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Maintaining hygiene in the beehive contributes greatly to having a honeybee colony that is healthy and productive. Hygiene prevents occurrence of diseases that affect honeybees. In a beekeeping operation, there are many aspects of hygiene. They encompass apiary hygiene, beehive hygiene, and the general hygiene of your beekeeping operation.
Honeybees clean their beehive or seal up unwanted materials in propolis and resins. Sometimes, however, you need to help the bees maintain the best hygiene levels in the beehive. Beehive hygiene is largely about cleanliness, and the environmental conditions inside the beehive. Here is all the information you need, and useful tips about maintaining hygiene in the beehive.
Honeybees maintain very clean and tidy beehives. They are able to maintain hygiene at good levels in the beehive. Sometimes, such as in a disease outbreak in the beehive, the bees are overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to keep the beehive clean. At such times, your beehive management activity as a beekeeper steps in to help the honeybees. You should aim to prevent situations where honeybees cannot clean the beehive adequately.
As beekeepers, your hive hygiene activities support the natural cleaning activities of the bees. You can, therefore, group your beehive hygiene practices into two categories: preventive and assistive. The assistive hive hygiene activities are those that you carry out to help honeybees with keeping the beehive clean. In extreme situations, you have to resort to sterilizing the beehive. Sterilizing the beehive in a predetermined and pre-emptive action at a time you choose, is better than when you are forced to sterilize the beehive due to problems with the honeybee colony. Most of the times, you will be counting the losses of a dead honeybee colony as you sterilize the beehive in a forced situation.
Causes of Honeybee Colony Death
Microorganisms are a major cause of honeybee diseases. When left untreated, the diseases can kill your entire honeybee colony. Timely beehive inspections and application of treatments when you notice diseases, is the best safeguard against beehive dead outs caused by these diseases.
In addition to microorganisms, honeybees are very sensitive to toxins. The toxins may be in the environment or present in the beehive. Healthy colonies can survive encounters with small amounts of toxins, but will be wiped out if the amounts of toxins are high.
Beekeepers use various methods to prevent their bees from coming into contact with harmful toxins. Providing foraging plants for bees reduces their visits to plants that may be sprayed with toxic substances. You could also try communicating with farmers near you to inform you when they spray chemicals on their plants. When you are informed, you close the beehive so that bees do not fly out until the toxins are no longer on plants they may visit.
How Honeybees Keep the Beehive Clean
Among honeybees are worker bees that clean the beehive of any unwanted materials. Even the dead bees that die in the beehive are removed. Undertaker bees carry them out and drop them off at some distance from the beehive.
When bees cannot carry out any undesirable material from the beehive, they entomb the item in resins and propolis. This includes small animals, insects, and pests. In other cases, the bees lock pests in honeycomb cells and seal them in. Other honeybee activities that contribute to best hygiene in the beehive, are temperature and humidity control. They ensure that microorganisms and their spores cannot grow in the beehive.
How Beekeepers Contribute to Beehive Hygiene
It is your responsibility as a beekeeper to help bees maintain hygiene in the beehive. You can do this using preventive actions and assistive actions. Preventive actions include ensuring that you do not introduce unwanted materials into the beehive. Assistive actions are when you help bees to restore cleanliness in the beehive, especially if they cannot do it on their own.
One of the most important actions as a beekeeper, is ensuring that your tools and equipment are clean. When you have several beehives in one apiary, make sure to clean tools and equipment between using them on different beehives. This is more important if you use the tools and equipment in a beehive that is diseased.
Your beekeeping suit and gloves are part of the equipment you use in beekeeping. They come into contact with the beehive and other tools and equipment. When cleaning tools and equipment between beehives, make sure that you also clean the beekeeping suit and gloves that you are wearing. If you are using bare hands, wash the hands between beehives.
For tools and equipment, a solution of baking soda, or washing soda, or Clorox is enough for cleaning between beehive visits. After all beehive visits, you can subject the tools to more thorough cleaning using Clorox.
