Sunday, January 26, 2014

Think Spring: Sampling Varroa Mites Using a Powdered Sugar Shake

The varroa mites sampling jar
is your first line of defense against the varroa mites 
Whether you are just starting or you've been keeping bees for a while, you've heard about the varroa destructor. Some of the first questions that get asked when discussing an ailing hive are:

  • When was your last treatment for varroa mites?
  • What was your last varroa mites count?
Varroa mites have dramatically decreased overall hive survival and are responsible either as a direct cause or as a virus vector for the majority of beehive deaths in the last 20 years or so.

At this point a lot of you, my readers, may decide to stop reading, because you are planning on having treatment-free or natural bees. Well, I have been able to to keep bees without using treatments since 2009 and I still think that keeping an eye on your varroa mites levels is very important, especially if you are planning on going treatment free or using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. I plan on describing how I ended up with treatment-free honey bees in one of my future blog posts, so make sure to subscribe to my posts from the "Follow me by email" link on the left.

Back to my point, sampling varroa mites is an important management tool and the easiest way to accomplish this is to use a powdered sugar shake on a 300 or so honey bee sample. The pros are many:
  • It is simple and straight-forward
  • It does not kill bees. This is extremely important since for the best results, the bees need to be from the brood nest and in this way you can avoid killing the queen by accident.
  • It is quick and most of all, you probably already have all the ingredients for it at home.
First, we need to make the sampling jar. For this you will need:
  • a piece of mosquito screen
  • a small (10 oz or similar) jar
  • a lid that fits the jar
For the sampling jar shown above, I used a small peanut butter jar and a small canning lid. I did not want to use a regular canning jar, since I was afraid of breaking it.
The mosquito screen insert

I used the lid as a template in order to cut the insert and voila! my varroa mites sampling jar was all done!

To facilitate the measuring of the honey bee sample, I also made a mark at the 1/2 cup fill point. In this way, I will be able to tell when I have approximately 300 bees to sample for varroa mites.

For the actual test, you will also need 1 rounded teaspoon (tsp) of powdered sugar for each sample and a (preferably white) container into which to dump the sugar and the mites.

Unfortunately, since we're not going to have a high above 20F for the next 2 weeks and it is still a couple of months before Spring, I won't be able to show you how to use your new varroa mites sampling jar for a while. Meanwhile, you can tell me in the comments what varroa sampling methods you use.