Friday, August 29, 2008

Lesson 39: Controlling Varroa Mites Without Medication

Hello friends, from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. Sheri and I (David) welcome you to another basic beekeeping lesson.

Feel free to share these lessons with others. We recently heard where a beekeeping association prints off each lesson and places them in a binder for their members. We are thankful to have an opportunity to help others in the wonderful field of beekeeping.

Today, I want to show you how to control your varroa mites without medication. I have a video below that show me treating an entire hive in about 5 minutes.

I have previously (Lesson 28) written an entire lesson explaining the history, reproduction cycle and how to identify mites. You might want to review that lesson before proceeding through this lesson on how to safely treat for mites with powdered sugar. That lesson can be found by clicking here or going to:

Powdered sugar does not get rid of every single mite, but it greatly reduces mites in a colony if treated properly. Along with green plastic brood comb and screen bottom boards, powdered sugar treatments can significantly reduce your mite load. Maybe you should consider getting off the medication treadmill and approach mites with an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) method without chemicals. We sell a complete kit that includes a screen bottom board, two green drone combs and a powdered sugar sifting screen which you can see used in one of my videos below. This kit sells for $39.00. These one piece green drone combs allows the bees to raise only drones on these 2 frames. The mites prefer the drone cells since they stay capped longer. When sealed, simply freeze the frame, killing all mites in the sealed drone brood. Return the frame to the same hive and they will clean out the frame and repeat the process.
You will want to get rid of as many mites as possible now that we are into late summer. DO NOT carry a mite infestation into winter. Many mites carry viruses and can kill your hives during the cold winter months. But, if you can reduce your mites then the winter generation of bees will emerge without being bitten by a mite.
How do you conduct the powdered sugar drop?
IN A NUT SHELL: Pour one cup of powdered sugar onto the top of the frames in one deep hive body for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks on the same day each week. A six week treatment is even more effective. The powdered sugar falls between the frames, coats the bees and causes the mites to lose their suction cup grip on the bees and then falls through the screen bottom board, or off of the bee on their next flight. I strongly recommend a six week application so you can be sure to break the mite's brood cycle.
If you treat only once, but the bulk of your mites are within the capped brood, then that treatment will only help with the mites that are out and on the bees or comb. But as soon as the other bees emerge, the mites spread again. That's why a six week application is so effective.
A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION First, purchase some powdered sugar. There is a debate on whether the corn starch found in most store bought confectionery sugar may or may not be good for bees. Most of us aren't too worried about the small amount of corn starch compared to how effectively it helps reduce mites. However, if you have a good blender and some time, consider taking granulated sugar and grinding up your own corn starch free powdered sugar. A good blinder will do it very fast, but keep in mind that the sugar does become pretty warm when you grind it up into powder. The volume stays the same, so to make 2 cups of powdered sugar use 2 cups of granulated sugar.
Use 1 cup (8 oz) of powdered sugar per hive body and I do not treat my honey supers because I do not want powdered sugar in the honey. But, if you time things right, you can treat as soon as you take off your honey supers. This year my bees are still pulling in nectar like it is July, so I'm treating a few that still have supers as in the video below.
Next, head to the bee yard with your smoker, hive tool, sifting screen, powdered sugar and humble feeling of knowing that you are a beekeeper!
In this next video, you'll see me actually demonstrate the entire process. And, watch the timer because you'll see that it really doesn't take all that long to do a complete hive even with a stuck super on it!

Okay, let me answer a few questions that the video may prompt you to ask.
1) Why use a screen. Because it holds the bees beneath the treatment. Otherwise, they will fly up and out of the top as soon as the powdered sugar starts falling between the frames. YOU WOULD TOO!
2) What about the powdered sugar on top of the frames. Leave it, or brush it between the frames. Remember, bees love sugar!
3) Why didn't I have an inner cover on this hive. Because I have a special spacer attached under the top cover that does the same thing and makes it easier for me to lift open the top.
4) Why did you put your first deep on the ground? Because I use both common placement methods. In the video I placed my super on the inverted top cover, but placed my deep on the ground. I usually do not place my boxes on my top cover because they stick. I set them on the ground like I did my top deep, always putting the front down so I can place it back on the hive in the same orientation that I took it off. NEVER place a hive body on the ground with the frames down, like it sits on the hive. You'll smash all your bees on the bottom. Tilt it to its front, like you see me doing in the video. By the way, when you place the supers or deeps on an inverted top cover, you can also kill bees, and even the queen. But by placing it on the ground no bees are smashed. The queen does not fall off and the bees do not mind.
Finally, you must be stringent about your schedule. For six weeks, keep track of what day you did your powdered sugar drop. If it was Monday, then repeat the process every Monday for a total of six weeks. Do not fudge or skip or haphazardly complete the process.
Thanks for joining me today for another lesson. As our family business continues to grow, we'd like thank all of our customers who are so wonderful to us. Thank you for your support and business. We sacrifice many hours a day, answering email and answering questions on the phone and it is our pleasure. Many call in who have never ordered from us but simply found us on the Internet and have some questions. We don't mind, but we do need your business :)
We have completed our beekeeping Store/Education/Research Lab and it is really working well for us. And, this year our bees did very well, both in producing queens and honey! We still are producing queens, and September is the best month to replace your queen so that your new queen can lay a great winter generation and take off fast in the Spring. Do not put up with an old, worn out queen. MANY, many beekeepers go into fall and winter queenless. Please inspect the condition of your queens or else your hives will not survive the winter without a strong queen. If you need a queen, please call us at: 217-427-2678.
Our queens are grafted from our hives that have survived two Illinois winters and from hives that have never been treated with medication. We also select for gentleness, adherence to the comb, honey production and low mite counts. We professionally package our queens with 4-5 very young attendants and ship via USPS 2 day guaranteed.
Here's a video of our daughter Karee, preparing queens for shipment. She is choosing very young nurse bees and picking them off the frame and placing them into the cage with the queen. The queen is already in there.
Finally, do keep our upcoming class in mind, and remember now is a great time to purchase your Spring hive equipment!!
Until next time, BEE-have yourselves!!David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
ORDER LINE: 217-427-2678
FAX: 217-427-2678

