Treat for mites, or nah?

This is a hot topic in the beekeeping community, and no opinion is necessarily correct. Mites are currently the main killer of honeybees. They are parasitic bugs that weaken the bees, damage their wings, and kill them off relatively quickly.

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See the little round mite on the emerging drone bee

The mites lay eggs on bee larvae, and the eggs usually hatch at about the same time as the new bee emerges. The mites remain attached to the bees and suck their blood out for food and sustenance. This affects them in the following ways:

  1. It weakens the bees and the larva
  2. The bees weigh less than normal
  3. Their lifespan is shortened
  4. They have less ability to navigate their way around and find their way home
  5. Bringing home less pollen and nectar means less food for their family
  6. They can be born with deformed wings, which results in the inability to fly

10541396_823646644063_86980994505566243_oThis was a drone bee climbing up a blade of grass. It would continuously climb up the blade over and over again. It could not fly because it was born with damaged wings from mites. 

So, obviously the bees should be treated for mites, right? That is very debatable.

For many people, the idea of using chemicals to control the mite population is painful to think about. Honeybees have existed just fine for all of eternity until recently. Leave them alone.

Personally, I wanted to avoid using treatment. I lost about half of my hives because of that.

  • The 1st year, I used no treatment. All of the hives died.
  • The 2nd year, I treated 1 out of 2 hives as an experiment. The untreated hive died in early fall.
  • The 3rd year, I was planning to wait until fall to treat the hives. One died by early September.
  • Last year, we had so many swarms (new hives) we didn’t know when to do it. Our strongest, most honey-producing hive died in September.

What we are doing this year (so far):

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On our 2 surviving hives (not our new Carniolans), we treated them with Mite-Away Quick-Strips which is made of Formic Acid. There are multiple methods of treating mites, and there is no certain one that we consider to be best. We chose this because the treatment could be done in 7 days before we put honey supers on the hives.

These photos show how much the bees do not like the strong scent of formic acid. They spent much of the first 24 hours bearding on the front of the hive to avoid it.

Hopefully, someday, honeybees will be able to build up a tolerance to survive the mites without human intervention. But until then, we plan to treat them as needed.

Interesting fact: Varroa mites really like the nurse bees.

But, is it organic?

“Is the honey organic?” is a question that is often asked.

Nope. Let me tell you why.

Honeybees can travel up to 5 miles to gather their pollen and nectar. Right now, the girls are all about the Dandelions. Are the Dandelions in your yard certified organic? Is the soil organic? Maybe your yard is organic, but is your neighbors’?

I have no idea where they came from to get their bright yellowish Dandelion pollen.

So, why do some honey businesses call themselves organic? Well, if their hives are placed in the center of an at least 5 mile radius certified organic farm, then they can label their honey organic.

We live in the city in Rochester, NY. We cannot prove that everyone’s yard is free from chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, etc. Harvesting organic honey would be completely impossible here.

Interesting fact: If you buy raw, local honey that also claims to be organic, the business is either lying or ill-informed.

Spring into spring

It’s amazing how quickly winter weather can turn into springtime. We’ve been rushing around with bee related things, and are finally able to take a moment to give an update.

Winter survival

Every few weeks during the winter, I place my ear directly on a hive and listen for action. It’s usually a consistent humming sound that I hear when they are doing well. As of February, this was how they were doing:

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While it is sad, it is also to be expected. One of those hives was weak to begin with, and 2 others were tipped back like this one in the middle:

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Something similar happened last year, so I imagine that they died from excessive moisture getting in there when the snow melted. The frames of honey and the dead bees are moldy. To fix this problem, we are throwing down some top soil to try and have the hives on a tiny incline.

Don’t worry, we got some more bees!

We enjoyed our sweet Carniolan bees so much last year (even though they died), that we ordered more from Hungry Bear Farms. We got notification on April 5th, along with a letter telling us not to panic about installing them in winterish weather.

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We pretty much never see bees leave their hives when it is below 45 degrees (brief bathroom breaks only), and they supposedly can’t even fly if it’s below 55 degrees. It was in the low 30s and snowing on April 7th. Feeling too bad about torturing them with the cold weather, we went with this option:

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It ended up being in the mid 40s, so we went for it that afternoon.

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We decided to put them into a nuc box to help keep them insulated while it was still cold. An entrance reducer made out of foam was taped to the front, and we gave them (along with the other living hives) some sugar patties to keep them well-fed. Now we have 3 living hives.

Interesting fact: The bees create a cluster around the queen in the wintertime that keeps the inside hive temperature between 81-95 degrees.