Drawn honeycomb is like gold to both bees and beekeeper. For every pound of wax they bees produce, they must consume 6 to 8 pounds of honey. Only the spring bloom makes enough honey available to them for wax production. Having drawn comb available at the start of next spring's nectar flow means the bees can get right to work storing honey without having to ingest so much of it to make wax. Valuable stuff! So now that you've extracted the season's honey crop, it's time to protect your comb from wax moths.
The greater and the lesser wax moths occur anywhere in the world that you find bees and honeycomb. Bees in a strong, healthy hive will patrol and remove the wax moth larvae as they find them. If the hive becomes sick or weak with too few bees to patrol the whole hive, wax moths will get the upper hand. They are nature's way of cleaning up diseased hives. Wax moths find nutrition in the honey, pollen, and wax that contains the exoskeletons of bee larvae. New cakes of wax and wax foundation are seldom if ever at risk. Used honeycomb, stored away from the vigilant patrol of the bees, is vulnerable to wax moths.
Adult moths lay their eggs in the cracks and crevices of the hive frames. When the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel through the hives eating wax, pollen, honey and even bee brood. They leave the comb filled with web and feces. When the larvae finally attach themselves to the wooden parts of the hive to spin their cocoons, they can weaken and destroy the woodenware.
Conventional beekeepers store stacked towers of honeycomb-filled boxes under the vapors of paradichlorobenzene, the same chemical found in moth balls. But beeswax acts as a chemical sink and can easily become contaminated with this and other chemicals. For this reason, I won't use readymade wax foundation for my bees to draw out. A chemical soup can remain in the foundation made from wax produced by conventional beekeepers. Instead my bees draw out all of their own pure wax foundation from scratch. Here in Middle Tennessee, they can do this only in the spring during a nectar flow, when there is enough nectar and honey available for wax production. Giving them a guide at the top of each wired frame gets the bees started, and they draw out beautiful frames of honeycomb.
As dear as honeycomb is to me and as much work as the bees expend to draw it out, I don't wax moths to destroy it during storage.
I've found 2 ways to store comb without chemicals. The best way is to freeze it. This kills all stages of the wax moth. I have 4 deep freezers dedicated to storing comb. Even so, some years I still don't have enough freezer space. A covered porch exposed to light and air but protected from rain is my next defense. Here I stack boxes half full of comb, leaving every other slot empty. Exposure to light discourages the wax moths and keeps my comb clean.
I check the hives stored this way often during the late summer and early fall, before freezing overnight temperatures keep the moths in check. If I see a web trail starting or other signs of active larvae, I rotate these combs through the freezer for 24 hours. Between the freezers and the covered back porch, the honeycomb is safe from wax moth damage without using chemicals.
Photos by Betty Taylor
Betty is a sideline beekeeper living in Middle Tennessee who promotes chemical-free and sustainable beekeeping. You can find her at PersimmonRidgeHoneyFarm.com and on Facebook.