Sunday, October 2, 2011

Treating for Mites

It is harvest time for beekeepers and other farmers in the Arkansas Delta. One of our important nectar sources for honey is cotton. Bolls of cotton fibers are open and ready for harvesting. During the heat of summer, cotton supplied large quantities of nectar for honey bees. Cotton honey is light in color and mild in flavor. A new beekeeper successfully completed his first honey harvest. With his honey sealed in containers, he asked me what he should do next for his bee hives. I congratulated him on his harvest and told him that his harvest of a surplus of honey indicates that he managed his hives properly. For a beekeeper to collect any surplus honey at all, the colonies must be healthy and have strong populations. The colonies’ population build-up must be timed so that there is a large population of bees at the start of the major nectar flows. If the colonies are expanding during major nectar flows, like that of cotton, there will be little surplus honey for the beekeeper to harvest.

Hive treatments to reduce parasitic mites can only be applied when there are no honey supers in place. I told the novice beekeeper that if he detected a number of Varroa mites, now is the time to reduce their numbers. The decision of whether to treat depends upon the bees’ mite loads. If the mite load is low, treatments are not needed. I suggest using a "soft" treatment like ones produced from essential oils or organic acids. The "hard" chemicals are miticides that tend to build up in the beeswax comb, lead to chemical-resistant mites, and cause sterility in drones and queens. The soft treatments are often applied inside the bee hive in a gel form that evaporates. Vapors, which are contained in the hive by covering screened bottom boards, kill exposed Varroa and tracheal mites. Treatments need to be made fairly early in the fall because cold temperatures may prevent the gel from evaporating.

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