Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It has been a while since I talked about my bees so I thought I'd share something new about my awesome girls.


Honeybees get mites. The actual term is Varroa Mites.

What are they?

They are itty bitty insects that attach to and weaken honeybees by sucking hemolymph from their bodies, which serves as both blood and intestinal fluid. Once the honeybee has been weakened they become susceptible to certain viruses.

Varroa are destructive and can destroy an entire hive. If infestation is caught early the hive can be saved. Treatments vary depending on the preference of the beekeeper. Some treatments are more effective than others.

We were told in class that ALL bee hives get varroa mites and research has shown that some types of honeybee are better at protecting themselves from infestation than others. Example: Africanized bees tend to protect themselves better than Italian bees. MN Hygienic bees have been raised to defend themselves better against certain illnesses, diseases, etc... including mites.

The key to controlling the mite population is #1 testing your hives mite count and #2 checking for hygienic behavior

(there are other ways to check for mites)

If you know how many bees were in your sample, you can
estimate the number of mites per 100 bees. If there is
brood in the colony when you sample, you should double
this number to factor in the amount of mites in worker
brood. For example, if there are 5 mites / 100 bees, the
total infestation is probably 10 mites/100 bees. If your
colony has over 10-12 mites/100 bees, you should consider treatment. ~University of Minnesota

So... that is the mini scoop on varroa mite.

I have not treated my bees for mites and yes, I may live to regret it. My first year keeping bees I decided to see how well they'd do "naturally" over the winter. They survived and flourished. I have a new hive that I did not treat but I believe it won't do quite as well. Ya see, we were told something in class that makes me worry. Marla Spivak said "if you can see mites with the naked eye then you have a serious problem." Well, I scraped some brood from between hive bodies and this is what I found:

Now, I know not treating the bees probably isn't the best choice I've made as a beekeeper but I have two issues with treatment. #1 is I would only use a natural treatment like Thymol but the problem has been getting the thymol and the weather (beekeepers will know what I mean about the weather). #2 I've wanted to see how well my bees do (or how long they live) without treatment. Is that wrong? I've read where other beeks have had hives survive years without treatment and I'm hoping mine do the same. Although the 2nd hive being so obviously infested has me worried.

The only option now would be a treatment I'm not comfortable with so I'll wait out another winter and see how they do.


SoapSudsations said...

Hopefully your bees are resourceful and can make it through the season without needing to be medicated.

Teresa Robeson said...

Oh man...soooo many things to worry about in bee-keeping! I guess reading about it is always more daunting than actually doing it. I know it is for raising chickens anyway, and guess it's true for bees too. Crossing my fingers for your girls to survive!

Sam Smith said...

I don't treat my bees but I also let them draw their own foundation, this is the most natural "no treatment" approach, one that might partially explain why so many wild colonies seem to be "comparatively" fine. The "backwards beekeeping" group uses this approach, of course just as with anything else death is part of the cycle, some people expect a near 100% survival rate, this is most defiantly not natural, "one reason it is a good idea imho to keep more then three colonies". I hope your colonies survive the winter, just like I hope mine will :)
There are a few things you can do to limit humidity build up during the winter without opaning the hive or modifying hive parts to much that might help them get through.
is their website I believe.

Strumelia said...

All hives have mites. Just because you see a mite or two or three doesn't mean you HAVE TO use mite treatments. I believe letting the bees make their own foundation helps them be stronger. I don't treat my bees for mites, nor for anything else so far, this will be year 4. I've lost some hives and I've multiplied other hives and crated more new hives from them.
No hive is permanent. As Sam says, death is part of the life cycle. Colonies come and go, you can split your hive and make new hives or new nucs and queens. You can share resources between hives to help the struggling hives from the strong hives. Younger queens are more vigorous layers and can help the colony keep their mites under control so that the colony thrives despite having a few mites. I try to create enough nucs and new hives to have at least 6 healthy active colonies by late summer, so i'll be likely to have at least a couple of survivor hives through the winter. From 2 survivor hives in the Spring, I can split and/or create 6 or 8 hives during the season, and get some honey.
Mite treatments kill mites- which are insects. Bees are insects.
I believe mite treatments can also weaken the bees- usually not enough to kill them, but bees will not be unaffected by a product that kills mites.