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Controlling Varroa mites is done using both commercial and homemade products. It is important to ensure you do not incur losses due to Varroa mite infestation. Using homemade Varroa mite treatment alternatives are just as effective as using commercially produced products sold through various outlets. This article will guide you on how to successfully use homemade solutions to gain back control of your apiary. If you have been struggling with Varroa mite control and are looking towards homemade treatments, then this article is for you.
Categories of Homemade Varroa Mite Treatment
Homemade Varroa mite treatments can be put into four broad categories. They are:
- Natural Varroa mite control
- Chemical-free treatment options
- Powdered sugar treatments
- Mineral oil Varroa mite treatments
Each of these treatments has its advantages and shortcomings as you are about to learn. The advantage is that they are all effective and easy to put into use. Both professional and amateur beekeepers can use them since they are not too complex.
The risk posed to bees by these homemade treatments for Varroa mite control is also quite low in comparison to solutions you buy from commercial sellers. Homemade treatments kill Varroa mites that are already in the hive and can be used for long enough to pose significant threats to mites that are hatching from already laid eggs.
Natural Varroa Mite Control
Natural Varroa mite control methods rely on best beekeeping practices. They greatly reduce the chances of Varroa mite infestations taking hold in your beehive. Here are the main natural beekeeping practices that you can use as part of your homemade Varroa mite control program.
1. Breeding Mite-Resistant Bees
Some bee breeds show resistance to Varroa mites. These bee breeds are generally more hygienic and succeed at controlling infestations. Bee breeds that are considered resistant to Varroa mites show increased brushing behavior that leads to mites being removed off the back of bees. They also bite the mites off each other in the bee colony. This way, these bee breeds keep the population of mites in the hive low.
Things to Note:
- The mite population rarely manages to get to levels where it is significant and can impact your beekeeping results.
- Breeding locally adapted bees is a long-term measure. It is however negated by the fact that bees with increased hygienic behavior also tend to swarm more often.
2. Monitoring Honey Bees to take Early Action
Vigilance is the beekeepers’ first line of defense against mites. You should be especially watchful of Varroa mites on drone brood. Always keep an eye out during hive inspections. In addition to checking for mites on brood, look for mites attached to adult bees. You may also see mites wandering around in the beehive. If you notice a mite infestation in its early stages, it is easier to take control measures. Noticing deformed wings on your bees is a sign that the mite population is too high.
3. Splitting Colonies
Every once in a while, split your honey bee colonies. This slows down brood production in honey bees. As a result, it reduces the rate at which mites reproduce in the hive. Mites are entirely dependent on brood production for the success of their life-cycle. Beekeepers have successfully killed out Varroa mite populations by the simple action of splitting hives. You may sell off the bees from your split colony or use them to start new beehives in your apiary.
4. Using Screened Bottom Boards
The use of screened bottom boards attracts love and hate in equal measure. Proponents of screened bottom boards cite better hive ventilation and Varroa mite control. Beekeepers against the practice claim that the hive may get too cold. Using a screened bottom board in your hive allows mites to drop to the ground. This is especially useful when bees brush off Varroa mites from their backs, or the backs of each other. With a solid bottom board, mites brushed off bees remain in the hive and will definitely climb back onto adult bees.
If you are practicing beekeeping in areas where it can get too cold, you can use screened bottom boards in your hives during the warm seasons. Switch to solid bottom boards in the cold seasons especially in winter.
At 47 ºC (116.6 ºF), Varroa mites begin dying. They cannot stand the high temperature. Bees easily withstand this temperature for economically significant periods of time. It allows you as the beekeeper to kill off mites while leaving your honeybees unharmed. To achieve this rather high temperature in your hive, you may use a special heating chamber. Once a year, pour your bees into the chamber and watch as the mites get wiped out.
An alternative to having a heating chamber is painting your beehive boxes a dark color. As darker colors absorb heat, this makes the hive hotter than usual and helps with mite control. Do this only a few times per year. Some high temperature may kill the brood, but it is worth the gains you make in Varroa mite control.
