Hives that go bump in the mite

It is the time of year when beekeepers start thinking about winter, and whether the hives are strong enough to make it into spring. One key factor is the number of pesky mites in the hive, something I have been tracking since the end of July. This post chronicles my ongoing efforts to keep the little beasties under control.

We also dropped our youngest daughter at University in Massachusetts recently. I was on the lookout for bees, of course. ©Erik Brown

Measuring the mites in your hives provides a snapshot of how the bees are doing in their ongoing fight for survival. While some beekeepers promote the idea of treating every hive in an apiary at once, and same advocate never treating, I prefer to treat hives only when necessary. That is, check them and treat those with a high level of infestation. This gives the bees a chance to fight the mites on their own, yet still helps them out when needed so they don’t just die. My bee stock is based on Russian bees, which are bred to be mite resistant, so this seems a good trade off of keeping the bees alive and encouraging strains of bees that are naturally resistant.

I determine mite levels using the sugar shake method. The Honey Bee Health Coalition has a guide with the latest research and best practices for this and other methods of checking for mites. The basic procedure is: gather bees, add sugar, roll, wait, shake, dump, add sugar, roll, shake, wait, dump. A key for this technique is to add the powdered sugar twice to obtain a more complete reading. This turned out to be important for my measurements.

Sugar Shake

Rolling the bees during a sugar shake. ©Erik Brown

For treatment, I stick with natural chemicals and avoid synthetic compounds like Apivar. Formic acid (in ants, for example) and thymol (from thyme) occur naturally in nature; and some plants even excrete these toxins to deter unwanted pests. Honey bees have developed a natural resistance, so they provide a natural way to kill mites. The full treatment can still be a bit hard on the hive, so I sometimes use Randy Oliver’s approach described on by using a half-dose just to knock the mites back.

With that intro, the following table provides a run through of my activities:

Ganymede Callisto Mars Saturn Titan Venus Notes
Jul 30 2/300 (0.7%) 12/300 (4%) 3/300 (1%) 9/300 (3%) 1/300 (0.3%) My treatment threshold is 3% (9 mites)
Aug 5 12/300 (4%) Callisto had a high count even though she has youngest queen.
Aug 6 1/2 tray Apiguard 1  tray Apiguard 1/2 tray Apiguard Std treatment: 1 tray for 2 weeks, then second tray for 2 weeks.
Aug 13 ~150m;
1/2 Apiguard
~750m ;
1/2 Apiguard
Alt treatment: 1/2 tray once a week for three weeks.
Aug 20 ~210m;
1/2 Apiguard
1 tray Apiguard
1/2 Apiguard
~number is approx mite count on screened bottom board.
Aug 27 ~320m ~1800m The mite drop ramped up in week 3.
Sep 3 ~1850m The final mite count after four weeks.
Sep 9 23/300 (7.7%) 12/300 (4%) 9/300 (3%) 20/300 (6.7%) 0/300 (0%) 8/300 (2.7%) Measuring after treatment is an important step.

As you can see, after a month the results are:

  • Ganymede (0.6% to 7.7%): I didn’t treat and the mites ramped up to 7.7%. I don’t regret not treating since the mites started out low, and I should still have time to do something.
  • Callisto (4% to 4%): Infestation didn’t actually improve despite the mite drops. So perhaps the alternate treatment is not as good a method? That and perhaps these bees are not very resistant so I might want to re-queen this hive in the spring.
  • Mars (4% to 3%): During my first mite check (Jul 30), the first shake produced 12 mites, and with such a high count I didn’t bother to do a second one. Hence, the actual number might have been higher. During my second mite check (Sep 9), the first shake produced 0 mites and the second shake 9 mites. So the second round of powdered sugar is indeed important.
  • Saturn (1% to 6.7%): Again we see the results of not treating after the initial low mite count. Still, I gave the bees a chance to handle the mites on their own. They failed, so now I need to give them some help. Some people say that a count over 6% is a doomed hive. I have not found that to be the case for my bees. We will see if I was right in the spring.
  • Titan (3% to 0%): A very nice number. Titan received the alternate treatment method and it worked quite well in this case. This is also a top bar hive, which may have factored in somehow. Regardless, hooray for the bees.
  • Venus (0.3% to 2.7%): The increase here is a factor of 8 (1 mite to 8 mites), which is on par with the increase in Ganymede (factor of 11) and Saturn (factor of 7). So in another month Venus could have a much higher mite count. Still, it is below threshold now and cold weather is approaching. I am going to leave it alone and see how they are doing in another few weeks.

So that is my status. Given the high numbers, I threw a half-tray of Apiguard in both Ganymede and Saturn the next morning. Callisto and Mars I will have to do something about this weekend.

Things that go bump in the night

This now-common phrase is part of a litany, most likely of Scottish origin, and is part of the following short prayer.

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Different sites attribute this prayer to different sources. The site traces this to the anthology “A Beggar’s Wallet” edited by Archibald Stodart Walker in 1905. A rather interesting investigation appears in the Journal of a Southern Bookreader blog that researches the notion back to a 1641 collection of Scottish proverbs with quite possibly an original version:

God keip us from gyrcarlings & all long nebbed things

You can see the parallels here, especially as long nebbed is slang for long-legged.

Given we were in Scotland this summer, it seems an appropriate phrase for the post. Generally we hope that hives stay where they are and do not go bump. Mites don’t really go bump either, as far as I know. Still, I like the phrase so it became the title.

May you prosper and find honey.

6 thoughts on “Hives that go bump in the mite

    • Thanks! Yes, it really does make a difference in the counts. Read the PDF guide as it is a wealth of info on how well different treatments work and how best to apply them.


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