What to do with moldy combs

A few years ago a beekeeper friend announced to me that mold had taken over her hives and killed all her bees. Now whenever I see mold—or even hear about it—I think about her. When I tried to explain that it was the other way around, that the bees died and then the mold came, she didn’t believe a word of it. She cut out all the combs and washed the frames with bleach. Too bad.

A variety of molds will grow on the combs when the moisture in the hive gets too high. The moisture gets too high when there are not enough bees to fan it away. I suppose the confusion arises because these moldy combs frequently contain dead bees that are also covered with mold, so it looks like the mold killed everything.

According to various sources, one of the molds frequently found on combs is Penicillium waksmanii which can actually inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including American foulbrood. Other molds are usually present as well, as evidenced by the different colors—usually blue, white, yellow, or gray.

If you have a dead hive loaded with mold you will be tempted to discard the comb, but it is usually not necessary. The first thing you need to do is decide how the colony died or became weak. If you can eliminate American foulbrood and colony collapse disorder, then you can re-use the combs.

The first thing to do is take the frames to a warmish, dry place where they can dry out for a few days. These things can smell wicked—like moldy stuff does—so put them in a place where they won’t bother you. Separate any frames that are molded together and let them air dry. As they dry the mold growth will slow down and then stop.

Once the combs are dry you can store them in an empty super. After your colonies build up in the spring you can place the moldy super on top of a big, vigorous colony and the bees will clean and polish every cell in a matter of a few days. Worker bees always clean old cells prior to re-use anyway, so this is not an unnecessary burden on the bees. The bees are very thorough and, after they are done, the combs can be used for brood or honey production. It’s amazing, but no taste or smell of mold will remain on the combs.

Rusty

Comments

Nancy
Reply

Interesting clarification on what came first, the mold or the dead bees. Re: reusing old bee equipment. I take it by your post you’d say “Forget it” if it was foulbrood or CCD?

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

Right. We know American foulbrood can be transmitted on old comb and should be burned. Even though we don’t know what causes CCD, reused equipment appears to infect bees who move into it. In either case it is not worth the risk. Plain old mold, however, is not a problem.

Susan
Reply

Good to know. I lost one of my hives last summer & it smelled fermented & was abundantly moldy, but I don’t think it was AFB. I was looking at replacing it but maybe I will try airing it out. Thanks!

Seonaid
Reply

Thank you so much. This is exactly the problem I was having today and I wanted to let you know that I appreciated your work.

Lisa Henry
Reply

Exactly what I was looking for. As a new beekeeper, I thought the best thing to do with the drawn out supers that the bees cleaned last fall were all dry and double bagged them and put them in the basement – they would be fine – WRONG! lol

The 6 drawn out supers that we have are going on the porch today to start their drying process…..we are going to get some rain so we’ll be sure to bring them in – hopefully the stink will be gone by then!

Rusty
Reply

It’s amazing how much moisture is in frames and combs. They look and feel dry, but once you seal them up they mold in no time. I think most of us have done this at one time or another, so don’t worry. But the moldy smell won’t go away until the bees have cleaned them up.

Andy
Reply

What about the processed honey supers? Is there a proper way to store these during the Winter so that they don’t get the mildew build-up on them? I live in the Pacific Northwest. It’s hard to keep the mildew from building on the foundation, even though I try to keep them where air can pass through them.

Rusty
Reply

Andy,

The best way is to let the bees clean them up after extraction. You just put an inner cover with a center hole over the top brood box and then put the supers of wet frames on top of the inner cover, and put the lid (roof) on over that. The bees will clean up every last drop of honey and take it down to the brood boxes.

The problem is that it is getting too late in the year for that because the bees are starting to cluster. It is best to do it right after extraction.

If you have room in your house, you could bring them inside. Your furnace, wood stove, or whatever you use to keep warm keeps the air very dry in winter and the combs will not mold. It’s the only way I know of the keep the mold away other than letting the bees clean them up. Sheds, garages, cellars, etc. are usually to cool and damp for good storage.

Andy
Reply

Thanks Rusty,
I do let the bees clean them out, but I’ve been doing this by just leaving the supers out in the open where the bees can get at them. I’ll start doing as you suggest, and put them back on top of the brood boxes. that sounds like a great idea.

Lindy
Reply

Hello Rusty and any other people who may have something helpful to say,

I have recently bought two lots of beautiful lilies for vases in my house. I noticed that they have enormous amounts of pollen on the stamens so on 26th December I took about 14 of the flower tops with stamens intact to my two hives; I thought it would be a treat for my bees on what we call 2nd Christmas Day. Then, later on when I had been home awhile, I wondered if I had done a stupid thing and that the flowers may have been contaminated with an insecticide nicotinamide substance.

Has anyone ever tried this before as a pollen provider or is there always a big risk because of not knowing what has been used on those flowers by their growers? I did ask my bee course teacher and he said the risks would be if the bees could choose from fields of contaminated lilies but that so few flower heads probably would not be harmful. I do so hope he is right…..

Very good year ending to all readers and a fine and buzzy bee year in 2013.

Rusty
Reply

Lindy,

Pollen can be contaminated with pesticides, especially when systemic types are used. However, a small number of flowers, even if they have contaminated pollen, won’t make any difference. These pesticides are measured in the parts per billion, so it takes many, many flowers—thousands upon thousands—before you get enough build-up in a hive to affect colony health. Don’t worry about it; you did nothing wrong.

Tricia
Reply

Thank you for your previous reply to my questions!
In regards to your latest article about mold, I have a question . . .

I lost a hive this winter due to starvation. I’d like to re-use the nice comb on the frames but there are some frames with dead, soft, brownish brood; how can I clean those in order to re-use the frames on a new hive next spring?

Or should those frames get new foundation? Besides the dead capped pupae, there are also dead, white larvae. When trying to remove some with a toothpick they appeared kind of tough and can not be fully removed without leaving behind some remainders in the cell . . .

Your input will be greatly appreciated!

Rusty
Reply

Tricia,

This is too hard to answer without actually seeing the comb. If the colony really did die of starvation, the comb would be fine to use. You can just give it to the new bees and they will clean it up for you.

