Varroa mite treatment – Season 7

Natural beekeepers practice different philosophies on treatment of bees. Some will use essential oils. Some will do nothing and breed for mite resistance. In this post, I will explain my own methods of dealing with the dreaded Varroa destructor mite, the worst parasite and enemy of Apis mellifera (Honey bee).

What does the mite want to do with the bees?

Varroa mites breed in sealed honey bee cells, while feeding on the blood of the bee larva. The female enters the cell, just before it is sealed, and lays eggs. The female and male mites hatch in the same cell, and the females breed with their relation. Most will die, but one or two female mites continue to feed on bee larva. If they do not kill the larva, their parasitic feeding leads to the development of the deformity in the adult bee. After the bee emerges from the cell (or the cell is opened by other adult bees), one or more newly emerged and mated with their brother female mites will travel to other bees, attach to their backs and continue to feed on them, spreading viruses and weakening their host’s immune system, while looking for the opportunity to sneak into other cells to lay eggs…

One more detail: they really prefer drone brood. The bigger the cell, the more females will emerge. Here, you can see those baby mites on the frozen drone brood. That is how beekeepers check for infestation levels. More than 10 per one hundred of mites is considered high infestation. This photo was taken in 2012. Then, I was still pretty clueless as to what to do about it.

Traditional methods of mite control are not working any longer

It used to be easy. Put the strips of some miticide in your beehives, and call it a day. Of course, the mites bred anyway, and they became resistant to treatment. Meanwhile, miticides ended up further weakening the bees’ immune system. They also ended up in the beeswax. We, the beekeepers, made candles and lotions with that beeswax…

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods are now becoming a mainstream treatment

After trying other legal and not very legal treatments, the beekeepers decided to look closer at the life cycle of the mite and the behavior of the surviving untreated colonies and began to draw some conclusions. First, everybody agreed that we need mite resistant traits in our bees. Buying queens from mite resistant stock is essential. Mite resistant bees have hygienic traits, which means that they are constantly cleaning themselves, their sisters, and their hives. From that behavior, one of the IPM techniques, dusting, was invented.

Second, most agreed that we needed some Integrated Pest Management techniques to help the bees to keep mite population low. Here, I list only what I find the most relevant and what works for me. As I continue to research other natural beekeepers’ methods, I add more to my list. My treatment varies by season.

Starting with the warm season: I dust my colonies every two weeks, except July and August.

In the early fall, after I harvest the honey, I replace all of the foundation. This puts both the bee and the mite breeding on hold. I continue to dust the bees. Some will dust their bees with powdered sugar. It works, but it costs money and attracts a lot of ants. Ants in and around the beehive are a big nuisance. I dust my bees with cedar sawdust. I also used pine dust and wormwood dust (both are very effective, but take effort to make in the coffee maker).

Meanwhile, I begin to feed my bees my special sugar syrup. The mite numbers continue to drop further. Bees can handle the winter better, when not overwintering on the old foundation.

Speaking of the old foundation. Here is an old frame. It has been used for many seasons. Can you imagine how many viral and bacterial pathogens are hiding in those cells?

 

So, with this simple and methodical treatment, I have not seen a mite on my bees in four years (I saw bees with mites on them or bees with deformed wings in the first three years of my beekeeping practice). I have not seen any diseases either. There is simply not a good place in the hive for a breeding ground of parasites, and that is what IPM is really all about.

Questions? Just post them in the comments and don’t forget that you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

2 Comments

  • Lucy Pullis June 6, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Hi there
    How do you make the pine dust?
    Also, do you use the ventilated bottom board?
    Thanks so much

    Reply
    • admin June 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Hi there!
      We do use mesh bottom board (and a tray that slides under it in the winter). I use coffee grinder to grind my pine needles. They need to be dry, but it only takes about 3 tbsp. per colony for one dusting. Right now, I have a supply of cedar dust that I use instead 🙂 Happy beekeeping!

      Reply

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