Sunday, March 10, 2013

Varroa Destructor Mites

I have finally seen my first Varroa mites, up close and very personal. Because of my recent outbreak of Nosema in my Italian hive I began to suspect the hive was weakened by something. Quite possible Varroa  I hadn't seen evidence of mites for the first 2 years of beekeeping. However it is usually in the 3rd year that colonies run into trouble. That has been the case for my hives. I determined I would dose both hives with HopGuard just to be safe. I also planned to apply more Fumagilin B to both hives. Yesterday I finally got a day I felt was nice enough to make a full inspection of my hives. The plan was to determine if they were queen right, look for mites, take them all the way down to the bottom boards so I could remove dead bees and debris, manipulate the boxes to place empty boxes on top, insert pollen patties, HopQuard and place top feeders with a gallon of medicated syrup in each hive.

I broke into the Italians first since they were the ones I am most worried about. Things look better than I expected. There are lots of bees. They still have quite a bit of honey left which tells me I guestimated correctly by leaving them a box and a half of honey for the winter. No risk of starvation. In spite of the dysentery problem the colony came through the winter in terrific condition. This colony was already down in the bottom 2 boxes. I found some uncapped larva and feel confident the queen is doing her thing. Once I find the brood nest and see baby bees it is my philosophy to not disturb the brood nest further. I don't need to see the queen and don't want to risk damaging her. I placed an empty box on top of the brood nest and the box of honey on top of that. Then the feeder. Before reassembling the hive I removed the bottom board, scraped it off (lots of dead bees and bee poop) then hosed it off with water to rinse off the poop. This hive was not too upset...until I added the HopGuard strips. Then they went berserk. Once the hive was reassembled they settled down quickly and went about business as usual.

On to the Carniolans. They were much more easy going. I repeated the process with their hive. Their bottom board had dead bees and debris but no bee poop. It got a scraping and rinsing, too. This hive likes to build burr comb and drone comb on the tops of the frames. I am actually glad they did because it was while scraping this off the frames (unfortunately killing many drone babes) that I noticed my first varroa. They prefer drone larva so that is often where you first notice them. Imagine having a cat on your shoulder. Now imagine that same cat constantly biting you and sucking your blood. That is what a varroa mite is like to a bee. Look, that one poor drone larva had 2 cats on him.

The HopGuard will help with this mite infestation. Sadly mites are going to be a problem for bees and beekeepers for a long time. HopGuard is considered a soft chemical and is acceptable for use in organic beekeeping. It does not hurt the bees in any way. I will also be using thyme oil in my bee feeders. Apparently mites are repulsed by the flavor of thyme. The nurse bees feed the thyme infused syrup to the baby bees and then they aren't as tasty to the mites.

My hives are now ready for the spring. They are already bringing in loads of pollen on the nice days. I will have to reapply the HopGuard in 3 weeks. That gives the current batch of bee babies time to hatch out so that the HopGuard can be used on their mites, too.

Things are looking very good for my hives. I think I will be getting lots of honey this year.

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