Beekeeping Blog

The Mite Fright (and Fight).

The image above is the last yard we harvested in 2019, and we always give a mite treatment on the day of harvest. It’s a time when the hives are already open, and it’s essential to get the sequence underway as quickly as possible in late summer. These particular hives were all singles that weren’t distributed until late June, so their mite load isn’t as scary as some other locations with mature hives harvested in September.

During harvest season I keep an extremely close eye on the drone brood that is exposed when boxes are pulled apart during honey collection. Every year there is a potential mite explosion preceded by drone larvae loaded up with multiple mites. This is also why we moved up our treatment schedule to very early August. We don’t really want to see the image below at all, but if we do, then we know we must handle the mites instantly or expect over half of the hives in the location to crash (die) before winter arrives. If those mites in the horrifically infested round of drone brood are permitted to hit the worker population with full force, the hive is pretty much toast. On top of hive mortality, some of the surviving bees will wander over to nearby hives, bearing their mites, and compromise the neighbors as well. A vicious cycle indeed.

Heavily infested drone larvae – 2019 image. I count seven mites on the larva to the right.

We’ve worked exceptionally hard to stay on top of the parasite load this year since we’re planning to send bees for California almonds again this winter. We want to do our very best to send strong bees that are worth shipping, make grade for pollination fees, and return busting with bees. The two keys are low mite loads and adequate feed. Those two topics go hand in hand right now in the fall beekeeping schedule.

Since our mites are now well under control in the vast majority of the hives, we are inducing another round of brood rearing to stimulate a strong population of young bees that have not been parasitized. While the late summer flowers actually yielded nectar and pollen at levels much better than the past three years, there is not much for the bees to collect at this point. As a result, brood rearing greatly declined over the past two weeks. An extended forecast with highs struggling to hit 60F will demolish egg laying rates without some kind of stimulus. This year we’re using the brood builder patties from Dadant. I like that they’re a little thinner than some other patties and fit under my rimmed lids with room for bees to get at them from both sides.

Grace has pollen patties on all the hives to build strong young bees as the flowers cease providing nutrition.

And another sign that fall has arrived? Here is a bottom board covered with drones being driven off the combs. Sorry boys, the end is nigh!

Drones in their final hours. In the foreground some workers are applying some force to keep the boys from breaking out of line.

Overall the bees look quite good right now, though there is more rain than I’d prefer in the forecast. We have two more rounds before I’ll feel like the bees are shipshape, and then if everything remains on track we’ll have the great bee roundup and send them west.

2 thoughts on “The Mite Fright (and Fight).

  1. Sadly, I may have lost my three hives to mites. I was at such a low mite count 5 weeks ago that I thought no treatment was necessary. Unfortunately, I learned that’s not the case. Lesson to put in the books. But, if they don’t survive even with treatment, I’ll at least have drawn frames so the nucs next year can get straight to work foraging and prepping for eggs. As always, thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    1. Hi Traci, it is remarkable how quickly the mites buildup at the end of the season. It was extra tricky in our area this year because there was a good late summer flow that extended brood rearing, which hides a good portion of the mites from detection (since at least half of the mites are often in the brood). Drawn comb will definitely make your next effort with the bees go more smoothly than building from foundation. They grow so quickly in the spring when they have drawn comb!

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