Beekeeping is so rewarding and yet at times, so stressful. It is easy enough to start and maintain beehives during the honeymaking months. On the other hand, when pests attack your hives, you sometimes have to go all out and “mobilize the troops” to protect them. I am writing about how to clean beehives after an attack of wax moths because that is exactly what happened to two of my hives last summer.
An Attack of Wax Moths, aka Wax Millers or Web Worms
I don’t know how many of you have experienced wax moths moving in and attacking your bees, but if you have, you will know the devastation.
Your bees are working beautifully for you for months. Then boom: one morning, you check your hives and notice sticky honey, broken honeycomb, and an off-putting smell from your hives.
Yep, an infestation of wax moths. These pests are also known as wax millers or web worms. Discovering them in your beehives is very depressing. As if that weren’t bad enough, one of our hives swarmed last year.
If your beehives get infested, don’t despair! It is possible to kill off the wax moths and get the hives clean again.
When are beehives vulnerable to wax moths?
Wax moths usually do their damage in the summer months or warm weather. Usually, very healthy hives with a lot of bees are not as susceptible to infestation.
An attack of wax moths starts when adult female moths lay eggs in the crevices of the supers or on the comb of the hive. It may only take a week for the moths to devastate a hive.
The larvae eat the pollen and cocoon. As they move through the comb, they open capped cells of honey and brood. As a result, the honey begins to spill out. It’s a very messy affair.
Cleaning and Stripping a Beehive
Last week my family spent an afternoon stripping and cleaning this year’s hive in anticipation of the new arrival of bees this weekend. Believe it or not, we found live wax moths still living in the corner of the hives.
We have frozen all of the frames to kill any of the moths and larvae and then carefully took our hives apart and cleaned every inch of them including the supers and frame bodies.
We were very careful to scrape and clean with Clorox all of the hive as well. We then replaced the foundations with another healthy hive’s frames that already had wax.
We even cleaned the copper tops by scrubbing them with salt and lemon juices. I wanted to do an experiment during this process of the cleaning and test how cleaning with salt and lemon juice compared to cleaning with a store bought copper cleaner. Can you believe that the salt and lemon juice did much better and faster!
We plan to move our hives to another location that gets more sun and to plant mint around our beehives. Wax moths do not like mint at all.
How to Prevent Wax Moths from Infesting Your Beehives
Here are a few tips on how to prevent a wax moth infestation.
1. Make sure you have plenty of bees per hive. Combine two hives if necessary. This will make the hive much stronger and therefore better to repel the moths before the moths destroy them.
2. Freeze honeycombs before storing, and store them in a cool, well ventilated building.
3. Make sure your hives are tight to prevent adult female moths from entering or laying eggs between the boxes.
I hope that none of you experience a wax moth infestation. But if you do, just know others have been there before you! Have fun making honey! I will be posting my experiences through the summer of caring for our beehives. Stay tuned in!