This will be a short article since I feel this subject has been covered before. But due to the importance of removing older frames from a beehive, I thought it would be good to review this subject.
It’s been well documented that older comb contains many different types of chemicals, both beekeeper added (like mite treatments) and environmental. An article in 2020 on this subject noted, ” Old comb can contain many pathogens. Colonies with old comb are more likely to have chalkbrood (Koenig et al., 1986), nosema disease (Bailey and Ball, 1991) and American foulbrood (Gilliam, 1985). It even seems like the varroa mite prefers old combs; one study showed that old combs were four to five times more infested with varroa than new combs (Piccirillo and DeJong, 2004)…”
On the flip side, balance is needed since the newly drawn comb is very expensive to the honey bees – even more so if you are using foundationless frames. The same article mentioned, “Tom Seeley (1985) estimated that it would take 7.5 kg (16.5 lbs.) of honey to rebuild the broodnest. A study of the effects of shook swarms found that ninety-five percent of the comb needed by the colonies was built within 45–50 days, at an average cost of 19-20 kg (42-44 lbs.) of honey (Guler, 2008)…” (Dealing With Deadouts).
So it is clear that balance is needed as a beekeeper to weigh the risks to the honey bees at having old comb and the resource cost to them in building new comb.
Replacing brood comb every three years seems to be a decent rough figure. You can use a permanent marker to write down the year when you install a new frame into a hive. This will help you to remember when to remove it or start to move it farther away from the center of the brood nest for next year’s removal.
Another research article had this conclusion after running tests on pesticide residues in brood comb: “Combined effects from honey bee exposure to pesticide residue in brood comb, such as reduced adult longevity, increased brood mortality, higher fecundity of Varroa mites (due to delayed development and emergence of adult bees) and increased susceptibility to pathogens, may contribute to reduced honey bee colony health, as affected queens and worker bees are unable to meet the demand for brood production and resources needed to sustain large colony populations…”
Their study suggested that CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) may be attributed to honey products and honey bees to pesticides. (Sub-Lethal Effects of Pesticides Residues in Brood Comb on Worker Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Development and Longevity).
It’s clear that responsible beekeeping includes managing the pesticide exposure and yearly buildup in your hives. It is a balancing act on what to discard and what to keep. You cannot control what your honey bees bring into the hive, at least not completely, but you do know what treatments you use inside the hive.
If you have high levels of absconding or CCD, and you have crossed off all other possibilities, you may need to replace all your frames or even purchase new hive bodies equipment since high levels of chemicals within the hive itself may be an issue.
Hopefully, this article helps increase our mindfulness of the effects of long-term exposure pesticides and miticides have on honey bees. There is very little research on the synergistic effect that combining multiple synthetic or organic chemicals have within the hive over the course of many years. The high possibility that this plays a role in CCD and absconding should be on our list of things to consider with looking at our honey bee colonies.