However, if they died of a disease, especially one of the bacterial infections like AFB or EFB, you don’t want to re-use the comb because it will reinfect your bees. Dead white larvae aren’t usually a problem, but there could be a question with the “dead, soft, brownish brood.” It might be okay or it might not.

If it were me I would be wary of any colony death where you aren’t certain of the cause and you have suspicious-looking dead brood. I’d rather be safe than sorry, so at least think it through before you make a final decision. The cost of some new foundation is trivial compared to the cost of new bees.

janece
Reply

Do you have any pic of foul brood? Lost my bees now I have some really nasty looking frames and am not sure what it is.

Rusty
Reply

Janece,

If it is mold, you shouldn’t worry. I don’t have a good picture of foul brood, but the cappings are usually sunken and brown, often with holes in them, and the frames smell horrific (like a dead animal carcass). If you have a close-up photo, I could take a look for you.

janece
Reply

The caps are rounded and very black; in some of the open combs there is yellow jelly like substance in the bottoms. The black is covering a lot of the combs; will try to get a pic and send you. Thanks for all your help.

janece
Reply

I have no sense of smell so I couldn’t tell you how they smell .

mbee
Reply

Rusty, do you recommend sterilizing equipment when the probable cause of death is Nosema, most likely N. ceranae? I’ve read that the spores remain viable for years. I’m planning to scrape and bleach the boxes, but what should I do with the combs that have various combinations of capped honey, fermented honey, moldy pollen, and empty wax cells?

I’d like to use what I can where I can without the risk of infecting another colony. Is the capped honey okay for human consumption? Can I shake out the uncapped fermented honey and use the wax for candles? Is there a way to clean out the moldy pollen so I can use that wax too? Help!

Rusty
Reply

The way I understand it, Nosema spores (both types) are pretty much everywhere, and they are contracted by colonies that have become weakened by something else. It could be compared to the common cold in humans: the viruses are everywhere but we don’t always contract the disease. As such, I think that just general hive sanitation is appropriate.

If you want to be especially careful, your idea of scraping and bleaching the boxes is probably more than sufficient. If you don’t want to reuse the wax combs, you can harvest the honey (definitely safe for human consumption), and you can certainly melt the comb for candles, etc. If you tie the moldy comb and pollen in a sock or pantyhose submerged in boiling water, the moldy pollen will remain in the sock and you can use the wax. You may want to keep the moldy batch separate from the rest. Once it separates you can decide whether or not it has a discernible odor. If it does, you can save it for some application where it doesn’t matter, rather than using it for candles. If worse comes to worse, you can always use it for fire starters. My husband made waterproof dressing for his boots out of some like that.

mbee
Reply

Thanks, Rusty. Just the information I need. Yesterday I harvested the honey; today I’ll deal with the wax. Love the sock tip for separating out the mold.

Nana Coug
Reply

Thanks sooooo much for everyone’s contributions. I was overwhelmed pulling my two dead outs apart and trying to decide what I could salvage. Mold everywhere. I’m in the Pacific NW and we have humid weather for at least another month. I have frames stacked in the basement now and a fan turned on them. I initially thought I would have to toss and start over.

Rusty
Reply

You are certainly an optimist. One month? I count March, April, May, June . . . maybe I’ve lived here too long, but the wet seems to go on forever!

Cindi
Reply

Dear Rusty,

I started my first hive last April. When I checked both brood boxes this week in February, I found the top deep super to be beautiful and alive with bees; the frames are full of capped honey, capped brood and pupae. Nearly all the frames were full. Imagine my surprise when I got to the bottom brood box and found mostly empty combs or combs just pulling comb out and then two or three frames with grayish green mold over what seemed to be dead brood. I do believe the queen and most of her worker bees and drones moved upstairs. Is that possible?

I took all of the frames out for inspection. The worst of the molded frames I brought in the house and sprayed with a mild bleach-water solution. The bottom of the bottom super also looked like it had mold on it. I fed the colony and boxed it up but did not yet clean out all the other frames or scrape the moldy bottom. Is there any danger to the rest of the colony at this point? Will it get stronger and be able to clean up the bottom super? Should I rotate or replace the moldy super in some way? Since one whole brood box is active, I don’t think anything has killed them but I am not sure.

Thanks for any help you can offer this novice!

Rusty
Reply

Cindi,

Bees move up in winter; that’s just what they do. They more or less eat their way through the honey as they go. When you think about it, it makes sense because bees store the bulk of their honey overhead in the supers (superstructure), not in the brood boxes. So I would be surprised if you didn’t have an empty brood box at the bottom.

The mold is of no consequence. It grows in the damp environment of the hive, especially where the bees are not cleaning it up, as in the empty brood box. As the colony expands again in the spring, the bees will clean up the mold in no time and you won’t be able to tell it was ever there. When we try to clean up the mold we are just applying our own standards to the cleanliness of the comb. But the bees will take care of it when they are ready and to their own standards.

I know, it feels weird or even irresponsible to give them moldy comb, but once you get used to it, it will seem normal to you.

Deborah
Reply

Elsewhere I had read that yellowjackets can destroy a hive. I have just ordered Praying Mantis to rid my garden of a cricket problem, and read that they also eat yellowjackets.

I am not a ‘hiver’, however the people that I buy honey from have been nice enough to give me honey comb to render into wax. The question: the black wax with dead larvae in it (it doesn’t stink) does not seem to render wax. Are there any uses for the dead bee larvae once rendered down? (No, unfortunately I do not have chickens, and the wild birds do not seem interested).

Thank you in advance.

Rusty
Reply

Deborah,

The dead larvae, cocoons, and other debris is known as “slumgum.” Beekeepers sometimes use it to attract swarms to a bait hive. Otherwise, you can use it to start fires. If you have a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace, it will get a fire going in no time.

Liza
Reply

Attached is a link to some photos of what I found in my hive today. I noticed there was no activity this spring, so I opened it up. Very mysterious situation with some dead bees on the floor, and other dead bees in various places in the hive, some on the comb as if they are just walking around, others in small clusters. One cluster I brushed away and found the underlying cells containing full grown bees face in to the cells (all dead). No queen or significant volume of bees anywhere. Like a scene from Pompeii, they seemed just frozen in time.

