View Full Version : Varroa levels in an organic hive

Aug 30th 2010, 03:46 PM
This is related to another one of my posts, but I thought I'd put it here since there hasn't been much activity under the "Organic Beekeeping" Topic in a while.

This is a question for any of you guys out there going "treatment-free" with your hives, but anybody- please comment. If any of you have tested for varroa mite levels in your hives, what methods do you use, and what level of varroa do you typically find present? I'm just curious what kind of baselines of varroa folks' hives are tolerating out there with no treatment.


ps- I understand that "treatment-free" is not the same as "chemical-free". Of course, I'd like to hear how the "chemical-free", "natural", IPM, and any other camp is doing.

Aug 30th 2010, 05:51 PM
Sorry, I don't treat or check for mites. I do removals. If a hive dies, I clean it up and tear into a house and fill it back up. If the mite levels are tolerable, the colony lives. If not, they don't.

Aug 31st 2010, 06:51 PM
My testing involves eyeballin the ladies real close when I'm in the hive/supers and as my eyeballs ain't as good as they once were, ;) I or my wife take pics with a digital camera and then I download and blow them up on my PC and look at enlarged /standing still bees. Have not treated yet as I want bees that are not on medicare (if they survive great, thats what I want) :beg: BUT if I did treat it would be powdered sugar drop. Jim

Sep 16th 2010, 10:34 PM
I've been culling drone brood on a drone frame in each hive every 3 weeks or so.
I also leave screen bottom board completely open.
I am feeding Crisco/grease patties (mixed with sugar, thyme oil, wintergreen, lemongrass, and spearmint oils) in Spring and in Fall.

Haven't seen any mite problems yet. Got my bees this spring from fatbeeman Don, who doesn't use commercial miticides either, so hopefully my bees are semi-resistant.
Not counting mites, so we'll see how/if they get through this winter. Whoever survives the winter will get multiplied in the Spring. :)

Sep 17th 2010, 08:01 AM
Sounds like a good plan Omie. I'll let you know how I proceed this fall. If I deem them bad, I'll do a powdered sugar shake, 3 times, 7-10 days apart (I have a SBB too, of course). If I still seem to have problems, I'll probably start using some drone foundation to trap mites, but that would have to wait till next year at this point.

How many grease patties do you feed to each hive per season?

Sep 17th 2010, 04:35 PM
How many grease patties do you feed to each hive per season?

I place two patties in each hive, on top of the top deep frames. Each patty is the size of a small 1/4" thin hamburger patty. I flatten the patty onto a piece of stiff paper and lay it on top of the frames. When those 2 patties are mostly eaten i replace them once. That's 4 patties per hive in Spring, and 4 per hive in Fall. I won't be feeding patties during any honey production time. Honestly, i don't know if it does any good, but i like the logic behind it and am willing to try it... easier to do than sugar shake series since I made a big batch up and froze them in baggies- enough for a couple of years. :shock:

Even though i cull a drone frame, there are still plenty of drones raised elsewhere on brood frames. No sense going nuts trying to eliminate all drones, that wouldn't be very natural for the bees anyway, to have no drones.

Sep 17th 2010, 08:08 PM
Thanks Omie,
I agree that the bees should have some drones present as they see fit. I've wondered before if they would continue to raise drones elsewhere in the hive is there was a drone "trap" frame present (I guess the answer is "yes"). I've heard they like to have about 10% drones around on average, so I thought 1 drone frame per brood chamber might satisfy their urge (for better or worse). Then again, you're not really letting any of those drones hatch out from the trap frame.

I remember seeing your awesome pics of the drone larvae with Varroa in an earlier post. Do you still find them? More or less since your treatments and trapping? And do you see less mites during, and just after the time when you have grease patties on the hives?

Sep 17th 2010, 08:39 PM
Hi Magnit 'Tude ;D

First- yes they do raise some drones in other corners of brood frames even when you have a dedicated drone frame. i just quickly cull the drone frame whenever i see lots of capped drone brood on it. Some I'm sure aren't timed too well and manage to hatch, that's ok too. I give a quick glance at a few dead drone pupae when they fall out to look for mites, but haven't seen any lately.
Since that first time I took the photo, when i froze the drone frame and then carefully pulled out drone larvae to look for mites (only found 1 mite that time anyway), I have gotten lazier. Now I don't bother freezing the frame, i just take it out of the hive, take a deep breath and scrape the capped brood off as quickly as i can and put the frame back while trying not to think about it or feel creepy. lol!
A while back, I was impressed by what one person wrote somewhere- they said since they are not planning to treat for mites with pesticides at all, then it makes no sense for them to bother counting mites. So with that in mind, i just do the drone culling, grease patties w/essential oils, and open screen with lots of ventilation...all to help improve my odds without going the miticide/pesticide route. If what i do isn't enough, then the bees I have are not strong enough or resistant enough and they'll die off. I'll get more, and I'll keep getting new bees until I have some that will survive winter with whatever mite level is 'normal' for them. Once I have strong/resistant/hygienic bees, I'll split from them and try to keep them going.

I do realize that since i am a 'hobby' beekeeper I can afford to be a bit cavalier about my bees dying off. I only have two hives now, and I'll never have more than maybe 6 or 8 hives I suspect. If i was depending on my bees for a living I might well be more dedicated to counting mites and such.

I love keeping a few hives and am looking forward to hopefully getting my first honey next year. I only really want enough honey for our own consumption and as gifts for family and friends and Christmas. 50-70 pounds would be just lovely. :)

Sep 17th 2010, 09:42 PM
Omie, I have read all your posts and I am worried you are going to kill them with excessive ventilation before you ever have a mite problem. Think about a hollow tree and how much ventilation they have in there. The only ventilation you want in the winter is just enough to prevent condensation. That's all.

