Does your beehive need Varroa Mite Treatment?
Death, taxes, and varroa mites – three certainties for the modern beekeeper. It’s pretty mind blowing that in the space of 30 – 40 years the impact of such a small critter can completely change the bee keeping landscape.
If your hive has varroa mite, don’t despair; just know that it takes a while to find what works. Your best form of defense is offence – decide on a course of action and get organized early. Let’s have a brief look into varroa mite treatment measures
Level 1 – Non-invasive varroa mite treatment
This goes against the popular philosophy of varroa mite control, but it has worked. The idea here is to let nature take its course. If your colony survives, it survives, and if it dies, it dies. Subscribers to this method are looking for survivor colonies. If your colony is thriving after three years, you’ve got yourself a colony of bees with some degree of VSH – Varroa Sensitive Hygiene. Originally developed by the USDA, this is a genetic trait that sees bees remove drone pupae infested with varroa without intervention.
This is a little bit too much of a dice roll for many beekeepers – understandably. But don’t worry, there are other options.
Level 2 – Physical controls of varroa mite
A screened bottom board is pretty much a must. The idea here is the mite falls onto the bottom board and they are stuck there. Screened bottom boards require inspection and are often used to indicate you have a varroa mite problem on your hands. Used in conjunction with other methods, the screened bottom board is worth serious consideration as a varroa mite treatment option.
Check out this Apimaye screened bottom board – it’s a winner on more fronts than just varroa mite treatment.
If you’re in the diagnosis phase, try a sticky board. This allows you to keep track of your control measures. Keeping a record of mite numbers gives your varroa mite control measures a workable indicator of effectiveness.
Sugar dusting uses some simple science to deal with adult varroa mites. Bees are programmed to dust themselves off. Coating them in confectioners’ sugar triggers this response. During hive inspection, remove your supers, sift the sugar into and through the hive body, and then sweep off the excess from the top bars – half a cup per deep should do it. Note, this only treats adult mites; the mites in the brood cells are immune – use this method in conjunction with freezing to complete the mission.
Freezing drone frames is labour intensive but gets results. Kick this off in June and only with strong colonies. Remove a weak brood frame and replace with an empty drone comb frame in each deep. Wait around a month until the queen has laid the eggs and the cells are capped – get this part right! Remove your drone frame, wrap and freeze. At the next hive inspection, reinsert the drone frames after breaking the cells open with your capping scratcher. Let the worker bees do the rest. Go back to the start and repeat the process. Keep going until the brood rearing season comes to an end.
Level 3 – Control of varroa mites with natural ingredients
We’re talking essential oils here. Popular and effective, essential oils have gained a following because of their relatively small environmental footprint. Wintergreen oil, Thymol (derived from thyme), Lavender oil and Spearmint oil are all successful in controlling varroa mite. A combination of these is usually the way to go here. Effectiveness can be specific to your area. Get in contact with your local club and ask some questions before going down this route.
Note that the use of essential oils has a few caveats. Do your research on vaporizing rates, ambient temperature requirements, possible side effects for your colony, and time lapse between application and harvest. Lemongrass oil should generally be avoided as it is known to enhance your chances of robber bees.
Here’s a trio of oils that will get you started on your varroa mite treatment. Remember, do some research and talk to your local club to find out what works in your area.
Level 4 – Soft chemical varroa mite treatment
‘Soft chemical’ miticides – usually based on thymol or formic acid – have gained a large following because they are readily available and relatively easy to use. Soft chemical miticides are softer on your bees as well. Zero wax pollution is a big bonus here. Popular thinking also suggests that these products are less likely to breed miticide resistance in varroa mites.
Caution must be applied with soft chemicals. Follow the directions carefully and only use products that are within their expiry date. Exposing mites or parasites to any chemicals that are in a weakened or diluted state improves the resistance in the mites – sort of like getting the flu shot. On behalf of the bee keeping community, please don’t do this.
Level 5 – Nuke ‘em all
Really, not recommended! Remember the old ‘prevention is better than a cure’ quote – use it here. These are nothing more than a stop gap measure for a bigger problem.
The downsides are too big to ignore. Varroa mites are developing a resistance to these chemicals. Long term use is detrimental to the queen’s health, beeswax absorbs these chemicals and leads to permanent contamination.
Think about it, these chemicals very gradually breakdown in combs and on wooden surfaces. It’s inescapable, mites will come into contact with a lessened concentration of the hard miticide and their resistance builds over generations. Varroa mite problem escalated!
Yes, it is efficient, yes, it is effective. You’ve got to ask yourself why you’re in this beekeeping business in the first place. Sorry, we’ll get off the soapbox now.
That’s a wrap!
So which varroa mite treatment suits you the best? It all comes down to choice and a bit of trial and error. It doesn’t really matter which varroa mite treatment you decide on, just choose one, choose two, or choose them all. It’s up to you, but for the love of honey – do something!