My main question (other than What Happened?) has to do with the mildew looking powder on the surface of the capped honey. Can I use this honey and how should I remove the mildew (if that is what it is?).

Thanks everyone for your help.

Rusty
Reply

Liza,

My best guess, based on the photos, is that your hive became queenless sometime during the fall or winter. Why it went queenless is impossible to say—she may have had poor genetics, she may have suffered an injury, become ill, or perhaps was weakened by mites. At any rate, without a queen to produce brood, the colony became smaller and smaller until it was no longer able to form a cluster large enough to keep itself warm. There are few dead bees in the hive because the remaining bees cleared out the dead bodies until they no longer had the strength to do so. You didn’t find the queen because they removed her after she died.

The dead bees in the cells with their tail ends facing up starved. They were trying to lick out the bottom of the cells, but there wasn’t enough food to keep them going. Even though there was honey in the hive, the cluster was too small to keep warm. Cold bees can barely move. Just like any animal, they become stiff and unresponsive when their core temperature drops too low. So even though food was a short distance away, they didn’t have the ability to go that far.

The ones that died “going about their business” probably attempted to go in search of food, but they couldn’t make it because of the cold or because of weakness due to hunger. Your description of “frozen in time” is apt.

Some of the white stuff in the cells looks like crystallized sugar syrup or honey and some looks like mold. In either case, just reuse these frames when you get your new bees. They will clean it up in no time.

The grayish powder may be mold or not. What I would do is smell it carefully. Also run your finger along it and see if it comes off on your finger. If it doesn’t come off and doesn’t smell like mold, go ahead and extract if you want. If it smells moldy or leaves a powdery residue on your finger, I would not extract it because it may make your honey taste like mold. Instead, just save it for your bees. They will clean it up in just a few days and, as a bonus, the honey will get them off to quick start. Remember that mold on honeycomb is not dangerous or bad for you or your bees. It is more a question of palatability. The bees will clean it up without a trace, but we humans are not so skilled at that.

Liza
Reply

Thank you so much Rusty, for your insight and expertise. I really appreciate your very extensive and detailed answer. There is so much to learn. Thank you for sharing!

Bill
Reply

Rusty,

This is great information. I lost my first hive this spring. Was going along great through the winter and started seeing bee activity as the temps got above 50. When I finally opened the hive to do a health check I found that the brood box was empty, no queen and no queen cells. I let the remaining bees continue doing what they do and they collected pollen and nectar for about 6 more weeks. The honey super is full but wax moths started in on the now vacant hive. I have removed all the frames and scraped the old comb from the brood frames as it was very black and still filled with pollen of various colors. No stink. I am slowly extracting the honey from the capped frames and rendering the wax as I am doing a crush and strain.

The honey frames and half of the brood frames (the ones I added to the nuc) are just a year old and I have managed to get most of the remaining propolis and pollen out of them.

Hesitant to try a new hive in spring. Other than the suggestions above for air drying the frames, should I be concerned about reusing these now com less frames (with plastic foundation)?

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

Since you saw no signs of disease and the combs were only a year old, I would have just left the dark combs, honey, and pollen alone and started new bees on that. The honey and pollen would get them off to a good start, and they adore the dark comb. Still, what you did will work, too.

Heather
Reply

Thank you so much for this! We are in our second winter (a very bizarre and mild one in NJ) and just realized we lost one of our hives, same descriptions as Liza. After doing a thorough “beetopsy” the best we could tell was that we had low numbers and a very young queen. We were wondering about all this honey and a questionable mold looking color on the capping. After reading your response I think we were pretty accurate with our assessment and are going to go ahead and extract. Thanks again!

Scott Gibbons
Reply

Rusty, I will be installing a package shorty, and was wondering if I can use frames of honey to feed them from another hive that did not make it through the winter?

I have about six frames of capped honey (brood chamber sized frames) that I was thinking about using in lieu of sugar syrup to feed them if that is OK?

Was also wondering if I should feed them with an inner cover with a hole between two brood boxes to start, or to just add the second brood box with the honey frames right away or a couple of days later?

Thanks, Scott

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

If you are lucky enough to have frames of honey to feed a new colony, it is by far the better choice, as long as you’re confident the colony did not die of American foulbrood. AFB can be transmitted to a new colony through the honey, but other than that, you’re good to go. Whenever I start colonies on honey they build up fast and strong, which makes sense.

Forget the inner cover and put the box of honey on right away. Reduce the entrance to protect them from robbing, at least until they get established. Other colonies in the area may catch the scent of the honey, so give them just a small entrance to start.

Scott Gibbons
Reply

Thanks Rusty, I will follow your direction. Thanks for the call out on the entrance reducer as my neighbor has 3 hives up here in the West Hill in Auburn, WA.

Scott 😉

Bonnie
Reply

Rusty, we have a hive that died this winter. I just opened it up and there is lots of capped honey, there were clusters of bees on several frames that had started to rot, (been dead for a bit) there was also a few in an area that looked like they just died. I am thinking the hive froze after reading your comments or lost the queen and the fresh ones could be from our other hive? I have bees ordered and would like to reuse the frames. How do I tell if they died of AFB?
thanks

Rusty
Reply

Bonnie,

First off, the hive will smell really, horribly bad. The smell will just about knock you over. Second, you do the ropiness test. You stick a matchstick in a dead brood cell, and when you pull it out it makes a long rope of goo. You can find directions here for diagnosing the disease: http://www.spc.int/lrd/ext/Disease_Manual_Final/b452__american_foulbrood.html. Based on your description, I’m guessing you do not have foulbrood.

Jay
Reply

Hello! I’m very new to the hobby and I just had some questions in regards to what to expect in the future. A lot of my concern is in regards to keeping bees from swarming due to being overcrowded. I’ve read various posts that said if your bees work from the bottom super up to the top one, you can place the top super back on the bottom and reuse the old super. That made sense until I read that bees will reuse their old comb? I was in the mindset that I would be washing/cleaning the old bottom super in order to be reused. In that mindset, there would be no overcrowding ever as long as you stayed on top of cleaning everything. But when I read that they reuse/fix their old combs now I’m confused. I understand that during honey flow, you put the top supers on so they can store their honey in. How would you go about making more room for the bees before they wanted to swarm? (Without having to buy many many extra supers to add on) I am starting with two deep 10 frame supers and 2 medium supers (for honey collection only) I live in New York State where the winters can be cold and snowfall abundant. Thank you for the info and advice! Greatly appreciated.

