Treating Your Bees with Natural Sources of Oxalic Acid

Treating Your Bees with Natural Sources of Oxalic Acid
I have treated my colonies that needed treatment with shredded Thyme leaves with satisfactory results. When using shredded Thyme herb plant leaves it is the thymol in the plant oils that affects the mites in the hive. There has been some recent encouraging reports of success in treating bee colonies for Varroa mites with oxalic acid from shredded rhubarb leaves. I have not tried the shedding Rhubarb leaves treatment yet, but have plans to try it with my next required treatment.
Many plants we grow and eat contain varying levels of naturally occurring oxalic acid. The highest levels of the oxalic acid is found in Rhubarb leaves. Similar high levels can be found in the plants Lamb’s Quarter and Sorrel. The levels of the acid in the Rhubarb leaves is too high for safe human consumption. It is however safe to handle and process the leaves under normal conditions. The second highest levels of oxalic acid is found in the older leaves of chard, spinach, and beet greens. If you have ever bit into older leaves of chard, spinach or beet greens, you would have found a sharp bitter taste on the tongue. That is the heighten level of the acid. However, that level in older vegetable greens is not at the toxic level to humans as Rhubarb.
The shredded leaf treatment works with the bee’s dislike for anything foreign in their hive. The colony will drag smaller pieces through the hive and out the entrance. After shredding leaves, either with your hands or chopping them up with a knife, remove any stems and large pieces too big or tough for the bees to chew up. Spread a couple of handfuls out over the top of the frames in the top box and close up the hive. Any pieces too big to carry or drag out are chewed up and torn apart in their attempt to remove them. Moisture and oils from the plant containing oxalic acid is spread throughout the hive during the cleaning out process. It is very important to remember that with natural sources of Varroa mite treatments we aren’t trying to kill the mites. We are trying to apply a level of irritate to the mites that makes them drop off and not have a high level of adverse affect on the bee’s health. The concept of natural treatments is to help the colony manage a tolerable level of mite population themselves. I treat using natural treatments for low and moderate levels of mites. Natural treatments for the most part are to help keep a healthy colony healthy. That is why a natural keeper must always be vigilant in monitoring mite levels. If you discover a colony with an out of control, critical level of mites as in a “Varroa Mite Bomb” this is serious. You will lose this colony if you do not do intensive care treatment- now! This is not the time to debate commercial or natural treating or what is healthy or not or even what your personal feelings are. You have no time and nothing to lose using a commercial treatment product- they are going to die if you don’t. In the area of fighting the Varroa mite, don’t think of yourself as just a beekeeper, think of yourself as a mite manager. Again as I have stated in past columns, a sliding bottom board screen floor under your hive is the foundation of successful mite treatments. A keeper must know if they need to treat or if a treatment method is working. A SBB is an important tool for monitoring the need and effect of any treatment method. Even if you use commercial miticide treatments SBB monitoring is invaluable for confirmation of treatment success. Every year I hear the same thing from keepers, “I treated my hives for mites and they died anyway.” I know I don’t let up on the virtues the SBB, but with something insidious and deadly as Vaorra mites you have to be able to closely monitor,(at any time) the level of the threat and treatment results.

“It’s all about the bees”- Ernie

How Varroa Mites Build Up Immunity to Commercial Miticides.

