The Perils of Building Your Own Hive…

SOOOOO, as I’ve mentioned, I built my own hive. It’s a long Langstroth-style hive. Kind of a cross between a top-bar hive and a Langstroth, in that it’s a single box that holds 32 medium Langstroth frames (actually, I think they’re properly referred to as “Hoffman” frames). One of the “features” I added was a screened bottom to help with mite control, and a cover below that to limit the otherwise-huge amount of ventilation the hive would receive.

What I didn’t think of at the time, was the fact that this provided about 1″ of space inaccessible to the bees, but easily-accessible to pests like wax moths and small hive beetles. I realized this a month or so ago, but figured I had some time to deal with it, as I hadn’t noticed any signs of infestation as of my last inspection a couple of weeks ago.

Well, when I got back from a vacation Tuesday, I did an inspection, and saw a small hive beetle running across one of the frames. Weeeell… great. I finished up most of my inspection (though, stupidly, because the bees were getting agitated, I didn’t check the last couple of frames, which are the oldest, most-established frames, and, in hindsight, the most likely to have wax moths/SHB in them), and closed up the hive.

Having a pretty good idea of what I’d find, I slid out the bottom cover and had my fears confirmed.

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The ball in the top photo is a mix of wax moth webbing and hive scraps (pollen and wax, mostly). The bottom photo shows a large wax moth larva, and I’m pretty sure the smaller larvae are small hive beetle larvae.

I pulled the tray out and left it in the sun, which killed the larvae after only a few minutes. It would appear that they’re not well-equipped to handle the heat of direct sunlight, especially in California during the summer. I scraped off the cover and set it aside, knowing that I can’t really use it anymore, or this will just happen all over again (because of the space it provides for pests to hide, not because it’s “infected” or anything like that).

To fill the space, I measured the bottom of the hive, and cut a board to fit up against the bottom screen. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good way to secure it in place, so I had to improvise. Part of the hive design is a cross-beam at the front and back, to provide some support. In this case, those supports provided a decent way to hold up the board. I cut wedges from a couple of 2×4’s, slid the board into place, and tapped the wedges between the cross beams and shiny new bottom board. It still leaves a very small gap at the edges of the new bottom board, due to some cutting inaccuracy on my part, but it should be less than 1/16″, so I’m not too worried about it.

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So, I think everything is okay for now. Probably. What really surprised me was just how fast the hive went from “nothing wrong” to “oh god, the wax moths have a whole little nest set up”. It really caught me off-guard. I was planning on doing a split when I got home, but they’re definitely not ready. They still have pretty limited stores, and no capped honey that I could see. Whether that’s because they’ve been busy trying to deal with invaders or not, I don’t know.

I’m not planning on doing much else to deal with moths/beetles, because I feel like treating for pests just breeds weaker bees and more resilient pests. If my bees die, they die. I think they’re going to be okay for now, though.

I think I’m going to do a quick inspection this weekend, to check out those last two frames and make sure they’re okay. If they’re infested, I’ll probably pull those frames out. I don’t think treating for pests is a great idea, but in this case, it’s mostly my fault that they got infested. I stacked the deck in favor of the moths and beetles, so I suppose I can help even things out a little bit.

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