Cleaning and Sorting Dead Out Hives

Sorting out equipment from dead hives is a necessary evil for a beekeeper – one of my least favorite tasks. Most of your equipment can be reused and will save you time and money as you prepare the equipment for the upcoming spring spits or package hives you will be adding to your operation. Below are a few guidelines I have used over the years which I’ve found very helpful.

Steps to Sort Dead Hives

  1. Setup
  2. Inspect for disease
  3. Clean out dead bees
  4. Scrap off burr comb and other debris
  5. Cull out old and broken frames
  6. Position frames in box


Before I begin sorting the dead out hives I first like to have some new or repaired empty hive boxes ready to go. This will allow me to switch out any broken boxes that are among the dead hives I picked up. I also have all the new frames built up that I want to add while culling out old and broken frames. You’ll need something to set the equipment on while you are sorting them – I use a couple of deep boxes turned on there ends. I also have a metal garbage can where I scrap all the dead bees and burr comb into. If you want to save the wax you can have a separate bin next to the garbage can. I also use a hive tool, gloves, extracting apron, and dust mask. The pollen and dust sometimes irritates my allergies.

Inspect for Disease

As I begin sorting each hive I first look for a cause of death. It is vital to look for any signs of foul brood. It’s most easily found in a frame with dead brood. With experience you’ll also be able to smell it. Any equipment found with foul brood needs to be thrown away or burned. Some beekeepers try and salvage the boxes by torching the inside of them, but I’m not sure its worth the risk or hassle.

Clean Out Dead Bees

Sometimes I’ll find a dead cluster of bees in the frames. I recommend brushing off most of the dead bees in the bee yard before bringing it back home. This will help reduce the chances of the bees molding in the frames. If I find a frame with lots of moldy dead bees I usually throw the frame away. I also find cells with dead bees in them. I don’t worry about a small amount of this – the new hive of will clean the dead bees out. If a large amount of the frame has dead bees in the cells, I will tap the end of the frame against the rim of the metal garbage can several times. The loose bees will fall out.

Scrap off Burr Comb and Other Debris

I like to scrap off any large amounts of burr comb that is usually on the top and bottom of the frame. Sometimes I find other debris to remove such as wax moth or a mouse nest. If the frames are too badly damaged I throw them away.

Cull Out Old and Broken Frames

This is the perfect time to cull out any broken or old frames. I have recently started labeling the top of each new frame with the year. This will help me determine old frames in the years to come. I also remove any frame that has too much drone comb.


Old Frame to Cull Out

Position Frames in Box

When positioning the frames in the box I first determine if it will be for a bottom box, second box or a package hive. The middle three frames I like to place fully drawn out comb that will be for worker bee brood (no drown comb). I then place two new frames in the box. The outer frames have a small amount of drone comb. I have found that if you remove all the drone comb frames the bees will draw out some drone comb on the newly installed frames. Some research has suggested that two much drone comb can increase the varroa mite buildup. If I find some frames full of capped honey I will put these frames on the edge. When I’m sorting the box to be a second I will install a feed tray on one of the edges. For a package hive please see my post “Installing Package Hives.”


Sorted for a Second Box


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *