“Look, no smoke” & a Varroa problem

I thought I would try and be a bit more of a natural beekeeper and not use smoke (or water spray) this time I opened my hives.  It’s harvest season and the bees definitely have something to defend, so I was not sure of the wisdom of trying this approach at this time of year, but what the heck.  If it got tough, I’d go back with smoke.

Well, there was no noticeable effect of not using smoke.  The bees were no more aggressive, perhaps less so, as I received no stings and was not even aware of any high pitched squeals, or vibrations on my gloves or clothes that would have meant a bee was trying to sting me.

This might be an exception and I might have friendly bees.  It was definitely not because I am a bee whisperer.   I will keep going with my non-smoke approach.

Update on my hives.

Hive A / Original Hive

One super was pretty full of nectar.  About 30% capped.  One super seemed to have some mildew?  I called one of my beekeeping mentors and he advised leaving the super on until the start of September and hope that the bees cap the rest of the honey.  The risk is that they will eat it though!  Is this what other beekeepers would do?

Super with capped honey and nectar – hope they cap the rest?

Capped honey

A moldy super?  Will the bees clean it up?

Molder super

There was some nectar in one frame of the 2nd super.  But I just removed the whole lot so the bees focused on capping the honey in the first super.  Not sure if this was the right thing to do?

I had put the Varroa count board under the open mesh floor 24 hours before.  I counted 15 Varroa mites on the board, some of them were obviously alive and walking around.  From reading the FERA National Bee Unit guidance on Varroa we don’t want more than 1,000 Varroa in our hives otherwise there is the risk of colony collapse.  You can roughly calculate the number of Varroa in your hive by taking the daily mite drop and multiplying as follows:

  • November to February: daily mite drop x 400
  • May to August: daily mite drop x 30
  • March, April, September and October: daily mite drop x  100

There is also a handy Varroa calculator at Bee Base …  It would have been best to do a count over a week, but I can do that in a few weeks time.  Essentially, it seems like I have about 500 Varroa mites and this will grow rapidly over the next few weeks.  Crikey.

A Varroa mite (middle, middle)

Varroa mite

I have looked through the FERA guidance.  It’s too late in the season to undertake further biological controls beyond my open mesh floor (essentially, drone brood culling and artificial swarms) and it seems I am in a pyrethroid resistant area.  The oxalic acid treatment sounds a bit rough on the bees and one of my bee buddies killed all his bees when he tried it one year.  Hence, I am going to try Apiguard which is described as a natural product and thymol-based.  From reading the Apiguard instructions it seems one has to close the open mesh floor to keep in the fumes of the thymol.   I hope it’s OK just to put my Varroa board in.  Should I tape up the back of the hive as well?  Feedback welcome from beekeepers.   I plan to do this after I take the honey off at the start of September, and I plan to feed them 4 weeks later, after the 4 weeks of Apiguard treatment.  Will the bees be OK if I don’t feed them until October having robbed their super of honey?

Hive B / Swarm I hived in June

No honey or nectar or anything at all in the super.  They have drawn out 7 or the 11 frames in the brood box though.  They swarmed 2 weeks ago and I could not see any eggs or uncapped larvae.  Varroa destructor mite count 5 per day.

Healthy looking 14×12 brood frame – but no eggs or larvae yet

14x12 Brood Frame

You can see bees hatching out in this photo

14x12 Brood Bees Hatching

Plan:  Check this hive again at the start of September and hope to find eggs.  Add Apiguard at same time as Hive A.  Feed in October after Apiguard treatment.

Again, welcome any thoughts on this plan.

If you just want to watch the bees, here is a video clip I took before opening the hives.  You can see the yellow pollen they are bringing in on the backs of their leggs.

Read More

Varroa Management – A how-to guide

Author: Roger

regaining my sanity through beekeeping

15 thoughts on ““Look, no smoke” & a Varroa problem”

  1. Apiguard is a good treatment to use, but you will be reducing its efficiency rate somewhat by waiting till early September to treat with it, as for maximum efficiency you need fairly high temps of above 15C. In Ealing we aim to take supers off by the first week of August and then treat during August. That then gives two months to feed syrup and build up the colony before it gets too cold to feed syrup. But do what you think is best. Do tape up the varroa board on both sides to keep the fumes in.

