Unwanted Hitchhikers In My Hives

Varroa Mites

It’s hard to believe, but these tiny bugs  are one of the leading causes to the honey bee’s demise.  They are about the size of a pin head, are named Varroa Destructor and…….I’ve got ’em in my hives.  These little buggers attach themselves to a honey bee, weaken the bee as they suck their blood and pass on various viruses as a parting gift to the bee.  If not controlled, the mites will eventually take down the entire colony.

The varroa mite was nowhere to be found in North America before the 1980s.  Though it was firmly entrenched in Europe and Asia, bee keepers in North America had no issues with this parasite before this time.  According to the old-timers, “pre-varroa” was a great time to be a beekeeper on our continent.  Nobody knew what Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was and the honey bee and the beekeeper generally flew under everybody’s radar.

Fast forward 30 years later and we’re in a totally different boat.  Harsh chemicals have failed to be the answer to the demise of varroa as these parasites continue to wreak havoc for most beekeepers.  So……what’s a beekeeper suppose to do?

Option #1: Do nothing and hope that the bees figure out how to over-run these parasites. This hasn’t proven to be too effective for most backyard beekeepers, though certain people in the industry claim that they now have varroa resistant bees.

Option #2: Treat the hives with harsh miticide chemicals to kill the varroa.  This also hasn’t proven to be that effective  since the mite has learned to become resistant to these insecticides.  Not to mention that the residue from a lot of these chemicals is now being found to contaminate the comb that bees use to store honey and raise new bees.

Option #3: Develop an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system which involves adopting “safer” strategies in order to keep varroa numbers at a level that will not allow them to destroy a colony over time.  Examples of this include:

A) Using screened bottom boards which do not allow a fallen mite to re-enter a colony.

B) Culling drone brood (male bees).  This “intelligent” parasite has figured out that it can breed and suck on the bee’s bodily fluid for an extra 3 days in capped male brood rather than the female brood.  As a result, the female mite favors mating and raising new mites in the comb where male bees develop.  By opening this comb and removing the drone brood, the beekeeper also removes a lot of mites who, in turn, would mate and increase their numbers within the hive.

Culling Drone Brood

Culling Drone Brood

C) Using natural treatments like formic and oxalic acids at designated times in the year.  Formic acid is naturally found in many foods including apples, strawberries, raspberries and……….. honey.  Oxalic acid can be found in spinach, Swiss chard, beet tops and parsley.  In high concentrations, they are poisonous to humans.  This is why we do not eat rhubarb leaves.  Fortunately, these acids are also lethal to varroa mites and, when used in the right application, can really knock down the mite numbers in a hive.  Best of all, these acids have been certified as “safe” chemicals that allow the organic beekeeper to continue to consume and sell a safe edible honey.

 

As Michael Corleone said “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.   Varroa mites are not leaving anytime soon.  In fact, they are probably here to stay. Hence, I’ll do what I can to help my bees maintain the upper hand on this incredibly destructive pest.  It’s the least I can do to help this incredible insect!022

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How To Make A Screened Bottom Board For Your Beehive

 

010A screened bottom board is a great addition to any beehive.  It not only provides great ventilation for the hive, but can also be used in your IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices to help determine the number of Varroa mites that are in your colony.  The premise of this theory works like this:  Count the number of mites that have fallen off the hive and have adhered to the “sticky board” over a 24 hour period.  Compare this number to the “threshold numbers” that are recommended by your local beekeeping agency.  For example: where I live, the governing agency recommends that a treatment be considered  when 9 mites are found on the sticky board in a 24 hour “drop” during the month of May.

Initially, I thought that this would be a great way to determine if I would have a future mite problem (levels above a particular threshold).  But then I came across a different theory which argued that the number of mites found on the sticky board may not be an accurate way to determine if your hive is infested with  mites.  The rational for this was that hygienic bees may be better at removing mites from each other and, therefore, you may not have an infestation, but rather, bees that are very good at removing these beasties from the hive.  GGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRR!  Beekeeping………….Nobody ever seems to be on the same page!

Anyways, the screened bottom board is still a great addition to the hive because:

A)  The mites that do drop off will fall through the mesh and (from what I’ve read) not be able to crawl back up into the hive.

B)  The sticky board will allow you to monitor how many mites will drop in a 24 hour period.

C)  The screened bottom board ( without the sticky board is place) provides great ventilation for the hive.  This will be extremely useful through the entire year to help rid the hive of excess moisture.  This is just as important in the Winter as the Summer.

So…I decided to make a screened bottom board that would have a sticky board that could easily slide within the bottom board.  The entire “unit” will be made up of 2 sections that, when combined will become the final bottom board.

 

Material List

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Section #1

Sides: 3/4″ x 1- 3/4″ x  21 -1/4″

Back:  3/4″ x 1 -3/4″ x 16- 1/4″

Front: 3/4″ x 3″ x 14- 3/4″ (This will be the “landing pad”)

Sticky Board Front: 3/4″ x 7/8″ x 14-1/2″

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Section #2

Sides: 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 21-1/4″

Back: 3/4″x 3/4″ x 16-1/4″

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Directions

Cut all pieces to the above measurements.

Using a table saw, rip a 3/16″ wide x 1/4″ deep channel through the inside of the sides, back and the sticky board front.  This channel will allow for the sticky board to be positioned in the bottom board when in use.  I set the table saw fence to 7/16″ and made sure to put the bottom of each board against the fence.

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Next, counter sink the screw locations to put this section together.  (Note: Set the sticky board front aside for now.  It’s not getting assembled with these pieces.)  I used 1-1/2″ deck screws for this job.

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Now screw these pieces together using a good exterior glue.

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I used coroplast for my sticky bottom board.  You can get it at a sign shop or, better still, re-purpose an old real estate or election sign if one is available.  I cut it to 15- 1/8″ wide x 20-7/8″ long and glued the end (using construction adhesive or silicone) to the sticky bottom board piece that you previously put aside.

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Now, fill all screw locations with wooden plugs, flush cut each plug and sand the frame.  Now is a good time to paint all the parts of the bottom board.

Cut a piece of #8 hardware cloth for the size of the bottom board.  Use must use #8 because it is small enough to prevent your bees from going through these holes.  Staple it to your frame.

 

010Next, staple a thin piece of metal or wood to the front of the screen and screw the 3 pieces of wood from section #2 to the frame.  I used a counter-sink bit to ensure that I did not split these pieces.

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And…there you have it.  A home-made screened bottom board.  Your bees will be delighted with all the ventilation for your hive.  As well, you’ll be able to begin monitoring for mite levels as well.

Please CLICK HERE if you would like to view my other posts on making your own beehive.

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