Today, my dad, Tom, and I decided it was a good time to check all of our beehives for Varroa Mite.
As you know, I've recently had a 'come to Jesus' moment about mites, and have decided to stay on top of the situation and assess mite load before it becomes a problem. I learned how to do this by performing an alcohol wash, during my recent Randy Oliver workshop.
Summer is not a great time to treat for mites, honestly, using any of the organic methods. It's too hot for formic acid, which can only be applied if it's under 92 degrees. The bees are busy making honey so thymol isn't the best option because it taints the taste of the honey. Oxalic acid can only be used when it's cool. Both oxalic acid and thymol do not treat the larvae, which is where the mites breed, especially in drone larvae. So formic acid is clearly the best treatment if you want to really knock back the mite population, but there's that little problem of the temperature.
However, today it was in the 80's, and supposed to be pleasant for a whole week! We decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and check our hives, and treat with formic acid if the mite load suggested we should.
Quickly, we got our gear together. I hastily made the tool we needed to perform an alcohol wash. It's high tech, let me tell you. It's two plastic cups nested together with the bottom cut out of the inside cup, and a screen inserted in its place.
This is then filled with alcohol of any kind (we used denatured). It also needs a lid (we stopped by Starbucks and the venti size lid worked perfectly). You also need a wide bin of some sort and a half-cup measure.
We started with our hive at Poppy Corners, knowing the bees were gentle and it would be easier to access the brood. (I have a top bar hive, which has it's advantages, but it also has it's downsides. More on this some other time.) We opened up, found a nice bar with lots of brood, checked to make sure the queen wasn't on this particular bar, and then shook it over the tub.
This causes all the bees to fall in the tub. The older bees, the foragers, immediately fly out. What's left in the tub is young bees, who are also nurse bees, which means they tend the brood. Nurse bees often have the biggest mite load of all the adult bees, since they are in constant contact with the larvae.
Next, you scoop out a half cup of bees from the tub and dump them in the alcohol. This kills them instantly. It's doesn't feel good to kill them, but Randy compares it to taking a blood sample from a human - it's the best way to determine the health of the hive with regard to mites. Then you swirl the cup with the dead bees for a good minute, dislodging the mites, which fall through the screen, into the bottom cup.
Remove the screened inner cup and then you can look at the bottom cup and see how many mites you have, per 300 bees (there are about 300 bees per half cup).
As you can see, I had two. Which is terrific in one way, because my bees are not inundated with mites! But it's also a bummer, because, well, they have mites. The mite load doubles every month heading into late summer/fall, so I knew I need to take action. I used one strip of formic acid (a half dose), placing it on the bottom back of my top bar hive. This will stay there for 5-7 days, though most of the acid has done it's work by day 3. Then I'll remove the wrappings from the hive.
Tonight, the bees are doing just what we would do if we recently painted our house (or, like my son, removed a wallpaper border from his room using a vinegar solution): they hang out on the porch, to get some air.
I expected this, and also expect some loss of bees. This treatment is organic, but the fumes are strong, strong enough to kill the mites. It might also kill some bees. But it's better to lose a few bees than to lose the entire hive. And if my bees somehow drift in to another beekeeper's hive, I'll know that they are mite-free and not contributing to that beekeeper's mite problem.
Then we were off to Dad's house to check and treat his hives. He has two Langstroth hives, one of which had a honey super on top, so there was some 'unpacking' to do first.
This particular hive has some serious propolis, which you can see on top of every frame. The bees use propolis to seal any spaces in between bars or supers. It took awhile to crack this baby open. But we tested for mites, and the mite load here was larger than mine, so we also treated these two hives.
We had to use considerably more gear at Dad's house, as one of his hives is more aggressive. It was started from a feral swarm, and they are certainly not shy about letting us know how they feel about having their hive opened. However, none of us got stung. And we even adjusted the location of the hives a little bit, sliding them forward on their platform so it's easier for Dad to get in the hives. Success!
We all feel empowered, knowing how to do a true test for mites, instead of just eyeballing the bees and spotting a mite on an off-chance. And we feel good that we have acted to prevent further infestation.
I took a picture of one of my bees on the verbascum today, and you can tell it's an old bee from it's wings - can you see that they are ragged and half the size they should be? This bee is at the end of it's life.
This is different from Deformed Wing Virus - this bee is not sick, just old.
On to other interesting creatures.
Yesterday, this little fellow leapt on to my arm when I went out to pick an apple for a snack.
And today, I noticed these guys in my fennel. They are second-instar larvae of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly.
The hot weather bites for humans, but most things in the garden love it.
We're excited for the 4th of July and fireworks. My son Adam made a cake to celebrate the holiday weekend, and also to celebrate the start of The Great British Baking Show. If you haven't seen this show, and you like to bake, you simply must. Or if you like UK accents. Or if you like British humor. Go put it on your queue this minute.
Hope everyone is having a great weekend!