1. Merging colonies
Colonies of honeybees that show weakness can be merged to form one or more strong colonies. This can turn into a serious problem for beehive hygiene if one of the honeybee colonies is diseased or infested by pests or parasites.
During the process of merging the colonies, honeybees from such a colony will transmit the disease, pests or parasites to the healthy colony. The disease, pest or parasite can quickly lead to low ability of the bees to maintain hygiene in the beehive.
Prevent this from happening by ensuring that the colonies you will merge are free of any diseases, pests and parasites before the merger. As necessary, treat the unhealthy colony before carrying out any mergers of weak honeybee colonies.
2. Disposing Beehive Waste Safely
Clean out and dispose beehive waste in the best way possible. Cleaning up honey spills and exposed honeycomb greatly contributes to proper beehive hygiene. It prevents the occurrence of robbing between honeybee colonies. Destroy or remove any exposed wax from beehives so that it does not attract predators that prey of honeybees.
Broken pieces of honeycomb in the beehive are suitable hiding places for honeybee pests and parasites. Remove them from the beehive as soon as you notice them. Allow for the periodic renewal of honeycomb in the beehive by removing old comb so that the bees draw new comb. Wax moths are drawn to, and prefer, old comb that has been in the beehive for long periods of time.
3. New queen
Genetic diversity is good for health and productivity in honeybee colonies. The process of ensuring genetic diversity involves removing old queen bees from beehives and bringing in a new queen bee.
Beekeepers also bring new queen bees to honeybee colonies if they notice that the old queen bee is failing. Despite being a single individual, a sick queen bee can cause a hive-wide disease outbreak. This also applies to a queen bee that has parasites or pests on it. Honeybees that come into contact with the queen bee get infected and spread the problem to the rest of the hive.
When bringing in a new queen bee to a colony, make sure to get it from a reliable supplier. Also, inspect the queen bee for signs and symptoms of diseases, pests and parasites before putting her in the honeybee colony.
4. Lending and Borrowing Beekeeping Tools and Equipment
Lending out and borrowing of beekeeping tools and equipment impacts hygiene in the beehive. The tools and equipment may have disease-causing microorganisms or their spores after use in another beehive or apiary. It may also have eggs of pests and parasites of honeybees. It causes an infection or infestation in your beehives when you use it.
Sterilize such tools and equipment before using them in your beekeeping operation. In the same manner, you should also sterilize the tools and equipment you have lent out to other beekeepers when they return the tools and equipment to you, before using them in your apiary.
5. Installing Bees in a Beehive
Clean new beehives before installing honeybee colonies in them. Even new beehives can have disease agents, pests and parasites in them. They cause the colony you install in the beehive to get infected or infested. Prevent this by ensuring that the beehive is clean. You can also sterilize the beehive using various methods so that you are sure it is safe for the honeybee colony you install in it.
After installing a colony in a new beehive, inspect the beehive after sometime and check for signs of diseases, pests and parasites. If you detect any problems, carry out treatments as appropriate before the honeybee colony is overwhelmed.
6. Second-hand Beehives, Components and Tools and Equipment
Budgetary constraints in beekeeping operations may cause you to go for second-hand beekeeping supplies. They are easily available from fellow beekeepers that are selling them and also come at low costs in most cases. Whether you are buying or selling second hand beekeeping supplies, sterilize them before use. It helps your beekeeping operation to avoid diseases that may be transmitted through the second-hand equipment.
Wooden and plastic equipment can bee sterilized using chemicals such as bleach and washing soda. You may also dip them in hot wax or char them before using them in your beekeeping operation. As much as you can, use new beekeeping equipment to do away with the risks posed by using second-hand equipment.