6. Using Smaller Foundation Cells
Small cells leave little room for mites to grow together with your hive brood. You can intentionally have small foundation frames in your hive to achieve this. The option to this is doing away with foundation on your frames. Bees will then make their cells to a natural size that is not very welcoming to mites. You will see the mite population fall. This can be used in combination with another natural method of Varroa mite control to completely remove mites from the beehive.
7. Trapping Mites using Drone Foundation Sheet
Varroa mites show preference to drone brood. This behavioral characteristic can be successfully used against the mites to control them. To trap Varroa mites, have a drone foundation sheet in the hive. Wait for your honeybees to draw out the cells and cap them. Next, freeze the frame for a period of between 26 and 30 hours.
Things to note:
- The drone brood and mites will all die.
- Of course, you can reuse the foundation sheet, and you will not have crippled the honeybee colony.
- This natural homemade Varroa mite treatment can be used throughout the year.
Alternatively, you could build your own mite trap using a deep frame with boards on each side. The boards prevent bees from accessing the frame, but mites will get on it. Sticky paper at the bottom of the frame allows you to catch a large numbers of mites.
- You may use some methyl palmitate to attract the mites.
- Change the sticky paper once in mid-summer and remove the trap frame in August.
Chemical Free Varroa Mite Treatment Options
In the category of natural Varroa mite control methods, you have already learned about a few that do not put chemicals to use. Chemical-free treatment options for Varroa mite control aim to produce honey that is pure. Chemicals can remain as residues in honey and beeswax for significantly long periods of time. Beekeepers using chemical free treatment options as part of their integrated pest management system harvest high-quality beehive products. These products easily fetch higher prices in the market, compared to others.
There are two highly effective methods of chemical-free treatment for Varroa mites that every beekeeper should know about. The first is the use of essential oils in homemade Varroa mite treatment. This puts to use the mint and thyme essential oils (there are others, but for this article we’ll only focus on those two). The other effective method relies on mechanical mite control. The best is the homemade bee grooming aid.
1. Using Mint and Thyme Essential oils
Mint and thyme essential oils have shown a lot of efficiency in killing Varroa mites. In their pure form, and unmixed with any other chemical, these oils cause mites to fall off honey bees and not climb back. The use of these two essential oils is safe for beekeepers even when they have honey supers on their beehives.
Essential oils dissipate quickly from the hive. They do not seep into beeswax or honey. Additionally, essential oils have an effect on thoracic mites. This advantage over many other Varroa mite control methods has led to increased popularity of essential oils among beekeepers. Both professional and beginner beekeepers can use essential oils to control mites in their beehives and apiaries.
Applying Essential Oils to your Hives
- To apply essential oils as your homemade Varroa mite treatment method, you need a few strips of absorbent material.
- Soak the material in the essential oil of your choice and leave the strips between your beehive frames.
- Use enough strips per beehive depending on the number of boxes you have. The strips should remain in the hive for at least 3 days, but not more than a week.
Repeat treatment after 3 weeks is great to deal with newly emerged mites. Beekeepers using essential oils for Varroa mite control should have screened bottom boards in their beehives. They allow mites to fall through to the ground and make hive cleaning easier for bees.
Passive use of Thyme and Mint Mite Treatment
For passive use of essential oils to control Varroa mites, you may plant mint or thyme plants near your beehives. With a large apiary, this could be in small regular patches spread out over the entire apiary. Bees will passively come into contact with essential oils of the plants when they are out foraging. It helps to keep the population of mites in your entire apiary constantly low.
2. Using Bee Grooming Aids
Beekeepers can make various bee grooming aids that help bees rid themselves of Varroa mites. Bee grooming aids promote the effectiveness of natural honeybee grooming behavior. Place these aids at the entrance of your hive for best results. Most bee grooming aids for chemical free Varroa mite control feature surfaces such as a wire or flippers. Beekeepers can also try out other surfaces that bees can use to remove Varroa mites from their backs.
