A, Bees, Cs
On today’s ‘to do’ list was check the honey bee hive for Varroa mites. I learned from other local beekeepers that this is the time of year to start checking, and to take action, if you want your hive to survive past the winter. These parasitic mites suck the blood of bees and their lava causing a colony to collapse.
So armed with my research on what to look for and instructions I tromped outside in my snake proof boots (that’s a whole other topic), jean pants and bee jacket/hood into the 100+ degree afternoon.
Why in the afternoon you might think? Well, a good portion of the hive will be out collecting nectar and pollen so if anyone gets upset when the hive is opened there will be a lot less of that (and stinging) than if the whole hive was nicely nestled in!
Since getting the bees earlier this summer, I’ve become much braver when handling the frames. I used to wear special leather gloves, that went almost to my elbow, to avoid being stung on the hands but the gloves are awkward to wear and one might inadvertently squish a bee. That’s a bad thing because a squished bee sends out an alarm pheromone which then tells the other bees that they’re under attack. Something you definitely want to avoid! So I’ve taken to not wearing gloves. But today was definitely the test. At one point, I realized no gloves and having upset bees landing on my exposed hands might be a really bad decision…for me!
How do you know if your hive has mites? Well it’s a simple of process of putting a cup of bees (200 - 400 of these tiny guys) into a glass jar, sprinkling icing sugar on them, gently shaking the bee/sugar cocktail around (think James Bond’s favorite drink; shaken and not stirred), waiting a few minutes, shaking the sugar out of the jar and then releasing the bees. Easy peasy, right? Not for this first timer!
All was going well with the opening of the hive and pulling out the frame. I picked a frame with honey comb, and not larvae so not to mess with the queen, gently brushed off the bees into a small cooler and that’s when the fun began. Bees started flying around, bumping my hood as a warning to back off.
Then I took the next step of brushing the bees into a mason jar. I was quickly reminded that bees don’t slide into a jar, although some bees did, they actually use their wings and started flying around me. Great, more upset bees! Some landed on my hands but fortunately the combo of having a pre-smoked my hands (using a smoker and puffing smoke onto my hands) and gently blowing the bees off was enough to prevent from getting stung.
After shaking the sugar into a white cooler and checking for red dots (mites) I was relieved that no mites were to be found. The sugared bees were then released back into the hive to clean off with a little help from their friends.
I’ll probably do another mite check again next month, under cooler (hopefully) weather and with the knowledge of knowing how this whole thing goes down, will probably do things a little differently so everyone involved is a little less hot and agitated.
In the meantime, stay frosty my friends.