Freezing honeycomb protects it from wax moth damage

Contrary to rumor, comb honey does not have to be frozen before it is eaten. If you like, you can eat it warm and gooey right out of the hive.

However, comb honey is often frozen to protect it from wax moths. Wax moths—also known as bee moths, wax millers, or web worms—live and reproduce on honeycombs and can destroy them very quickly. Since freezing kills all life stages of wax moths, it assures that your comb honey will not become infested during storage.

A healthy and populous hive of bees easily controls wax moths. But hives that become weak—or combs in storage—are easy targets for wax moths. The adult moth lays her eggs on the surface of the comb or in the cracks between hive boxes. After the larvae hatch, they dig through the comb, looking for bits of pollen or the empty cocoons of bees. Because the larvae eat the pollen and cocoons—not the wax—they are seldom found in clean, new comb or fresh foundation.

To get to the food, however, the larvae tunnel through the comb and line the tunnels with silken webbing called “galleries.” As they move through the comb they open capped cells of honey and brood, tearing apart the entire structure. Depending on the temperature and environmental conditions, a heavy infestation can ruin a brood box in a week.

You can minimize the problem of wax moths in several ways.

  • Keep hives strong. Combine weak hives. Populous colonies are the best defense against wax moths.
  • Don’t allow odd pieces of wax comb to remain in the vicinity of your hives as these may attract moths. Collect wax scrapings and burr comb and remove them from your apiary.
  • Freeze honey combs before storing. The USDA recommends 24 hours at O° F.
  • Store empty combs in a cool, well-ventilated area such as outside or in an unheated building. (They must be protected from mice, however.)
  • All hive openings—other than entrances—should be covered with screening to prevent the adult female moth from flying into the hive.
  • Keep boxes in good repair. The adult moth may lay eggs in the space between the boxes if she senses the presence of comb. Solid contact between the boxes makes it harder for the larvae to squirm their way in.

Although some beekeepers place a chemical called paradichlorobenzene in stored boxes, this is carcinogenic and cannot be used for honey meant for human consumption. Worse, it does not kill the eggs, so when the chemical is removed the remaining eggs may still hatch. It is far better to use good management practices and skip the pesticides when at all possible.

Rusty

Comments

Happy
Reply

I had wax moths get in my honey super. I mistakenly pulled it too early and had it stored in my garage for two weeks. I’m a newbie and have learned my lesson. Is it correct that I can freeze the frames for 24 hours and then put them back on the hive for the bees to clean? The infestation of wax moths is not bad at all but were definitely present. After the bees have repaired the frames (10-14days??) am I still able to harvest the honey?

Rusty
Reply

If you put the frozen honeycomb back in the hive it will become re-infested with wax moths. The larvae are probably in the brood boxes eating the castings inside the wax comb wherever they can find it. So when you put the honey supers back on, the moth larvae will just crawl onto it.

The other issue is that at this time of year–going into winter–I don’t know how much repair you can expect from your bees. If we have a warm fall, they may be able to repair the damaged comb, but if it quickly gets cold they will stay in their cluster.

In a normal hive with healthy bees you wouldn’t normally see any damage to the combs because the bees quickly control the moths. But as you have seen, when you remove comb from the hive, the moths can hatch and begin eating comb.

You didn’t say whether you were trying to make comb honey or extracted honey, but if you are extracting, you can just go ahead and extract. The wax moths are interested in the castings from brood–not the honey–so there should be no problem.

If you are trying to make comb honey, I think maybe you should just clean up the combs yourself. If you already put them back in the hive, make sure you re-freeze them when you take them out again, clean up the combs the best you can (since you said the damage wasn’t very bad), and enjoy your honey.

In the future, just try to freeze the combs as soon as possible after they come from the hive. I try to freeze within a day or two and then you just don’t have to worry about them anymore.

If we have a really cold winter, the wax moths will be killed. But if some are in the brood chamber and kept warm by the winter cluster of bees, they will make it through the winter. But, even so, the bees will keep them at a reasonable level and everything will be fine as long as you freeze your frames before storing them.

I don’t know if I answered your question, but let me know if you need more. It is really an interesting question. . . and a problem you will probably never have again.

Thanks for writing.

gforty
Reply

Hello, thanks for the very informative article.
If I freeze frames but not the super, can I then put the frames back inside the super and then inside a sealed garbage bag to be stored in a closet or perhaps in a garage? I am in the Florida panhandle so I am thinking that the garage may be too hot? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

If wax moths have laid eggs in the wood of the super you could re-infest the frames of honey by putting them back in the super. If you wrap the frames in plastic before you freeze them and then leave the plastic wrap in place, you can put the frames in the super and they will be protected from re-infestation (assuming they are wrapped tightly). I have done this many times and it works for me.

The garage may be kind of hot, but will it damage the honey? Probably not. Many times we beekeepers have to do things that are not ideal but are pretty good . . . and “pretty good” usually works. At this very moment I have nine full supers stacked in my bedroom. Not ideal by any means, but sometimes you do what you have to do.

Rachel
Reply

I have a wax moth problem in one hive. I am in the process of freezing frames that had a mix of capped and uncapped honey, what should I do about storing them after they come out of the freezer? (There are 2 mediums and 1 deep) I’m concerned that the uncapped honey is going to go bad, and some of the frames have dead wax moth larva. I have two other hives in a different location but I hesitate to put the frozen frames on them in case they can’t defend the extra volume or if there are eggs in the wood.

If I extract what do I do with the wet frames? I’m also guessing that given the condition of the frames, anything I extract has to be discarded. Is leaving the wet frames outside in the open for the wasps and other local bees to clean up a viable option?

Thanks so much!

Rusty
Reply

Rachel,

1. I would have shaken the frames before freezing them to remove most of the uncapped honey. Then I would wrap them in plastic, freeze, and then store them still wrapped in plastic.

2. Don’t worry about dead wax moth larva. If you give the honey to bees, they will clean them up. If you extract it, you will strain them out. Remember, honey is highly antibacterial, so nothing will survive in the honey itself.

3. Any eggs in the wood are also killed by freezing. You can give the frozen frames to your other hives if and when they need them. You don’t have to leave them on all winter but you do have to protect them from reinfection (by leaving the plastic on until you use them).

4. If you extract, let the bees clean up the frames and then remove them when they are clean. Put them in a super above your hive bodies. I don’t recommend open feeding. Then filter your honey in the normal way.

Rusty
Reply

Rachel,

No I’ve never tried it. It’s not registered for wax moths in the US and, as far as I know, we can’t even buy it here.

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