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”. During certain times of the year, you see ads proclaiming “used beehives for sale“. Is buying used beekeeping equipment a good idea? Well, you may get lucky but used equipment always involves some risk.
Is it Safe to Use Old Beehives?
Anyone new to the world of bees quickly learns that it requires an outlay of some money. Hundreds (even thousands) of dollars can be spent on bees, tools, quality beekeeping suits and hive parts.
And don’t forget all those bee gadgets that you don’t really need but want to have. Let’s face it – in the beginning you don’t really know exactly what you need.
This makes the idea of used beekeeping equipment very enticing to new beekeepers. Is it a good way to mitigate the huge startup cost of the first year?
Also, it is often recommended that new beekeepers should start with 2 hives. This means spending even more money.
No matter how much money you have, there is no harm in being a bit frugal. And, seeing an advertisement that says, “used beehives for sale is tempting”.
Is buying a used beehive a good way to start? Sometimes, it can be okay. But, there is a lot of risk that comes along with those old hive parts, frames and comb. Your good deal may become a beekeeping nightmare.
Danger of Used Beekeeping Equipment
Let’s face it, there is some risk involved anytime you purchase hives with bees and comb. You never know for sure if the bees are diseased or full of pests.
Worse yet, if you receive a colony that is infected, you are not only putting your new bees in danger. The problem can spread to any hives within flying range.
Sadly, old hive parts and honeycomb can retain disease – long after any live bees are gone!
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 (AFB).
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).
The biggest problem with AFB is what it leaves behind. This 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 the boxes. This is not normally an option for the small scale beekeeper.
Colonies that are sick and dying with AFB may be robbed out, spreading the disease to other colonies in the area.
Is Comb From A Used Beehive Safe?
Frames of old honeycomb are the most risky hive components to reuse. In these hexagonal wax cells, young was raised and food was stored.
Beeswax can harbor many pathogens. Honeycomb (beeswax) serves as the liver of the hive. There is no safe way to sanitize honeycomb available to the average beekeeper.
Cleaning Old Bee Boxes
What if you are sure the bees that formerly inhabited the hive were not diseased? In that case, there are some things you can do to remove pests, eggs or debris from used boxes or supers.
Some equipment cleaning processes are easier than others. These methods will not stop disease (such as AFB). But, they may help remove hive pests such as wax moths, their eggs or cocoons.
- use hive tool to scrape off any leftover comb, propolis or wax moth cocoons
- scorch the inside of old hive bodies with a butane torch to kill hidden pest eggs
- use a bleach solution to wash the hive components (1 part bleach – 5 parts water)
Used Hive Frames
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.
But, you may find some wooden frames available. Unless you have 100% faith in the knowledge of the seller, do not buy used frames. Frames are not that 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 not worth the disease risk.
Used Tools Pose Less Risk
Beekeeping tools are often handed down from generation to generation. 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.
A used honey extractor is a great option if you find one that is still in good shape. Disinfect the unit and you have saved a lot of money.
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 used beekeeping gloves.
Used Beehive for Sale – Why it Happens?
Why are these used pieces of bee equipment for sale? This happens for many reasons:
- 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. Some people get into beekeeping with no idea of the work involved.
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
Another situation that arises is beekeeping supplies available due to the retirement. 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.
Saving Money on Used Beehives
Once you understand the true risks involved, the decision is yours. If everything looks good, it may be worth the 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.
Don’t go wild buying stuff, you have to find a place to store your beekeeping stuff in the off season.