Best Varroa Mite Treatment For Beehives
What Should You Use to Control Varroa Mites?
Are you looking for the best varroa mite treatment for bees in your apiary? Something that works perfectly with no harm to the honey bees? Well, we all are looking for the same thing. And so far, no one has found it. But, varroa mites are the number 1 killer of bee colonies worldwide. This is a beekeeping management strategy that can not be overlooked.
If you have been a beekeeper for a while, chances are you know a lot about honey bee mites. Any new, beekeeper will find out quickly that mites are a major problem for our bees. Whatever approach you take for varroa mite control, you must have a plan.
A bee colony actually has several types of mites in residence. Thankfully, only a few cause problems for the bees and beekeepers. Several years ago tracheal mites causes major losses to the bee industry. They are still around but tracheal mites have taken the “back-burner” to varroa.
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Fighting the varroa mite war
Why Varroa Mite Treatments are Necessary?
The varroa mite is the #1 killer of bee colonies. A small reddish mite visible to the naked eye is the major pest of honey bees worldwide. While it may be small don’t underestimate the damage it can do. A beekeeper may not see them but most of our bee colonies have varroa mites or will have them.
We sometimes say that by the time you see them on the bees it is too late to save the colony. Don’t wait for visual confirmation! Varroa mite treatment must be part of a good beekeeping plan. I am not saying you have to use chemicals.
But you need to consider a mite treatment plan of some type. The majority of our colonies can not deal with varroa on their own. They might survive one year with a heavy mite load but often fail before the end of the second year.
Tips for Choosing A Varroa Mite Treatment
Keeping good records in a notebook or beekeeping log, has helped me keep track of the condition of my colonies. If you have several hives, it is hard to remember which one needs attention. I hate having my phone out in the bee yard so I sometimes use these little waterproof books for quick notes.
The Varroa Mite is prevalent in our bee colonies but a small mite load is manageable by the colony. Attempting to maintain a zero-mite count is difficult if not down right impossible. But, we beekeepers want to keep mite levels low. This is increasingly difficult as the season progresses.
A low infestation of varroa mites is still damaging to the bee colony. However, the honey bee colony will most likely survive.
In my online beginners class, I talk about the importance of maintaining healthy, well fed bees. Good bee health helps the colony deal with a small amount of varroa but you should monitor your hives. And varroa mite treatments are not something that can be put off to a later date and then caught up. Often, the damage has been done.
When Should You Treat for Varroa Mites?
How many mites are too many?
As a mite infestation grows larger, problems become more noticeable. How many mites are too many? It depends. (If you thought I was going to give you a definitive answer, you must be a new beekeeper. Those of us who have been around a while know that most things in beekeeping have several answers. 😊) But, I do have some guidelines for you to consider regarding when to treat.
What you choose to be your varroa mite treatment for bees is as individual as you. We all keep bees in different ways. One thing is certain. At some time in your beekeeping experience, you will have to deal with varroa. Be proactive with mite control methods. Once we are seeing evidence of mite damage, it may be too late. (i.e. deformed wings, etc)
Finding The Varroa Mite Treatment Threshold
When the level of mite infestation is in the 2% to 5% range, the beekeeper must make some decisions. Any bee hive with a mite infestation of 5% or more should be treated immediately. A 3% level of infestation bears watching but could be left for the present.
Why such a big range? Location and beekeeping styles play a big part in how many mites are too many. And, lets not forget personal opinion. For myself, if I have a 2% infestation, I would definitely treat.
Most of the varroa mite treatments are performed during summer. People are busy and it is H.O.T. Choosing the best varroa mite treatment for bees that will be effective in hot weather is challenging for many of us.
We discussed several varroa sampling methods in an earlier post. Let’s, say you were using the sugar shake method. In your sample, you find 6 mites. 6 mites divided by (the # of hundreds of bees – in this case 3 for 300) . Equals = 2 mites for each 100 bees. You have a 2% level of infestation.
Mechanical Methods Dealing With Varroa Mites in Bees
Beekeepers use mechanical (non-chemical) methods of mite control. Some of these may help, but they are not enough when used alone.
Using screened bottom boards (instead of solid), causes some mites to fall to the ground and perish. This technique may work but the number of mites killed is a very small amount.
Research continues to try to develop a honey bee that will be more resistant to mites. Selecting breeders from colonies that show some mite control could be the answer. This process takes time, a lot of time. Do our bees have that long?
To date, no one has bred a truly varroa resistance honey bee. Yes, some bees will seem to tolerate the mites better than others but none control mites well.
Drone Brood Removal for Mite Control
A few beekeepers advise the removal of capped drone brood (the mites favorite host). I am not a fan of this approach. Most of the time, bees build drone brood for a reason. Drones serve a role in the colony and maybe some we don’t yet understand.
Other beekeepers use a special drone frame to encourage drone production. Once filled with capped drone brood. This frame is removed and frozen to kill the mites inside.
After thawing, the frame is put back into the hive for reuse. You must remember to take this frame out before the mite infested bees emerge. Otherwise, you have just created a mite maternity ward. Used properly, the drone frame may be successful.
