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Carbolic acid

An old method of subduing bees

The fumes of carbolic acid were once used for subduing bees and many of the older books mention it, often calling it "Calvert's No5". It was also used as a disinfectant and for disease prevention. It was thought to control foul brood, but this is doubtful. It was before foul brood became notifiable, when all sorts of treatments were suggested.

I started beekeeping in 1963 and although the older beekeepers of the time referred to using a carbolic cloth, I have never seen it used. I note from the March 1901 "Beekeepers Record" an article advising against its use, although it recognised the favour it held.

There were several ways of administering it, one used a solution of 1½ oz. Calvert's No.5 carbolic acid, 1½ oz. glycerine and 1 quart of warm water. The carbolic and glycerine were well mixed before adding the water. The bottle to be well shaken before use. A few drops to be sprinkled on a cloth that is larger than the brood box. In those days, the vast majority of beekeepers used canvas quilts, not crownboards. The quilt was peeled back and the carbolic cloth was drawn over the tops of the frames which subdued the bees.

There were other methods of administering carbolic acid including a fumigator and spray.

Bees readily move away from carbolic, so a cloth was used to clear supers instead of a clearer board or smoking and shaking. It was also used to drive bees out of buildings. I assume because of this it was difficult to judge if the bees were "runners" or not, as presumably they all were.

Carbolic acid was used way before health and safety were thought of. There were undoubtedly many accidents, including the mixture being made too strong, resulting in killing bees and affecting the users skin. It is poisonous with an objectionable odour and often tainted honey.

This information is placed here for historical purposes only. Carbolic acid should not be used in modern day beekeeping.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 07/04/2014

Page updated 14/12/2022