Why would I, as an Alternative beekeeping advocate, write about the use of commercial miticides? First and foremost for me personally, the most important thing is keeping bees alive.
Everyone’s bees. Also, I consider myself an intellectual Alternative keeper, in that, I wouldn’t “take anything off the table” in my pursuit to keep bees alive. Though I don’t use miticides- I will do everything I can to help keepers who do. Varroa mites have the ability to continuously built up resistance to commercial treatment products. Each new mite control product that comes on the market has a useful life of less then 10 years. It is not defects in the products. The products are effective when first introduced. The Varroa mite has developed a method of quickly building up an immunity to each new product. What exactly is happening that makes it possible for the mite to build up resistance so quickly with every new product? It’s predictable, it’s coming, it is going happening. Producing another form of miticide produces another population of immune mites. Developing new miticides doesn’t solve the resistance problem. What is the process that breeds populations of super mites that build up an immunity to each new product introduced by the beekeeper? Once we find the mechanics of the immunity build up process, we can develop methods of management that prevent that process. If we as beekeepers can “short circuit” the mechanics of the immunity process it would enhance the effect and efficiency of any treatment to control Varroa mites.
In treated hives, over 40% of the mites that fall to the bottom board are still alive. 1. They received what is referred to as a sub-lethal dose of miticide. The mites got enough of a dose to temporarily incapacitate them but not kill them. This segment of the mite population recover on the floor of a solid bottom board hive, reattach to bees approaching near them, and return back up into the colony. Mites receiving and surviving sub-lethal doses of a miticide, returning back into the hive and breeding generation after generation build up an immunity to that miticide.
One way of “short circuiting” the immunity process is using screen bottom boards. SBB’s are literally and figuratively the foundation of a hive as part of a Integrated Pest Management program. Screen bottom boards must be constructed correctly and used correctly to provide the most benefit as an enhancement to treatments and the prevention of mite immunity buildup. Most treatments work best in an enclosed hive so a SBB with a sliding board under the screen is more desired then an open screen floor. The 40% of mites still alive after receiving a sub-lethal doses of miticide fall through the screen, are unable to reattach to a bee, and die on the sliding board under the screen. Mites looking to reattach to a bee can sense bees within 1 inch away. It is important to construct SBB’s with the sliding board an inch and a half or more below the screen. Live mites that fall to the sliding board beyond “sensing” distance will wander aimlessly on the board for a short time looking for a bee, then sit and die waiting for a bee. Sticky boards can be used on SBB’s with sliding boards closer then one and a half inch to the screen during treatments. The sliding board SSB is also a valuable tool to the beekeeper for easily monitoring mite populations and observing the need for and efficiency of treatments.

1. Chapleau, J.P. Experimentation of an Anti-Varroa Screened Bottom Board in Context of Developing an Integrated Pest Management Strategy for Varroa Infested Honeybees in the Province of Quebec (2002)

Capitol Honey Bee Project Update

In spring of 2016, two honey bee hives were installed on the grounds of the Governor’s mansion in Olympia. Both hives began collecting pollen and nectar from local blossoms, carrying it back to their new “homes.” As the Olympia Beekeepers Association project team continued to check on their progress, one of the hives demonstrated signs of a problem with its queen.

For a honey bee colony to thrive, the queen must lay at least 1,000 eggs per day during the spring and summer months. The queen was not producing enough eggs and hive failure was inevitable without intervention.

New queen

Introducing a new queen to a bee colony can be tricky. The existing bees are used to their original queen’s pheromone, or signature scent. If the existing bees do not accept the new queen, she will be killed and the colony will collapse. Despite using techniques to ensure the new queen’s success, it took multiple trials to get the failing hive back on track.

Both hives continued to bring in nectar and create honey throughout the summer months, the bees’ winter survival food. The team was hopeful that the bees had built up their population enough to make it through the winter. Both colonies had also been treated for varroa mites - an external parasite that attacks honey bees. Monitoring for the hives showed the treatment had been successful.

Monitoring and results

In late December, an opportunity to peek into the hives to observe activity level and food supply presented itself. In the mansion hives, plenty of honey was observed but sadly, no sign of bee life.  

Beekeepers monitor hives to troubleshoot and intervene when conditions require assistance to ensure the bees’ survival. These hives were carefully monitored and supported since their installation. A single cause of failure could not be identified.

The cause was likely a combination of factors, such as: difficulty finding suitable plants for foraging (particularly when conditions get hot and dry and food sources are limited); pesticide or herbicide exposure or nectar, pollen or water that had been contaminated with pesticides; or some other unknown factor.

Hive survival trends

Many other beekeepers are observing similar fates to their hives. While the colony loss numbers for 2016-17 are still forthcoming, beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies in 2015-16. The Olympia Beekeepers Association losses were at 48 percent in the same time frame.

Honey bee colony loss is no longer just a beekeeper’s problem. Washington State has a vibrant and vital agricultural economy. Honey bee and pollinator losses, should they continue at these high levels, will have an impact on our agricultural economy. This impact could potentially affect the cost and variety of food that is produced.

What’s next

Two new honey bee colonies were installed at the Governor’s Mansion on April 21. Working in collaboration with the Governor and Mrs. Inslee and the Department of Enterprise Services, the Olympia Beekeepers Association will monitor the hives throughout the coming months. The public is encouraged to support a healthy environment to help the bees thrive.

