it so long that it almost seems that bees couldn’t do without us taking honey from them. But that’s not exactly true. There are still colonies living unmanaged in forests and caves yet we don’t have honey dripping down the trees, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

Even though you could keep bees without harvesting honey, the bees still require management. In this article, we’ll discuss how to manage bees without honey as the key output.

The Natural Beekeeping Movement

The natural beekeeping movement focuses on keeping bees without the primary goal of harvesting their honey. This method allows the bees to continue their natural behaviors and thrive in their environment while providing benefits to the beekeeper, such as pollination services and a healthy ecosystem.

There are different ways in which one can keep bees without harvesting honey. One approach is providing the bees with additional supers to store their honey. Another method includes allowing natural downsizing (via swarming or splitting) and controlling the colony’s size.

Many supporters of the natural beekeeping movement believe that this method encourages healthier bee populations and reduces the risks associated with over-harvesting honey, such as starvation or absconding. Additionally, it aligns with the practice of sustainable beekeeping, recognizing that bees play a vital role in pollinating plants and maintaining the biodiversity in the environment.

This style of beekeeping requires a commitment to bee welfare and a willingness to learn about their natural behaviors. By focusing on creating a thriving environment for the bees, natural beekeepers can reap the rewards of a healthy ecosystem while still respecting the role that bees play in nature.

Can You Keep Bees Without Taking Honey from the Hive?

Yes, it’s possible to keep bees without harvesting honey. Some beekeepers choose not to take honey from their bees, allowing the bees to keep all the honey they produce for themselves. However, there are potential consequences to this approach. If the bees fill the hive with honey, it could trigger swarming. Swarming is how bees reproduce colonies, but it can cause a nuisance to the neighbors. That is why it is a disadvantage in this case. 

Alternatively, take only a couple of frames of honey produced, leaving the majority for the bees themselves. This guarantees the bees have adequate food while still providing the beekeeper with some honey to enjoy. If you don’t want any honey for yourself, you could remove it from the hive and freeze it without extracting it from the comb. When winter comes along, you can feed it back to the bees. 

While it’s possible to keep bees without taking honey from the hive, they still need to be cared for, whether it’s swarm control or treating them to minimize the spread of pests and diseases in the apiary. 

Reasons to Keep Bees Without Harvesting Honey

There are several reasons why one might consider keeping bees without harvesting honey. This section will explore the environmental benefits, supporting pollination, and the impact on bee health and population.

Environmental Benefits

Since bees are efficient pollinators, they play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystems and supporting biodiversity. Allowing bees to keep their honey gives them a better chance of surviving winters and nectar dearths, contributing to a healthy environment.

Supporting Pollination

Bees are essential for pollination, as they help plants reproduce and create new fruit, vegetables, and seeds. Strong colonies pollinate more efficiently, especially in spring. Having enough honey through the winter increases the probability of a colony starting the spring with strong numbers. The more bees we have, the better the pollination.

Bee Health and Population

Over-harvesting honey can stress bees and deplete their resources. By not harvesting honey, beekeepers can help ensure that the bees have enough food to maintain their colony’s health, making it less likely that they will suffer from diseases or parasites. Honey contains trace elements of minerals and other natural ingredients that are a healthier alternative for the bees than sugar syrup. Even though managed colonies are regularly fed on syrup, honey is always preferred.

Beekeeping Practices for Honey-Free Hives

Hive Selection

When keeping bees without the intention of harvesting honey, you want to create as natural a habitat as you can for the bees. Top-bar hives and Warre hives are good options for honey-free beekeeping, as they resemble feral bee colonies and require minimal intervention by the beekeeper. These hives prioritize the well-being of the bees over honey production, which is suitable for those who want to enjoy beekeeping as a hobby or support pollinators without extracting honey.

Adequate Food Supply

Planting various types of flowers that bloom throughout the seasons can provide foraging opportunities for bees. Realistically, your bees need more than the flowers and trees you have in your backyard, so you should consider locating your apiary where the bees can access a wide variety of plants if that is not available in your area. Avoid using pesticides and embrace integrated pest management to limit chemical use.

Minimizing Intervention

Reducing interventions can significantly benefit honey bees in honey-free hives. Minimizing hive inspections allows the bees to conserve energy and reduces stress that could result from disturbance. When necessary, perform these inspections gently and only as needed. By prioritizing the bees’ health and happiness, you can support a thriving local bee population while enjoying the benefits these incredible creatures bring to the environment.

Potential Drawbacks and Challenges


One of the main challenges beekeepers face is the natural behavior of bees – swarming. Swarming occurs when a colony of bees splits, with 30% to 70% of the bees leaving the hive to form a new colony elsewhere. This can be problematic for beekeepers who want to maintain a peaceful relationship with their neighbors. To prevent swarming, beekeepers need to provide ample space and keep a watchful eye on the colony’s size and conditions.

Pest Management

Another challenge is the management of pests, such as varroa mites, that can harm bee colonies. These pests pose a significant threat to honey bees and can lead to colony deaths if not addressed. Keeping bees requires a thorough understanding of pest management techniques and dedication to maintaining a healthy environment for the bees, even if you don’t intend to harvest honey from them. A lack of adequate pest management can also lead to more severe problems, such as spreading disease to other bee colonies.


Keeping bees without harvesting honey is an option for those genuinely interested in bees and who wish to support local pollination. While it’s not the traditional approach to beekeeping, it allows the bees to keep their full honey stores, providing them with ample resources for survival.

It’s important to note that responsible honey harvesting is not inherently bad for bees, as beekeepers ensure minimal stress on the colony. However, abstaining from honey extraction can be a worthwhile decision for those primarily interested in promoting pollination and bee welfare.

In summary, it’s possible to keep bees without harvesting their honey, prioritizing pollination and bee population growth. This alternative method of beekeeping can contribute positively to both the bee community and the surrounding environment.

Please Share!


Leave a Comment