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Early Varroa Prevention
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When you think of varroa prevention, you most commonly think late fall and getting ready for winter but early spring can be just as good a time to start fighting varroa mites in your hive. The biggest reason why now could be a great time to treat for varroa: your hives may be broodless. When varroa lay their eggs, they do so in capped brood cells. That allows the growing varroa mites to feed on the pupating honey bee. Not only does this expand the varroa population, but the honey bee that was capped with the varroa mites can emerge deformed and easily susceptible to viruses and infestation. The more varroa in the hive, the greater the risk that your hive will have significant issues through the year.

Before you begin using any medication in your hive, though, you will want to run a mite check. Varroa treatments are just like any other medication; if there is no need you shouldn’t medicate when you don’t have to. There are a few ways to run a mite check.

IPM Screen: The least aggressive way to run a mite check. Using an IPM Screened Bottom Board, leave a corrugated sheet coated in cooking oil underneath your hive for 3 days. After those days, remove the gridded sheet and count how many varroa mites you find on the board. Divide that number by 3 and you have a daily varroa count. In early spring, even the smallest of numbers is too many. If you count at least 3-5 mites as your daily count, you will want to provide a treatment.

Sugar Shake: This technique requires going into the hive but provides an immediate count. You can use a Mason jar and hardware cloth or use our EasyCheck to make life easier. Collecting roughly 300 bees (equivalent of a half a cup), add those bees to a jar with a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar. Once the jar is sealed, gently tumble the bees in the jar until the powdered sugar has coated all the bees. The powdered sugar loosens the varroa’s grip allowing them to fall from the bee. After you have coated the bees, then gently sift all the powdered sugar from the jar and return the bees to the hive (the other bees will clean off the excess sugar). Spray down the sifted powdered sugar with water and count the mites you find. Again, a count of 3-5 mites in early spring is a sign that you will probably need to treat.

Keeping a proactive check on your colonies health and your varroa levels will help you better understand your colonies strength coming out of winter and guide you on how best to care for them in the new year.

Are you planning to get additional bees this year through a package? This is the perfect time to make sure that your new colony will be varroa free. Oxalic Acid, a natural acid that occurs normally in honey, can be mixed with sugar water and sprayed on a package 48-72 hours prior to installation. In a package, there is no brood so if there are any varroa mites there, they are all exposed with nowhere to hide. Spraying down a package is a common way to calm them down, so take advantage of that method and provide a natural fight against varroa.