Honey bees are interested in pollen and nectar, and not people. You are not likely to get stung by a honey bee unless you step on it, threaten its home or swat at it. Honey bees forage for their food as they look for flowers and weeds (like dandelion and clover) within a four-mile radius from their hive location.

What you can do

People who live on or manage property near the Capitol Campus can avoid spraying nearby plants with pesticide or herbicide. Doing so can be problematic because one honey bee can sip the nectar of a hundred flowers on a single foraging trip, carrying a toxic load back to its hive. Considering there are tens of thousands of bees in each hive, this can produce both long and short-term toxicity and destroy the entire colony. Pesticide exposure can also kill bees outright.

You can choose to be bee-friendly by planting things like various herbs and flowers, growing fruit trees and berries, letting the dandelions and clover grow in your lawn, naturalizing with native plants, and replacing noxious weeds with plants suitable for bees. Their survival in the long-term is a problem we all need to have a hand in turning around.

March, 2017 – Meeting Minutes

Secretary’s Report Olympia Beekeepers Association Meeting March 13, 2017

Meeting called to order at 7:05 p.m.

Treasurers report: 13.08 cash, $4,569.25 in savings, and $3,205.36 in checking. Minutes from February meeting approved.

A few members report they are still not getting club emails.  Nathan suggests subscribing through website, and to check spam folders as well.

Old Business:   

Hands on Children Museum is hoping to have us there over spring break, and beyond.  If weather is nice, bring observation hive.  Set up table with outreach materials.  Interact with kids and their families.  Need volunteers - 2 offered at meeting, will probably need more!  

Another reminder about upcoming event sponsored by WSU.  Held in Seattle at the Moore Theater on March 29th, for more information and registration details go to http://bees.wsu.edu/seattle/.  Paul Stamets and Louie Schwartzberger will be speaking on "Mushrooms and the Mycology of Consciousness: Helping Bees, Trees, People and Planet."  Ticket sales go to honeybee research, $25 plus tax/fees.  Also, Portland Beekeepers are bringing Michael Fields for a talk this Saturday the 18th.

Paul, Mechele, and Laurie went to the inaugural beekeeping summit sponsored by the Sustainability in Prisons Project.  (Besides beekeeping, they also have programs involving native butterflies, frogs, and the prairies.)  Great program we are proud to support.

New Business:

Package bees now for sale for club members.  Packages will be arriving on April 19th, and pickup will be on April 20th.  Now is the time to get the hive ready!

If you'd like to see how a package install works, will be installing 2 packages in hives at the pickup location at around 3pm.  Order your packages by the end of the month!

Elections will take place at next month's meeting.  All positions up for election, including President.  Laurie will be taking next year off - thank you for all you've done for the club the last few years!  Treasurer and Membership Chair are willing to serve again next year, Secretary position open.  Mark Emrich nominated from the floor for president.

Chair reports:

Membership Chair Duane McBride - we currently have about 156 paid members, dozen more tonight.

Mentor Chairs Roger and Kitty - Could still use a few more mentors - the list they have is from 2013.

Education Chair Bob Smith - Handed out certificates for our new apprentice beekeepers.  Congratulations everyone!  Also, if anyone else would be interested in teaching the beginner class, he would be happy to hand it over.  We were also pleased to present Bob Smith with honorary Master Beekeeper certification from The WA State Master Beekeepers.

Native Pollinator Glenn - Native Pollinators group meets the last Monday in April at Traditions Cafe, 7pm.  No program yet for this month.  He brought mason bee cocoons for sale, and will also be selling them at Eastside Urban Farm and Garden.

Misc:  Dixon reminding us all to start getting those honey jars ready now for the county fair.  You'll need 3 queenline jars.  

Walter brought a pollen trap for show and tell that he built.  Good weekend project for any woodworkers out there.

The sustainability group that has been meeting at the same time as the apprentice class is wondering about how they should organize.  Part of OBA, their own group?  

If you would like to be on the swarm list, let us know.  Phone number is 360-515-1068.  When you're available, your approximate location, and how high you're willing to go.  

Break, then Charles Schaffer speaker.  He discussed packages and where they come from, mite treatment, etc.

Meeting adjourned at 9:00 pm.