Rick van vliet
Reply

Thanks for a great thread. Lost a colony during a long, crappy, snowy spring in Minnesota. They were alive in mid-march, started feeding 1:1 syrup, but they died sometime in the last few weeks when we had lots of snow. Guessing that they went queenless and just couldn’t keep their numbers up. Moldy frames, but not the stink of AFB. I’ll look closely, but will probably dry out these frames and get them back into newly-packaged hives after a couple of weeks (packages installed 26 April).

Cherokeescot
Reply

The only way to be sure about the type of mold is to destroy the spores completely. That way you have no worries. Here, its a simple operation. Place a number of frames in a large plastic trash bag. Place an Ozonator inside the bags making sure none of the vents are blocked by frames or plastic and unable to suck in or discharge.

Leave in for two days on high or ‘away’ mode. This completely eliminates mold, virus and bacteria.

Rusty
Reply

…until the instant you remove them from the bag.

Rebecca
Reply

Rusty,
I’m just getting into beekeeping. I bought a ton of boxes, frames, etc at an auction. The frames all have old comb on them, and I don’t know how old it is. I don’t have any history on the hive. I know I’d be risking a disease, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on trying to reuse everything as is? Is there a time limit to how long combs can sit, then be reused? Is there anyway to tell if they’re too old? Also, reading one other post, if I use a super on the bottom for a brood box, then the bees move up into a smaller box, do I somehow have to get them back into the super in spring, or can I just take it for another set of bees and leave them the littler boxes? BTW-your info is fantastic. I’ve been searching everywhere and finally found several other answers right here. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

The real problem with old equipment is American foulbrood. But if the comb doesn’t contain dead brood, it is probably just fine. So I would check it for dead brood and then make a decision. Bees prefer old comb, although if it hasn’t been used in a while, it probably no longer has the odor of bees. Old comb is more brittle than fresh comb, but that isn’t much of a problem either. There is no pull date on comb, so if it is not diseased it will do the job for you.

Generally, bees move up in the winter, down in the summer. They will get there on their own. If you want to speed things up, you can reverse brood boxes, but you don’t have to.

Alicia
Reply

This is a great post. Very useful since I lost both of my hives this past winter and had a bunch of perfectly good comb left. One smell I am curious about is dirty socks. This is a smell I get with some of the frames with uncapped nectar, and I don’t think it was the pollen?

I was also wondering if it was okay to use frames that have had wax moth droppings on them, but the moths themselves had been disposed of? On that same idea of pests another issue I was curious about was ants, cockroaches & earwigs. They have moved into the area where I had the cleaned out hives, and this is where I have my new hives…what is the best solution without affecting my new bees, or maybe I should restate is there a solution? I wasn’t sure if diatomaceous earth would be harmful to the bees if i spread it around the outside of the hive.

Rusty
Reply

Alicia,

Sometimes when you have uncapped honey, you get fermentation. That is probably what you are smelling.

Honey bees are clean freaks and a strong hive will be able to clean up insect frass, droppings, and live and dead bodies. They can do this much more efficiently and effectively than we can. The material from your cleaned-out hives will soon decompose into the soil. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Some people use diatomaceous earth around their hives. About the only bees that get into it are those that are already weakened and dying.

Julie
Reply

Rusty –

Wish I’d read your site before yesterday when I took apart the frames with mold on them. You say I could have used them (I know the hive died because it lost its queen and there were too few to keep the place warm). But some of the wax on the frames was so brittle. It just crumbled; not at all wax-like. Could those really have been used again? I can probably retrieve some from the trash (I broke them apart to make them fit my small bin – argh!), but I’m wondering if they really can be reused in such condition. Will the bees remove brittle wax?

Rusty
Reply

Julie,

Yes, the bees will fix them up. How cold was it when you were working with the frames? The wax is extremely brittle in cold weather but softens as the temperature rises. If the bees have preformed comb, it saves them a ton of work, even if they have to clean it up first and mend it. Exuding all that wax requires much energy and therefore much foraging just to make comb. A colony on preformed comb gets a huge head start in the spring and will be able to store much more honey over the course of the year. One thing I learned early on is that drawn comb is the beekeepers most valuable asset.

You shouldn’t worry about the brittleness; that’s for the bees to worry about and they will know how to handle it. As for cleaning moldy combs, it only takes a day or two to get everything cleaned up and shipshape.

I do think, however, that old black combs should be replaced every four or five years, a few at a time.

Becca
Reply

I had a hive die this spring, too, (I think a lot of water got in the bottom and eventually the queen died too and the hive just dwindled in April) and the top super was full of honey, but the lower two were abandoned, and moldy. The comb was blackened and also really brittle and kind of shiny and papery, as if it was made out of insect wings. It bent more than crushed like wax. Sounds maybe like what Julie had going on? Insights? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Becca,

That sounds normal. As wax ages, it loses volatile compounds and becomes papery. The bees can still use it though; they will clean it and strengthen it with new wax.

Lisa
Reply

Hey Rusty,
I am a newbee that lost a hive over the winter – I think something mysterious happened to the queen and they died out. There was a lot of honey left, no dead brood, no dead bees but maybe a dozen or so when we first opened it up. We are extracting the left honey as I type – we are moving out of state and will be gifting our hive and frames to the local beekeeping club, but wanted to eat and give away some of the honey. There appears to be black mold over the comb in places. Is this okay to eat? It is honestly hard to tell if it is mold or just debris if the bee variety. An experienced beekeeper with our association came to look at the hive while we weren’t around but he passed a message along agreeing that he thinks something happened to the queen and seemed fine with loaning us the extractor, so I am assuming there is nothing to be concerned about. Just being new to this, I thought I would pick your brain. I tend to err on the side of eating things if they seem moldy anyways but this is a new world for me. Just want to be sure there isn’t something freaky I might be eating or sharing with loved ones. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Lisa,

I think it will be just fine, especially since you are extracting it anyway.

terri
Reply

Hi Rusty!

