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How to Clean a Dead Beehive and Reuse it

It’s not something that any beekeeper would ever wish for, but honeybee colonies can sometimes die off. There are various reasons for this happening ranging from the weather and diseases to pesticide chemicals. When an entire colony dies off, you have to clean the beehive and prepare it for its next use. In this article we will discuss how to clean a dead beehive and get it ready for a new colony of honeybees. Cleaning a dead beehive should have focus on all areas and parts of the hive. It also has a role in preventing re-occurrence of the mass death of honeybees.

Cleaning a dead beehive is largely about making the beehive useful again. For beehives that have been damaged too much, you should aim to salvage as many parts as you can. You can then use the salvaged parts to build another beehive or use them in other beehives. All parts of the beehive must be properly cleaned and sterilized so they do not lead to losing another beehive.

Why Colonies Die

Diseases and Pesticides

Diseases and pesticides are the most common causes of beehives dying off. A disease sweeping through a honeybee colony spreads fast and can kill the entire colony in a few days to a week. Pesticides sprayed near or in the beehive where many bees come into contact with are also disastrous. A pesticide can spread through the entire beehive on bees and affect even the brood.

Common diseases that lead to dead honeybee colonies include chalkbrood, foulbrood and nosema. They are infectious and can easily spread from one beehive to an entire apiary. If you note one beehive is infected, it is good to take control measures in all beehives in your apiary. Contaminated frames in chalkbrood and foulbrood cases should be discarded in a manner that they do not infect other honeybee colonies. Burning them is often the best solution. This is accompanied by rigorous cleaning and use of fire on the beehive.

With Nosema disease, you can remove the wax from beehive frames and clean them with chemical solutions. Cleaning bleach or clorax are the best for this. If all this is too much for you, you can burn the frames to be on the safe side of events.

Harsh Winters

Winter is a tough time for honeybees. Properly wintered honeybees get through winter but weak hives can die off. Honeybees die off more in winter and use up stored honey. Beekeepers wintering honeybees should make sure their beehives do not let in cold. Wintering bees can be closed in the hive with entrances only opened periodically. Food resources in form of honey should be availed to wintering bees.

Hive Beetles

Hive beetles are destructive insects that can infest a beehive and lead bees to abscond. The beetles lay eggs in the beehive and their larvae destroys comb when hatched from the eggs. In a day, a female adult hive beetle can lay thousands of eggs. Controlling hive beetles is important so they do not cause bees to leave the beehive.

Beekeepers may use traps and drenching pesticides to control hive beetles. The ground around a beehive with hive beetles is drenched with appropriate chemicals that kill pupating hive beetles. This is because hive beetle larvae pupates in the ground. In severe infestations, it is right to drench the entire apiary grounds. This is because hive beetles can move from one beehive to the next and ruin your entire beekeeping operation.

Honeybee Mites

Mites are increasingly becoming a problem in beekeeping. They have spread round the globe in beekeeping regions and are now a significant parasite that beekeepers have to deal with. Mites attach to bees and draw nutrition by biting into the bee and sucking on the body juices of bees. There are two types of mites: thoracic mites and tracheal mites. Thoracic mites are found attached to the upper thorax of bees where it meets the abdomen. They are on the outside of the bee. Tracheal mites are found inside the bee, in its trachea or upper gut.

Controlling honeybee mites is done in the same general methods. Feeding honeybees with essential oils helps control both tracheal and thoracic mites. Other methods involve putting the honeybees into contact with the essential oil or mineral oil. Fogging, dripping and vaporizing oil into the beehive helps a lot with controlling thoracic mites. Only use approved oils that are natural and food safe to control these parasitic mites in beehives.

The use of physical mite control methods also helps a lot. Devices used in physical mite control rub mites off honeybees. Larger bee production also helps with better mite control. Additionally, spraying honeybees with sugar syrup or dusting them with powder triggers grooming behavior in bees which can result in the bees removing mites off their bodies.

Cleaning a Dead Beehive after Pesticides, Herbicides and Insecticides

Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides can cause a beehive to die. Honeybees are very sensitive to chemicals found in many chemical preparations used in agriculture. Herbicides applied harmlessly in agriculture can kill off an entire beehive. Foraging honeybees carry small amounts of herbicides to the beehive, and even these small amounts can cause a lot of destruction. Beekeepers may also apply herbicides or pesticides aiming to help honeybees and maybe clear vegetation in their apiaries. If bees come into contact with these chemical applications, they may die.

