Bee Questions: Mites, Queen Loss, & Ants!

Posted by Jennifer Radtke on Aug 9th 2018

Hi Beekeepers!

August through October is the most stressful time for bees in the Bay Area. It is critical to inspect every two weeks and mite test. If you are going out of town for 2-3 weeks, inspect/test right before you leave and then again when you return. If you take care of mites, your hives will not only survive but thrive for many years. My hives from swarms I caught in 2015 are still alive and well (thanks to Alfonso, Christine, & Marianne who now have them).

I had questions about mites and queen loss this newsletter, so that is what I'm going to talk about. First, here are our upcoming classes:

FREE BEE CLINIC - How to Do the SUGAR ROLL TEST for varroa mites!

Monday, Aug. 13th, 6-7pm

@ the BioFuel Oasis

Worker-owner Kelsey will show you how to do the sugar roll test, so you can accurately assess your mite level. He'll also answer questions about mites at the end.

SEPTEMBER BEE CLASSES + a November Mead Class

BEE QUESTIONS?

Do you have a bee question in general or about your hive? I will pick a few questions to answer next week. Here is our blog with past questions answered. If you have an urgent or more in-depth question, email me to set up a phone consultation.

Email your question to: askjenniferbee@gmail.com

VARROA MITE TESTING

Come to our free bee clinic (above) to see the sugar roll test demonstrated. You can also watch this video of me doing it. After you do it about 3 times, you get your process down and it's no problem. It helps to have a partner to do it with, so you can stay calm. We sell a testing kit with instructions at the BioFuel Oasis for $11.99.

How often? Test every 2-3 weeks from mid-July to October.

Why so often? My mite levels have gone from 12 mites to 24 mites in 10 days. They rise quickly. Low mites = healthy bees.

What level do I treat at? I treat when the level gets to 15 mites on the sugar roll test. This means 15 mites out of 300 bees. Note that some sites (like the Mite-a-thon which happens Sept. 8-15) talk about mite levels per 100 bees (not 300 bees). For the Mite-a-thon you would divide your sugar roll test result (per 300 bees) by 3 to get the mite number per 100 bees. Therefore for the Mite-a-thon, you would report 5 (not 15). Why do scientists need to make things more confusing?

How do I treat? I recommend treating with 1 strip of Mite Away with levels of 10-19 mites. If you have 20+ mites, then do 1 strip Mite Away. Wait 7 days, remove the old strip and replace with 1 strip again. Using this method, I have gotten levels of 40 mites per 300 bees down to 0-5 mites.

What about 2 strips of Mite Away? I haven't used 2 strips of Mite Away in 4 years. It is much harder on the bees and since I get excellent results with using 1 strip at a time, there seems no reason to use it. I stopped using it because it killed my queen. Plus, the morning after applying it, your entire front entrance is covered with dead bees, which is a sad sight for a backyard beekeeper to see.

Mite question from Carla:

We checked for mites this weekend and, sadly, we have them. We didn't do the sugar roll test because we saw 4 mites on bees backs during the inspection. I can't say for sure but my guess is that corresponds to a pretty high number in the hive over all (we only barely went through our bottom box). Should we use Mite Away?

Answer:

When I see mites on the backs of bees, that usually means 40-50 mites/300 bees, so yes, a very high level. I'd recommend putting 1 strip of Mite Away on and then 7 days later (or 7-10 days later if you can't do 7) take the old strip off and put 1 strip of Mite Away on again in it's place. Test for mites with the sugar roll test 2-3 weeks after putting on the 2nd strip. Normally you will want to put the strip on top of the lowest box with brood. I assume that you have brood in your bottom box, so you will want to put the strip across the bars of that box. Mite Away is quite effective against mites, so it is likely not too late, but I would get the first strip on as soon as you can.

If you see a few bees with deformed wing virus, in my experience I've seen that correlate to about 20 mites on the sugar roll test. You want to catch the mite level before you see deformed wing virus (20 mites) or mites on the bees (40+ mites). This is why you want to regularly do the sugar roll test. Keeping your mite levels below 15 mites at all times keeps your bees with lower viruses (transmitted by the mites) and much healthier bees.

QUEEN PROBLEMS

There seem to be a lot of queen problems this year. I'm not sure if people are just inspecting and able to see brood better and so are catching this, or if queen failure is on the rise.

Queen question from Alex:

I got two hives from BO over the years and just saw that in my new of my two hives the queen died and there's no more larvae at all.

Should I try to get a new queen? Is it too late? There's still plenty of bees...

Answer:

If you inspect your hive and don't see larvae (or any brood), you don't have a queen, or at least one laying. Your hive could have swarmed (the old queen leaves) or the queen could just have died/been injured. Bees excel at replacing queens, so it's likely that they are in the process of making a new queen, which takes 4-5 weeks. A new queen will hatch out 12-16 days later, then have two weeks of mating, and then lay within a week of mating. Often for 2 weeks there will be no brood present in the hive.

If you don't see brood in the hive:

  1. Inspect 1 week later for brood. If none, inspect 1 week after that. It is likely you will see brood and they've made a new queen.
    If no brood still, it is likely the hive now has laying workers. Laying workers can't fertilize eggs, so they can only lay drones. If you see small patches of brood and the only capped brood is drone brood, then your hive has gone laying worker. You can combine it with another hive with newspaper OR you can do step 2 below.
  2. If you are impatient and worried about your bees and if they are really going to make a queen or not, you can skip to this step instead of Step 1. You can put a frame with eggs/larvae (basically uncapped brood which will likely have eggs) into the hive. Then, inspect that frame 1 week later. Look carefully for capped queen cells on the frame. If there are some, they are making a new queen. If there are none, the bees think they have a queen and she is likely in the process of mating. If you have laying worker and you don't see queen cells on this frame. Repeat this process 1-2 more times until you see queen cells. The pheremone of uncapped brood represses laying workers and should enable the bees to make a queen.

Note: Much advice for laying worker is to shake out all the frames of bees (including laying worker) across the yard, leaving them to die. I have never done this with laying workers. I have combined them with a big, strong hive with newspaper inbetween or I have added frames of eggs and they've made a queen, usually after only 1 frame.

ANTS LOVE HONEY TOO

Look for ants crawling up your hive and stop them! If you are going out of town, make sure you have ant control on your hive. We sell diatomaceous earth, Tangletrap, and ant-proof metal stands. Simple water moats also work. I'll go into more detail next email.

Check out my Instagram for photos and tips I post throughout the year.

May your bees thrive!

Jennifer

Beekeeper, BioFuel Oasis