I have a new hive that had fresh foundation in the frames. On one, the cut comb sheet must have broken and the bees are building wacky comb on it which looks like a rolling wave with cells built under the crest and on top of it. It still fits together with the other frames and it has brood in the cells. Can I leave it as is, or should I take it out and replace with fresh foundation?

Rusty
Reply

Terri,

I would just leave it. Things like that happen all the time.

Keith
Reply

Hello Rusty,

I came across a lady who is getting out of commercial beekeeping and selling a lot of stuff. After last year’s extraction, she put the extracted comb back in the boxes, set them stacked on pallets outside and left them all winter with no lids on the boxes. Most were covered with very heavy white mold which I don’t want. I took comb that looks usable with a little mold, but they are water logged. The cells got full of water from snow and rain. I’ve been turning the frames on their side and lightly banging them to try and get the water out. What,s your suggestion to dry these out fast before they are completely ruined? I can’t put them in the hives soaking wet. Ive got hundreds of these.

Rusty
Reply

Keith,

First off, I would hold them upside down and shake hard (not lightly) or bang them on a stone or something to dislodge as much water as possible. Then I would put them outside on a sunny day. If you can find several such days, they should dry quickly. Dry air and sunlight are the best things to drive out the moisture and discourage the mold, just don’t put them in a confined space where the temperature would go above 120 or so. You can also wipe the frames with a rag soaked in chlorine bleach before you dry them, which will further discourage mold.

Dee
Reply

Rusty, I have a hive that barely made it through our harsh MN winter 2013. So it rebuilt itself back up, but I put a honey super on it this summer, can I just take the queen excluder off and let them have the honey super and see if they make it thru winter 2014. Or should I put them with another hive? I have 2 other hives. I just hate to waste the queen when she made it through such a hard winter. And also when I opened that hive this spring it was full of mold too, but I just took everything out and left them in a honey super size hive. She ended up having about a softball size cluster left by spring.

Sharon Bauer
Reply

Please add me to your list.

Andrew
Reply

Thank you so much for this site – very insightful. I also am in the Pacific NW and have a hive that fell victim to mold as well. I will try again next year with a new swarm.

Rusty
Reply

Andrew,

Just remember that mold is the result of a weak colony, not the cause of it. No mold will grow around a strong and vibrant colony.

greg
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m a newbie and purchased an old hive that had been successful for several years. My issue is the brood frames are covered mostly in beautiful golden wax but some have numerous blackened areas that look and feel brittle. Numerous areas are also still capped. On these I will perform the toothpick test to check for goo, if I don’t find goo are these frames safe to use?

Also, my honey super frames are mostly drawn out and I’m planning on reusing these as they are all nice golden color.

Your insight is tremendously appreciated!!

Rusty
Reply

Greg,

Is this an empty hive? I wasn’t sure from your description. In any case, dark areas are where brood was raised. The pupae leave their cocoons behind, and those cells quickly become dark but there is nothing wrong with them.

If the capped areas show not sign of disease, they are fine to reuse. The new bees will quickly empty and polish them, and get them ready for reuse. And yes, by all means reuse the honey frames and you will get a lot more honey than if the bees had to build new ones.

Rosie
Reply

I too am a newbie with beekeeping and have found your blog so helpful in expanding my understanding of what I am seeing and observing in my two hives. I lost both of them this past year, but await the opportunity to try again this year. Thanks for the clear and detailed responses to these questions, all of which I had too! You have expanded my confidence in both myself and these amazing bee friends I have made. Please add me to your list serve.

Jerry
Reply

I’m a new beekeeper. I really appreciate your comments on using frames from dead hives. Seems smells are very important.

Tim
Reply

I am new beekeeper … thanks for all the great insights!

Pam
Reply

Rusty,
Started keeping bees last spring when I caught a swarm. They hardly made any honey all summer so I fed them good going into fall. It looked like they were making lots of baby bees and I thought maybe my original queen died and it took all summer to mature another one. Anyway I put strips in the hive for mites and the next morning all the baby bees were dead (carried outside the hive, hundreds of them). I went into winter with not enough bees I think. The hive did not survive, although I had a lot of honey going into winter (fed them good through the fall with sugar water). I am waiting for my two new colony’s to arrive. How should I arrange the nucs? Nine trays per nuc? Empty trays on the outside and three or four with honey in the center? Do I put an empty nuc on top so it is two high right from the start? Should I fill it with empty trays or put some honey in the center of upper one? Help! Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Pam,

There’s no one best way to arrange things. If it were me, I would put the bees in the center of the bottom box, and then a frame of pollen on each side (if available) and then honey. In the next box I would put honey in the outer positions and empty frames in the center so the colony has room to grow.

Leslie
Reply

I am also a “new-bee” my first hive grew nicely over the summer of 2014 but lost them this winter. Welcome to Ohio! I already cleaned all the old wax, mold, and honey out THEN I read your post. So I have two boxes with 10 frames each. I will not clean them any further as I am getting a nuc in June and will let the new bees finish cleaning, as you have suggested. My question is where on earth can I store the hive until the new bees arrive? I have a green house, a shed, a garage, a barn and my basement. It is now April and we no longer use the furnace or wood burner regularly. I see where you stated above to put them in a warm dry place but if a shed or garage aren’t ideal, what is? Thanks for any input.

Rusty
Reply

Leslie,

Store them in any place that is dry. A damp environment will cause the mold to re-grow.

Bruce
Reply

Thank you for the great information. I am also fairly new to beekeeping, and came across a new one for me. We had a pretty cool September here in Alberta and I was late in harvesting the last of the honey from one of my two hives. In this one in particular, the population was very high and as I reduced the size to two supers , many bees just clung to the outside of the hive instead of going in. In February, they appeared to be doing fine, but by mid March, they were gone. I finally opened the hive today, and found most of the combs loaded with honey, but covered with a blue/grey moldy substance. There was no brood, and only 2 or 3 dead bees inside. Does this sound like colony collapse disorder? Would it be wise to introduce the moldy comb to the surviving( and very strong) colony?

