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Mites are a Never Ending Problem

Did you battle varroa mites this year?  How well did you do?  Did you win or lose?

Our 2016 varroa management strategy was simple.  We were going to treat, treat, and treat some more. Here was our treatment plan.

  1. Treat in the Spring.
    1. Treat all new packages with one oxalic acid vaporization after being hived but before brood was laid.
    2. Treat all over wintered hives before they build up to far with oxalic acid vaporization three times 7-9 days apart.
  2. Treat in the late Summer (after honey harvest)
    1. Treat all hives with oxalic acid vaporization three times 7-9 days apart.
  3. Treat if necessary in the Fall.
    1. Treat again with oxalic acid vaporization, apiguard, or apivar depending on the weather.
    2. Treat with oxalic acid dribble if necessary.

We completed part one of the plan and we were in the clear. We did not see any queen problems caused by vaporization.  We did have some slow queens and some that the bees did not like. They raised new ones and those hives went on to build up nicely (eventually). Most hives produced honey.  Some that had queen issues did not produce much if missed their main flow.  But by June, overall, our hives were stronger than ever.  They were producing a good honey crop for us and appeared very healthy.  We even had a visit from our local inspectors to see how we were doing and they found no problems and no mites when they tested.

When we completed part two in September we had harvested our main honey crop.  A little bit of goldenrod honey was being made on our western bee yard.  An exhausting summer was completed.  We had just completed 6 mite treatments for the year.  Maybe we were ahead of the curve.

Reports started coming in about neighbors having very high mite counts.  And not just a little high. They were astronomically high.  Bee inspectors had diagnosed parasitic mite syndrome on entire apiaries not far from ours.  All of those bees were going to be lost.  At this point we were very worried about our bees and we decided to do some mite testing of our own.  The samples we took were on the lower side (comparatively) in some of our bee yards.  But in yards close to other problem sites the mite counts were extremely high.  There were so many mites in the bottom of the test cup that we could not count them all.

This is a bad situation. It is highly likely that our previously treated hives became mite infested by neighboring colonies with high counts.  These mites were probably vectoring diseases and our hives were probably going to die.  So what do do?

Part of animal husbandry is taking proper care of the creatures that you are entrusted with – from life until death.  Because of our duty, we decided to treat our bees even if they were eventually going to die.  It was imperative that we do so right away.  Even if they die or abscond it was important that we do not let any more mites out into the environment.  These mites would endanger other neighboring colonies and these would become a victim like we were.  This is being a good neighbor to our neighbors and our neighbor’s bees.

So an emergency trip to Dadant was made and treatment products were purchased.  Spacer boards and Apiguard (Thymol) was purchased for as many colonies as we could get product for.  Everything else would get ApiVar (Amitraz).  The treatments would be supplemented with oxalic acid dribble every 7-9 days.

By the end of the season we had treated 9 or 10 times depending on how you calculate it.  This is a lot of work to just try to save our bees from someone else’s lack of animal husbandry.  It is also a lot of work to do when you are just going to lose a high percentage of the colonies anyway.

And lose colonies we did.  All of the colonies that were near other high mite count apiaries ended up with high mite counts and mite related diseases.  They all failed.  These yards experienced 80% losses or more.

Overall our losses are at 50%.  These types of losses do not make any kind of beekeeping operation sustainable.  If a dairy operation lost half of its calves each year or half of its heifers it would be a disaster.  The only reason why 50% losses for beekeeping is not taken notice by many is that the bees can be more resilient than the beekeeper under certain circumstances.

Lately, the majority of the beekeepers are failing their bees by not testing and treating for mites in a timely manner.  This is a failure of the mission of animal husbandry.  According to a recent article in Bee Culture Magazine, commercial beekeepers treat anywhere from 6-10 times or more a year.  In contrast most small beekeepers do very little or nothing at all. (Kim Flottum Bee Culture Jan 2017)

The more articles that we read about varroa mites, the more they mention varroa bombs and describe the problems we are having.   (Jerry Hayes, Randy Oliver American Bee Journal Vol. 157 No.1; Toni Burnham Bee Culture Jan 2017; Randy Oliver Vol. 156 No 12; Randy Oliver Vol. 156 No 11).  We have been experiencing this for the last few seasons.  Despite our treatments bees get reinfected and end up dying.

