Used Beekeeping Equipment

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Starting a journey into beekeeping is an exciting time and you may be tempted by offers of used beekeeping equipment. It seems like a great way to recycle, reuse and gives you an opportunity to save some money. Sometimes you get lucky but you need to know the risks of reusing old beehives from unknown sources.

Older beehives of stacked boxes in field.

Many years ago when I became a beekeeper, I was shock at the initial cost of needed supplies. Of course, that has only gotten worse as beekeeping equipment and supplies cost even more today. No harm in trying to save some money where you can.

Saving Money with Used Beekeeping Equipment

Any new to beekeeper quickly learns that the costs of beekeeping can add up – especially that first year. 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 buying used beekeeping equipment very enticing to beginning 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.

Is it Safe to Use Old Beehives?

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. I’m not suggesting that you should never use old beehives – but be aware of the potential risks.

Risks 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 honeycomb or boxes 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 a honey bee disease – long after any live bees are gone! This is the major risk associated with beehives that have been used before.

Bees on older comb and old pieces of used bee frames.

American Foul Brood

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 bee 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 fall victim to robbing honey bees, spreading the disease to other colonies in the area.

Old Honeycomb

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.

Used Hive Frames

The most common type of used beekeeping equipment available 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 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.

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 honey bee pests, eggs or debris from used boxes or beekeeping supers.

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)
Old bee smoker, hive tool and other pieces of equipment image.

Used Tools & Equipment 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. Avoid those old galvanized models – they are too hard to clean.

Second Hand Beekeeping Suits & Veils

Recycling second hand beekeeper protective clothing should pose no problem. New 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.

Why is the Used Equipment Available

You can’t always know but the reason why the used beekeeping equipment is offered can be valuable information. Did it result from a change in the person’s life or did the bees inside suffer a long dwindling death?

  • 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.

FAQs

Is it OK to buy used bee equipment?

Used bee equipment should only be purchased if you are confident that it has not contained colonies that failed due to disease. In most cases, the risk is not worth the savings.

Is comb from a used beehive safe to reuse?

Honeycomb is the most risky piece of a used beehive to buy. Only take that risks if you are getting it from an experienced beekeeper that understands bee diseases.

What kind of used beekeeping equipment is the least risky?

Beekeeper tools and protective wear are the least risky in terms of disease prevention. After that, reusing boxes can be done with some comfort. It is best to not acquire old frames and comb.

Final Thoughts

Once you understand the true risks involved, the decision is yours. If everything looks good, buying some pieces of used beekeeping equipment may be worth the risk. Keep your eyes open in your region.

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.