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

It’s hard to say, but it sounds like Varroa mites to me, especially because it occurred during the winter. How did you treat for mites? Did you look for guanine deposits?

If it were me, I would go ahead and give the moldy combs to the other hive.

Bruce
Reply

Rusty,

I didn’t do any treatment for varroa last fall, so maybe that is it. I don’t know what guanine deposits look like, but the hive was very clean, like they cleaned house and moved out.

Bruce
Reply

Sorry, I just remembered. I did do a treatment with formic acid. On the recommendation of a local beekeeper, I also fed sugar water with fumigilin b.

Over the winter, I have become increasingly interested in managing my hives in a more natural way with little to no antibiotics or pesticides. I hope it works:)

Cee
Reply

Rusty,

I have two Warre hives in which I have just installed two packages of bees with queens. Last year I had a dead out on both hives so I started over again this year. Unfortunately, I had already cut the old comb off of the top bars before I read that it could (and probably should) be reused if there was no disease present. I saved the detached combs which are all in good shape. Is there a way that I can reattach them to top bars so they can be reused when I am ready to add another hive body? Or should I just consider it a loss and melt them down for wax?

Rusty
Reply

Cee,

Melt some beeswax, dribble it along the underside of the top bars, and then try to glue the old combs in place. Just be very gentle. When the bees get on these combs, they will strengthen the attachment points. You may not success with all the combs, but you can probably salvage some.

Kari
Reply

What a great resource here! I am a new beekeeper too – and sadly my hive did not survive the cold Canadian winter. I am trying to figure out what went wrong. Glad to read that mold wasn’t the cause, but rather, the effect of a dead colony. Thought maybe they starved but no, there is still quite a bit of capped honey in both boxes. There’s no odor, other than the slightly fermented smell. There is absolutely no brood to be seen, especially in the original four frames that were the nuc last spring. Bees were grouped in clusters both in the lower and upper boxes. There is some substance strewn about that looks like cornmeal. And there are some areas beside capped honey that are wet, just like in the summer when they have nectar/water but they have little white things in them (like the cornmeal stuff but soaked so puffier and maybe a dozen fit in each cell). Any idea as to what I am dealing with here? I did treat for varroa in the fall. I have ordered another nuc. Can I go ahead and install without worry? So glad to hear that I don’t have to do all the cleaning and my new girls will take care of that job! Please give me all the advice you’ve got 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Kari,

Do you have a photo of “little white things in them (like the cornmeal stuff but soaked so puffier and maybe a dozen fit in each cell)”? This sounds like guanine (mite excrement) but I’d like to see it before I say for sure. My other question is when and how did you treat for mites? The flaky dry cornmeal stuff it probably just cappings wax that they pulled of the honey stores in winter, but it shouldn’t be puffed up and soaked. Very interesting.

Kari
Reply

I am an idiot. The cornmeal-type stuff was put there by me – sprinkled on the tops of the frames in the fall. And it was to prevent American Foulbrood, not Varroa. The guy at the bee store was all out of any other meds, and said not to worry about varroa. So I treated for AFB and that was it. So are you thinking most likely varroa mites then? The brood cells are picked clean. I do have pics. How can I send that to you?

Rusty
Reply

Kari,

I will e-mail you.

Pam
Reply

Rusty, thank you for the information about arranging the boxes. I wonder if I should feed the bees to begin with. The dandelions are starting to bloom here. Also, I don’t know what to think about queen excluders… do you recommend having them in the hives? And one more question, I have some pollen patties in the freezer. Should I put some in for the new bees?
Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Pam,

New bees can benefit from sugar syrup to help them get started building comb. You are getting nucs, so it isn’t really necessary to feed them if you don’t want to. If dandelions are blooming, the bees will have plenty of pollen, so I don’t think there is much benefit in pollen patties at this time of year. Usually there is plenty of spring tree pollen as well. I don’t use a queen excluder unless I have a specific purpose. For example, you can use them when you add your honey supers, but I wouldn’t leave them on all year. Remember queen excluders exclude drones.

Pam

Thanks Rusty. I will feed them a short while, maybe just a quart or two to get them going since I have trays with honey in them from last year. Since the bees will be housed in the bottom super, isn’t the next super up considered a “honey super” ? Wouldn’t I place the queen excluder between the first and second super? When would it be important to worry about excluding the drones? When do I know that I need to add a third super? It is so excellent to be able to ask questions, thank you!

Rusty

Pam,

Technically, you have brood boxes and honey supers. A brood box is not a super because a super (short for superstructure) goes on top of a brood box. I know, most people use the words wrong, but that is what makes it so confusing.

So, on the bottom you have a brood box. The next box up can be a brood box, if that’s what you want, or a super, if that’s what you want. If you want your brood box to be two boxes deep, you would not add a queen excluder. If you want only a single brood box, you could put a queen excluder there. But I wouldn’t add an excluder or a honey super until the first (lowest brood box) is about 2/3 full. You want your bees to store some honey down there on the outside of the brood, and one way to do that is not give them a honey super too soon.

Be sure to read English for Beekeepers.

Pam

Thanks Rusty, you must be at the computer! So would you limit the hive to one brood box to begin with and not even add a second brood box on top until later? I will read the link you sent!

Rusty

Pam,

That’s what I would do. Some folks would do it differently.

Pam

One more thing. What do you recommend to control the varra mites. Right now I have absolutely nothing. I SO want these bees to live!

Rusty

Pam,

I don’t like to recommend Varroa control, because the decision is controversial depending on your personal beekeeping philosophy. Right now, I use Hopguard in late August and oxalic acid in winter, but that is just my routine and not a recommendation. This site contains dozens of articles on mite control, if you want to read more.

Pam

Thanks Rusty. I kin what you’re saying. The less chemicals, the less intrusion, the better. I just feel like I should be doing something. I know there is some kind of screen??

Rusty

Pam,

You mean a screened bottom board? I don’t think they help that much with mites, but they are great for ventilation.

Mae
Reply

Love the blog, Rusty. This is my first year in beekeeping, so I’m a regular reader. I’m a little late to this thread, but I’ll ask anyway.