One lesson should be learned from all of this. No one beekeeper can keep bees alone or solve his or her mite problems by themself.  Bees are social insects.  Beekeepers need to be social and work together to fight the problem before all the gains we are making in beekeeping in our home towns are lost.  Be a good beekeeper. Be a good neighbor.

We will be feeding pollen patties next week and starting to clean out dead outs.  Hopefully the losses will not get any worse.  By the time the replacement bees arrive, we need to have our mite management plan ready.  Have you figured out your plan for 2017?

 

 

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Two Queens in One Hive

Most beekeeping books and beekeepers will always agree that there is always one active queen in a hive.  There should never be two.  Even so, it sometimes does happen.

The hive that this picture was taken from was a big
one.  It over wintered very well and it built up extremely early.  The queen was a prolific layer.  The bees managed to produced a box of ross rounds, a box of comb honey and filled two honey supers.  After the honey was removed for the season we tested and treated for mites because, as is true with all large colonies, there were mites present and even signs of deformed wing virus.

There was a possible risk candidate for throwing a swarm since the hive was congested.  The queen also did not stop laying eggs.  Since nectar flow in this area virtually stops after July we were feeding, but it did not help much.  The hive most likely built some swarm cells in between our more detailed inspections.

When we finally did a detailed inspection there was evidence of many swarm cells and it appeared that there were many queens released.  At least one left with a swarm.  One daugher appeared to stay behind with mom.

Mite levels were high before treatment.  Treatment started before the swarm occurred.  After the mite treatment we found very low mite counts.  There were plenty of eggs being laid, but not really enough workers.  This late in the season it would be fair to predict failure.  Only time will tell if this hive will survive. Did the prolific queen cause the hive to swarm? Did the mite treatment, Thymol with oxalic dribble every seven days, cause the hive to swarm?  Did the high mite load cause the swarm?  We may never know.  We only have a few clews and the bees are not talking.

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Winter Preperation

Winter in Illinois is becoming more and more unpredictable.  After experiencing losing all of our bees due to the harsh winter in years past, we are taking more preventative steps now.

Treating for mites is becoming more and more important.  Even though we are using small cell foundation, our bees still seem to harbor a higher than average number of mites.  Guidance on the number of mites that is acceptable on a test sample seems to always be in flux depending on the literature read or the person giving the advice.  But one trend is for certain, the acceptable number seems to be going down.

Our fall treatment showed mite drop and the bees seemed to be ok after the treatment.  On a few of our colonies we think that either the mite treatment was too strong or the mites damaged the hives too much before we treated because a few were lost before the slow was flying.  Luckily the rest seem to be in good shape right now.

We purchased a roll of winter wrap that can be cut into any size depending on the equipment that we are using.  This is handy as it will allow us to “wrap up” a stack of ten frame equipment, or a single nucleus colony, or a group of nucleus colonies.  We will simply cut what we need.  It is also great that the manufacturer claims the product to be reusable for many years.

The outer layer is a thick black plastic that absorbs heat and acts as a wind break.  The inner layers are foam insulation that will keep the heat in.  When it gets cold and windy, this is what our hives need!

We are also placing a notched candy board with an upper entrance on the hive.  This will allow humidity, which rises with warm air, to escape out of the hive.  Some of the humidity will be absorbed by the candy board and this will make the sugar tasty and readily available for the bees to eat.   Our winter wrap covers the sides and up over the top of the candy board.  Hopefully this will keep the girls warm and well fed in the winter!

The candy board recipe that we use is the classic one from the Hive and the Honeybee.  It is as follows:

15 pounds of white granulated sugar
3 pounds (or one quart) of light corn syrup
1 quart of water
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar

We combine all the ingredients into a large pot and stir it with a paint stir on the end of a drill.  Once completely combined, heat until it reaches at least 242 F stirring occasionally so it does not burn on the bottom.  The heat source should be a strong one.  Most kitchen stoves will not produce enough heat to make candy boards in a timely manner.  We usually heat until 244 – 246 F but not over 248 F.  Let it cool until it is below 200 and then stir it up again and pour it into the candy board container.

We place our candy boards on the hives and wrap them just before Thanksgiving.  Some beekeepers in our area do it just after Thanksgiving or in mid-December.  Since bees need to eat and it can get cold and snow in December, we do it early!

About mid winter, we place pollen patties to help with buildup.  The bees need to stay strong and start rearing new bees for the new year.  Then the cycle will continue.  I wonder how many mites there are?  I wonder how healthy the bees will be?  I wonder how much honey the bees will produce?