Fans of the blog might remember that we treated our colony for mites back in August with Hop Guard, a newly legal concoction derived from the hops plant that’s supposed to kill varroa mites while going easy on the bees.
Fans of natural mite treatment might be hoping for good news.
After the designated 30 days it takes for Hop Guard to work its magic, I opened up the hive to take a sample for testing. You test samples because mites are so small and dispersed, it’s almost impossible to tell at a glance if you have an infestation.
Bearing that in mind, check this out. The brown dots the blue arrows are pointing to are varroa mites, clinging to the backs of their host bees. Being able to spot two of them so easily is a bad sign.
The red arrow is pointing to a worse sign, though. This bee almost certainly has deformed wing virus, a disease that’s almost always connected with a heavy mite infestation.
Here’s another shot of the deformed wing bee. She probably won’t live longer than 48 hours, and she’ll likely be driven from the hive before then. Bees don’t offer much in the way of healthcare, and will evict sick members of the colony to try to prevent outbreaks.
With lowering hopes, I scooped a half cup sample of bees into a jar. My assistants for the day were my boyfriend Ben and his brother Matt, who was visiting from New York. I like to think this was just as exciting as anything the big city has to offer.
We dumped some powdered sugar on the bees and shook them up. Then we inverted the jar so the sugar and the mites would slip through the mesh lid onto a piece of paper. Before treating with Hop Guard, we counted 4 mites in our sample. So by now we ought to have fewer…
Oh boy. I counted up to 38 and got lost.
So did the Hop Guard work? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Has the mite population literally grown ten times? …Maybe. When taking a sample for a mite test, it’s important to select bees from a frame of uncapped brood. (The mites grow primarily on the bee larvae, so their population is always densest in brood comb). When I took my pre-treatment sample, I used a capped brood frame, which means most of the mites were sealed away under wax. (In other words, I screwed up). This time I used an uncapped frame, meaning I got the technique right, but the numbers were bound to be artificially higher.
But ten times higher is a lot. Particularly after treatment. If the hop guard knocked the mite population down at all, it wasn’t much.
So what do we do now? We treat again. But not with Hop Guard. Hop Guard had its chance. We’ve already installed some strips of Apivar, a tried and true chemical application that by all accounts should do the job.
In a few weeks we’ll check again and see if it has.