Using Approved Chemicals – A Practical Treatment for Varroa
Research has provided us with several chemical treatment options. If you choose to use these synthetic chemicals, it is important to rotate them. Use different ones each year.
Apistan (fluvalinate) is an older substance used for mite control in honey bees for years. It is an impregnated strip that kills by contact. Verified wide spread resistance has been reported. Chemical residue in beeswax is common. I do not use it.
Apivar (amitraz) is a synthetic miticide that kills by contact. Impregnated strips are place near the brood nest. Apivar has time usage restriction. Do not place honey supers on your colony for at least 2 weeks after treatment. Low levels of residue can be detected in the beeswax and honey. Mites can develop resistance. I do not use it.
Using Essential Oils for Varroa Mite Treatment
Essential oils are used to promote good health in honey bee colonies. Another use of essential oils, is combating varroa mites. You can prepare your own recipes.
I have some essential oil recipes for bees you can try. But, use care, some essential oils are absorbed through the skin. Wear gloves.
Apiguard is a gel containing thymol. It acts as a fumigant to kill mites. Temperatures should be between 59 F and below 105 F. Use twice at 2-week intervals.
Api Life Var (thymol, eucalyptol oil, menthol, camphor) Api Life VAR is another contender for the best mite treatment. The product features a green spongy pad impregnated with oils. Api Life Var is a fumigant.
Treatment involves placement of pads 3 times at 7 day intervals. An acceptable temperature range is between 65-85 F. High temperatures during treatment period can cause serious colony disruption including bees leaving the hive.
The Acids – Organic Varroa Mite Treatment For Bees
Mite Away Quick Strips – formic acid (organic acid) works as a fumigant. The biodegradable treatment pads remain in place for 7 days. After 7 days, you can remove the pads or not. You can use Mite Away Quick Strips when honey collection supers are on the hive.
Formic Acid also kills mites in capped brood (the others do not). Some beekeepers have reported queen loss or a reduction in brood production.
For myself, the temperature requirements were a problem. Extreme temperatures above 92 may cause absconding. Some beekeepers experience queen loss after treatment. But, I have not experienced any problems. Still follow the directions on the label!
Used In Europe For Years – Now Approved For US
Oxalic acid (Oxalic acid dihydrate (organic acid)) is used in two ways for mite control – as a drizzle or as a fumigant. Oxalic acid
enjoys a long history of use in Europe. It has the reputation for providing good varroa mite control. Approval for use in the US, was a long time coming. Now, American beekeepers can try OA for mite control.
The drip or drizzle method involves mixing OA with sugar water and pouring this over the cluster of bees. Early Winter/late Fall when the bees are cluster together if the best time for the drizzle method. .
The colony should also have little or no brood so the majority of mites will be on the adult bees. The drizzle method can only be used 2 X a year. The acid is corrosive to the bee bodies and when using in cold weather may chill the bee cluster.
Vaporization of Oxalic Acid
Oxalic Acid Vaporization – This method of using OA is a favorite in Europe where it has been used with good results for years. Here is how it works – a small amount of OA is place on a special wand and slid into the hive. The wand heats causing the crystals to vaporize. As the vapor cools, crystals reform inside the hive. Honey bees remove the acid crystals and expose varroa to the substance.
Vaporization is my current method of mite control. I believe it is the best varroa mite treatment for bees in my area. We have a lot of hot weather.
Using OA Vaporization is compatible with the hot summer temperatures during my treatment window. Be careful when purchasing a wand. You want one that works properly, you do NOT want to be inhaling any fumes.
A good manufacturer will provide dosage instructions. Because this method does not kill mites hidden inside the brood cell, most of use repeat this treatment every 7 days for 3 times. Thereby, covering a complete worker bee brood cycle.
Fogging with Oxalic Acid- Should you?
You will hear a lot of information on the internet and Youtube about fogging with Oxalic Acid. We humans are always looking for an easier way to do things. No harm in that but you may harm yourself or your bees.
Fogging with OA is not approved in the US (at this time). I have not seen any approved research reports that say it is a good idea. I will not use this method for the present.
Hopguard (Potassium salt (16%) of hops beta acids) Hopguard is a natural product. Honey supers can be on the hive during treatment. It is messy. I have not talked to any beekeepers who really like this product. Effectiveness is unsure.
You Choose The Plan For Your Bees
In summary, the beekeeper is in charge of managing the bees. You may choose to do nothing and see if the bees survive. But most colonies will not.
Perhaps, the first varroa mite treatment for bees that you try doesn’t work. Try again. After treating, do another mite count. Don’t assume the treatment worked. Continue experimenting until you find the best varroa mite treatment plan for bees in your area.
Maybe you would like to try treatment-free beekeeping. Okay, but find a reputable source for treatment free bees. Try it with regular main stream bees and you will have a lot of dead bees.
Whether you choose of the methods mentioned above or another, it is your call. You will have to decide on the best varroa mite treatment for bees in your apiary !
Are there other management strategies in use for varroa? Yes, absolutely. A word of caution. Just because something may not kill your colony does not mean it has not caused harm. Take care when attempting to use unapproved methods.