When a beehive is lost due to chemical preparations, it is important to remove the chemicals from further contact with honeybees. The surfaces that may have the chemical should be cleaned thoroughly and possibly removed from the beehive. All honey found in the beehive should be considered contaminated and destroyed too.

In some instances, it is necessary to apply chemical preparations in apiaries. This should be done with a lot of caution taken. Spraying the chemical applications at night is better than doing it during the day when bees are flying around. You should also consider closing the honeybees in the beehive for a day or two so that the concentration of the chemicals goes down. If you close honeybee in the beehive, be sure they have enough honey stored or feed them.

Cleaning Beehive Frames after Wax Moth Infestation

Wax moths are very damaging in the months of summer. They can devastate a weak colony in about a week. Strong colonies can allow you more time to notice the infestation and deal with it. A beehive that has been rendered useless by wax moths has a lot of destroyed honeycomb and webs. It also smells bad and may have stored honey spilling out. Beehive frames, the entire beehive box and all parts and components of the beehive need cleaning. The beekeeper cleaning the beehive frames after wax moths must remove all damaged honeycomb too.

Cleaning beehive frames after wax moths requires removal of webs and honeycomb. Foundation used on the frames should also be removed. The frame is then cleaned with bleach before being reused in the beehive. You may take apart the beehive frame for cleaning. Frames that are unaffected can be frozen for 2 days. The cold temperature kills any wax moth larvae, eggs and adults that may be on the frame.

All beehive components including bottom boards and covers are to be cleaned. Equipment such as feeders and pollen traps that were in the beehive when wax moths attacked should also be cleaned. This ensures that there will be no re-infestation of the beehive from eggs laid in the beehive by adult wax moths. You may take the beehive apart for best results in killing wax moth eggs.

Plastic beehive frames are easier to clean and reuse in a beehive than wooden frames. After a moth infestation, remove the webs and slime from plastic frames and they are ready to go. This includes plastic foundation used on plastic beehive frames. Sterilizing the frames and then freezing them is recommended. Do not subject plastic frames to very high temperatures so they do not warp and become unusable in a beehive.

Cleaning Mold from Dead Beehives

Sometimes, mold grows in beehives. This is usually due to excess humidity. Spilt honey can also form a substrate on which mold will grow in the beehive. Bees can clean minor mold growth in the beehives. However, heavy growth of mold is disastrous for bees when they cannot clean it out.

Mold on frames and in a beehive can be black or other colors. If it is black mold, remove the frames and cut off the foundation. You can melt foundation and honeycomb for other uses. Clean the frames that have mold thoroughly before airing them and freezing them. You can then reuse the frames. If the mold is not black, simple cleaning by scrubbing the frames is enough. You may use some salt and lemon in the scrubbing water. Save as much comb as you can on such beehive frames. The frames also need airing and freezing before they can be reused in the beehive.

Removing Dead Bees from Comb

When you find a beehive has died out in your apiary, take steps to remove it immediately. The honey that may be in the beehive can attract robbing. Bees visiting the beehive can transmit diseases and parasites back to their beehives. If that were to happen, you will quickly find your entire beekeeping operation with no honeybee colonies. Removing dead bees from comb is necessary so you can reuse that comb. This is done if you are not burning or destroying the comb. The decision on whether to salvage comb and reuse it is determined by what made the beehive die out.

Using physical force

To remove bees from comb, strike the frame lightly on an empty beehive box. The frame should be lying flat so that bees lodged in the comb can fall off. Not all bees may be removed in this manner, but most of them will come off. Take care not to apply too much force that will cause the comb to be destroyed. The honeycomb can break off if you hit the frame too hard.

Using tweezers

Removing dead bees from comb using tweezers or other gripping objects may not achieve much. The bees are torn into half and a portion remains stuck in the comb. This is not very effective and it is better to use other methods that have the bees come off in whole.

Using air compressors

You can also try blowing out dead bees from comb. With an air compressor set to low pressure, direct the jet of air onto the comb. Start with the jet from far and bring it closer to the comb. If you set the air compressor to high pressure, you risk damaging the honeycomb when removing bees.