Sep 18th 2010, 05:59 AM
Could someone provide a definition for what is the difference between chemical free and treatment free? I am always easily confused in the early morning.

mites... I also casually watch a hive for stuff generally related to mite infestation but more towards the kwing virus than clinging mites.

monitoring... I pluck drone cells as a monitoring scheme and often time throughly rake drone brood early in the spring. it is a bit labor intensive to rake drone brood in 200+ hives but no body ever said the alternative to placing pesticide in a hive was always going to be easy. hives with the highest number of mites gets totally broken down into nucs. if I have concerns for an individual hive with a high mite count then I keep a bit of sucromid on board as well as equipment to do an oxalic vapor treatment prior to the hive being totallly dismantled and turned into new nucs. the unmentioned part here is the unraked (lowest mite number) hives produce drones which should then have an advantage when the new queens mate.

to reinforce (once again) what Iddee said... anywhere above the mason dixon line excessively ventilated hives should be a real concern for any new beekeeper. first tight equipment is important and secondly in locations where the wind blows a wind break is extremely useful. on the opposite end of Iddee concern is a hive wrapped so tight that water vapor and carbon dioxide become the mechanism for winter time death loss. unlike Iddee I think all hive (well at least the living one) produce condensation so generally some scheme for venting this condensation is critical.

Sep 18th 2010, 07:49 AM
For what it's worth, I consider organic (and maybe "natural") to include use of oxalic and formic acids, essential oils, powdered sugar dusting, FGMO, thymol, etc. To me, treatment free means no treatments. I think mechanical means of managing a hive, such as SBB and other gadgets to help a hive along, can (and should be) used by any camp, although it's highly debatable these tactics are "natural".

Also, in my area, it's standard practice to leave SBB wide open all winter, granted I'm not too far north of the Mason-Dixon line. I think having just a small opening at the top of the hive is usually sufficient for adequate ventilation. Again, I really am a newbee myself, so I'm just reporting what I've picked up from other local club members.

Sep 18th 2010, 04:47 PM
Omie, I have read all your posts and I am worried you are going to kill them with excessive ventilation before you ever have a mite problem. Think about a hollow tree and how much ventilation they have in there. The only ventilation you want in the winter is just enough to prevent condensation. That's all.

Hi Idee,
Thank you for your concern and advice, which i value and always take into consideration.

A few details:
I know about a dozen local beekeepers at this point, and they seem equally divided between leaving their screen BBs completely open all winter, and having closed BBs. Both camps swear by their method, needless to say. But I do know that there are 'some' in my area who seem to have no problem leaving bbs wide open all winter, so it is done by at least a few bk's year after year here.

I do plan to wrap one sheet of felting/tar paper around the sides of the hives, like I did last year, to absorb warmth from the sun and to block winds.

My hives will have a great dense line of giant spruces and a 6 foot tall heavy bamboo fence all along their NE sides- pretty well protected from winter winds.
They face the sun.

I have all-season inner covers underneath the telescoping covers...I use these:
http://www.honeyrunapiaries.com/store/a ... p-232.html (http://www.honeyrunapiaries.com/store/all-season-inner-cover-p-232.html)
and you can see that in winter i'll be putting the aprox. 2" thick solid foam insulation layer inside, which covers all those circular summer side vents. This foam layer should help a lot in preventing condensation. I will leave the small upper front entrance open for some flow ventilation. I'll have mouse guards on the bottom entrance.

What do you think of all this? thanks for your advice. :)

Sep 18th 2010, 05:02 PM
The foam makes me much more comfortable. The SBB doesn't bother me. I do believe maximum top vent should be equal to a 3/4 in. round hole. With the bottom open, I would prevent wind from entering, allowing only calm air to get to the bottom of the hive. Then the bees can control the air flow coming in from the bottom.

Sep 19th 2010, 07:13 AM
http://www.honeyrunapiaries.com/store/a ... p-232.html

they also produce some really excellent NWC queens which if I lived in the northern US would certainly be my choice.

Sep 19th 2010, 12:01 PM
Tecumseh, what does NWC stand for please? :)

Sep 19th 2010, 01:10 PM
Not Tec, but New World Carniolan

Sep 19th 2010, 04:45 PM
Thanks Idee.
Why would NWC be a good choice for the North?

Sep 19th 2010, 05:48 PM
You will have to wait for Tec for that one. I don't know.

Sep 20th 2010, 05:30 AM
as Iddee states the NWC stands for New World Carnolians. The NWC are a rediscovered line of honeybee... I think Sue Colbey get the lion share of the credit for the rediscovery of this 'race' of honeybee. According to one of the more recent ABJ she is now trying to directly import genetic material from Eastern Europe to strengthen this honeybee.

Why would I recommend this line??? I will get to that in a moment, but first let me say that in the world of the bees you get nothing free... for every advantage you obtain some downside. Get to know both prior to making your selection.

The Carnolians are a genetic offshoot of the Italian honeybee (the darker variety) that broke off in some ice age long ago. They therefore appear to have been exposed (over an extremely long period of time) to a number of pathogens that plague us now.. at least that is what the bee genome mapping suggest (and Brother Adam's musing prior to the days of genome mapping suggest this also). For northern beekeepers they have the added advantage of overwintering in small clusters. They build up fairly quickly (perhaps no more that 2 weeks behind my largely Italian stock) and are relatively easy to handle. They do seem to have one disturbing downside in that once they have built themselves up to the size where they swarm, they can swarm themselves to death (and drive the beekeeper to drink in the process I would guess).

I have tried honeyrunaparies queens directly and I KNOW he produces an excellent product. I do like to add queens like the NWC simply because they add some genetic diversity to my base stock.