Bee Hygiene

Bee Hygiene

I know what it feels like to lose a colony and I can only imagine what it is like to lose an entire apiary. I want to do everything I can to reduce the risk of this happening. Healthy bees and apiary hygiene are key to this aim.

Apiary hygiene is key to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. Dirty bee suits and tools risks the spread of infection between each colony and apiary and leaving exposed wax, honey or feed will also increase risks.

The pests and diseases, include insects, mites, fungi, viruses, and bacteria, that can lead to American Foul Brood (AFB) and European Foul Brood (EFB).

Sources Of Infection

The National Bee Unit (NBU) describes the sources of infection as:

  • Infected combs, brood combs
  • Super combs
  • Honey (e.g. in exposed combs or drums)
  • Beekeeping equipment
  • Beekeepers (e.g. dirty bee suits)

And the means of spread as:

  • Transfer of combs between colonies
  • Robbing
  • Drifting
  • Swarming
  • The beekeeper through management practices
  • Purchase of infected stocks of bees

This page attempts to deal with most of these issues and the NBU guidelines are attached below.

Clean Beekeeping Tools (For Every Hive)

Always clean hive tools between inspections with a washing solution made up of 1 part soda crystals (Sodium Carbonate) to 5 parts warm water (e.g. 1 Kg of soda cystals and 5L of warm water) with a squeeze of washing-up liquid. Immerse the equipment in the solution, while using a wired brush, or similar tool to scrub off residues until the tools are clean.

The 5L of solution can be kept for up to one month (or less if it becomes very discoloured).

Clean & Disinfect Brood Boxes And Frames (Annually)

In summary:

  • Step 1: Place in a freezer at less than -20C for 48 hours and then scrape off debris onto newspaper and then dispose of newspaper.
  • Step 2: Either (A) score with a blow torch, B) clean with soda crystals as described above, or (C) chemical sterilisation with a disinfectant

For more details on when and how to clean, sterise and disinfect, including chemical sterilisation, please see the National Bee Unit (NBU) Guide on Hive Cleaning & Sterilisation.

Wax Moth Prevention

B401 (also known as Certan) is a preventative treatment that controls greater and lesser wax moth. It is a safe and environmentally friendly product based on a concentrated solution of Bacillus thuringiensis, a micro-organism. B401 is used after the honey harvest, when the frames are stored and kills young wax moth larvae. It must therefore be used before a wax moth infestation. A single application will provide 100% efficacy against wax moth right up through to the following season.

Click here for more information: B401 Certan.

Cleaning Beekeeping Clothes (Frequently)

Cleaning Beesuit

Beekeeping overalls can be washed regularly in the washing machine.  Mixing a small quantity of washing soda crystals with the detergent helps to remove propolis. Zip up the suit to avoid damage.

Cleaning Gloves

Leather gloves are difficult to clean and best avoided. If you do use them, wear a pair of thin disposable gloves over the top. Leather gloves can be washed in soapy water and glove soaps are available.

Best to use washing up gloves or thin disposable gloves. These can be swilled in washing soda solution between colonies, reducing the risk of spreading infection.  They can also be renewed on a frequent basis.

If you have received an email warning you of foul brood in your area then gloves should definitely be washed between each colony.

Wellington boots can also be scrubbed in a washing soda solution.

Replace Old Combs (At Least Every 3 Years)

Old brood combs can carry disease and super comb also carries disease though not to the same degree. The National Bee Unit (NBU) recommends that no brood comb should be used for
more than three years. The Bailey Comb Change is a way of replacing old comb.  Used comb should be rendered or disposed of.

Disease Recognition

I created a useful post to recognise healthy and diseased comb:

Please refer to the following National Bee Unit guides:

The foulbrood link/attachment above, has an excellent description of “How to examine a honey bee colony for brood disease”.

Reduce Drifting Between Hives (When Setting Up Apiary)

Prevailing wind or repetitive features in the apiary can lead to honey bees entering different hives, this is called “drifting” and there is risk that bees can spread disease between colonies.

The most important aspect of hygenic beekeeping is to follow the cleaning instructions described above, manage varroa (which weakens the colony and leads to diseases) and feed the bees as required, so as to keep the colony strong.  Disease identification is also key.

However, reducing drifting can only have a positive effect on reducing the spread of disease.

Two elements of reducing drifting:

  1. In order to vary the landscape and approach, arrange hives in an arc or point hive entrances in different directions
  2. If your hives are in location exposed to winds (and hence drifting), erect a fence or plant a hedge to provide wind shelter

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These how-to guides are provided for general interest and information only.  No liability is accepted for any injury or loss arising out of the contents of these pages.

2 thoughts on “Bee Hygiene”

  1. Hello!
    I’m a Berlin (D) newcomer beekeeper – call me greenhorn. But I’m very interested in these top load hives. My beekeeper mother’s favourit is Dadant. I’m learning a lot in the recent months, two of her baby colonys are in my garden – on your sites I can’t read anything about poisons as possible reasons for the dead of a whole colony. Perhaps I did’nt find it? What about that?

    1. Hey, poisons and any chemicals can easily kill off a whole hive or apiary, so it is extremely important to keep things like weedkiller and cleaning fluids away from bee equipment and hives.

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