1. Cleaning the Beehive
Direct cleaning action in the beehive requires you to sweep, rinse or char the beehive. You may also use two or more of the methods on one beehive for the results you desire. To sweep the beehive, use a bee brush or other clean brush that does the job well. Usually, the sweeping is to remove dead bees from the beehive. Dispose of the bees in a safe manner at enough distance from the beehive or apiary. The distance is so that predators that may gain access to the dead bees will not know of the presence of a nearby beehive or apiary.
Burn the dead bees to ensure that they do not cause the spreading of the disease that wiped out the colony. You should also burn the beehive boxes of the affected beehive if some infectious disease such as American Foulbrood (AFB) is the cause of colony loss. In ensuring proper disposal of dead honeybee colonies and cleaning the beehive, you protect your remaining honeybee colonies.
2. Notifying Beekeepers and Local Authorities
Notify fellow beekeepers and beekeeping authorities in your area of any diseases and parasites that you note in your honeybee colonies. This helps the other beekeepers to put in place preventive measures so that their honeybee colonies do not get affected by the same problem. Authorities can also help you and fellow beekeepers once you have notified them.
Some diseases of honeybees can spread between beehives in an area without contact of honeybees, such as through spores transmitted by the wind. For such diseases, early notification of beekeepers and authorities is the best way to prevent massive losses of honeybee colonies in your area.
Sterilize, disinfect and renovate beehives as necessary in your beekeeping operation. Make the activity part of your maintenance program for best results and effectiveness. Keep accurate records of beehives so that you know when each beehive is due for sterilization.
After every 2 (two) winters using a beehive, sterilize the beehive before the third winter. In spite of the rarity of infectious diseases that persist on tools and equipment, consider all due beehives and their products infectious. This also applies to equipment you have used on the beehives.
There are several ways of sterilizing beehives, beehive components and beekeeping equipment. You can use chemical treatments and scorching for best results. Carry out health and risk assessment before carrying out the sterilization process on beehives. Wear protective equipment during the process to ensure your safety.
Remove beehive frames and components for proper sterilization. The beeswax, propolis and honey you find in the beehive at the time of sterilizing the beehive need disposal too. Do not reuse them in the beehive or feed the honey to bees. Scrape wax and propolis from the beehive boxes and frames before further cleaning and sterilization. Spread newspapers or other suitable material on your working area to catch the scrapings. Burn the scrapings and the newspapers once you are done with the activity.
1. Bleaching Beehives
Soak beehive boxes and frames in 0.5% bleach solution. The active compound in bleach is sodium hypochlorite. Leave the boxes and frames in the sterilizing solution for 20 minutes and then rinse them using clean water. After rinsing them, dry the frames and boxes in the sun. You may also scorch them up after rinsing out the bleach solution. Using bleach solution and scorching are reliable methods that achieve complete sterilization of the beehive.
2. Dipping in Hot Wax
Another method you can use to ensure your beehive boxes and frames are sterilized is dipping them in hot wax. Ensure safety when heating wax by using a boiler and heating the wax indirectly by placing the wax in a container in the hot water. Allow the frames and boxes to soak in the hot water for about 10 minutes for complete sterilization. After the 10 minutes, remove the frames and boxes from the wax and place them on absorbent material to remove excess wax from the frames and boxes.
Scorching beehives is using fire to burn spores, microorganisms and eggs of pests and parasites. It also kills live pests and parasites that may be in the beehive. Scorching is also called charring. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can safely scorch beehives and beehive components with the right equipment. Take the beehive apart for scorching. Beehive boxes and frames are scorched separately for best results.
Use a blowtorch to scorch the beehive and its components. Fire is very effective in killing microorganisms, spores and eggs. You can also scorch the inner surfaces of beehive boxes by applying a flammable liquid and then setting it alight. When scorching the beehive and its components, take care not to burn the wood or yourself. After scorching, sand away the ash left on the surfaces of beehive boxes and other components.