    1. Thanks Emily. It’s just I need the honey to be capped in order to get a harvest. I am hoping for a warm September, plus the heat from the colony.

  2. I don’t treat Varroa mite but nor do I harvest the honey. Yes I know that’s a strange way of beekeeping. Its a new way of beeing 😉 I have a Sun hive and a Warréhive and lett the bees keep all there honey and they can built comb themselves not in a square but as in nature. I don’t give them syrop because they have there own honey wich I think is healthier for the bees. This is also a kind of test wether they become healthier again working this way and shake of the Varroa themselves and become a strong colony also after winterperiod. Kind regards from the Netherlands!!

    1. Hi Anita, I am really interested to hear if your colony gets stronger. Do you take any of their comb? Are there any photos of your sunhive I could link to or upload? Please stay in touch.

  3. Hi! No I don’t take nothing from the bees. I just enjoy them hanging around in our garden. If my greatest wish came true then it would be that the whole world would leave the bees bee for (just ;-))2 years this way. Yes I have lot’s of photo’s making my Sun hive and even a few Youtube films. Here is one of them. Now this garden is full of blooms.

    Kind regards Anita

    1. Firstly, love the bird song and hum of honeybees. Secondly, I saw one of these types of hives on the Internet a few months ago. I know nothing about them. They look amazing. Would you be able to tell us more about them? If you want to, I could create a new page about this type of hive and you could write about it, like Dave Loveless did for the Top Bar Hive. If you are interested, I will send you my email address. Thanks again.

  4. Hi Roger, sure I would love to but you have seen my English is not that well…. But you may correct it if you want. I have seen the page of the Top bar hive, great job David!
    Maybe I can make another one of the Warré hive, that is a vertical Top Bar Hive but i only can tell what I know about them and the way I am using them. Others may comment and add if they wish! We also can “chat” via Facebook. Liked you page. Kind regards from sunny Netherland!

  5. I laughed at the note on the frame in the first picture! I don’t know the context, but it sure looked like you were telling the bees to use that frame. 🙂

    Building off of what Anita was saying, we do a minimal harvest on my hives for much the same reason. I don’t like feeding the bees sugar. I’ve found that I see less varroa when I avoid the sugar syrup as well. My experience anyway. I have seen some studies that suggest that the acidity of sugar s bee-unfriendly and varroa-friendly. The basic hypothesis was that feeding with sugar encouraged weaker bees and stronger varroa. No idea if that is fully true, but it makes sense on the surface.

    Good luck on that September harvest! It promises a few tasty treats and a real sticky kitchen!

  6. I don’t know anything about the treatment process for varroa mites, but harvesting honey before hand and then feeding the bees with sugar water after seems like an awful lot of work. I’m not a fan of feeding in general, but harvesting from the bees so you can feed them seems slightly backwards to me, regardless. Unless feeding is part of the treatment process, I would suggest just leaving the honey on, as it’s healthier for the bees than sugar water. You may not get any honey, but your bees will be happier.

    1. Hi Willowbatel. I agree about minimising feeding. I am using a 14×12 brood box on one hive and I plan to move to a 14×12 on the other. These are large brood boxes in which they should be able to store honey to last them through the Winter. The plan is that they should not need feeding after this season.

  7. I second the minimal harvesting. I fed them their first year (with homemade honey-bee-healthy) to get them built up but I hope to never have to feed again (barring an unfriendly spring). They are meant to eat honey, not sugar syrup and not high-fructose corn syrup. Harvesting the honey only to feed them sugar doesn’t seem right to me.

  8. I too would let the bees cap that honey. Not sure why you wouldn’t want to. I would rather let the bees eat their honey than feed them sugar.

    Is the mold from condensation from the hive lid? I know you beekeepers in the UK have had a tough time of it, weather-wise. I employ this system that I got from my teacher, Serge Labesque, and I’ve not had problems with moisture in my hives. One part is a hive top feeder that catches all the drips from condensation.

  9. You might find it interesting to look at the website of the Natural Beekeeping Trust where there is more about the Sun Hive and lots of experience of not feeding sugar to the bees and not using smokers etc. There has just been a conference on Natural Beekeeping last weekend, in Sussex,with 120 people which was very interesting.

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