Preparing An Old Hive For New Bees (Success Tips!)

preparing an old hive for new bees

Old beehives are a valued resource for beekeepers because used hives are more attractive to bees. 

Yes! They like them better!

On top of that, reusing old hives saves the expense of buying or building new beehives. But you do need to be careful about hive hygiene!

So how do you prepare a used beehive for new bees to make it suitable for them and prevent the spreading of disease and pests to the new colony?

How To Prepare An Old Beehive For New Bees

Old hives can be prepared by cleaning out debris and inspecting frames and combs to determine if they are usable. You should also clean up propolis and burr comb that can cause frames to stick in the hives. The hives can be treated against pests, but hive parts from diseased colonies should not be used.

Beehives can be used for more than one season, but it’s true… They begin to show wear and tear after a few years. To maintain them, it’s often necessary to relocate the colony into a new beehive so the old one can be repaired.

You may also have a colony vacate a beehive during the productive season, leaving behind an empty hive with some comb in the frames.

In these circumstances, you may wonder if you can reuse these old beehives and put new bee colonies in the old hives. 

Of course, there are some considerations and concerns regarding employing used beehives. Still, there are also many benefits to this practice.

Can You Put New Bees In An Old Hive?

New bee colonies can be put in old hives, and beekeepers always reuse old boxes until they are beyond repair. However, certain risks are associated with using old parts, so you should approach this beekeeping tactic carefully.

Many new beekeepers may be tempted to use old beehives from other beekeepers in an attempt to save on costs. However, this is a risky option since you do not know the condition of the colony that previously inhabited the hive.

The previous tenants could have been infested with varroa mites or other insects or diseases, which can be transferred to new colonies that you house in old hives.

Hand-me-down beehives from outside your own apiary should always be used with caution, and extra steps should be taken to clean the hive before it is recycled.

Using old beehives from your own apiary is generally safe because, if you are a good beekeeper, you will be intimately knowledgeable about your bees and the health of the colony that previously occupied the hive.

Benefits Of Using A Used Hive

Reusing old hives is a practice that beekeepers have performed since humanity started keeping bees. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Used hives are more attractive to new bees. Old beehives have the scent and aroma that bees love. They will smell of honey, wax, and propolis, which will act as an attractant for new bees, and they are more likely to remain in the hive than a fresh, unused bee hive.
  • Reduces beekeeping costs. Reusing old hives will reduce the costs of your beekeeping operation, with less outlay for new equipment.
  • Gaps and holes have been sealed by the previous colony. The previous occupants would have filled in cracks and holes in the wood, requiring fewer resources to be used by the new colony.
  • New bees can start producing faster. If you use old frames with the comb in the frames, the bees will need fewer resources to get the colony established, and the queen can start laying eggs sooner. However, not all old frames with old comb are useable.

Even though there are advantages to using old beehives, remember to clean them up before you put them back into production. Even ones from your own apiary! 

How To Clean Up A Used Beehive

The first step is to check the beehive for any physical damage and repair any broken parts.

Brush out the inside of the hive boxes with a stiff brush to remove the dirt and debris collected in the hive.

Check for pests such as hive beetles, wax moths, ants, or mites. 

You may need to treat the hive with a prescribed treatment available and permitted in your region. Formic acid is one of the best treatments available and the least harmful to bees.

Any treated hives should be given an airing out time for a couple of weeks before placing a new colony inside.

If your hive is clean and disease and pest free, it is safe to reuse immediately with a new colony of bees. Generally, the only preparation needed for the old hive is a quick brush out with a stiff brush and a cleanup using your hive tool to scrape propolis and burr comb from the boxes and frames.

Using any hive cleaning products is unnecessary to prepare for the new colony. In addition, many cleaning agents have ingredients that can be toxic to bees.

In extreme cases, a dilute bleach solution of 3-parts water to 1-part bleach is good enough to clean the hive. Air all the parts in direct sunlight to dissipate the chemicals before introducing new honeybees.

An effective method to clean used hives that wax moths have invaded is to char the inside of the hive. First, use a blow torch to heat the interior wood surfaces until it blackens lightly. Then, sand the wood down, ready to be used.

The heat effectively destroys pest eggs that may be difficult to detect visually in the grain and pores of the wood.

Beehives with notifiable bee diseases, such as AFB, should not be reused. Instead, these hives should be destroyed with fire.

Can I Reuse Beehive Frames?

Used frames can be re-employed up to a point. The condition of the frames and the comb must be inspected, and appropriate steps taken before they can be given to a new colony.

Suppose the bees in the old hive died out in the winter. In that case, it is unlikely that pests or diseases were the cause of the colony’s demise, and the frames are generally acceptable to use with minimal cleanup

Check your frames and perform the following cleanup depending on the state of the structure: 

  • Scrape propolis off the frame. This process is not for the bees but makes it easier for the beekeeper to insert them in the boxes.
  • Old black comb. If the frame has a very old-looking, almost black comb, it should instead be removed and new foundation put in place, so your bees can build fresh comb.
  • Wax moth damage in the comb and frame. Wax moths can damage both the comb as well as the frame. Cut out the damaged comb and place the frame in the freezer for 48 hours to kill any moth eggs or parasites.
  • Remove the dead brood. If the previous colony left dead brood in the comb, this needs cutting out and the frame before reuse. The bees would eventually remove the dead brood, but removing them yourself helps them get the job done faster and prevents the brood from rotting in the hive.
  • Do not use frames with mold. Frames and comb with mold should not be reused in a beehive. The comb must be cut out and the frame cleaned with a 3:1 water-to-bleach solution to kill the mold. The wax can be melted down and used in your beekeeping operation.

Frames with no comb are safe to use in an old beehive unless the hive is infested with a viral or bacterial disease, such as American Foul Brood or AFB. Again, these frames should be destroyed by burning to prevent disease transmission.

Will The Bees Reuse Old Wax?

Bees are resourceful creatures and do not let things go to waste. For example, bees will happily reuse old wax and recycle it to build new comb.

If you have ever put wax cappings out for the bees to clean up after a honey extraction, you will quickly see how the bees collect the residual honey and take the wax cappings away to the hive!

So bees will reuse wax inside an old hive and use it as building blocks to create new comb for the queen to lay eggs or to store honey.

However, the bees do not like using very old comb where the comb has darkened to the point that it is almost black (so replace it with new foundation).

Beekeepers will often remove two frames of old wax from a brood box in the spring of each year. This means the comb will be replaced entirely in the brood box every 5 years if you use 10-frame hives.

But what can you do with all the old comb you remove from these frames?

So What Can You Do With Old Comb?

Old comb represents a lot of time and hard work by your bees! . Hence, beekeepers are reluctant to discard these.

Will bees clean old comb and frames? Bees will clean up old frames and comb, but if the comb is too old and dark, they will not return it to their colonies.

The beekeeper can recycle this by melting the old wax, filtering out the impurities, and reusing it in their beekeeping operations.

When should you throw away old comb? The only time I discard old comb is when it’s too damaged to be successfully melted and filtered, or the wax is from a diseased colony.

To Sum Up

Old bee hives can be successfully recycled to house new bees. T

Reusing old hives is a great cost-saving strategy. They are more attractive to new bees! It makes them feel at home with the familiar smell of honey wax and propolis remaining in the old hive 🙂

Wanna be a beekeeper but not sure where to start?

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