I was happy to read that it’s ok to use moldy combs. I just installed 3 nucs (4 frames each) and gave them frames with mold still on them. Is that ok? Or should I wait until that colony has built up strength and is ready to expand into a new box? The colonies were all really active and seemed like they were about to outgrow their boxes. There were a lot of bees and they were building comb on top of the frames.

Now that the moldy frames are in the hives, should I go back and swap them with less moldy ones?

Rusty
Reply

Mae,

I would just leave them as is. They are probably mostly cleaned up by now.

Amy
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I have 2 new hives from packages I purchased this summer (hive died in winter from either starvation or mites) and I am going to put another super on to give them more room, as they are really cranking. I have used some of the old frames with comb to feed and for them to clean, but am not sure about the frames with nectar – I heard they will not use those frames. Will they still clean them out? I plan to put some new clean frames in with some used ones that have dead bees, nectar, etc in this new top super. Does that sound good?

Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Amy,

To speed things up, you can just turn the nectar-containing frames upside down and give them a good shake. Any watery nectar will fly out and the thicker stuff will remain. Give those to the bees and they will clean and re-fill them.

Cg
Reply

Hi there,

Just brought in the supers and frames that i put outside for the bees to clean up after removing the honey. However we have had some days of rain and since this is sunny florida lots of sun and humidity i noticed when i removed the frames to clean off some wax that some of the frames appear to have mold on the plastic foundation. Should i be worried and try to clean this off before putting frames in the freezer before putting away till needed? Thanks for your help. Cg

Rusty
Reply

Cg,

I wouldn’t worry about it, but try to keep the frames dry so it doesn’t continue to grow.

parvi
Reply

Hi good my friends,

Noticing mold in hive, I thought,it may have been caused by extreme humidity and consequently by condensation so what I did was:
1- Checked ventilation holes in the cap of hive regularly, cleaned the blocked ones and added 4 new vents .
2- Made a new cap (fly screen frame) for covering the hive in some sunny days.

Now the hives are dry and nice. I have made a special mesh floor far the girls to be replaced in hot summer days in order too keep them cool and calm.

Tim
Reply

Hi Rusty! Appreciate the thread on moldy frames. We lost a few hives during the winter, likely just too weak going into the winter, and we plan to re-use for splits, swarms, and for a couple swarm catchers. Not too worried about the mold, it’s not bad and mainly on the old pollen.

What I would like to know is how you feel about fermented honey. We have quite a few frames of honey, and a couple are half or mostly capped, but have some cells, usually a half a frame or less, that is uncapped and fermented. You mentioned fermented honey a time or two in this thread, but I didn’t notice what you would do with it. Was thinking about shaking out as much as I can, but of course there will still be residual. Thoughts?

Thank You

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

You might want to read “One for the road: bees with a buzz” about alcohol and bees. I wrote it several years ago, and although it it still correct, I’m a little more lenient about letting my bees eat fermented hone that I used to be. I will let them clean up frames with some fermentation as long as they have other sources of food at the same time. I don’t want them on a high-ethanol diet, but a little now and then won’t hurt.

So yes, I would shake out what I could and let them clean up the rest.

Tim
Reply

Thank you Rusty, I’ll take a look at that thread. I was also thinking that I could shake out the frames, and then leave them out in the yard for the bees to steal or even in swarm catcher boxes to entice bees to rob the honey, and note the location for a possible home when they swarm. That way I’m not introducing significant amounts of fermented honey to a single hive, or “forcing” a single hive to do the clean out. Do you think that would that be any better than droping frames in individual boxes?

Tim

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

Yes, that would work. Like you say, no one is forced to clean up the mess, but they can take it if they want it.

Dawn
Reply

Hi Rusty! I’m just starting on my second season with bees and your site has been invaluable in the last year!

I am starting from two nucs this year that come in 2 days. I finally broke down and bought a chest freezer so now freezing frames is a possibility! I have a lot of brood comb with honey as well as frames of honey from my hives that died over the winter. Unfortunately, though I have open-stacked the hives on several warm days, there is still a lot of moisture in the frames including a lot of uncapped nectar (though I shook out what I could). The honey frames mostly show only a little or no mold, but many brood frames have a fair amount of mold, and it’s far from dry.

Can I move moldy frames into the freezer and pull them for the bees to clean when the new hives are stronger? At this point it’s still been so damp in Seattle that I can’t imagine when they will actually dry, and I don’t have an indoor space where I can dry them. They’ve just been sitting on the empty hives where they mercifully so far have remained pest free (aside from mold) but I’m worried that as it warms the pests will move in a ruin all that comb and honey. And they need to come off the hives now as the new bees arrive soon!

Thanks, Dawn

Darlene
Reply

I had a swarm build in my tree last summer and didn’t know it until fall when all the leaves were gone and there was a hive twenty feet up. They died or moved on leaving comb. It finally blew out of the tree this winter. I collected it and put it in my garage.

I had wanted to melt it down for use but now I noticed blue/green mold. I pitched it but then I saw this thread I thought I would ask some questions.

Was it dangerous? If I had used it to make candles would it put mold spores in the air? Just curious for future information.
Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Darlene,

Well, it certainly wasn’t dangerous. The molds that grow in bee hives are just the normal molds that live all around us. Honey bees are really good at clearing the mold away, but we humans are not. I’ve tried to clean moldy wax and use it for candles, but I always detect a faint odor, like a musty closet smell, so I don’t even try anymore. Throwing it away was a good decision.

Barry Z.
Reply

Rusty,

I also lost a hive this winter, perhaps due to a number of factors, including Varroa and/or loss of the queen. My question has to do with fermented honey. Some of the capped honey looks fresh and beautiful, but some of it is quite dark, and not at all appetizing looking. Is there a simple way to tell if this dark stuff is fermented? If it is, should I avoid placing these frames in the hive when my new Carnolian’s arrive this week?
Thanks much.

Rusty
Reply

Barry,

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, honey is more beautiful the darker it gets. Light colored honey just doesn’t do it for me.

Anyway, fermenting honey is bubbly and oozing from the comb. It sounds like your honey is absolutely fine for giving to new bees. They will thrive on it.

Barry Z.
Reply

Thank you, Rusty.

