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Sanitizing Old Beekeeping Equipment

It is rarely advisable to buy old beekeeping equipment. However, at the risk of becoming a cautionary tale, I picked up some used hives to start our own little apiary. After doing a lot of research, here’s how I went about sanitizing our new-old equipment.

Quick Disclaimer: I am new to beekeeping. I am not an expert and I’m not promising you this is going to work. It is simply what I chose to do after doing some reading. That being said, let’s start with…

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Used Beekeeping Equipment

I’m going to assume that like me, you have just spotted a hell of a deal on some used beekeeping equipment. You are new to bees and haven’t taken the plunge yet because the gear is expensive.

I have been told by many that if you can at all, go and buy brand spanking new equipment.

Used equipment can have bad fungi, bacteria, larvae, and other pest issues. Things like American Foul Brood can be difficult to get rid of.

Beekeeping is not as easy as one may think. If you start off already handicapped with some disease or other issue lurking in the hive boxers, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Why I Did Buy Used Beekeeping Equipment

Because it was VERY gently used, a high-quality brand, and a damn good deal.

Quality Equipment

Mann Lake is widely recognized as being a reputable brand of beekeeping equipment that isn’t cheap. If this had been some random or cheap brand I wouldn’t have even considered it.

Price

I’m not going to list out all the equipment I got, but long story short I bought it for $345. A quick search of the Mann Lake website and a bit of math showed me that new, it would have cost around $1200.

Barely Used

They only kept bees in the equipment for two years, and not very successfully.

The Bees Didn’t Die Mysteriously

If you decide to buy used equipment, find out why there are not bees in it anymore. Did they die? did they leave? What sort of treatments were used on the bees?

I am almost finished with the University of Minnesota’s Beekeeping in Northern Climates, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone new to beekeeping.

In this course I have learned how to look at comb and can tell you what was used for brood, what was pollen, and what was honey stores.

The folks I bought the equipment from told me the bees all swarmed and left.

Looking at the frames, I’d say this was accurate. I can tell that the only frames that were heavily used were the ones that came when they bought their nucs. The rest of the frames in the brood box were barely touched. And almost all the frames in the super boxes weren’t used at all.

They also told me, that they did not feed the bees pollen patties or sugar syrup when trying to get them established.

Best as I can tell, these folks just weren’t totally sure what they were doing. The bees didn’t have the resources they needed, and they left.

How to Sanitize Used Beekeeping Equipment

As I said, my hope is that I do not become a cautionary tale when it comes to buying used equipment. In order to clean this equipment as best as possible, I was as thorough as possible. Here’s what I did.

lightly scorched honey frames rough and tumble farmhouse

Toss

Some things are not worth keeping. Anything that had comb on it, even if the comb looked good and healthy, I threw away. I recommend putting it in trash bags before you put it in the garbage or you’re going to lure a bunch of neighboring bees to your bin.

I didn’t keep the foundation or anything, it all went in the trash.

It’s just too hard to sanitize all that wax.

Scrape

Next, go through and scrape all the wax and propolis from inside the boxes, frames, reducers, etc. Use a flattened cardboard box or scrape it on top of an open garbage bag. You don’t want any of this hanging around as again as it will attract bees and, if it is in fact diseased, can make their home colonies sick.

Fire

The next step is to blast it. I had use of a small blow torch. This took about 1.2 million years to do. Every surface should be lightly browned like a marshmallow, and any remaining wax or propolis completely burned off, at the very least boiled.

My mentor has a flame weeder at his house, which is basically a flame thrower. I still have a few honey supers to sanitize and will definitely be using that to clear the remaining boxes.

Freeze

Thankfully, we were low on frozen meat, enough so that I could clear out the top shelf of our upright freezer. Every piece of equipment was stuck in the freezer for 48 hours. This will kill any larvae lurking in the crevasses.

Bleach

According to the National Bee Unit a bleach treatment will be sufficient enough to knock out any American Foul Brood.

National Bee Unit says to use a 1-part bleach to 5-parts water concentration. I used my daughter’s kiddie pool and put in 1 gallon of bleach and one 5 gallon pail of water. This solution stays viable for 24 hours. Every surface must be soaked for 20 minutes in this solution.

two brood boxes sitting up on their sides in a kiddie pool of bleach solution from rough and tumble farmhouse

Other Ways to Clean

The only method I didn’t use was boiling washing soda. Mostly because I didn’t have a pot big enough to fit everything in it for sterilizing.

Watch and Learn

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