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Speed Up Getting Combs Drawn Out & Filled

Hello from David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We want to say a big hellow to all our fellow beekeepers and beekeepers soon-to-be!

Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we've been busy keeping up with rearing queens, building hives, processing honey and putting the final touches on our new store/learning center/bee-lab.

We've made great strides on our Illinois Queen Project. We produced so many great queens this year and sold many queens too. And by the way, now is a good time to requeen your hives. It is a little harder to have new queens accepted late in the year, but August and September queens will produce better brood going into winter, and will certainly help the hive to over winter. Do consider it! It is very important to requeen your hive once a year.

It has been a very productive summer for the bees. And our bees are still acting like it is July 11th instead of August 11th.

We are hopeful this is the case and that the bees will provide us with one more month of good, strong foraging here in Illinois.

I've had beekeepers call in and say something close to this: "I've got two hives and while one is doing great, the other one hasn't pulled out all the frames in their top deep yet. They just don't seem to be moving up at all. What's wrong and what should I do."

This is why I always encourage new beekeepers to start with 2 hives instead of one. Because if you start with just one, and it gets off to a slow start, then you have nothing to compare it to and nothing available to help it with.

During heavy nectar flows, your hive should look like this one in the video below. This is one of our hives working aster and other late summer flowers. This queen has done a great job at raising a huge amount of brood and that's why there are so many foragers now! A poor queen will have the entire hive down in number, which means less comb building, less bees, less nectar gather etc.

First, it is hard to say why one hive doesn't do as well as others. There could be many reasons. Generally, I point the finger at the colony's failure to maintain a strong queen. What I mean by that is that the hive may have supeceeded their queen or tried to swarm and made swarm cells and in the process the colony may have actually become queenless for a good part of the season. This does happen. In fact, in my opinion, queenlessness is actually a worse problem than mites! Maintaining a close eye on your queen and/or any queen cells is vitally important.

Between the months of April and June, you must inspect your hive every 14 days, making sure your queen is laying good and that there are no swarm or supercedure queen cells. During these critical build up months, you must maintain a good laying queen. Once I get into July and my nectar flow is at its peak, I seldom go back into the hive except to remove honey supers because I do not want to disturb the hive's passion to gather nectar for me. I stay out of my hive until the 2nd week in August and then I begin to prepare my hives for winter. August and especially September determines how well your bees will do in the spring of the next bee season.
So what is typical is that a hive will lose its queen, try to replace her, fail, try to replace her and fail again, and finally get the job done but considerable time has been wasted in the effort and after she starts laying, maybe they are not pleased with her performance and they replace her again. This can go on all summer. Other causes for slow build up might be that the queen was not mated well and is only able to lay an unacceptable brood pattern resulting in low bee population.

Beekeepers who choose not to monitor the queen and the brood pattern are taking a gamble and may find out much too late that the hive is not progressing well. When this happens, the first thing to do is to assess the queen and the amount of eggs and capped brood. Nearly solid sealed brood is what you want to see. Spotty brood means the queen needs replaced.

Okay, let's say that you need to get two deep brood boxes drawn and full before winter, and here it is in August and it doesn't look possible. What do you do? First, since this hive is weak, and you have another hive that is strong, swap locations during the middle of the day on a nice sunny day. By swapping the two hives, you actually are transferring the foraging bees from the strong hive into the weak hive because as they return to their home, it is actually now the hive of the weaker colony. Incoming nectar from a larger foraging team means more drawn comb too. Rember, it takes nectar to produce wax which is used to build comb.

Secondly, feed! Place an entrance feeder in the hive and feed 2:1 sugar water. If robbing is a problem, use a top feeder. We sell both top feeders and entrance feeders. Also, take two or three drawn frames with bees and move them up into the top deep and take the undrawn comb from the top deep down into the bottom deep. This will spark the bees to move up because some other bees are already up there.

If the weaker hive still does not seem to build up within the next month, say by the middle of September you should consider combining it with another hive. It is always better to go into winter with one strong hive rather than two weak hives.

If your plastic foundation is not drawn out yet, you might spray it with sugar water or you might need to melt some beeswax and recoat the plastic.

Visit our website at: for a complete listing of our products and hives. Or give us a call at: 217-427-2678

Now, you've got to get rid of your mites!! This is the time of year that mites can be bad and spread viruses throughout your hive. A hive that enters winter with a mite infestation is likely to be doomed. So, our next lesson will give you some non-medicated ways to reduce your mite count greatly! Stay tuned.

Thanks for allowing us to share with you today, and please share these lessons with others. We are a family business, simple folks working hard to make a living. We're honest and sincere in helping you enjoy being a beekeeper. Help us out when you can and we will certainly appreciate it!!

If you have trouble reaching us by phone, please email us at
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Remember to BEE-have yourself!