There are certain things that you never want to see when you’re a beekeeper. This includes lifting the lid to your give only to discover moldy bees.
This would be a jarring sight for anyone, including someone used to spending time around bees. If you’ve never seen moldy bees before, it can make you worry about the health of your hive.
The good news is that we’re here to help. We’ll make sure that you have answers to questions you might have about moldy bees.
In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about moldy bees.
What Causes Moldy Bees?
In all likelihood, if you open your hive and see mold, it’s likely due to a colony’s death. At the very least, the death of bees can lead to mold production.
There are a set of factors that play into mold development, though. Mold loves four things: the temperature, moisture levels, amount of food, and porous surfaces in an area.
As for porous surfaces, it’s easy to see why a honeycomb may attract mold. This gives the mold space to grow and a place to latch on in the first place.
Mold also needs to feed to survive. In a hive, this can include a variety of detritus, nectar, pollen, and even dead bees.
Moisture also promotes mold growth. A leak or high humidity in your hive is possible but decomposing bees and bee respiration also cause moisture buildup.
For the temperature, mold is pretty versatile. It can survive in a variety of temperatures ranging from above freezing to as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, the best conditions for mold are between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Will Bees Clean Moldy Comb?
Bees are great at preventing mold in their hives. Part of what they do all day is remove the detritus in their hive that can cause mold growth.
On top of that, their movement in and out of the hive helps to keep air circulating better. This means that there’s a smaller likelihood that moisture will stick around busy bees.
There is a bigger risk of mold during the winter. This is because the bees mostly remain in the hive to hide from the cold weather.
This reduces the amount of activity in the hive that helps keep the mold at bay. That means it’s the beekeeper’s difficult job to try and keep the hive running – it’s no easy task.
The question is, once there is mold in your hive, what will the bees do? Will bees clean moldy comb, making your job easier?
If you have living bees left in the hive, they do a pretty good job of keeping the hives free of mold. If there’s a bit of mold at the beginning of the season, the bees will clean out the hive.
Some mold in the hive isn’t uncommon at the end of winter. Bees tend to move upward as the season goes on, eating their way through their supplies.
This means that detritus and other materials can drop to the bottom of the hive. This creates the perfect environment for some mold.
Once the season changes to spring, though, bees will start their routine cleaning. Hives overrun with mold due to excessive death in the colony aren’t quite as self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, if your hive is overrun with mold, you likely don’t have many bees left, if any. Remember, mold often occurs because there are few bees to handle it and dead bees can welcome mold in.
So, you’ll likely have to get rid of the mold yourself. If your hive is severely damaged, you may have to clean the hive and prepare for a new colony.
The good news is if you have more than one colony, you can rely on the other bees you have.
We’ll go more into how to prepare your moldy hive frames for this step later on. Suffice to say for now that if you have more bees to help you out, they’ll gladly clean up mold!
Can You Harvest Honey with Mold on the Frames?
It’s a general rule of thumb that if you see food in your fridge with mold, don’t eat it. Is the same true here – can you harvest honey with mold on the frames?
There is something interesting about honey. As a hygroscopic material, honey doesn’t grow mold because it doesn’t retain the moisture mold needs to survive.
On top of that, honey is very acidic. This means that it’s too acidic for many microbes to grow in.
Yet, just because the honey itself doesn’t have mold doesn’t always mean that it’s the best harvest you’ll have. In addition, there are some things you do want to look out for before harvesting the honey.
As for the honey itself, it’s important to determine whether or not it has fermented. Fermented honey isn’t the best choice, especially for feeding other bees.
If you determine that the honey itself hasn’t fermented, there is one other thing to consider. If the colony is dead, how did they die?
The importance of this question is that it determines if the cause of death could spread via the honey. For example, if your bees died of exposure or from a predator, you’re likely fine to use that honey.
On the other hand, if the bees died from a bacterial cause, it’s best to stay away from the honey. This is especially true if you’re using that honey to feed other bees.
This is because if the bees died due to a bacteria-related cause, it can spread through the honey. In certain situations, using that honey to feed other bees could cause illness or death in that colony as well.
If you aren’t sure what caused the death of your bees, you can always ask another beekeeper for help. It’s better to come to a sure conclusion than assume and misuse your resources or endanger your other bees.
In the case that you’re really in doubt, it’s better to simply get rid of the honey. In the end, it’s not worth the risk to your other colonies if you’re unsure of the honey’s safety.
How Do You Get Rid of Mold in a Beehive?
When many beekeepers find mold in their beehives, they think they have to get rid of everything. This way, they can get a fresh start from scratch.
However, this is costly, wasteful, and unnecessary. If you know how to handle it, you can clean out a moldy hive and prepare it for use again.
If you need to completely start over with a moldy hive, start by moving the frames. It’s best to find a place that’s warm and dry, allowing the frames to dry out.
It’s worth noting that since these are moldy frames, they might have an unpleasant smell. It’s a good idea to find a warm and dry place that you won’t mind temporarily smelling less than fresh.
There’s a possibility that your frames could get stuck together thanks to mold. If that’s the case, pull any of these frames apart from one another and let them dry separately.
Once they’re completely dry, you can start on the next step. Until you’re ready to introduce bees back to the frame, put them in an empty super for safekeeping.
Like we said earlier, you can easily handle the next steps of a moldy hive if you have more bees. All you need to do is place that super on top of an existing colony.
Bees are incredibly efficient too, so you can rely on this method to get everything back in working order.
The good news is that the mold itself isn’t going to hurt your bees. As they clean the mold, they’ll clean the dead cells they collect in getting ready to repurpose them.
The whole process of them cleaning out these frames will likely only take a few days. After that, you can reuse the equipment as needed.
Even better, you won’t be able to notice mold was ever there – even in taste. As such, you’ll have the chance to use these frames for honey production again.
How Do You Manually Get Rid of Mold in a Beehive?
You can also clean the mold out of the hive yourself if it’s necessary. This is also a great way to free up your bees’ time to get busy pollinating.
First, we’ll look at the general steps necessary to clean a beehive with mold that isn’t black mold. Black mold requires a slightly different method that we’ll look at momentarily.
We’re specifically tackling the problem of the mold, not cleaning after a dead hive. Start by wiping away the mold from both the frames and any honey caps.
If you come across any stubborn spots, you can scrub harder. For particularly difficult parts, you can add salt to the mixture you’re scrubbing with.
Then, you can air out the pieces and freeze them for new use. As we said, though, black mold isn’t quite the same.
If you come across black mold, it’s recommended to fully discard the foundation. Alternatively, you can melt it to use for other things if you prefer but don’t reuse it as is.