Q. A neighbour has some old hiveware in a barn that he doesn’t want. What is the best way to deal with it?

Ken Brown is President of the Auckland Beekeepers’ Club and a Land Based Training Apiculture Tutor

(Disclaimer: I am an AP2; these opinions are my own and not those of the AFB Management Agency, Apiculture New Zealand or any other organisation.)

A. Transferring used hiveware is a point of dispute among beekeepers. It seems everyone has a different opinion, some very strongly held. New Zealand beekeepers know that, legally, if we find AFB in a hive it must be destroyed and we cannot sell, gift, donate, barter or trade any hiveware we know to be infected. But what if we don’t know for certain if the hiveware is contaminated?

According to the AFB Management Agency, two important obligations of a beekeeper are:

  1. Destroy equipment and bees associated with a case of American foulbrood (AFB) within seven days.
  2. Do not deal with or transfer ownership of material associated with a case of AFB.

Infected brood comb is highly infectious, supers and other hiveware less so. Frames that have been cleaned out by wax moth have fewer spores but are still contagious. AFB spores have been known to last 40 years but can likely survive much longer. So, hiveware that has been infected by AFB can still be infectious, no matter how long it has been stored in a barn. You cannot tell if hiveware is infected with AFB by looking at it, unless you see telltale signs on brood comb but if you don’t see symptoms, it doesn’t mean there isn’t any AFB. Even a swab test can be inconclusive unless you swab all surfaces (a sample swab might miss areas of infection).

The extra effort and risk of quarantining and checking at-risk hives could soon reduce any benefit of cheap/free used hiveware, especially if existing hiveware also gets contaminated. Any beekeeper that has had to destroy AFB-infected hives has a very different view of risk than one who has never been through it. You cannot always trust the testimony of the previous owner, not just their honesty but their competency. I’d personally have more faith in a beekeeper who has had AFB and dealt with it properly over one who claims to have never had AFB.

I believe that, as beekeepers, we have a responsibility to ensure that dodgy hiveware doesn’t get out into apiaries. It’s a risk, not only to your operation, but also to other nearby beekeepers. In the current economic climate, we’re likely to see more beekeeping operations downsizing or going to the wall and there will be more used equipment being sold or sitting in barns.

The AFB Management Agency doesn’t compensate beekeepers who have to destroy their hiveware due to AFB infection (after all it would be our levies that would fund this). The Agency doesn’t destroy hiveware either, unless it’s from a defaulting or uncooperative beekeeper, who is then billed. They advise that, if in doubt, don’t buy the hiveware and report the sale to them. They don’t always inspect but in special cases they will.

Here are some options for helping your neighbour with old hiveware:

  • you could assist with burning hiveware or provide a burn site
  • if the owner wants to sell or get compensated for hiveware, then concerned local beekeepers could get together and collectively buy and burn hiveware
  • hiveware could be used in a quarantine apiary, with strict controls to reduce robbing
  • hiveware could be used for firewood, if stored in a place secure from bees
  • boxes can be repurposed into planters, furniture, etc.

Other considerations:

  • educate other beekeepers in a tolerant way. It doesn’t help if an inexperienced beekeeper asks a question on Facebook and half a dozen people jump on them. Also, the ’she’ll be right’ attitude isn’t appropriate
  • infected hiveware taken to the tip has been known to spread AFB
  • burying isn’t recommended for getting rid of at-risk hiveware
  • if buying hiveware, be sure to inspect it carefully or get someone else competent to inspect it
  • it is imperative that all stored hiveware is inaccessible to bees to prevent robbing or colonisation by swarms.

Remember that AFB is known as a beekeeper’s disease because it’s mostly spread by beekeepers and their hiveware manipulations.

Old hiveware being burned