Why Bee Biosecurity Matters
What is Biosecurity?
Biosecurity is a set of protocols that are intended to protect animals, as well as humans, against diseases that could harm them. It is not uncommon for large and small farms to have protocols set in place to deter disease.
Why is Biosecurity Important in a Bee Yard?
Bees are just like cattle or other animals on a farm. Colonies can die due to disease that other bees, as well as humans, transfer. Biosecurity is especially important in apiaries with many different hives so that you are not unintentionally putting your colonies at risk by transferring disease between them. In addition to protecting your own bees, practicing good biosecurity is a way of protecting other beekeeper's bees. Bees on average travel two miles from their hive, which provides opportunities to transfer disease to other hives they encounter. Therefore, keeping your bees happy and healthy is just as important for yourself as it is for others.
What are the Biosecurity Protocols in the USA?
When I started researching biosecurity for apiaries, I was expecting to be overwhelmed with information that I would need to spend hours sifting through. Surprisingly, I was not met with the amount of information I had previously expected. The little information that I did find was through "Beeaware", a biosecurity website for Australian beekeepers. It is not that biosecurity isn’t something that should be worried about in America, it just seems that America is a little bit behind on generating a list of uniform protocols to protect bees and the people that work with them.
Practical Biosecurity Protocols
Through my research in helping develop bee biosecurity protocols for hives in America, I have come up with a couple of tips on bee biosecurity. This is not by any means an official list of protocols, but rather a summary of the protocols I repeatedly stumbled across through my research.
5. Be wary of buying used beekeeping equipment. Some diseases are easily treated for and can be cleaned off of hive boxes and other tools. However, there are serious diseases, such as AFB, which cannot be cleaned off of hive boxes very effectively. So it is important to be careful of who you get your equipment from and make sure they properly clean any equipment before you bring it into the bee yard. If you are acquiring or reusing a hive that has recently had a colony die in it, it is very important to know the cause of death before reusing the hive.
4. Properly dispose of single-use equipment in a place bees cannot access. Many people will use disposable gloves while doing inspections. They are very handy, especially when you are inspecting a possibly sick colony and want to be careful not to transfer disease to other colonies. Make sure that when you remove your gloves, you are disposing of them in a sealed garbage can or someplace where bees can not access the dirty equipment.
3. Clean up honey spills and remove exposed wax to reduce the chance of robbing between hives. This is pretty straight forward. If you have honey from an infected colony that was spilled on the ground, make sure to clean it up. Leaving it out in the open gives your healthy colonies access to it, which can transfer disease.
2. Clean equipment between hives if there is disease suspected. You wouldn't use a thermometer on a sick person and then turn around and use that same thermometer, without washing it, on a healthy patient. So then why would you inspect a sick colony with a hive tool and then inspect a healthy one without washing your hive tool? Simply scraping off propolis and throwing your hive tool in your smoker between inspecting hives can do wonders to protect the health of your colonies. Use that time while your hive tool is getting nice and hot to maybe go grab a drink of water or write down some inspection notes.
1. Don’t take dirty beekeeping equipment to another apiary. If you are able to, consider having different sets of equipment for different apiaries. You don't want the possibility of transferring diseases from one apiary to a completely different apiary. This is especially important if you are traveling to an apiary that is not your own. Just be kind and courteous and either leave your equipment at home or make sure it is properly cleaned before taking it with you.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that you should always keep records of your hives. Keeping records can help you notice when things are not how they should be, and when you should take extra precautions. Records can also help you remember when you last checked/treated for mites. Mites are the most common pest in beehives. If you allow mites to run rampant in one hive, you will most likely cause problems in your other hives.
If you would like to learn more about bee biosecurity consider visiting beeaware.org.au which currently has a webinar series on bee biosecurity.
Last edited June 2020