Bees are amazing housekeepers. They keep their living environment (house) and their storage areas (shed/ garage) very clean and in most circumstances tidy!
With The Shared Apiary, I am very aware of just how important our role is as bee guardians and keepers. While there are thousands of microrganisms in a hive, bees are highly sensitive to toxins and diseases coming in from outside. A healthy, thriving colony will quickly deal with minor incursions in a number of ways including locking pesticides into cells and sealing them over, and killing unwanted insects and creatures like mice, and entombing them. Even spores from foulbrood are dealt with by maintaing the hive at a particular pH level that prevents the disease progressing. (pH explained below)
So our role needs to support the work of the bees and that means ensuring the best hygiene possible. The best beekeepers carry a container or bucket of cleaning material and they regularly use it to clean their equipment and gloves between sites or after encountering an unhealthy hive. Best practice is to do this after every hive.
If you use gloves or bare hands, hygiene is important so clean your hands before touching the bees and their environment. Ensure you have no blood or injury on your hands as this can mean severe contamination of your bees.
In our Shared Apiary, we use a small bucket of water and bicarb of soda with a soft metal dish scrubber. We avoid the use of soap as they often contain oils and substances not liked by bees, and we avoid bleach which is particularly alkaline. The bees are far happier with bicarb or salt water as it only marginally moves the acid/alkaline levels. Avoid using vinegar as it is far too acidic for a hive. It will act like a herbicide and also kill mould/ fungi which would destroy the valuable immune resources in the hive.
So when moving from hive to hive especially between guest hives, we wash our hive tools by scraping off any wax and propolis, then washing them in the bicarb solution. As well, we keep our gloves on and wash any sustances off our gloves. If using bare hands the same applies - keep your hands on!! Give then a good wash as well. Wipe the excess off the tools and hands/ gloves before going to another hive.
There is much more you can do to keep hygiene standards high. Clean your suit regularly and especially before and after visiting other apiaries and hive sites. Don't leave any burr comb about for bees to clean up. It quickly attracts bees from other hives with the potential to spread disease. Even boots should be thoroughly cleaned between apiaries. and your vehicle needs to be kept clean. Where there is evidence or potential for disease then disposable boot covers and gloves are in order.
A healthy apiary means healthy bees, magnificent honey, less work and a very happy beekeeping community.
(pH relates to the number of Hydrogen ions in a solution. It is measured on a 0-14 scale where pure water is neutral at 7 pH. Each number on the scale changes the concentration by 10-fold. Less than 7 is acidic and more is alkaline.)