Sunday, February 24, 2013

My battle with the Varroa!

Perhaps there is no greater threat to the health of a honey bee colony than an infestation of Varroa mites. They are responsible for acting as a vector for spreading disease – maybe even related to the spread of nosema cerenae. Some evidence I've read points to this pathogen as the cause of CCD. However, there is much debate and on-going research on this.

There are many products and treatments that have been introduced lately that help. However, I am committed to using natural methods. Some of these treatments involve chemistry that intuitively tells me that it's dangerous for the bees. Plus, they are usually costly. Many folks would argue that the 'chemical treatments' are worth it because if you lose a hive, well.... that is pretty darn costly as well!

I get that and I understand.

But this is where some simple and low cost methods may prove to be just as effective if not more so.

This is where the 1/8ths inch screen comes into play. 

By using this screen, the bees can walk across it but if the nasty varroa mite adult falls off while moving from one bee to another, it will fall through the screen and not be able to breed and continue the infestation. From some studies that I've read, this eliminates 30 – 40 % of the mites making the 'load' manageable with a strong hive.

There is no way for the varroa mite to develop a 'resistance' to this mechanical type of treatment. I also think the development of hygienic breeding stock will help. I currently am breeding a line of bees that have a Russian/Carnolian genetic background. They are very successful here and I've had great luck with them and overwintering. I'm looking forward to rearing more queens this spring using some of the hygienic Carnolian/Caucasian as breeding drones from Washington State University stock.

For more tips and techniques - please see Ross Conrad's excellent book on Natural Beekeeping.  It is a great resource and it will certainly give you some ideas for dealing with this and other hive pests. 

Click here to see these 'hygienic bees' fighting off the Varroa:

I feel the combination of these two things, 'hygienic' bees with the Russian genetics AND the use of varroa screens, will provide the greatest - most long lasting strategy for dealing with this darn pest.

Construction Tips:

The screen is the most expensive part of this. I figured it cost me about .50 cents for the screen. I bought a large roll of it and cut them to fit my 8 frame equipment. Using a brad nailer, simply cut some ¼ pine stock strips and apply them so that your super will 'stand off' from the base of the screen. This will allow your bees to move freely across the bottom of your hive – just below the frames. 

I am also a believer in using a bottom entrance – so I make an allowance for that too. This is a small-ish entrance that allows for ventilation and is easy to guard when Yellow Jacket season comes along.

I used my 2 inch staple nailer to apply 3 strips of waste wood to act as a base. This is handy for when I use my hand truck to move populated supers. My back always thanks me for this!

Have a good day and please don't hesitate to share your ideas too!

We'll talk about my outer or 'weather' covers next week.

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