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Varroa Mite Season

As promised (and anticipated I’m sure) – Varroa Destructor is my topic of the month! Those of you that have attended a seminar (or two) know all too well the drilling we get about Varroa mites. Over and over again the importance of testing and treating for Varroa, until we get it!! OK, WE GET IT! In last month's article I mentioned HoneyBeeHealthCoalition.org. I will say, in my opinion this is the most all-inclusive website available to beekeepers on the topic of Varroa mites. My goal this month is to overview the publication, “Tools for Varroa Management” for those folks “on the run” with no time to read the in-depth publication. I’ll be skipping over the seasonal aspects of Varroa mites but know this – post-honey harvest and the months following are crucial to you and your bees as far as getting the mites “back” under control. Know this moving forward.

The crux of the publication revolves around Integrated Pest Management (IPM). In this methodology a beekeeper is given the opportunity to “cover all bases” in controlling Varroa mites. Not all beekeepers are going to use all methods in the pyramid but they are here for us to consider. It’s my belief that we use this pyramid as a tool and make educated decisions based on where we are as beekeepers and our desires to stay on top of Varroa.

Your goal is to maintain a Varroa mite load of less than 2% . This number is gained by testing. Arguably one of the most intimidating aspects of beekeeping for new beekeepers is testing for mites. Most treat without testing. When we were new, our lack of confidence in testing resulted in just treating, as opposed to test and treat if needed. Don’t be this person!! You have options to help accommodate your comfort level.

Listed in order of accuracy of testing:  

  1. Alcohol wash (<2 mites per 100 bees)
  2.  Powdered sugar shake (<6 mites per 300 bees) 
  3. Sticky board (<9 mites over a 24-hour period) 

All three of these methods require you take the center 2 or 3 frames of bees (less the queen) and shake the bees off on to or in a container to test. In my opinion, this is the trepidation point. Once you get past this you are home free. 

Second, third, fourth year (and so on) beekeepers should have the confidence to do an alcohol wash on your bees. This is the most accurate and recommended method. 

New beekeepers: the sticky board is better than not testing at all – but don’t let it be your final testing method. Only use it until you get more comfortable with your bees. 

3 Seasonal Phases 

  • Population Increase (PI) 
  • Population Peak (PP) 
  • Population Decrease (PD) 
  • Dormant (D) 

Knowing the phase your colony is currently in is key to “how to treat” for Varroa mites. ALL of the treatment methods consider the colony phase (brood cycles,) and temperature in its treatment plan. Ex: Where some treatments work well in PI, others do not … and can actually be harmful to your bees.

Most of the products listed on the following printable charts have been used with extreme effectiveness and very good results.

I believe, along with most of the industry, that using “mechanical and cultural methods” in harmony with treatments are the best way to go. 

Treatment-Free beekeeping is a another form of mite management that is growing in popularity, but does NOT mean "do nothing" and the bees survive. I have some very successful beekeeper friends that have achieved acceptable mite thresholds by using VSH queens, brood interruption, and other noninvasive means. But make no mistake, these beekeepers work extremely hard to control mites in their hives.

Requeening more frequently can become expensive if you aren’t in the segment of this industry that generates queens. Having said that – I fully support those who can achieve low mite counts and do so without chemicals. For the rest of us – I (we) strive to keep the healthiest hives possible and in doing so take the stance that we are open to treating our hives on a case-by-case basis. It’s more important to me to keep our bees as mite-free as possible and do so by making an educated decision based on the most current information available. 

By: Chari Elam 

Credits: Honey Bee Health Coalition 

Elen, P.J., Westervelt,D. ABJ 2002 Vol. 142  

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