Cleaning Equipment

Why Clean Equipment:

Bees live close together and if a disease gets a hold in a hive it can spread very quickly. If we can keep all our equipment clean and be on top of a disease then there is less chance of it damaging the colony and less chance of it spreading to other hives or other apiaries. This page will show some of the ways of cleaning your equipment. 

How does the problem arise?

The problem can be introduced to your apiary by a variety of routes:

Foraging Bees bring it in: The foraging bees range over a considerable distance and in their trip they may visit an infected area. This may be a nearby apiary or a contaminated hive in your own apiary. It may be a wild bee colony or it may have picked the infection up from a flower that has been previously visited by an infected insect.

Beekeeper introduces an infected swarm: There is a risk that you go out and collect a swarm and cannot wait to get back to your apiary and introduce the swarm to an empty hive. This is a risky operation and not one I can encourage. A swarm should be kept separate until you are confident they are disease free.

The problem arrives on the wind: Some bacteria and viruses could be carried on the wind and arrive at your hive. In the case of insect invasion such as Wax Moth the problem just flies in.

Beekeepers purchase contaminated equipment: Beekeepers are renowned for looking for economical solutions and auctions and secondhand sales are both routes by which you may bring in infection.

Beekeepers bring an infection from a hive they visited: In the peak of the summer we may be invited by our bee association to go on apiary visits. This is a time when you can easily pick up an infection which you then bring back to your own apiary. If you do visit another apiary make certain that you clean everything you used before you visit your own apiary.

What can we use to clean our equipment?

There are a variety of methods we can use to clean our equipment.

Physically remove contamination:

The easiest, but often tedious, way to remove contamination is to take something like your hive tool and scrape all the wax, propolis and other material from the offending surfaces. This is particularly useful on hives. Be careful when doing this. The rubbish you scrape off may be contaminated and should be treated as if it is. In my case I do all the scraping over sheets of newspaper which I then fold and place on the fire. Newspaper full of wax rubbish makes a good fire starter.

Freezer:

For killing insect pests such as Wax Moth or Varroa you could use the freezer but do get approval of other members of your household. The offending item should be wrapped in something like a rubbish bag. When the wax gets very cold (-20C) it also gets very brittle and nobody wants old beeswax in their fishcakes. This method only works for insect pests. Bacteria and viruses are not affected by this treatment.

Blowtorch:

For those items which are not damaged by heat the use of a blowtorch is advised. This is a frequently used method for sterilising the inside of a hive. Special attention must be given to any cracks in the wood and corners where scraping alone will not remove the contamination. This will kill viruses, bacteria and insect pests. The blowtorch may be gas driven or an electrical paint stripper.

Washing Soda:

This is used by lots of beekeepers. One of its big advantages is that it loosens propolis and there are not many products that do that. A good solution of Washing Soda is 1 kg of soda to 5 litres of warm water plus a dash of washing up liquid. (That scales down to 100 grams to 500 ml warm water.) Do be careful. Use gloves and wear eye protection when using washing soda.

Bleach:

If you have a polyhive then bleach is a possibility. Normal household bleach is about 5% sodium hypochlorite – the most active ingredient. For cleaning polyhives it is suggested you use 0.5% concentration so 100ml of bleach plus 900 ml of water will give you 0.5% concentration. If using bleach to clean hives then give them a good rinse and leave them for several days to dry before putting them back into use. That will give time for the sodium hypochlorite to break down. The NBU says that 20 minutes in 0.5% sodium hypochlorite will destroy AFB and EFB spores.

Boiling:

For some this is the way to clean frames. Take the old frame and remove as much of the wax and propolis as you can – preferably when it is cold from the freezer. Once that is done immerse the frames in a boiler of dilute washing soda for about two minutes. When you have finished the wax can be skimmed off the surface and the boiler allowed to cool before being emptied. Personally I could not be bothered with this method. A lot of work and you have to store the empty boiler the rest of the year. I would rather use the old frames for kindling and start with new frames

Conclusion

So what can we conclude from this? Well all methods work but some are more suitable than others. If I were cleaning a wooden hive then I would start with physically scraping the muck off and then I would give it a blast with my blowtorch. For frames I prefer to remove the wax and clean it in the solar wax extractor if it is suitable. The old frames, if I am in any doubt, get burned and replaced. The one thing I have not mentioned is the bee suit. Mine unfortunately does not have a removable hood so I wash it by hand. A possibility is to place the hood inside a pillowcase and secure it in place and then wash it in the washing machine.

The method you choose is up to you but whatever you choose to use remember that if a chemical will remove propolis think what could it do to your skin or your eyes!

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