Don’t Get Stung by Used Beekeeping Equipment
Is buying used beekeeping equipment a good idea? New bee supplies are rather expensive so it seems like a good deal to get some “almost new beehives”.
Used beekeeping equipment is very enticing to many new beekeepers. Seriously, who doesn’t want to save money. And seeing an advertisement that says, “used beehives for sale is tempting”.
We can’t blame anyone for wanting to save money where they can. But is this a good deal? Used Beekeeping Equipment can be a great opportunity or a nightmare failure.
The Risks of Old Hives and Comb
Beekeeping is not a low cost endeavor for beginners. Hundreds or thousands of dollars can be spent on bees, tools, beekeeping suits and hive components.
This is a huge startup cost for the first year beekeeper. Especially costly, is the recommended set of of having 2 beehives.
Thus the temptation to buy used bee equipment or ready to go hives that someone no longer wants.
Beekeeping is work. Some folks decide they don’t like it as much as they thought in the beginning.
An element of risk is involved when you buy complete hives with bees or empty used equipment. The equipment can spread diseases – some of them deadly to your bees.
Any infected beehive boxes are not just a problem for bees that you install in the box. They can be dangerous to any bee hives within flying range.
When a bee colony becomes sick, it can spread the disease to other nearby colonies. This happens because bees rob out other hives and some drifting from hive to hive does occur.
Am I saying that you should never buy used boxes or complete hives? No, not at all, I am just urging you to understand that there is a risk.
Don’t let the fear of honey bee disease paralyze you into inactivity. Educate yourself about the most common pests and diseases that your hives may face.
Learn how to recognize diseases and when to ask for help. A clear understanding of how disease is spread will enable you to make informed decisions.
Why Used Beekeeping Boxes May Not Be Safe!
While it may be easy to clean beekeeping suits, tools etc., the things we can’t see are the real danger. Many bee pathogens can not bee seen with the naked eye. Everything looks just fine.
The most common disease feared by beekeepers is American Foul Brood. This is a bacterial disease that kills brood (young bees) usually after they are capped.
AFB is so contagious it can take down entire apiaries. And no, we cant always tell by looking if the used beehives are infected.
Even worse, there is no cure for a colony with AFB. Beekeepers have used treatments to suppress AFB but it does not eliminate the problem.
In some states, the beekeeper is required to burn infected hives (bees, equipment and all). The biggest problem with AFB is what it leaves behind. The bacterial disease leaves behind spores.
Foul brood spores can survive in equipment for 50 years. They await the right conditions to develop into active AFB. As a hobbyist, there is nothing you can do to remove AFB contamination.
In larger cities, you may find a bee club with a special fumigation tank. This apparatus can sanitize used beekeeping equipment properly.
Cleaning Old Bee Boxes
Aside from serious disease like AFB, there are things you can do to clean other pests, eggs or debris from a used hive box. There are several methods for cleaning used equipment, some processes are easier than others .
Used Beekeeping Equipment Tools to Re-Use
Beekeeping tools are often handed down from generation to generation. This is an okay practice, as long as, you clean them before use. Yet, some items are easier to clean than others.
Bee smokers and hive tools should pose a minimal risk if cleaned properly. Remove any wax, propolis or other residues.
I scorch all metal surfaces with a blow torch and then dip item in a mixture of Chlorox and water. No guarantees that the chlorox works – it just makes me feel better.
If the used beekeeping item is small enough, you can place in a freezer for a few days. Freezing would kill any wax moth eggs that are too small to see.
However if I suspected that a hive tool may have been exposed to an AFB hive, I would throw it away. You can sanitize it with fire but I wouldn’t take the risk.
Used Beekeeping Suits & Veils
Recycling used beekeeper protective clothing should pose no problem. Make sure they are properly laundered before use.
I personally would not take a chance with gloves but if they are leather, you could sanitize them.
How Used Beekeeping Supplies Becomes Available
New Beekeepers Decide to Quit
All beekeepers are subject to having colonies die. New beekeepers are especially at risk of colony failure. Sometimes, people get into beekeeping with no idea of the work involved.
Everyone has some failures in beekeeping. You will be exhausted quickly without a passion for beekeeping. Upon failure of a bee colony, some beekeepers decide that beekeeping is just not right for them as this time.
So, you find used bee equipment for sale that may be just fine and safe to use. The advantage for you is that the newer equipment is usually in good condition.
You should get years of use from it. But, there is still an element of risk. You have the possibility of disease-it is not only old boxes that can carry disease.
Older Beekeepers Retire
The other situation where used beekeeping equipment is available is retirement. Perhaps, an older beekeeper in your area has decided to quit. The equipment is slated for sale.
This can be a good opportunity to acquire a lot of equipment at once. However, the condition of the wooden ware will play a big part in deciding if this is a good deal.
Common Used Bee Supplies For Sale
The most common type of used beekeeping equipment found for sale is wooden ware. The actual parts of a hive. Bottom Boards, supers, frames, inner covers and outer covers can last for several years.
It is very common to find these items for sale in Fall or early Spring. Personally, I would not purchase or use very old hive parts.
If they are newer, the bottom boards, supers, inner covers and tops have value. If I did buy some used wooden ware, I would scorch and clean all the wooden surfaces.
Personally, unless you have 100% faith in the knowledge of the seller, do not buy used frames or comb.
Frames are not expensive. They experience stresses in the hive as we pry them out of the boxes. This wear and tear makes joints become loose over time and can be a big mess.
I prefer to use new frames (order the correct size) that I have assembled and glue together myself. In this way I fell that I have the best chance of not having problems in the hive.
A small amount of damage from wax moths in the honey comb is okay, if you are willing to take the disease risk with comb. A strong colony will fix the problem.
What to do with old used frames? Toss them on the fire. They are difficult to clean, inexpensive to replace and too dangerous to bother with.
Is Comb From A Used Beehive Safe?
No. Again, I must emphasize that old used comb is a danger. As beeswax can carry many bee pathogens.
Honeycomb (beeswax) serves as the liver of the hive. Beeswax absorbs all types of substances in the hive.
There is no safe way (that I know of) to sanitize honeycomb available to the average beekeeper.
Would I ever do it ? It depends. I would only use comb from a beekeeper that I trusted. Even then, there could be problems that neither of us know about. Best advice is don’t use it.
Acceptable Risks in Used Beekeeping Equipment (For Me)
I only purchase used beekeeping equipment if I know something of its origin. The equipment may be the result of a good beekeeper giving up the colonies for health reasons.
Or, a new beekeeper that started with new clean hives realizes that beekeeping is just too much.
In my region, most colonies die from starvation and queen problems or mite issues. AFB is not widespread in my area but it is still a concern.
If you know the beekeeper, did he do a AFB test when the bees were in decline ? There is always risk involved when purchasing used beekeeping equipment or bees!
Keep your eyes open in your region, you may find some good quality clean used bee supplies for sale. If everything looks good, it may be worth the risk to purchase it.
Just keep in mind that we always have risks in beekeeping. It will not save money to purchase cheap equipment and maybe cause disease to spread through all your hives.
Again, personally, I very rarely purchase used equipment.