Sterilizing Beekeeping Equipment
Beekeeping tools and equipment are a common vector of disease transmission in beekeeping. They easily harbour spores and micro-organisms on their surfaces from use in infected beehives. During normal use of the tools and equipment, scrub them clean using washing soda solution. Prepare and keep the washing soda solutions nearby when carrying our beehive inspections. This makes it easy to clean the tools and equipment after inspecting one beehive, before you use them to inspect another beehive.
For easy management and use of the washing soda solution, you may put it in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the tool or equipment you are cleaning and then spread it using a sponge scourer. If the tool or equipment has any wax, honey or propolis on it, scrape it clean before washing with the soda solution. After finishing your beehive inspection activities, bleach the tools and equipment or blowtorch them before storage.
Sterilizing Beekeeping Clothing
Beekeeping suits and gloves you use for your protection from bee stings need sterilization too. They are made using fabrics of various types and cannot withstand the use of a blowtorch on them. Sterilizing this personal protective equipment is best by using a solution of washing soda. Soak them in the solution for about 5 minutes and then scrub them lightly. Washing soda breaks loose the propolis and wax that may be on the clothes. Scrubbing the clothes removes the wax and propolis from the clothes. Washing soda kills any disease spores and eggs of honeybee pests and parasites on the clothes. You should also ensure best cleanliness of the clothes at all times and renew the clothes regularly.
Disposable nylon, latex and nitrile gloves are great replacements or supplements to using leather gloves only. The disposable gloves can withstand the use of washing soda over longer periods of time than leather gloves. Scrub the gloves clean using some washing soda solution between beehive inspections. You can then later sterilize and disinfect them using bleach solutions after you have finished using them for the day. After some time using the gloves, dispose them appropriately to ensure they do not become avenues for disease transmission between beehives.
Develop and Implement a Beehive Hygiene Program
Develop a beehive hygiene program and implement it fully to ensure your beehives remain healthy at all times. Your hygiene program should have in it enough measures for effective control of honeybee pests and diseases. It should also have room for recording of all treatment details. You may use a beekeeping software application such as BeeKeepPal for easy recording and accessing of the records of treatments you apply in your beehives.
When developing the beehive hygiene program, research information and understand the diseases and pests that you are likely to encounter in your beekeeping operation. The plan should also cover the diseases and pests that you are unlikely to encounter but which affect honeybees.
Barrier Management System
Implement a barrier management system in your beekeeping. In a barrier management system, you divide your beekeeping operation into apiaries, clusters of beehives and individual beehive units. The system requires you to use different or clean tools and equipment between units of your barrier system. It reduces the likelihood of transmitting diseases from one unit in the system to the next. This way, problems occurring in one barrier unit or apiary are confined to the unit and you can control them easily.
Control and Manage Swarming
Provide extra space for colonies to expand into. During build up, ensure that bees have more space than they can use up to prevent swarming. Remove any queen cells you notice and find out why the bees want to swarm. Preventing swarming maintains colony health and hygiene by continuously keeping the colony strong. A strong colony is able to clean the beehive very well and can withstand diseases with more surviving members of the colony once you apply treatments.
Requeening Every 2 Years
Requeen your honeybee colonies every 2 years using queen bees that are young and healthy. The queen bee should come from a reputable dealer so that she does not bring diseases, pests and parasites to your honeybee colony. Requeening causes offspring in the beehive to be strong, healthy and capable of carrying out beehive activities. It also improves genetic diversity of your honeybee colonies.
Healthy honeybee colonies are a result of many different management activities. Beehive management includes cleaning that you should do to help honeybees keep the beehive hygienic. When starting anew beehive, you should be sure that it is safe for habitation by honeybees. This requires you to sterilize the beehive, especially if it housed another honeybee colony previously.
A beehive in which a colony of honeybees suffered a disease needs great attention when sterilizing it before you use it or any of its components again in beekeeping. For the time that you need to sterilize a beehive, and for your best hive management, use the tips and information in this article in maintaining hygiene in the beehive.