Beekeeping is still all about controlling Varroa. Do this, and you can be a beekeeper. If not, as Randy Oliver would say, your just raising mite bombs. The proverbial questions for all beekeepers: When to treat? How to treat?
When to treat is based on monitoring and sampling for Varroa mite infestation. The calendar is still very important. Randy Oliver has produced a nifty seasonal chart outlining times of the year to monitor. Please visit his site: scientificbeekeeping.com. You can find the map within “Basic Beekeeping” as Randy considers Varroa control to be basic. What I learned from attending the 2016 conference is that local beekeepers are treating their hives much more frequently for Varroa than at any time in the past. This may in part be because of our long brood-rearing seasons the last few years.
How to treat Varroa and not kill the bees? This is where it gets interesting. Most of our original mite controls are ineffective now, e.g., Apistan. For many years now, commercial beekeepers have relied on blue shop towels saturated with a solution of canola oil and amitraz. There are even strips now impregnated with amitraz called Apivar. It is my opinion that Apivar will hasten the already impending demise of the efficacy of amitraz. I hope this is not entirely true. For me, I have made a concerted effort to learn how to use other options. Randy Oliver lists these other options at his website, too, titled “NAME YOUR POISON” (under “Treatments for varroa control” in the “Basic Beekeeping” section). It, too, is a dynamic chart showing among things treatments that can be used at certain times of the year.
Randy Oliver’s top three treatment recommendations are: thymol, oxalic dribble, and formic. Here are my experiences with each:
The first time I used thymol, I followed Randy’s directions to the T. I suffered my greatest loss ever because of it. Dr. Ramesh Sagili had similar results in studies he did. At our 2015 conference in Silverton, Randy touted 98 percent efficacy with Apiguard that past fall with no deleterious effects. Randy told me he no longer places Apiguard between the brood boxes but on top with a spacer. I suspect the formulation for Apiguard has changed? My recommendation: Experiment before wholesale treatment.
Oxalic acid is now legal (not that this has ever been a deterrent for beekeepers). It is cheap! It is really easy to use. Also on the horizon is the use of a new mechanism to apply oxalic acid via a vaporizing system. Formerly this was shunned in part for safety reasons (burning your lungs) and better results from the dribble method.
I was a big fan of MiteAway II. It has been replaced by MAQS. After my experience with Apiguard (thymol), I was very hesitant to try MAQS, especially after reports of queen loss and excessive brood kill by local beekeepers. Then George Hansen piqued my interest in it again. At the last Seaside state meeting, he explained that he used it to get a quick mite knockdown before using Apivar (amitraz-impregnated strips). He also said he used a rim. Hmmm . . . In August 2015, I experimented with MAQS. I was bold enough to experiment with all treatment configurations except two strips between the brood boxes – the directions. My unscientific opinion is, don’t use rims, don’t place strips on top, place one strip between the brood boxes, maybe two. I believe the formulation of this product has been dialed down. I feel comfortable using formic acid again with MAQS, especially one strip between the brood boxes. One caveat: At the 2015 Silverton meeting, Randy stated he suffered loss using MAQS. I did not inquire.
I’m always curious what other beekeepers are using to control Varroa. Unfortunately, my circle of beekeeper friends is very small (Hi, Tom!), so feedback to me is very limited. But I can share with you what I have used this past year. My first treatment was using one strip of Apivar (amitraz) in each of the 40 nucs I made followed by an oxalic acid dribble when capped brood was minimal. I next treated my main hives with MAQS during the honey flow. In August I treated all hives with oxalic/glycerin shop towels (not a legal treatment; Randy Oliver is trying to perfect and register it for use). Then in December, after purchasing a vaporizer (ProVap 110), a small Honda generator, and protective gear, I vaporized oxalic into the hives. This was by far the easiest way to treat hives I’ve ever done. Maybe this year I will try Thymol — on top with a rim!
Have you seen any small hive beetles?
In the past years, some of my returning hives from almonds have had small hive beetles. Then they disappear, nowhere to be seen for the balance of the year. At the 2015 conference, I discussed this issue with Gus Rouse, who believes, because of the high mobility of the small hive beetle, they’re already distributed to regions they find hospitable. One of the speakers at the 2016 conference queried the audience whether they had seen any Small Hive Beetles. I saw more hands than ever. I have continued to see an occasional SHB. The worst incident I saw was inside a division board feeder with a thick, wet sugar layer on the bottom that was going rancid. Many dozens of SHB larvae were writhing around — not a pretty sight. That being said, I’ve yet to see any hive damage, and I’m beginning to wonder if they’ll ever be a significant problem here in Oregon.
My advice: Always be on the lookout for them, and be prepared to change your management practices quickly to avoid any problems. For example, when I take off honey now, I’m very diligent that I don’t get any brood mixed into the honey supers, and I extract the supers immediately. I also do not store wet supers anymore. Maintaining bee space to all regions of the hive is important; for example, cramming nine frames into a deep plus a deep feeder smashed against the wall would be inadvisable. Smashing a pollen patty to the top of the hive without a spacer rim would be inadvisable.
Okay, here’s the rubber stamped January–February tips:
* Heft hives to find any light ones. After the shortest day of the year, brood production resumes and energy demands increase. Provide light hives emergency feed (e.g., fondant, drivert, sugar in division board feeders, frames of honey, pollen patties, etc.).
* February has historically been the time to treat for Varroa prior to supering. Monitor hives to ascertain Varroa infestation rates. Current recommendations are to treat if the infestation rates reach 1 percent in the spring.
* Likewise, February has also historically been the time to prophylactically treat for foulbroods prior to supering. While I no longer prophylactically treat for foulbroods, I keep a ready eye out for it. I have a five-gallon bucket of Terra-Pro, a terramycin treatment, at the ready if I have the slightest suspicion.
* Find and remove dead outs. When I find dead outs, I go through the equipment and do a vigorous cleaning, in part to facilitate frame manipulation. This is the easiest time to cull comb that is dark brown and rubbery hard, comb that has a preponderance of drone cells, or comb with signs of disease (AFB). Everything goes into dry storage to preserve the equipment for future use.
* Make periodic checks of your apiary, for example, after a windstorm, to make sure nothing is amiss. I personally use single bottom boards for most of the year, and each hive is strapped down holding the lids and bottom boards tight to the brood boxes. My lids can’t blow off. If you don’t do something similar, and you’ve taken a lid off recently for some reason, then the bees most likely will not be able to propolis the lid back down. The next windstorm may blow this lid off.
* In general, disturb the bees as little as possible.
I wish everyone a wonderful beekeeping year in 2018. For me, this year I hope to find the time to raise some of my own queens.