Friday, May 20, 2011

Varroa mites

Bees have been a wonderful addition to my life. I can say that I have been forever change because of them, my perception of the world, the environment and relations has been altered in a way that can not be undone. I continue to learn and bee amazed by them. However, this no simple hobby. I jumped into becoming a bee keeper without much thought and with the understanding that bees are easy, you just get the boxes going, they do their thing, and then you just take the honey. WRONG!
Perhaps, there was a time when it was that simple but, Veroa mites have really changed everything in bee keeping. There are chemical ways to treat the mites but the mites have become resistant and are now a huge problem affecting our bees. I had a mite problem last year and a tried the powder sugar method and it kind off work keeping the mite levels down but they were not gone. however I got away with it. But this year the problem can not be avoided any more, I have a serious mite infestation. I knew this because I could see many bees with deformed wings. 

As you can see in this images, the mites get into the larva cells to lay their eggs. And they cal lay up to 4 or 5 eggs per cell, they especially like to do it on the drone cells because they have the same incubation period. The mites attach to the pupa and feed from it which cause the bees to hatch with deformed wings.

This are drone cells which were completely infested with mites.


I tried to remove all the drone cells from the hive and then fed them to the chickens

 The chickens love it!

So that takes care of some of the mites, but there are still a lot of them in the hive, and lots of them attached to the bees. I was resistant to using any chemicals to treat the mites, I have read and heard all kinds of information, everybody has a different opinion. It is hard to know what to trust, so I'm going with my intuition and with the comfort of knowing that this is the process of learning and some mistakes can be made on that process. All I knew for sure was that I had to do something with those mites. I went to a lecture by Randy Oliver from Scientific bee keeper and he pointed out that although mites themselves won't kill your hive, their presence will debilitate your hive and can be a factor to cause its death. He suggested a few natural miticides made out of  acids and oils. You can read all about them here.  
I decided to use Apilife VAR mostly because of all of his suggestions this seemed like the easiest to apply and after some research it seemed to be a safe option. It is a tablet made out of concentrated Tymol oil. The bees are resistant to the amount of oil but the mites are not so they leave the hive. I used half of the recommended amount and repeated the treatment after 10 days. Here is a research paper I found on this product used in Switzerland.

I broke the tablets into small pieces and placed it on top of the brood. I did noticed that the bees moved away, the smell is strong and the bees did not like it. 
I'm very happy to report that after the treatment, I have not seen any mites. Lets hope it stays like that.

After I finished dealing with the mite problem on Stella, I checked on Gloria (the new captured swarm) and noticed that there was no queen, not sure how that happened but I could not find a queen and there were no eggs so I knew there was no queen. I immediately got on the phone to try an order a queen and everybody in California and Hawaii was sold out till mid June. I could not wait that long so I needed to have the bees make a new queen. Any fertilized egg can be made into a queen, the bees feed that egg royal jelly and make a bigger cell for a queen and Voil√† you got a queen. The problem is getting that queen to survive her nuptial flight and get fertilized. And then not knowing who she's mating so you do not have any guarantees on the type of bees that you will have, the queen can mate with up to 10 different drones. 
This is another one of those controversial issues in bee keeping. Ideally you want to have a mated queen that is hygienic, mite resistant, and docile. But then, there is the other argument you want to develop genetic diversity in your hive and have bees that can adapt to your local environment. Yes, I want both, I do not have an answer on this issue. As I was dealing with the mites on the other hive, I could see the benefit of having a mite resistant breed, but at this moment  I had no choice, I had to take the risk and try to get a queen made by my bees.

To do this I had to transfer a frame with fertile eggs from Stella (who has a queen) to Gloria (Queen-less)
As I checked the brood on Stella I found a few queen cells already made. This was good news for Gloria, I queen was already being made so I transfered those frames.
  But it was bad news for me, having queen cells is an indication that the hive is ready to swarm.
Ideally you want to prevent your hive from swarming, so I took a few brood frames and moved them over to Gloria and placed empty frames in Stella giving her more room to grow and hopefully preventing it from swarming.

Queen cells, as you can see in this picture, are much bigger than a regular bee pupa cell

I love the reflection of the sun on the nectar in this images

There were two queen cells in this frame and a some fertilized eggs, I hope Gloria gets a queen soon. 

Spring is a very busy time for a bee keeper, if you are thinking of becoming a bee keeper allow yourself plenty of bee time in the spring. 

Thank you very much to Aimee Goggins who took the mite close up pictures and the picture of me in action. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

hello 2a fellow LA who also keeps bees - hv been at this since i was 11 and find the mites a bit disturbing ... i hv a ? 4u ... how did u get api life in CA? ... thought it was not certified 4use ... keep up the good work ... ary [ sustainable landscape design]