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Post new topic   Reply to topic    beekeeping forum -> Bee health: the treatment (or not) of bee pests and diseases
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New Bee

Joined: 03 Aug 2017
Posts: 8
Location: Buckinghamshire

PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2017 9:40 am    Post subject: Undecided Reply with quote

Hi All,

Last night, I attended an apiary visit organised by my local club. The presentations were divided between queen bee supersedure and dealing with varroa.

With regard to varroa, two treatments, and the pros and cons of each, were discussed and demonstrated: the application of Apiguard, and the application of MAQS.

Somebody asked whether treating for varroa was necessary, if the mite count for a colony was low. The (very nice) guy giving the demos first answered that it was up to the individual beek, but that treating with either Apiguard or MAQS was something that he routinely did moving into autumn to "knock the varroa back". A few minutes later, he asserted that it was actually a beekeeping "rule" to treat.

The same guy acknowledged that MAQS put a huge strain on the bees - which we witnessed - and said that he'd lost three queens last year, owing to the treatment. He also said that bees "hate" Apiguard".

I came away feeling very uneasy, and I don't know what to do. The varroa count for my single colony seems low to me at the moment, though I am very inexperienced. My plan was that I would not treat, unless it seemed absolutely necessary. But, apparently, I'd be breaking the rules.

I'd welcome some advice.

I am sure that posts like this pop up all the time, so sorry for not taking the time to search through the forum for answers.

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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2017 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Mel

There are many of us that don't treat and we are not breaking any rules, other than perhaps a "rule of thumb" used by conventional beekeepers that routinely treat their bees annually, either with the treatments mentioned in your post at this time of year or oxalic acid treatment in winter.

If you feel that your hive does not have a significant problem with varroa mites then I would follow your instinct. A am not against treating for varroa (I have in the past and I know that my bees would not have survived if I had not) but I am against routine treating "just in case". This is the same mentality that pumps antibiotics into our farm animals without due regard for if they are necessary. It weakens immune systems and creates resistance. I have not treated my bees with any medication for 6 years now and I am not losing colonies to varroa mites. That said, if I felt that one was becoming overrun, I do still have some Apiguard that I would consider using, but you are right it does stress the bees and they do hate it.... you would too if someone put a big blob of it in your house.

How was your colony started this year? If it was created using a swarm, then they would normally be fine for varroa in their first year anyway. If it was a nucleus colony then there is a higher risk of varroa getting out of control in their first year, but if you are monitoring mite drop, you can clearly keep an eye on that. Are you using foundation in your frames or just starter strips? If the former, then I would urge you to consider transitioning to starter strips instead next year so that the bees can build cells to the size that they wish, including drone brood.
Foundation causes the cell size to more or less be "fixed" because of it's embossed profile. This size foundation was created about 100years ago by a Belgian guy who had the bright idea that bigger bees would make more honey.... and he was probably right.... but bigger is not always better. Of course Varroa was not a problem for our bees in those days. Varroa mites original host is Apis cerana which is a smaller bee and the mite targets the drone cells to breed in which are larger. With foundation comb, firstly drone brood is suppressed by the use of foundation itself and secondly the larger worker cells are able to adequately accommodate the varroa for breeding purposes. There is a school of thought that if we can regress our bees back to their small cell size, they will be more resistant to varroa and perhaps the mites will return to just targeting drone brood which may be less debilitating to the bees.
There is another school of thought that if varroa mites are treated each year, they never build up to a level where the bees recognise the threat and learn to deal with it or the host/parasite relationship reaches some sort of equilibrium..... some bees have developed what is referred to as hygienic behaviour and recognise when a brood cell has been infested with Varroa and abort and remove the pupa, thus preventing an increase in varroa levels.

Swarming creates a brood break during which the varroa cannot breed (they can only reproduce in brood cells, where the developing mites have a protected environment sealed in the cell, living off the developing bee pupae. So the varroa mite population naturally drops at a point where it may be reaching critical levels in the colony. Conventional beekeepers do their utmost to prevent swarming because it reduces the bee population and that adversely affects the honey harvest.... so by this time of year their varroa mite levels in their hives are usually getting out of control and would most likely decimate the colony going into winter.

So, there are a number of things that you can do to help tip the scale in favour of your bees being able to survive treatment free with varroa, but nothing is guaranteed and you have to observe and learn from your own experience and perhaps by reading the likes of this forum, also learn from others experience.

I wish you luck but please don't feel pressured into treating if what you are observing and your gut instinct, tell you that you don't need to.

Best wishes

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Golden Bee

Joined: 31 May 2010
Posts: 1551
Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2017 7:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi, I also haven't treated for quite a few years. Doesn't mean I will never treat however.

Apigard treatment makes use of the fact that the bees hate it as they spread it around the hive in their efforts to get rid of it!

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New Bee

Joined: 03 Aug 2017
Posts: 8
Location: Buckinghamshire

PostPosted: Sat Aug 19, 2017 4:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Barbara,

Thanks once again for a detailed reply.

I bought my bees as a 5-frame nuc from a guy fairly local to me. They are on foundation mostly - there is wild comb on the bottom of the original five frames, because my brood box was a deep one (accident, not design - I hadn't realised that the nuc was on standard frames). Encouraged by my mentor, I removed drone cone from the bottom of one of frames and examined the pupae for mites - a low count. I loathed removing the comb, and regret it, having done some more reading about the importance of drones. I don't yet know how to use strips of foundation; my attempts to do this were a mess!

I don't understand the argument about smaller cells helping to reduce varroa. Don't the pupae develop to reach the capacity of the cell? If so, even in bigger cells produced on foundation, there won't be any additional room for varroa mite. I thought the varroa were attracted to drone comb cells because drones take longer to pupate. Maybe I am missing something.

Since I'm not motivated by harvesting honey, I find your comments about swarms and varroa control very interesting. There is so much to learn!

My gut instinct is that my bees don't need treating, but I have to confess that I haven't opened up the hive for inspection every week, or even looked at the bottom board every week. I quickly felt that my inspections were stressing the bees, so I slackened off a bit. The only time I really intervened was to correct the bee space in the hive, as comb-building had become erratic. However, I do pop over to the hive several times a week to have a peep at the hive entrance to make sure all looks well.

I am going to inspect in the next couple of days, so we'll see. If I think they need treating, then I'll do it. My mentor is giving me Thymol crystals. I would also consider Apiguard, but I don't think I'd use MAQS. Perhaps I would if the situation was desperate.

Dave - thanks for your reply. Yes, we were told that the bees spread Apiguard around the hive precisely because they loathe it! I hope that, like you and Barbara, I will have to treat my bees rarely, if ever.

Cheers both,
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New Bee

Joined: 03 Aug 2017
Posts: 8
Location: Buckinghamshire

PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2017 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Six weeks ago, doing a Varroa count, I spotted a small number of mites, and decided to lightly sprinkle the brood frames with icing sugar. A fortnight later, I did another full inspection and noticed nothing untoward - except during the Varroa drop inspection. There were a large number of mites. However, they were all dead, as far as I could see.

A fortnight later, I did another drop count. Again, a large number of mites. All dead.

My mentor has given me some Thymol to add to feed, but (a) I don't know whether to use it and (b) I don't know whether it would be practical. There's super on the hive with about 9 frames of honey stores.

Advice? If I'm to treat I guess I am going to have to get on with it very soon.

Thanks, M.
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Quality Top Bar Hives by Andrew Vidler

Conserving wild bees

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