Keeping honey bees healthy

Controlling pests and diseases

Many beekeepers in Australia move their hives for pollination contracts and to follow honey flows. This movement of hives, as well as the drifting and robbing habits of honey bees means that the spread of pests and diseases can be difficult to prevent or contain. However, the adoption of the following biosecurity measures in day-to-day management practices will help minimise the risk of pest and disease transmission between honey bee colonies and apiaries.

Purchase clean hives and equipment

  • Only purchase second hand hives and equipment from beekeepers who regularly check for established and exotic pests and diseases.
  • If possible, examine the colony and hive parts before purchase to ensure they meet the required standard and are pest and disease free.
  • Isolate newly purchased hives for up to 6-12 months until you are satisfied of their health status.
  • Sterilise or irradiate second hand beekeeping equipment before use in your apiary.

Clean apiary equipment regularly

  • Clean smokers, hive tools and other apiary equipment of any accumulations of wax, propolis or honey before commencing work at each new apiary, particularly if any pest or disease is suspected.
  • Always clean extracting machines, drums or containers before and after use.
  • Ensure honey containers are cleaned inside and out and dried and sealed before use.

Dispose of waste material effectively

  • Make sure that honey spills, exposed combs and wax are destroyed or covered to prevent robbing by honey bees.
  • Maintain good hygiene practices around the apiary and remove beeswax scraps, old combs and dead-out colonies, which can attract and harbour pests and diseases.

Implement a health program

  • Obtain sound information and understand the pest and disease risks for each apiary.
  • Develop appropriate measures for pest and disease control and record all treatment details.
  • Implement a barrier management system to reduce the risk of spreading pests and diseases within and between apiaries.
  • Control swarming in colonies by providing extra space for the colony during build up and remove queen cells to keep the colony population strong and healthy.
  • Regular comb replacement can improve the health of your honey bees. Brood combs should be replaced with new foundation at least once every three years.
  • Requeen colonies every two years with a young and healthy queen bee from a reputable breeder.
  • Inspect brood combs on a regular basis throughout spring, summer and autumn.

Important reading

Australian Beekeeping Guide (2014) Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Publication No. 14/098