It’s hard (impossible?) to escape having mites where we live. Hence the saying, “Once you’re a beekeeper, you’re a mite-keeper.” There are a number of ways to handle these arachnids, yet it remains an active pursuit year in and year out.
The following technique might be useful to the hobbyist beekeeper and is a guaranteed way to put the damper on mite reproduction. “Hobbyist” here represents individuals with only a couple of hives. For these beekeepers, losing one hive to varroa could mean losing half of your beekeeping investment, if not more. So, keeping them in check is of great importance. It was originally tested and showcased by Heinz Kaemmerer during the January 2020 club meeting.
The process revolves around the brood cycle of the worker honeybee which spans 21 days (3 weeks) from egg to adult. Additionally, you’ll need to make a pair of these contraptions for each colony you want to manage in this way:
What is this exactly? This modified frame consists of two major parts:
- A regular, empty brood frame (old comb works best and is often preferred by the queen for laying). Make a couple of holes in the comb that would give a queen access to go from one side to the other;
- Two queen-excluded “caps” – one for each side of the frame. These caps are rectangular wooden frames with a (plastic) queen excluder, cut to size, stapled to it. When these caps are placed on either side of the brood frame, it turns the entire frame into a large queen cage. The queen excluder caps should be removable from brood frame.
Here are the sequence of steps you need to follow for a given hive:
- Day 1: Capture the queen of a colony and place her on the first empty brood frame. Place the two “caps” on either side, ensuring that the queen is properly caged. Place this frame within the brood chamber area of the colony.
- Day 8: Prepare the next empty brood frame just like the first (remember to provide access holes so the queen can transfer from the one side of the frame to the other). Transfer the queen from within her caged frame onto this new frame. Also transfer the cage caps to contain the queen’s transfer. You may want to put the queen in a smaller clip/cage in order to make the transfer more convenient. Put the newly caged queen frame next to the first frame.
Ensure that the first week didn’t result in queen cells being made on other brood frames within the colony.
- Day 15: Prepare the next empty brood frame just like the first/second. Transfer and cage the queen on this new frame and place it next to the second.
- Day 21: There should be no sealed brood within the colony except for that on the 3 frames introduced through steps 1-3 above, and possibly some drone that may have been laid up to 3 days prior to starting this process (remember, drones have a 24-day brood cycle).
Release the queen from her final cage frame, putting her back into the colony and remove the 3 cage frames from the hive. These 3 cage frames would contain a mixture of sealed and open brood.
- Transfer the 3 cage frames into a new hive. These frames should contain all the mites from the original colony. You could add frames to this new hive from other colonies that undergo the same treatment as above, together with all the bees on them. The older bees will fly home to their original colonies while the younger bees remain to foster the brood and hatching bees.
- Day 24: Treat the original hive with oxalic acid to remove any remaining mites (since there would be no capped brood in the colony).
- Day 30: Check the last brood frame the queen laid on in the new colony for possible queen cells. Leave only one.
- Day 42: Treat the new hive (that now should be mostly broodless) with oxalic acid to remove any remaining mites.
Below is a schematic demonstrating the process, downloadable as a PDF:
When should you do mite trapping?
The best time to start trapping mites is around 2-3 weeks before blackberries – a major food source within the CRD – are blooming. Why?
- The original colony doesn’t need the young bees from the trapped frames for nectar harvesting. They stay inside for the first 3 weeks before starting to forage outside.
- When we build a new colony from the trapped/mite combs (B1-B3), the hatching bees need liquid food. Normally the old bees that would have been transferred to the mite hive after the three weeks process would fly home to their original hive. This could entice robbing. However, with blackberry in bloom, a new exterior, abundant food source is available making robbing unnecessary, even when you feed the mite hive with syrup (in the inner cover) since most bees forage outside for nectar.