Honey Bee Biosecurity: Part 2

Thursday 13 October 2022

In this week’s blog, we will return to our discussion of biosecurity and honey bee management. Remember from Blog #118 that biosecurity is important for beekeeping operations of all sizes to reduce and contain the spread of pests. Read on for insight into management practices that can be incorporated into your own beekeeping operation to best protect your colonies from pests and associated diseases.

Honey Bee Biosecurity: Part 2

The Honey Bee Producer Guide to the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard is a valuable document for Canadian beekeepers which offers extensive information on biosecurity practices. The suggestions in this blog come from this national standard. Incorporating recommended practices from this guide can help reduce the spread of pests. 

In the previous blog, we highlighted that good biosecurity dictates that bees must be obtained from reliable and safe sources. This is also true of all hive equipment and any other inputs into your apiary, such as hive boxes, feed, and treatments. For example, it can be tempting to buy inexpensive hive equipment that has been stored unused for years, but unfortunately the reuse of hive equipment can be high risk. Spores of harmful disease-causing bacteria, such as Paenibacillus larvae which causes American Foulbrood Disease, can persist on untreated woodenware indefinitely. For this reason, it is important to know the history of the woodenware and recommended to scorch all reused equipment with a torch before introducing it into your apiary.

Biosecurity practices are relevant even when you are not explicitly introducing new bees or inputs into your operation. Pests, such as Varroa mites, can enter without your knowing via honey bees from nearby hives. Furthermore, there are honey bee pests which go unnoticed when their populations are low but can be devastating if populations increase or the afflicted colonies become stressed.  A good example may be the fungus Ascophaera apis which causes chalkbrood disease. Part of reducing this risk is regularly cleaning and disinfecting all tools, including protective clothing such as gloves and jackets. For example, hive tools should be disinfected with a torch between use to kill any harmful pathogens. See ATTTA’s demonstration video on how to disinfect your hive tool for more information. 

Scorching hive tools can reduce the spread of pests between honey bee colonies. (ATTTA©2022)

Keeping your hives, personal protective wear, and beekeeping tools clean is just one aspect of maintaining the cleanliness of your entire apiary and associated facilities. There are pests associated with beekeeping that thrive in stored equipment, such as wax moths. So how you store your own equipment must be considered in your biosecurity practice. To this end, all dead outs should be assessed as to why they died, equipment promptly disinfected, and stored in bee-proof conditions away from the apiary. All facilities, such as honey houses, should be regularly cleaned. 

Record keeping is another valuable tool. The Canadian Honey Council (CHC) has created documents to support beekeepers in this effort. The Canadian Bee Industry Safety Quality Traceability Producer Manual – Good Production Practices is one such document. This manual is focused on honey production and has extensive information which goes beyond biosecurity as well as useful templates for record keeping. Recently, these templates have been updated by the CHC in the Canadian Beekeepers’ Practical Handbook to Bee Biosecurity and Food Safety. This is a more concise document with updated record keeping templates. Both resources have useful information for Canadian beekeepers and should be considered in creating your biosecurity management plan. 

In developing a plan, make sure that all personnel engaged in the apiary are fully informed. Regularly training all people who will be working in your beekeeping operation is important to upholding the integrity of your biosecurity management. Keeping up to date on new and relevant biosecurity risks is critical, as well. To help with this, joining your provincial beekeepers association can be a valuable resource for staying in tune with your regional beekeeping community. Also be aware of the regulations in your own province around biosecurity, buying and selling used equipment, and the storage of hive components.

Remember that biosecurity in your apiary has repercussions on your neighbor’s honey bees! The strength of the Atlantic beekeeping community as a whole depends on each beekeeper’s participation in proper management of pests and diseases. 

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