Used Beekeeping Equipment -What are the Risks?

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Buying Used Beekeeping Equipment

Starting a journey into beekeeping is an exciting time. Lots to learn and buy. New beekeeping supplies are rather expensive so it seems like a good deal to get some “almost new beehives”. Is buying used beekeeping equipment a good idea? Well, you may get lucky but used equipment always involves some risk.

Old empty hives used beekeeping equipment.

Getting started in beekeeper requires an outlay of some money. This makes buying used beekeeping equipment very enticing to new beekeepers.

Hundreds even 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 who needs everything. Especially costly, is the recommendation that new beekeepers should start with 2 beehives.

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? Buying used equipment can be a great opportunity or a nightmare failure.

Old used beekeeping equipment image.

Risks of Buying Used Bee Equipment

An element of risk is involved when you buy complete hives with bees or empty used equipment.  This is because disease can be present in the comb or on the wooden parts.

Another thing to consider, if you receive a bee box that is infected , you are not only putting your new bees in danger. The problem can spread to any bee hives within flying range.

Used Bee Hives Can Spread AFB

No one wants to doom a new colony to a horrible end because of the box chosen for their home.

Many bee pathogens can not be seen with the naked eye. Everything looks just fine – but is it?

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.  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). 

Pallets of old bee boxes sitting in a field on pallets image.

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.

In larger cities, you may find a bee club with a special fumigation tank that can sanitize used beekeeping equipment properly.  This is not normally an option for the small scale beekeeper.

When a bee colony becomes sick, it can spread the disease to other nearby colonies. This happens because of honey bee robbing and when foragers drift from hive to hive.

Your neighbors bees may rob out your dying colony and take the disease back to their hive.

And honestly, most newer beekeepers have not idea why their hive died. It is not a question of them being honest or not – they simply may not know.

Learn everything you can about recognizing honey bee diseases as this will help you make better decisions in all facets of beekeeping.

Is Comb From A Used Beehive Safe?

No.  Again, I must emphasize that old used comb is a danger. Beeswax can harbor many bee pathogens.

Honeycomb (beeswax) serves as the liver of the hive.  There is no safe way to sanitize honeycomb available to the average beekeeper.

Old bee box hive body with frames and used honeycomb image.

Cleaning Old Bee Boxes

Aside from serious disease like AFB, there are things you can do to remove pests, eggs or debris from a used hive box.

There are several methods for cleaning used equipment, some processes are easier than others . Again, this will not stop disease but may help remove hive pests such as wax moths, their eggs or cocoons.

Many beekeepers choose to torch the inside of old bee boxes. The idea is that heat will kill hidden pest eggs etc.

A bleach solution of (1 part bleach – 5 parts water) has been used as a 10-15 minute soak and some beekeeper feel that this helps sanitize a hive.

However, let’s be perfectly clear – neither of these methods will kill American Foul Brood Spores and that is the biggest threat from used beekeeping equipment.

Cleaning used bee equipment with fire to kill pests and eggs hiding in the wood image.
Cleaning used beekeeping equipment wood components by scorching.

Common Used Beekeeping Supplies 

The most common type of used beekeeping equipment found for sale is wooden ware-the actual parts of a bee hive: Bottom Boards, supers, frames, inner covers and outer covers.

Unless you have 100% faith in the knowledge of the seller, do not buy used frames. Frames are not expensive.

They experience stresses in the hive as we pry them out of the boxes during hive inspections. This wear and tear makes joints become loose over time and can cause a big mess.

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.

Old Beekeeping Tools Pose Less Risk

Beekeeping tools are often handed down from generation to generation. This is an okay practice, as long as, you clean them before use.

Used 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 bleach and water. No guarantees that the bleach works – it just makes me feel better.

Second Hand Beekeeping Suits & Veils

Recycling second hand beekeeper protective clothing should pose no problem. Bees suits and jackets are quite expensive.

Make sure any beekeeper clothing is properly laundered before use. I personally would not take a chance with gloves.

Reasons Used Beekeeping Equipment is for Sale

Why are these used pieces of bee equipment for sale? There are many reasons that old hives may be for sale. There are several reasons for empty hives that are no longer wanted.

  • hives required more work than beekeeper expected
  • job schedules/life changes leave no time for bees
  • family allergy to bees develops
  • home owners association or city says no more bees
  • beekeeper growing older and unable to work bees
  • beekeeper can’t get hives to live and gives up

New Beekeepers Decide to Quit

Sadly, many new beekeepers fail to have a good experience with their hives. All beekeepers are subject to having colonies die. And, new beekeepers are especially at risk of colony failure.

