Keeping Bees Without Harvesting Honey – Is It Okay?

While collecting honey is often thought of as the number one benefit of beekeeping, some people have no interest in harvesting honey.  However, they still want to keep bees for other reasons.  While keeping bees without harvesting honey is not common, is it okay for the bees?

Why Keep Bees Without Harvesting Honey?

crop farmer taking honeycomb from beehive

Most people who keep bees without harvesting honey do so because they have a genuine interest in bees and want to support local pollination. They feel no need to take honey for themselves and prefer to leave the honey for the bees.  

Is Harvesting Honey Cruel?

Some people even believe that harvesting honey is cruel. They see beekeeping on the same level as factory farming, where the animals are not cared for and profit is the only thing that matters. 

They see some practices, such as clipping the wings of the queen to prevent swarming as cruel and inhumane. The idea behind this is that the bees will not swarm if the queen cannot fly.  

Luckily, that is an older method that most beekeepers do not practice nowadays. Most beekeepers find clipping the queen’s wings to be unnecessary and have better methods for swarm prevention.  

Aside from that, harvesting honey can be cruel only if it is not done properly.  If the beekeeper takes too much of the honey, there won’t be enough for the bees to eat, and they will starve.  That being said, it is important for beekeepers to be aware of how much honey they need to leave for the colony.

Is Keeping Bees Without Harvesting Honey Recommended?

While you technically can keep bees without harvesting honey, it isn’t something that most beekeepers would recommend.  The reason for this is that if the honey and honeycomb is not periodically removed, the bee colony will quickly outgrow the hive. 

Bees want to continuously make honey. If honey is not harvested from the hive, they will eventually run out of space to not only make more honey, but also for the queen to lay eggs.  When this happens, your colony will swarm and you will lose a majority of your bees. 

If this keeps happening, you could eventually lose your entire colony, as the bees will prefer to find a home with more space, and the remaining bees may be too weak to repopulate the colony.  

You should also take into account that your neighbors may not be too happy with swarming bees on their property.  Swarms typically don’t travel very far from their hives, and may end up making their new home somewhere that they aren’t welcomed.  

To combat swarming you can keep adding more boxes to the hive or split the colony yourself.  To split the colony, you must be diligent in checking for signs of swarming.  Then, you remove some of the brood and place it into a new hive.  This must be done early enough for the new colony to have time to prepare for winter.  

How to Help Bees Without Being a Beekeeper

Mason Bee Cocoons Hatching

Since keeping bees without harvesting honey is not generally recommended, there are other ways to help bees without being a beekeeper. 

  • Plant a pollinator garden.  Plant a variety of native plants that bloom at different points throughout the year.  
  • Avoid using pesticides and herbicides in your garden. These contain harmful chemicals that can be deadly to bees and other pollinators.
  • Leave out water for pollinators to help them stay hydrated.  Making a bee bath is a quick and simple project.
  • Keep mason bees.  Mason bees do not produce honey, but they are extremely important pollinators. Keeping a mason bee house requires very little effort and helps to support these super pollinators.
  • Adopt a beehive.  There are various adopt a beehive programs where you can pay an adoption fee that the beekeeper uses to pay for supplies to care for the hive.  Often when you adopt a beehive you will receive a certificate of adoption, photos of the hive, and honey from the hive. It is a great way to support both the bees and beekeepers.  


A reason for keeping bees without harvesting honey is to support pollinators.  However, most beekeepers do not recommend this because the colony will quickly run out of space and swarm.  There are other ways to help bees without being a beekeeper such as planting a pollinator garden and keeping mason bees.