Lesson 14 – Lets Talk Mites…A HUGE Enemy of the Honey Bee!
Lesson 14: Varroa Mites
A bear devouring a hive is an attention getter! A flood or hurricane washing hundreds of hives down stream is terrifying. These are huge calamities which beekeepers go to great lengths to prevent. We’ll put up electric fences or put our hives on poles to protect them from bears. We’ll elevate our hives to tower above flood plains. However, many beekeepers do very little to protect their hives from what might be their biggest threat. We seem not to take small things very seriously…small things like the tiny Varroa mite.
All hives will have some mites. Mites are found in a bee hive feeding on pupae and on adult bees. It is important for the beekeeper to understand the basic reproduction cycle of the varroa mite which takes place within the honey bee capped brood cell. An adult mated female mite is called a foundress. The female mite enters the brood cell just before it is capped. She then lays her eggs in the cell while munching on the pupae. First she lays an unfertilized egg and it develops into a male mite. Then her other eggs are fertilized and develop into females. Mites mate with siblings. After the bee emerges from the cell, so do the adult female mites, looking for a new cell. Mites are carried from one hive to another by hitching a ride on the bees.
Okay, to be fair, I must tell you what you will be told by most entomologist and bee inspectors and what you’ll read in most beekeeping books and magazines. They give you a standard approach for dealing with mites. So, I’ll give you what they say, then, I’ll give you my thoughts on the subject. For the record, their way is not bad, wrong or unwise. It is sound advice. And keep in mind that I am not a scientist nor an entomologist anyway, right? I just don’t like to use chemicals in my hive. That’s where we differ.
So I do not trust the sticky board drop test. Let me tell you how I determine my mite levels and then what I do with that information.
Mites will be in your hives. They are impossible to avoid entirely, but they can be kept to a level that will not disrupt the hive as much.
While it is true that for many years the answer was to treat with chemicals, this is not a good management practice in my opinion. With all our chemicals we seemed to have developed a super mite that is now resistant to our chemicals while at the same time, some of these chemicals have made our queens and drones weaker. Some of the approved chemicals can be absorbed in the comb for 5 years or longer.
Within agriculture, there has long been an approach called IPM for Integrated Pest Management. IPM is an integration of several approaches to keep mites below the economic threshold. While treating with chemicals is part of IPM, that is a step we try to leave out.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT MITES?
WHEN HONEY SUPERS ARE ON: Screen bottom board, small cell foundation, drone brood foundation freezing, hygienic queens and strong colonies.
First, if you are just starting out with a new package this year, it will be vary rare to have a mite problem within your package of bees. It is possible, but I typically never see mites that much in the spring or early summer. I just don’t care about mites until July and August. Mites become more aggressive and spread more rapidly in late summer around August.
Secondly, I plan to use drone foundation to lure the mites. You see, as I said earlier, mites like drone cells because the foundress mites have a full 24 days to develop their prodigy since the drone is the longest in the cell. So, you can lure the mites off of your worker cells by placing drone foundation on the outside edges of your brood hive bodies. I Have just purchased 6 of these and plan to try them out later this summer. The cell size for these “green” frames are for drone cells so the queen knows to lay only unfertilized eggs producing drones. Then, your mites run to these cells and after they are capped, you pull the frames out, put them in a plastic trash bag, freeze them overnight and your mites are dead. Scratch open the cells and place it back in hive for the bees to clean out, and they will! They get rid of all the mites and dead drones. These frames are a bright lime green so you can easily identify your drone frames. By scratching the cells open after freezing, it allows you to keep the drawn comb intact, but encourages the bees to clean out the dead mites and drones from the cells. If you scrap the wax completely off, then it just takes more time for the bees to draw it out again.
Again, if you find you have a queen and her daughters are keeping mites out of the hive, then that is good queen stock to breed from!
When your supers are off of your hive, powdered sugar dropped in the deep hive bodies can be very effective at controlling mites.
There you have it! Some natural ways and IPM ways to manage your hives and keep mites from destroying your hive.