Also, some people get into beekeeping with no idea of the work involved. Perhaps they just don’t have the time right now to devote to the raising bees.

Everyone has some failures in beekeeping. You will be exhausted quickly without a passion for bees. 

You many find used bee equipment for sale that looks almost new. The advantage for you is that the newer equipment is usually in good condition.

Older Beekeepers Retire and Sell Used Bee Equipment

Another situation that arises is beekeeping supplies available due to the retirement of another beekeeper.

Perhaps, an older beekeeper in your area has decided to quit. He or she may want to pass the hives on to someone else with a passion for bees.

If the retiring beekeeper is knowledgeable and able to recognize disease problems you are in luck. Perhaps you can obtain a bit of history of the equipment and reduce the risk of disease.

Final Tips on Buying Used Beekeeping Equipment

Only purchase used beekeeping supplies and equipment if you know something of its origin.

A knowledgeable beekeeper who understands bee disease and has something to sell may be an acceptable risk.

Keep your eyes open in your region, you may find some good quality clean used bee supplies for sale. Local beekeeping associations often have newsletters that let members advertise.

If everything looks good, it may be worth the risk to purchase it.

Beekeeper Charlotte

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4 Comments

  1. I recently purchased a friend’s frames. We both purchased our bees at the same time this yr from a certified beekeeper in the area. I keep my bees in the country & her bees were kept in a subdivision. She lost both hives – neighbor fogging for mosquitoes, hive beetles & then wax moths & then they all swarmed. She didn’t really have the time for them.

    I was told that freezing the frames would be sufficient to kill any larva. I did remove the comb because I could see the moth damage. The bee keeper we purchased from did come out to inspect her hives & he determined that the wax moths & beetles probably did the most damage. I trust that he would have told us had it been something more serious.

    I’m leaving all the frames in the feeezer for 7 days then putting them up in my attic till spring. I guess I read this post a eeek late as I would have probably passed on the frames. Hopefully all will be ok though.

    My bees in the country are are very happy & gave me some honey that has been the best I’ve ever tasted. Really enjoy your FB page too.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I do try to provide value in my posts on the blog and in group. I think you are probably ok. Yea, frames can be a little risky but the actual comb is the most dangerous.

  3. Lynda Gale says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    This post about used equipment was just what I needed to read today, as I would like to but the used woodenware (minus frames) and equipment from a couple I met in my beekeeping club.

    They were fairly new certified beekeepers trying to stay chemical free and unfortunately lost 8 of 10 hives the winter of ‘17-‘18. The two surviving colonies had high varroa drops on a sticky board beneath the screen bottoms when they were offered to me this past November. So I treated them with Formic Pro, leaving the hives at their beeyard, winterized them similar to my own 3 hives and added candy boards. In early January I did a series of OAV treatments (after buying the OAV wand for myself for Christmas).

    They are now building up, bringing in pollen and looking very strong. My question: when I do my first hive inspection (possibly next weekend after this week’s cold spell), if all looks well, do you think there is anything else I should do before moving them to my own beeyard? Should I put the frames into my own hive bodies before moving them?? (I have already changed out the bottom boards, inner covers and telescoping tops).

    I believe there is a very good chance that varroa caused the other hives to fail, since I know no chemical treatments were done. And since these two are the “survivor stock” from their beeyard, now apparently thriving (after the mite counts were lowered) I am feeling pretty confident that this Apiary did not decline because of AFB. Do you think I am being too optimistic?? Should I be more worried about moving them to my yard and also buying thir other used wooden ware??

    I would clean it with a blowtorch, but do not have a way to clean for any possible AFB spores by chemical immersion.

    Thanks in advance for the advice you might offer. Charlotte. I always look forward to your posts and appreciate all you do to help us!!

  4. Hi Lynda, It sounds like you have done a good job. And, yes it is always a risk when we bring hives in. I honestly wouldnt worry about the boxes themselves, since you are going to be bringing in the bees and the comb. It is up to you – for myself I would inspect as soon as you have a warm day and if everything looks good, I would bring them home. I no longer buy any type of used equipment – especially anything with comb. Unless you have a way to sterilize – its too big a risk. Sooner or later you will get a problem that could knock out your whole apiary.

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