Freeze combs to prevent wax moth damage

The purpose of freezing wax combs is to kill the eggs and larvae of wax moths. Wax moths can destroy beeswax combs, especially combs in weak colonies and those in storage. A strong colony of bees does a good job of controlling the moths, but a weak colony can become overrun.

Although the moths cannot survive long periods of cold, a healthy hive stays fairly warm all winter long. The moth larvae chew cavities in the frames, spin their cocoons, and spend the winter as pupae kept warm and toasty by the honey bee cluster. In the spring, they emerge as adult moths.

The larvae of wax moths destroy combs while they search for food—mostly cocoons of bee pupae and bits of pollen. For this reason, comb that once contained brood is much more susceptible to attack by wax moths than comb that has contained only honey. On occasion, however, the moths will destroy comb that has never contained brood. Such is the lot of beekeepers.

Freezing overnight will destroy all stages of wax moths. It is not necessary to store combs in the freezer—only to freeze them overnight. But freezing will not prevent the immediate re-infestation of wax moths if the comb is placed where moths can reach it.

Combs that are frozen and immediately returned to the hive will immediately become re-infected, but a strong hive will manage them. Combs frozen and placed in a shed or garage will also become re-infected if adult moths are in the area. Only combs kept away from adult moths will remain moth-free.

Comb can be frozen even if it contains honey. Honey is low in moisture and will not expand and break the cells. If handled carefully, it can be frozen and thawed with no loss of quality and no change in appearance.

Comb honey producers routinely freeze their honey before packaging it. Even if the probability is small, no comb honey producer wants creepy crawlies writhing over the lovely comb—and certainly no customer wants to buy it. So combs are frozen and thawed before going to market.

But producers of extracted honey can freeze their frames as well, especially if they want to delay extraction until the entire crop is in. As long as the thawed comb is kept away from moths, it can be easily held until extraction time.

One word of caution about freezing: condensation. Condensation will form on combs that are taken from the freezer. If the combs are stored before they dry, mold will appear in a spectacular display of gross. An easy way to prevent mold is to wrap the combs tightly in plastic wrap before you place them in the freezer. After you remove them from the freezer, allow them to come to room temperature before removing the plastic.

Rusty

Comments

Bruce
Reply

Hi Rusty,
What is your opinion on using shallow supers that show some
evidence of wax moth? I’m just leery of using
frames & foundation, since people will be eating the
honey..
I’d appreciate your opinion.
Thank you,

Bruce

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

I’m not clear on what you’re asking. Do you mean there is wax moth damage on the supers and frames, or on the comb, or on the foundation? Are you planning to extract or make comb honey?

If there is just some damage, and you put the supers on a strong hive, the bees will control the wax moths as long as the hive remains strong. The bees will repair any damage to the comb itself.

The most critical time is harvest time. You should either freeze your frames immediately after harvest or extract within two days of harvest. If you do one or the other, your honey should be fine–assuming the colony was strong enough to keep the wax moths from seriously damaging the new comb.

Bruce, if I haven’t answered your question please write back. Your situation isn’t totally clear to me. Thanks.

Bruce
Reply

Hi Rusty,
I found some debri (webbing) on the shallow frames that were in storage from last years honey harvest. Is it okay to re-use those frames? I do not want to contaminate honey that would be used for human consumption.
I really wasn’t clear with my first post..
Thanks,
Bruce

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

If you want to be absolutely sure your frames are not infected, you can freeze them overnight. Or, if they are wooden frames with no comb, you can take a hand-held propane torch and sweep it across all the wooden surfaces to kill any of the moth life stages.

However, if your hive is infested with wax moths, they will re-infect the frames in no time. The most important thing is to freeze or process your honey as soon as you harvest it.

The larvae are most unattractive and can ruin the comb, but they are not harmful to humans. Freezing kills the eggs, but the remains of the eggs are still there. People eating these would never know it and it won’t hurt them. It’s just like eating all those insects parts that are in your cereal. Out of sight, out of mind.

Laura
Reply

Here’s an idea: Because I don’t have a freezer big enough to store all the unused pollen/brood frames over the winter, I’ll freeze a batch for 24 hours, then put them in a hive box that’s screened on both ends. I staple the screen on, and take it off when a box is needed. So far, no wax moths.

Rusty
Reply

Laura,

Great idea! It is inexpensive, effective, and solves the storage problem. I think I will try this. Thank you.

Bruce
Reply

Thanks Rusty,

There was no sign of larvae, just some webbing and what looked what looked like moth debris.
Thanks Again!

Bruce

Donna
Reply

I extracted honey on Friday and wanted to get the wet frames back in the hives on Saturday for cleanup. It’s Monday . . . should I freeze them overnight. They look like wet frames without any webs but I don’t want to upset my hives with any moths that may be there. I have six hives and still have more frames to extract. Need to get moving before it’s too cold!!! Anyway, these wet frames are sitting in a sunny room inside but you never know when a moth with come in. My hives are happy, healthy & strong and I don’t want to kill them . . .

Rusty
Reply

Donna,

The conventional wisdom is you should drop everything in the freezer within two days. But, in truth, wax moths are not interested in honey frames unless those frames have contained brood. It is the cocoons, excrement, and bee parts they are really after. So if the honey supers have not contained brood, and if your hives do not have obvious waxmoth infestations, chances are pretty good that the wet frames will not become infected, especially if they are indoors and in the sunlight. It is not a guarantee, of course, but it’s a reasonable bet.

Anna
Reply

Question: when freezing jars of chunk honey, do I wrap them like I do frames? Do you need to wrap comb honey that in the box as well? Or, because there is already an outside surface for water to condense upon, I don’t need to wrap the comb boxes or the chunk honey bottles. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

I would freeze comb honey before I cut it up for chunk honey; I wouldn’t freeze it in the bottle. In any case, there is no need to wrap the jars because they don’t absorb moisture. With honey in boxes, I would wrap the honey sections in plastic, freeze, allow to come to room temperature, and then place the combs in boxes. You don’t want condensation on the honeycomb, nor do you want condensation on the boxes.

Christine Kay
Reply

I am a new beekeeper and love your site! It is very helpful.

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