Giving the comb to other bees

Give bees the honeycomb to clean for you. Placing comb in a beehive will have the resident bees clean it out. Honeybees are meticulous cleaners and ensure dead bees are removed from the hive. They drag them out and may move the dead bees some distance from the beehive. This should only be done if there is no risk of spreading disease or parasites to another honeybee colony.

Cutting out the honeycomb

In extreme cases, honeycomb is cut from the beehive frames and melted. It frees up the frame and you can reuse it. Melted wax with dead bees in it is usually discarded. You may sieve out the dead bees from hot wax and use the wax to make some products. These products are usually those that are not eating by people, such as candles.

How to Reuse a Dead Beehive

Beekeepers reuse beehives very often. It saves them the cost of buying new beehives and beehive components. Reusing a beehive is easy and safe when done properly. You can reuse beehives whose honeybee colonies have died off. To make sure the beehive is safe for use in your apiary, you have to clean it. Eggs, larvae and spores of organisms that can harm bees must be removed.

Char the entire hive

Both beginner and experienced beekeepers with the right equipment can reuse a beehive. Charring away spores is recommended when you have had bee diseases devastate a honeybee colony. The beehive is taken apart and the various boards and pieces scorched. Chemical agents are also used to kill eggs of honeybee pests.

Charring beehives and beehive parts with a blowtorch is a great way to clean the beehive. Fire kills organisms in the beehive very effectively. You may also try applying gasoline or other flammable liquid to inner beehive surfaces and lighting up the beehive. The flammable liquid flares up and then evaporates. Sand away the ash left behind to make the beehive ready for a next honeybee colony.

Remove honeycomb

Honeycomb that has been in use in a beehive for long should be removed. It absorbs chemicals from pesticides and can cause harm to honeybees. The honeycomb is also prone to harbor spores of disease causing organisms in the beehive. Old wax has the disadvantage of attracting wax moths and sometimes hive beetles. You should remove the old dark comb from frames and melt it or use it to make wax products. The frames can be reused in the beehive after cleaning.

Put wax in the sun

You can expose old dark wax to the sun and have it bleach the wax. To do this, put it out in the sun on a sheet of tin or in a solar wax melter. Over time, the sun bleaches the wax to a white color. Slumgum will stay on your wax container. You should angle the container down so that melted wax flow down to a collecting container.

Post cleaning

After cleaning, the whole beehive or its parts can be reused. Damaged sections of the beehive need replacement. It is sometimes best to take apart the beehive and only use the parts that are not damaged to fix other beehives. If you really need the beehive, replacing the damaged parts is your only option. Beehive frames from dead beehives can be used in other beehives or destroyed by burning. The wax from the beehive can work as foundation or be given to bees to reuse in drawing out comb on other beehive frames.

How to Avoid Beehives Dying

Beekeepers take various measures to prevent losing honeybee colonies. These measures are best integrated in your beehive management and pest control programs. The various measures include use of essential oils, pesticides and beehive component management.

Using honeybee approved pesticides

Periodic use of pesticides is advised when controlling honeybee pests in beehives. Note that the pesticides used should be approved for use with honeybees. It is also recommend to remove honey supers when treating beehive boxes with pesticides. This is because the pesticides can harm bees and persist in honey. Some pesticides can also enter honeycomb and remain in the beehive for long. Apply the pesticide in the correct rate and for only the allowed period of time. Overuse of pesticides is dangerous.

Using essential oils

Oils are used in beekeeping to keep pests such as mites and hive beetles in check. They kill adult pests before they can lay eggs in the beehive. Oils approved for use are applied using various methods including dripping, vaporizing and fogging. Beekeepers also use feeding to apply oils for pest and parasite control. These oils are mostly natural and do not persist in the beehive once application is over. Pests controlled using oils include hive beetles and mites.

Using pest traps

Traps are very effective at controlling pests when used correctly. Make use of hive beetle and wax moth traps as a means of controlling the pests.

A Final Word

Various pests, parasites and diseases of honeybees can lead to total loss of a honeybee colony. The death of the colony does not mean the end of beekeeping for the beekeeper. In an apiary, a dead beehive can be put back to use successfully. Cleaning the dead beehive is the first step towards reusing the beehive. Use this article on how to clean a dead beehive in reclaiming the beehives you might have lost in your apiary.

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Jessica F
Jessica F

Great information! Cleaning dead bees isn’t something I’ve had to do yet.

I just started my own beekeeping blog to document everything I’m learning along the way. This is very informative. Thanks!