Measure (mites) twice, treat once

Apparently I have not posted an update on my bees since April. A rather tough spring and summer, emotionally at least, but here I am again. I thought an update on my mite situation could be interesting, as I have not treated my hives this year. A bit unexpected, hence this post.

2017 Treatments

Last year did not go well for me, from a mite perspective. My first mite count was at the end of July, and while they were okay initially they just kept rising. The below chart shows the maximum, minimum, and average value of mites per 300 bees across my six hives from July through October.

2017 Mites

As you can see, the initial count on July 30 had an average of 5 mites per 300 bees. I use 6 mites (2%) as a threshold, so it was below this at least. I treated with ApiGuard in both August and September, yet the numbers remained high. I applied Mite-Away Quick Strips (MAQS) in mid-October as a final treatment before the cold weather set in, and wasn’t able to measure the mites after that.

I lost my three Langstroth hives over the winter. In my final check on October 14, the two highest counts were in my top bar hives Saturn with 41 mites (13%) and Venus with 26 (8%) mites. Somehow these two hives survived.

I applied an Oxalic Acid dribble to Venus and two of my Langstroth hives on December 17, 2017. As I mentioned, my three Langstroth hives didn’t make it. Both Saturn and Venus, as well as my other top bar hive Titan, did fine.

2018 Mite Counts

These year, I resolved to check the mites earlier. I did my first count on June 30, and assumed the counts would rise to require treatment in August. It never happened. Here is the 2018 chart. Again, this shows the highest count on top, overall average in the middle, and lowest reading on the bottom.

2018 Mites

As you can see, the maximum has never exceeded 5 mites, and I had counts of zero into September. My queens tend to stop laying in October-November. With less and less brood, the mites will have no where to reproduce. So I should be okay on the mites, without any treatments all year.

One difference this year is that I have used a feeding stimulant in my sugar syrup, either Honey B Healthy or Pro Health. Feeding hives is generally required in Virginia, as we typically have very little nectar after June. The stimulant claims to prevent mold and encourage the bees to take the syrup. I wonder if it also might enhance some natural mite fighting ability somehow.

Lest you worry that I am under-counting my mites, this year my club did a mite assessment workshop in my apiary. We counted mites with an alcohol wash and a sugar roll, and had the same results from both methods (actually, my sugar rolls found two more mites overall than the alcohol washes). So I am pretty confident in my measuring method. The key step with a sugar roll, which I prefer, is a second round after the first shake, as the second shake often dislodges additional mites. See the instructions in the Honey Bee Health Coalition guide Tools for Varroa Management (PDF) (link) for the detailed steps.

The Outlook

Our normal high temperature in October is 65 F, yet this weekend we reached 85 F. So the bees are still active and I am still able to feed them.

I have seven colonies at the moment, four top bar and three Langstroth hives. Details can wait for a future post. For now I just hope they are ready for winter. I have seen more small hive beetles than in past years, so that might be one concern. Hopefully the bees are able to manage them until spring.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

A common carpentry mantra, this simple phrase indicates the importance of double checking before taking action. It first appeared in the 1591 book Second Fruits by Italian linguist Giovanni Florio (1553-1625), at least according to my book A Dictionary of American Proverbs. The reference is also mentioned on the site BookBrose.com, which claims the original phrase in Florio’s book was “Always measure many, before you cut any.”

The saying occurred to me as I considered this post, since I have measured my mites more than twice and still have not decided to treat. The measure twice mantra seems appropriate for beekeeping, as a single check on the hives is often not enough to really know what is happening inside.

May you prosper and find honey.

4 thoughts on “Measure (mites) twice, treat once

  1. Hi Erik, About the time I think I am ‘getting it’ regarding the mites, I don’t. It’s a mystery. We play according to the rules yet they outwit us. I find a typical doubling of mites each month. So if they are approaching that 2% mark I typically treat unless they have honey on the hive. Then again, some colonies seem to co-exist with the mites and make me the fool. From these colonies that beat the odds I hope to breed queens. Didn’t see you at EAS in Hampton, VA this year. Hope to see you next year in SC.

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    • Yes, I was expecting the counts to double or worse based on last year. I have Russian bees, and live near a Russian breeder, so maybe I am picking up some good genes in the mix. I’d like to think we are moving towards more resistant bees, at least in our area. Time will tell.

      I was indeed at EAS, sorry I missed you. In fact I helped plan the event this year – did the registration forms and name tags, among other things. That’s another post sometime, maybe, hopefully.

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    • It can be tough; we did have record amounts of rain this summer and fall, so hopefully that helped. Honey bees are not native to North America, as you know, so I’m sure that is part of the problem. I suppose our environment is not kind to poor beekeeping, I hadn’t thought of that.

      Thanks for the comment.

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