Can I Feed Bees Honey From Another Hive?

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Can I Feed Bees Honey From Another Hive?

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Bill from Washington writes:

I have a five-gallon bucket of raw honey a friend found when he bought a place owned by an old survivalist. Can bees use that in the spring to start the year or even fill frames with it?


Rusty Burlew replies:

The worst problem with an old bucket of honey isn’t age or crystallization. Even though older honey usually has higher levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) than fresh honey, the amount is usually negligible as a factor in bee health. Crystallized honey is easy to feed and safe, so that’s not an issue either.

The real question is whether the honey is contaminated with spores of American foulbrood (AFB). If any of the colonies that produced it had AFB, the honey can easily become contaminated. And when you have a large bucket, the honey is likely from multiple colonies, which increases the chances of contamination. 

The spores of AFB have been found viable after 70 years, and they may survive even longer than that. If bees eat that honey, the disease could break out in the colony. The worst problem for beekeepers is not the loss of the colony but the necessity of burning at least the frames, scorching the boxes, and sanitizing all the equipment that may have come into contact with the infected bees. Burning diseased hives is still the recommended treatment because the disease is so highly contagious among colonies and the spores live for so long.

The antibiotics that were once widely used to suppress AFB, such as Terramycin and tylosin, now require a prescription or veterinary directive, an expensive and time-consuming process.

All-in-all it’s better not to feed the honey to bees, although you could still use it for personal consumption. AFB spores have no effect on humans. They only germinate in bee brood that are less than three days old.

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