What Do You Do If Your Beehive Smells Bad?

why does my beehive smell bad

The smell of a healthy, busy honey bee hive is amazing. 

And it definitely shouldn’t have an offensive odor.

Funny aromas might be a warning sign that something is amiss. Or it could be a normal part of the colony’s seasonal changes.

So before you panic, let’s have a look at some of the multiple reasons a hive might smell bad…

What does a beehive normally smell like?

Hives smell like a mix of warm honey, brood, propolis, bees, wood, and wax! Beehives have a pleasant smell that is rounded and earthy or slightly sweet. The aroma is unique. However, once you’ve smelled it, you’ll recognize it anytime. 

I’ve heard some people compare their hive smell to that of a butcher’s shop! When brood production picks up in the springtime, you get lots of uncapped brood cells. All those larvae are exposed to the air with bees fanning the interior to dry out the honey. Maybe that explains the comparison with raw meat! 

Hives should not smell sharp, pungent or sour. If a hive smells “funny” you probably need to investigate the cause. It could be a sign something is “off” inside your colony of bees!

Or maybe it’s just normal bee stuff!

Why does my beehive smell bad?

A beehive can smell bad for several reasons, including dead bees and pupae, or fermented honey due to disease or problems dehydrating the nectar. The most important thing to do is to figure out what is causing the smell. 

Your hives can smell slightly different at various times of the year. In the springtime, it’s more “earthy”. In the summer, it’s sweeter like honey.

But an unpleasant aroma needs exploring.

Some of the reasons a hive might smell bad include the following…

Dead bee odor 

Dead bees: at the end of the season, bees will naturally start dying off. And moving into winter, the worker bees will even kill the drones. Check to see if you have any piles of dead bees building up (or maybe dead pupae in the brood chamber or thrown out of the hive). This could be the origin of the stench. 

Check your beehive for dead bees or larvae. You may notice less movement from your worker bees. 

If bee populations are in decline because of the change in season, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if bees are dying in large numbers at a time you wouldn’t expect, pests, disease, or other external factors could be to blame.

Why does my beehive smell sour?

Curing nectar: Before you start assuming the worst, if you’re unfamiliar with the smell of your hives, you might simply be experiencing the normal smell of curing nectar. If bees are busy and there are no other signs of trouble, This could be the reason for the sour smell. It can seem pretty pungent until you know what it’s like.

American foulbrood: A bee disease called American Foulbrood (AFB) can be fatal to a honey bee colony. AFB has a distinct odor, similar to the smell of dead fish (it really does stink). Inspect the frames for signs of the disease to be sure.

AFB is a serious disease and often needs reporting to your local inspector. It is highly contagious and other bee colonies must be protected.

My beehive smells fermented like yeast. 

Fermenting honey – honey cells are only capped when the moisture level in the nectar drops to about 18%. If bees are having difficulty dehydrating the honey, it could start to ferment. Yeast grows in the uncapped honey and produces alcohol. This is what produces the yeasty, fermented odor, a bit like vinegar. Some even say this smells like beer!

Remove fermenting honey from the hive and make sure your bees don’t eat it! Fermented honey can give them bee dysentery.

If the worker bees are having difficulty drying out the uncapped honey, make sure there is a good ventilation system in place. You must provide an opening in the top and bottom of the beehive. Like this, dry air enters the lower opening, rises up through the frames, and moist warm air escapes from the top.

Hive beetles – can also cause the honey to ferment and give off a rotting yeast-like smell, somewhat similar to rotting fruit.

Mold and smell in beehive 

Mold, or fungal infections only occur in an unhealthy hive. In fact, if you really can smell the musty odor of mold, it could mean the hive is weak (and possibly dying). In a normal beehive the environment is well controlled by the colony and mold doesn’t occur.

Smell of mouse urine in a beehive

Do you have pests like mice visiting your hive? These rodents urinate everywhere, including the inside of your hive! Mice tend to occupy hives when the weather turns cold. After all, a hive is warm, cozy and inviting!

Mice might also take advantage of the supplemental feeding you add to your hives as they go into winter (who can resist a nice sweet sugar pattie?)

Make sure you install mouse guards to your hive entrances when the weather gets cold, well before the bees cluster for winter.

Tip: Before you jump to the catastrophic conclusion that your beehive is diseased, check to make sure the foul odor is coming from the beehive and not your bee suit! If you don’t clean your suit very often and just leave it in a pile, it can easily get smelly. Drips of fermented honey and the acid in bee feces can become rancid. In short, do you stink?

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