Honey bee product management
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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. Adopting 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
- Purchase honey bees and equipment only from beekeepers that regularly check for established and exotic pests and diseases.
- 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 satisfied of their health status.
- Sterilise or irradiate second hand beekeeping equipment before using in the 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 honey bee health. 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.
All pest and disease (exotic and established) surveillance activities on the property or apiary should be recorded. These records can be used in the response to an incursion to inform management practices as well as provide support to industry surveillance activities.
It is critical to inspect all hives on a regular basis, especially the brood. This is an important management practice to determine the presence or absence of many established pests and diseases within Australia. It is also an important precautionary measure for beekeepers to identify any exotic pests that may be in their hives, such as the exotic Varroa mite. The following are guidelines for inspecting hives.
- Examine the brood and colony at least several times a year during spring, summer and autumn.
- Make sure that the circumstances are suitable to inspect the colony. For instance, do not start the inspection if the weather is likely to be wet or cold, or if there are people or animals in the vicinity.
- Make an assessment of the level of activity at the entrance of the hive. Observe whether honey bees are flying, if there are any dead honey bees, or if honey bees are bringing in pollen.
- Keep records of your inspections and write down any occurrence, or suspicion, of disease. If anything suspicious is observed report it immediately to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881.
- Always be calm and methodical when working with hives, and try to avoid any sudden or sharp actions.
Opening the hive
- Apply smoke into the hive entrance.
- Remove the hive lid and any supers and place them to the side of the hive.
- Use the smoker sparingly to control the honey bees. Too much smoke may excite or distress the bees. Smoke the honey bee colony from the top down, as smoking from the bottom will drive the honey bees upwards.
- If the hive has a queen excluder, carefully remove it with the aid of a hive tool.
- Clean up any brace/burr comb or propolis from the queen excluder or on the top of the frames and place into a sealed container that can be taken away with you. Do not discard this on site as honey bees could rob this material which could then spread pests or diseases.
- Remove an end frame and place on the side of the hive to give more space to remove a centre frame without damaging the honey bees.
Inspecting the hive
- Remove abrood frame (without the queen bee) and shake or brush away most of the honey bees back into the hive or at the hive entrance, leaving the brood comb clear for inspection.
- Hold the frame by the top bars and inspect the brood thoroughly and in a regular pattern.
- Look for symptoms associated with exotic and established pests and diseases of honey bee colonies.
- Look for any queen bee cells on the comb surface and bottom side of the comb, and if present, remove to prevent swarming potential.
- Repeat this for all brood frames in the hive.
- Place combs back in the same sequence and orientation as they were at the start of the inspection, unless you have planned to manipulate the combs for a management reason.
- Make sure that the frames are tightly pushed together to provide the correct bee space.
- Record what you observe and note any pests and diseases that you have identified. Look at possible control or management options.
Queen bees and packaged bees
Use only clean and healthy queen bees and packaged bees (ie tested with no pest or disease detections) from reputable breeders. This assists in managing biosecurity risk as it is hard to visually assess the health of purchased queen bees or packaged bees. Viruses, bacteria and mites may not induce symptoms under some circumstances.
To minimise the risk of introducing pests or diseases into an apiary:
- Obtain queen bees and/or packaged bees only from an apiary that takes biosecurity, hygiene, health testing and record keeping seriously.
- Check package bees and queen bees and the brood that is produced thoroughly within one month of arrival.
- Maintain a register of the apiary’s purchased queen bees and packaged bees, including their source (with contact details), breed/strain, locations, what was bought and the receival date.
Every beekeeper should aim to use best industry practices to provide a high standard of pollination service. When placing hives for pollination, many beekeepers and growers prefer to use a pollination agreement that specifies the responsibilities of both parties. Agreements are useful to clarify what the grower is hiring and what the beekeeper needs to supply.
Some of the issues raised in an agreement should include:
- hive stocking rates
- strength of hives
- dates of hive introduction and removal
- placement of hives
- payment of fees
- protection from spray damage.
For more information about pollination and providing pollination services, download the RIRDC report Pollination of Crops in Australia and New Zealand.
Honey and specialist products
Honey, comb honey, wax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis are all specialist products of beekeeping operations in Australia.
In order to produce honey and specialist products of the highest standards, follow industry best management practice guidelines which are outlined in quality assurance schemes.
To minimise the environmental impacts of beekeeping, follow the guidelines in the National Best Management Practice for Beekeeping in the Australian Environment (2007) published by AHBIC, Australian Government Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Moving hives, equipment & products
The movement of hives for a honey flow or pollination contract can easily spread pests and diseases to other regions or apiary sites. Adopt the following management measures to reduce this risk.
- Minimise hive movements where feasible, and understand the stress that is placed on honey bee colonies that are regularly moved.
- Ensure that hives, honey and apiary equipment are secured and covered to prevent robbing by honey bees.
- When moving hives to a new location, assess any disease threat posed by possible abandoned or poorly managed hives nearby.
- Always obtain a health certificate which has been signed by an apiary inspector from the state or territory of origin before moving hives interstate.
- Find out which established pests are reportable for the region you are moving from, and to. If detected, contact the local department of agriculture.
Moving honey bee products
Each state and territory has different restrictions on the interstate movement of honey and honey bee products such as wax, propolis and pollen. Before moving any of these products interstate, always contact the local department of agriculture for advice on any specific health certification requirements.
Vehicles machinery and equipment
Vehicles and all apiary equipment, including forklifts, trucks, hand tools and bee boxes can carry pests and diseases in adhering honey and wax. Pest and diseases can then spread, or be introduced to a previously clean apiary.
Take the following measures to reduce the risk of pest and disease entry on equipment and vehicles:
- Clean and wash down vehicle trays of honey, wax and associated colony debris, especially after visiting other apiaries.
- Limit the movement of vehicles within the apiary.
- Always make sure that borrowed and second-hand apiary equipment and machinery is cleaned and sterilised before moving into the apiary.
- Regularly clean and sterilise all tools and equipment, including hive tools, gloves, pallets, boxes and any other equipment used in the apiary.
While inspecting and cleaning machinery can seem onerous, remember that it is easier and cheaper than dealing with a new pest or disease.
As well as ensuring good honey bee hygiene, beekeepers who travel to farms or properties need to consider farm biosecurity for other primary producers or to the natural environment.
Pests, diseases and weeds carried in soil, apiary equipment, on vehicles, clothing and boots can introduce pests that are very damaging for other agricultural industries or to native vegetation.
- Always consider farm biosecurity when entering a property.
- Be aware of other industries’ biosecurity risks and requirements.
- Adopt a ‘come clean, go clean’ policy wherever possible.
- Talk to the landholder about areas that have been visited or any specific biosecurity concerns that apply to their property.