I’ve finally got over the shock of having caught the beekeeper’s equivalent of an STD and instead of not telling anybody I am shouting out loud. I have learnt quite a lot in the last two weeks about AFB and how it’s spread and how to control it. I’ve also done a fair bit of analysis of our systems and more than a bit of soul searching.
Last week I headed off to the apiary, petrol in hand, to suffocate the infected hive before it died out and infected the ones nearby, or the drift of worker bees spread it. I sealed the bees in and poured about a cup of petrol in. The bees roared as soon as the vapour hit them trying in vain to disperse it before they died. Death was quick – about 2 minutes – but it felt like a lifetime and gave me a horrible feeling, something I do not want to repeat any time soon.
So what now? We are inspecting all our hives and I mean really looking at each brood frame (it’s a slow process). We will destroy any hive with symptoms as a precaution. We have to quarantine all potentially infected equipment and will melt down any combs that are more than a season old as another precaution. Any hive bodies, frames, excluders etc. will be irradiated.
We have good records with all hives tracked via software and so know what has happened to the infected hive since we obtained it. We will either burn or irradiate all equipment that has come into contact with the hive… and are looking closely at our management practices with a view to minimising any cross contamination.
One thing we have already done this year is move our queen excluders up at the end of winter. We will rotate the bottom two boxes over, put the excluder back down and when the old honey frames are robbed, melt them down. I think this will become standard practice and will allow us to keep all frames in the brood no older than 12 months… and eliminate AFB spore build up. We had always replaced half the brood frames but this will replace them all.
Because we have a large number of distributed apiaries, keeping equipment segregated from our apiaries is difficult, but we are going to have to invent a system that makes sure all frames go back to the hive they have come from… difficult but not impossible.
So it’s a waiting game and everything is crossed that we caught this before it spread to our other hives… time will tell.