Because these frames came from a dead out, and there was evidence of moderate dysentery, I was advised to feed syrup with Fumigelin-B. Do you agree with this, and is there any need to feed additional syrup, given the large amount of capped honey I have available for them?

Rusty
Reply

Barry,

Honey bee dysentery is not a disease but a condition caused by a diet high in ash, usually dark honey, during winter when the bees can’t get out to defecate. Although you hear it all the time, there is very little evidence that Nosema disease is related to dysentery in any way. I believe it would be pointless to feed a highly potent drug like Fumagilin to bees that are not showing signs of disease. The drug can cause changes in the gut flora that can weaken the immune strength of a colony. The dark honey will be fine for them now (it’s spring) and they won’t need additional sugar syrup. Remember, that drugs have their place, but we should always use the minimum number we can get away with.

parvi
Reply

I boiled them in mixture of water, vinegar and salt. To stop the spread of fungi, keep your hive dry. Please note front of hive must always be lower (slope towards entrance) so that water won’t accumulate in the hive. Keep ventilation holes of the cap (top of the hive) clean. NEVER RE USE DIRTY FRAMES. Lots of bees die liking fungi and they take them to flowers and spread them. Thank you for reading.

Rusty
Reply

Parvi,

You don’t need to tip your hive forward if you use screened bottom boards, as the water drains out through the screen.

parvi
Reply

Dear Rusty,

Thank you for your nice comment. I will use screened bottom boards in future.

Kind regards

John
Reply

Hi Rusty,
I lost a hive overwinter from mites (14/100 from WSU), ugh! I treated them in the fall too!…but didn’t do a post treatment mite count (my bad)…Anyway, I have a full super of capped honey that got moldy, I’ve had it off and stored in the garage and the mold has pretty much gone away in the dry humidity. I plan to put the super back on one of my stronger hives for a few days to a week and let them clean it up before I extract…I can’t find much info on this and am looking for advice.

Rusty
Reply

John,

There is nothing really wrong with capped honey that has molded, except if the mold gets in the extracted honey it can have an unpleasant mildewy odor. Your idea of having the bees clean it up is a good one. What I would do after they are done is just smell it. If the odor is gone, go ahead and extract. Mold spores that get in there will not germinate unless the moisture level is too high, so it’s not a case of honey “going bad,” it’s more a matter of whether you can detect the odor/flavor of mold. It’s definitely an aethestic more than a health issue.

Ty
Reply

I bought a package last year and I think they starved to death based on what I read in this thread. I fed them sugar syrup from the time I got them but one day there was no more activity and when I opened it they were gone. There were some dead ones on the bottom board and quite a few on the ground in front of the hive but nothing appeared wrong with the comb or honey. Being a newby I think I might have added the second super before they needed it and they might have gotten too cold. It was mid May in NC when I got the package and the beginning of November when they died. The second deep super was empty and only about eight of the ten frames on the bottom super was drawn. There was honey in about five frames though so I’m not sure. There wasn’t any brood I don’t think. There were a few dark cells capped on a couple frames but not many. Some of the drawn cells were dark but most were very clean and loaded with honey. Maybe the queen just died? I’m not sure. I moved the day after Christmas to an eleven acre property just over the state line into Virginia. I picked up a nuc on May 24th and set them up with the unused frames to fill up the super. Today there was alot of activity around the entrance that appeared to me to maybe be some robbing bees. I’m not sure but decided to close down the entrance size to make it easier for them to defend. After about a half hour things had settled down so I opened the hive and it was completely full. So I added another deep super and started putting in the new frames. I soon realized that I didn’t have but a few that were unused so I put the ones filled with honey and the cleanest looking drawn comb in. There were about four drawn and four honey laden ones. What do you think? Was this the best way to go about it? I don’t know exactly what killed them last time but there was no bad smell or anything disgusting looking on the frames. They had been in the garage all winter so they had been frozen and now hot for some time since it got into the single digits in the winter and had been in the high nineties lately and the garage is detached. I figured anything living on them was surely dead. I hope I haven’t put them at risk. Thanks for any help. I have alot to learn but I’m trying my best.

Rusty
Reply

Ty,

It is absolutely fine to use the old frames; that is what I would do. Did you also treat your colony for Varroa mites? It sounds like the colony may have died from Varrao mite-vectored bee viruses.

Ty
Reply

Thanks! After making the entrance smaller things settled down but due to higher temps the began bearding so I had to enlarge it again but they seem to be at peace although very busily at work gathering either pollen, nectar, or water. Of course they won’t use the water I provide them right next to the hive. I don’t know if they are flying to one of three creeks on my property or to some “dirty water” they have located. No I haven’t treated them. I didn’t realize that was a possibility. What is the best way to do that? Is there a particular product you recommend?

Rusty
Reply

Ty,

It is complex, and something you should read about. Most treatments are regulated by state laws, which you would need to look up or ask your local bee club.

Rose
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Can you help me? I had removed some of my frames full of honey and had placed them in an broccoli foam container with a lid, which I used to carry them in from hive to house to extract as it is a bit lighter. Then next day I was going to extract and took quite ill. A couple of weeks have passed. Now I have just gone into it to extract and I think some of the frames have white mould on the wax.What should I do? Is this honey all wasted? The weather has been wet and humid, which may be the cause. I have never noticed this before. Can I extract it, possibly heat it to kill any mould etc. Should I burn the frames, or take the wax out and sterilize? Completely loss with where to from here.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Rose,

First, stay calm. Mold is completely normal and nothing to be worried about. The mold spores, which are always present, germinated when you left the frames in an enclosed space. The worse thing is the mold can give the honey an “off” flavor, so you want to eliminate as much as possible. I would take a weak solution of chlorine bleach, about as strong as swimming pool water or a little stronger, and lightly brush it on the surface of the combs, and then let the combs dry in a well-ventilated place. This will kill most of the mold. Then simply uncap the honey and extract as normal. The antimicrobial properties of honey will keep the remaining spores from germinating. The mold is not dangerous and the spores are always present. If you can kill most of the mold, you wont notice a flavor.

Rose
Reply

Thank you, I tried it, and have just uncapped the honey and process it. Thank you very much for the information it was most valuable. Cheers Rose

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