Alternative Varroa Mite Control

In my mind Alternative Varroa Mite control encompasses anything not involving commercial treatments or ignoring the problem. I am not marginalizing the value of chemical miticides I’m just discussing alternative methods of dealing with the mite. The concept of the Alternative methods involves empowering the bees to control the mites themselves. We as keepers provide the tools and conditions for the bees to control their mites. Find out how the bees work and let them do the work. Trust me- no one wants to control the mites more then the bees do, their lives depend on it.
The first thing to understand in managing mites in general is a Integrated Pest Management method, or IPM. Simply put, it is using more then one method of mite control, at the same time or consecutively. A single method alone may not be highly effective in controlling mites but in combination with other methods will make a difference.
For all of the following methods to work well the colony must sit on a correctly designed Screen Bottom Board. The SBB is literally and figuratively the foundation of a healthy colony. In a solid bottom board hive when a mite falls to the floor, it simply waits for a bee to come near, latches on to it and returns back up into the colony. In a SBB hive you don’t have to particularly kill the mites, just make them fall off the bees. The SBB separates the little bugs from the big bugs. Once a mite falls from the colony, for any reason and lands on the sliding board under the screen, it will die waiting for a bee that will never come. Depending on the study you read, anywhere from 5 to 40% of the mites in a colony fall naturally without any kind of treatment. Add the natural fall rate with any or all of the following methods and a keeper can give a colony a fighting chance of surviving Varroa mites.
Genetics:
Regionally bred queens and queens bred for mite resistance. Literally- the farther away from the genetics of commercially bred southern queens that you can get, the better.
Agitating the mites:
What we are trying to do with these next methods is “agitate” the mites on the bees. An agitated mite starts squirming, jumping and moving from one bee to another trying to escape the agitation. Then during the confusion and chaos, being knocked off and falling the screen floor.
Smoking the hive. When working with the bees add green Cedar sprigs to the smoker. The smudge has been found to significantly irritate mites.
Powdered sugar- pouring powdered sugar into the hive. Purportedly the fine powder agitates the mites and affects their ability to grip onto the bees.
Thyme plant shredded leaves and tiny twigs. Strip a large handful of leaves and sprigs off a living Thyme plant and spread it out on the tops of the frames in the top box on the hive. The bees will pull the Thyme through the hive to remove it, spreading Thyme oil throughout the hive. The oil of the Thyme plant is not only effective on Varroa mites is also active against both tracheal mite and chalkbrood. The most important weapon one can have in their Varroa mite arsenal is the Screen Bottom Board. Within seconds of sliding the bottom board out from under the screen the keeper can assess the level of mites in the hive. Quickly and easily monitoring the mite population and the effect of any treatment on them. I paint my sliding boards white to make counting the mites easier or one can use sticky paper on the sliding board.
It’s all about the bees- Ernie

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Ernie Schmidt

Together we are about to start down the path of Alternative Beekeeping. Each month I will discuss and share the joys, methods, philosophies, and realities of keeping bees in Top Bars and Warres, along with other different and unique hive styles and methods. There will be times I get straight to the point and other times I will meander about, but always remember - "It’s all about the bees"

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