Things to Note:
- Due to the removal of live, healthy mites from the bee’s back, it is best to use a screened bottom board with homemade bee grooming aids.
- Bee grooming aids are capable of keeping the mite population in your beehive low. They can do this for extended periods of time when used well.
Using Powdered Sugar for Varroa Mite Treatments
Powdered sugar is one of the most effective homemade Varroa mite treatments. It acts in two distinct ways to help control Varroa mites in bee colonies. First, the sugar acts as a lubricating agent. Mites find it difficult climbing onto and attaching to bees. They fall off the bees and can then be removed from the hive.
The second way powdered sugar helps in Varroa mite control is by encouraging grooming. The bees feel uncomfortable about having sugar all over their bodies. They groom themselves and each other upon application of the powdered sugar. In the process, they remove attached mites.
Things to Note when Applying Sugar to Beehives
- Using powdered sugar often requires you to make your own powdered sugar.
- The sugar you may buy in form of powder, especially confectioner’s sugar contains starch. Honeybees’ digestive systems do not take kindly to starch.
- While confectioner’s sugar can be used in exception to this rule in warm seasons, do not use it in cold seasons.
- To make your own powdered sugar, pulverize the regular granulated white cane sugar you use at home. You only need ½ a cup of this sugar for every beehive box.
How to Use Powdered Sugar to Treat Varroa Mites
Apply powdered sugar on the uppermost box of your beehive. Use a treatment screen to allow even distribution of sugar through the beehive frames. The screen is made by pulling an 8-mesh hardware cloth tight over a frame. It keeps bees from exiting the hive via the top during your application of powdered sugar. It also helps with even distribution of the powdered sugar. If bees start leaving via the top of the hive, use your smoker.
The equipment and tools you need for Varroa mite treatment using powdered sugar include: a bee smoker, safety clothing including beekeeping suit and gloves, Varroa treatment screen, paintbrush and a sticky board. These are in addition to a blender for pulverizing the granulated white cane sugar.
Run the blender at low speed and only have ½ a cup of the sugar in it. If you run the blender at a faster speed, or have more than ½ a cup in the blender, you risk burning the sugar.
A paint brush comes in very handy when applying powdered sugar homemade Varroa mite treatment. It is great for spreading sugar out once you have poured it out onto the Varroa treatment screen you are using.
If you are not sure about even distribution of sugar in lower boxes, you may remove some upper boxes and inspect the beehive. In most cases anyway, you will have only two beehive boxes when doing Varroa mite treatment. It is not good to carry out treatments with honey supers on your beehive stack. Make sure that all bees have come into contact with the powdered sugar.
Does Powdered Sugar remain for long in Beehives?
The powdered sugar you use will run through the hive and go to the bottom. Too much residual powdered sugar in the hive is not good. While applying this homemade Varroa mite treatment, make sure to use a screened bottom board. It allows the powdered sugar to fall to the ground. This is alongside mites that will be falling from off the bees.
Be careful about ants attacking your hive due to use of powdered sugar. They will be attracted to the hive due to the presence of the sugar. To prevent ants from figuring out there is a beehive, leave a sticky board under the beehive you are treating with powdered sugar. Empty the sticky board frequently, more so immediately after application of powdered sugar.
Using Mineral Oil to Treat Varroa Mites
Mineral oil is applied as Varroa mite treatment in a process called fogging. The oil used is best if it is food grade. Using food grade oil allows you to treat your hive while still having honey supers stacked onto the hive. Using this homemade Varroa mite treatment, you only kill the mites that are already hatched. It has no effect on those that are still in form of eggs or enclosed in capped cells with brood. Fogging with mineral oil can be done once every month or two.
This Varroa mite treatment works by coating bees and phoretic mites with mineral oil. It triggers the bees to groom themselves, and each other. The result is that mites fall off the bees as a result of this rather mechanical mite removal activity. It is also believed that the mineral oil has an adverse effect on the well-being of mites. This is due to the fact that mites that fall off bees do not show clear attempts to climb back onto bees.
