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    Back to the Basics

    Welcome to the Back to Basics Blog where we go over some of the basic steps a beekeeper should take in getting the most out of their hives.

    Many beekeepers have already stated that their winter losses this year have been substantial and their mite levels are high, even after fall treatments. With warmer-than-normal winter temperatures, treatment in early spring will be a necessity for most. In an average temperature climate, mite populations can increase 12-fold in colonies having brood half the year but in warmer climates where colonies can maintain brood year-round, the mite population can increase 800-fold. These temperatures may seem great for leisure walks but it makes controlling mite levels difficult.

    The life cycle of a female Varroa Mite is divided into a phoretic phase where she lives on the adult bee and feed from its hemolymph. The mite’s claws and flattened shape allow it to easily latch onto the bee’s abdomen, where it punctures the segments and feed on the hemolymph. The mite is then passed from bee to bee as they rub against each other and can also be passed to other colonies from those bees that drift.

    The phoretic period ends as the female mite enters a cell prior to it being capped over. After a period of 70 hours where it is feeding upon the pupae and defecating in the cell, the mite will begin producing offspring. The first egg lain is unfertilized and will result in a male while the three to four subsequent eggs develop into females. The developing male will continue feeding upon the larvae. The underdeveloped bee larvae emerging will result in the final mite eggs not reaching maturity; therefore, on average, a female mite will produce one or two viable female offspring in that cell. The host mite will then transfer into another uncapped cell and continue the process, potentially laying up to 30 eggs during the life cycle.

    This seems pretty gruesome and can easily overwhelm a hive. Beekeepers must assess their mite levels and treat when needed. The mite can be visible on the bee and developing larvae but, to get a true reading on the mite population, samples must be collected and analyzed. Some common sampling methods include sticky boards and sugar shake. Many factors play into determining the threshold of mites but a good overall census for spring is 5-10 mites when using sticky board and 3-4 mites from the sugar shake method.

    Traditionally chemicals have been used to control the mite population but there are many non-chemical methods that can help maintain mite levels. Integrated pest management (IPM) methods work with the behavior and biology of the target pest to aid in it control. These include:

    • A screened bottom board which allow the mites to fall out of the hive.

    • Drone trapping/Varroa trapping using a Drone size Frame or Foundation. Remove frame after each cell have been capped and freeze for 48 hours. Reinstall frames after thawing.

    Sometimes IPM methods are not sufficient form of control and more traditional methods need to be used. We, and many in the scientific community, strongly encourage the use of “soft chemicals”. These are naturally occurring products and many naturally existing in honey. The most common are:

    • Api Life VAR which is made with thymol, which is used in mouthwash, and other essential oils. Evaporative wafers are placed on the hive and the thymol vapor kills the varroa.

    • MiteAway Quick Strips use food grade formic acid, which naturally occurs in honey.

    • Oxalic Acid treatments can be applied with a vaporizer or using the drizzle method. An organic acid that is naturally found in honey, this treatment is new to the US market but has been used in Canada and Europe for years. It has a greater than 95% efficacy for treating Varroa mites.

    Other treatments, such as Apistan and Check Mite Plus, are on the market but resistance has been documented; therefore, further monitoring is necessary. Amitraz, registered in Apivar, is labeled to kill 99% of mites with a single treatment.