Bee Spring Cleaning

Reader Contribution by Ron Lane
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How About a Real Treat for Those New Bees That Are Hatching Out Right Now?

It’s a balmy 60 degrees today and I just came in from preparing hive equipment for the coming season. I’m going through old frames and cleaning them up by replacing the foundation in some and tossing out some old plastic frames I made the mistake of buying years ago when I first got “stung” by this great adventure.

I rarely tell people what kind of equipment to purchase because everyone has their own goals and way of operating. Remember the only rule in beekeeping is that their aren’t any rules. Everyone will choose their own route. However, I sure do wish someone would have steered me away from the all plastic frames. Even after scraping them off and hosing them down you cannot remove the imbedded pollen and “gunk” that sticks to the bottom of the cells.

Now just why do you need to keep clean wax in your hives you might ask? Most beekeepers use chemicals in their hives to control Varroa. Wax absorbs these chemicals and consequently your bees are constantly exposed to low levels of chemicals intended for the mites. Even if you don’t use in-hive miticides the wax will become laden with the toxins the bees bring home from your neighbors yards (if you are in or near town) or nearby agricultural fields. When the comb becomes really dark its time for a change.

Brood comb will harbor all sorts of nasty’s. A few days after the egg is laid the larva pupates and spins her cocoon. Before she does she empties her digestive system into the bottom of the cell. After hatching the house bees clean up what they can but they cannot clean it all and the rest is sealed into the cell with propolis and wax. Layer upon layer builds up in these cells. After a few generations this comb will be nearly black and sealed within it will be any pesticides the bees were exposed to, nosema spores, foulbrood, etc. All this adds to the stress level of your colony.

So every few years you will want to replace this blackened comb and spring is the time to do it because much of the comb will be empty. That is what I’ve been working on today and this brings me back to my original thought. You want to purchase frames (I like the wooden frames) with removable foundation. Pop out the old one and replace it with new. Some folks like the duragilt foundation, which is a very thin sheet of clear plastic coated in bees wax. The bees do take right to it and I have used it with great success. However, most of the wax used to coat the plastic comes from commercial operations so you know its had some level of exposure to miticides and possibly some other chemicals.

Another way to go is to use Rite-cell foundation. It, too, is coated with wax but bees don’t always like plastic foundation so here is a surefire way to guarantee their acceptance of it. Today I put a piece of clean wax (gathered from my hives last season) in my solar wax melter to soften it. I then take the new foundation and rub it down lengthwise with the softened ball of wax. Some folks actually melt the wax and then brush it on, but I find rubbing it on to be the easiest. A thin coating of wax from your own hives and the bees will take right to it. It will also put a thin film of your own clean wax between your bees and the wax that came with the foundation.

Maintaining clean wax in your hives will reduce your bees exposure to toxic chemicals and other waste products that build up in the old wax. You want to own the frames that allow you to pop out the old foundation and replace it with new. A little spring cleaning will reduce the level of things your brand new bees being born this spring don’t need to be exposed to and make for healthier hive.

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