You should highly consider using a screened bottom board when you fog up your beehive with mineral oil. Having a screened bottom board for a few days up to a week after fogging allows mites to fall onto the ground once they are detached from bees.
Things to Note:
- Fogging with mineral oil Varroa mite treatment is highly favored by beekeepers due to the little time it takes. It is very effective in controlling mites with no chance of the mites developing resistance to it.
- The gear you need for mineral oil Varroa mite treatment includes: nitrile gloves, goggles, propane tank, fogger, face mask.
- Mineral oil is safe for bees.
Using both Mineral and Wintergreen Oil
A popular solution among beekeepers used in fogging is a mix of mineral oil and wintergreen oil. To prepare this highly effective fogging solution, mix 3-9 drops of wintergreen oil with 4oz of mineral oil. Severe mite infestations attract the maximum of 9 drops of wintergreen oil. Less severe infestations can have the amount of wintergreen oil in the mixture reduced. This solution should be adequate for the treatment of not less than 30 beehives. If you would like to store an already prepared solution, put it in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate it.
How to Apply Mineral Oil Homemade Varroa Mite Treatment
Seal up all holes of the beehive you will treat with mineral oil fog. Leave a single hole through which you will introduce the fog into the beehive. Light the fogger and then add your fogging solution to the fogger. Blow out a few test bursts to make sure the fogger emits gas only. If it squirts out some liquid, allow the fogger some more time to heat up. Position the nozzle of the fogger an inch or two from the hole you left unsealed and blow up to three one-second mineral oil fog bursts into the beehive.
Things to Note:
- You may need to carry out repeat treatments using this homemade Varroa mite control method. This is due to the nature of honeybees and the life-cycle of Varroa mites.
- Mites in the cells of honey bee larvae are not affected by your first treatment. As a result, you should repeat the treatment after three weeks if the hive has brood. If it does not have brood, a single treatment is often enough to control Varroa mite population.
- To ensure there is no brood during treatment, you may cage your queen bee for two weeks, then release her and wait for 6 days before treating the beehive.
How to Detect Varroa Mites in Bee Colonies
Detecting Varroa mites in your beehives requires constant vigilance by the beekeeper. Regular beehive inspections will tell you if Varroa mites are taking hold in your apiary. You will see the mites on bees. The mites are a dark brown to reddish color, pinhead-sized and attach to the upper back of the thorax on bees. You may also note bees with deformed wings, when the infestation is heavy and the mites have been in the hive for some time.
It is best to apply your homemade Varroa mite treatment when the infestation is still at its early stages. If you wait too long or are just not aware of the Varroa mite infestation, you stand to incur heavy losses as a beekeeper. The major losses caused by Varroa mites are:
- Colony weakening due to increased bee mortality and high numbers of bees with deformed wings.
- Bee colonies absconding from infested hives when the infestation becomes too heavy.
- Low honey and beehive products yields due to reduced colony capacity to forage and carry out beehive management duties.
Advantages of Using Homemade Varroa Mite Treatment
Varroa mites often develop resistance to most commercially produced and sold control methods. Beekeepers have to keep cycling through treatment methods. With homemade Varroa mite control methods, there is very low potential of the mites developing resistance. You can use the same treatment in successive treatments without worrying. This is a major reason beekeepers are increasingly looking towards homemade alternatives.
A second major reason you should try out homemade Varroa mite treatment is their rate of dissipation. This, when coupled with safety when consumed by humans, make them a very favorable method of controlling Varroa mites. Homemade treatments disappear from the treated hives very fast once they have done their job of killing the mites. They do not remain as residues in honey and even when they do, they can be safely consumed by people without leading to adverse health results.
If you’re opposed to the commercially available mite control products, you can use the detailed homemade alternatives to keep your apiary free of Varroa mites, and your bee colonies thriving throughout all the seasons.
Have you used any homemade Varroa mite treatments in your beehives? Leave a comment below and let us know what your experience was like.