How do I check my beehive for varroa mites?

by Flow Hive 11 min read

 


 

Sugar shake test

Cedar:

Thank you for joining us this morning. We are looking at sugar shake and sticky boards today to help stop the incursion of the varroa mite here in Australia. So many of you in other continents are very familiar with these techniques. Here in Australia, we aren't because we haven't actually had varroa mites spreading here before. There have been a couple of times it's come in through a port and we've managed to kick it out. But here we are with over 60 detections of it now, it's all within the same zones that they're tracing. So fingers crossed we can still get on top of it. One thing you can do to help is to do what's called a sugar shake, which is basically putting some icing sugar onto a cup full of bees and shaking them around a bit. And then having a look at that icing sugar and seeing if any mites fall off. And we'll go into detail and show you how you can easily do that and how you can also easily make yourself a sugar shake kit. So we're going to pop the top box off and collect a couple of bees from one of the brood frames. So make sure you put your beesuits on. My father, Stuart is joining us today.


Stuart:

Hi everyone, about time I got back in.


Cedar:

It's best to get a frame with a nice bunch of nurse bees on it for the process of the sugar shake. What we're looking for is a cup full of bees. And what we're going to do is shake the bees off the frame onto a piece of paper. Then we're going to put those bees into a jar.

I'm going to get our sugar shake jar prepared. So what we want is really good-sized scoop of icing sugar in the jar. And then you need to make yourself a lid like this, or you can purchase lids like this already made with a jar. It's got a mesh with about 3mm diameter mesh. And once the bees are in there, we'll be putting the lid on like that. So step one is to collect some bees and we'll do that simply by shaking some bees. And it's best if we don't include the queen in the sugar shake, might upset her. So we're having a good look for the queen first. And we're going to put our piece of paper to shake the bees onto there on the hive. The reason why I'm putting it directly on the hive is, as we shake any bees that spill over will just go back into the hive. I put the icing sugar in the jar first because it seems to hold the bees in there longer. So that's a nice little tip. So we haven't got the queen on there.


Stuart:

You never know, she's could be sneaky, but I can't see her. Anyone else see her?


Cedar:

Let's shake them on to here. Nice, good shake. And what we're trying to do is now put them straight into the jar before they fly away like that. And what you're after is a cup full of bees, just like that. The lid goes on and then we are rolling the bees around like this in the icing sugar. They turn into what's called ghost bees. So they turn all white. It's a bit annoying for the bees, but it doesn't kill them like the alcohol wash does. So they all are getting covered in icing sugar. You want to do this for a bit over a minute.

So we're just about there with coating the bees and you can see there, they're all looking nice and white, which is what we're trying to do. The sugar on them stimulates the bees to really groom themselves, but also heats them up. And that helps the mites drop off.

Now it's time now to do our sugar shake. I've set up a piece of white paper here. Now there are two methods from here. One is you shake the icing sugar onto the white paper and you look very closely for any mites. Now you might need a magnifying glass if your eyes need a little help seeing small mites. And another method is on to of water in a white bucket is best, because you've got a white surface under the varroa mites, which are a little bit red. So here we go. We're now shaking. You can see the icing sugar coming through. Hopefully, we don't ever see mites in this area, but you never know. And so it's a real help at the moment, especially if you near one of the red zones where they've detected varroa mite, to do your sugar shake and have a look for mites.

You never know, you might be the one to really help the situation and stop the varroa mite spreading further in the country. Onto water is the other option here you can do. And the mites will then float on top. So they seem to be the two methods people are using. But if you're experienced with this and you want to add any tips, by all means let us know what you do and what works for you. That's the basic sugar shake. You're looking out for the varroa mite, a little pinhead-sized mite, brownish red in colour. Have a look at what they look like online, because we don't have a live example for you here. So we're gonna put these poor bees that have been rolled around in icing sugar, back into the hive now. So we could have shaken a little bit longer there. We've been sugar-shaking all of these hives, and we haven't found any mites, which is great, but we'll keep checking. And just to remind, if you are near one of those red zones, if you can get in there and do your sugar shake, that will really help the situation.


Stuart:

If you're anywhere in New South Wales, really, and if you're near the New South Wales borders, Queensland, Victoria, I would do the same. Because of course, bees don't notice the border.


Sticky board monitoring

Cedar:

The next thing we're gonna show you is what's called a sticky board. Now sticky board is something where you don't actually have to pull the hive apart. And it gets used to monitor varroa mite in other continents where they have lots of mites, just by the use of the screen bottom board. So if you've got a Flow Hive, you'll have a screen bottom board. If you've got a another type of screen bottom board, you can also use this method. You put some sticky substance on a Manila folder or a piece of Corflute or something like that. You put it under the screen bottom board and mites will actually fall through. And that can be a useful way to detect whether there are mites in a hive. I've heard that in the US, more than 10 in 24 hours means you should then treat. If it's less than 10, generally people will not treat and they'll let that hive go on. Now, in our case, we're just looking for the presence of any mites, so the idea is you put your sticky board in, you wait 24 hours, and then you examine it for any mites. So we'll I'll show you how to do that. I've got a piece of Corflute that will fit nicely in the tray here. So if I pull out this tray, I've cut this to size to go right in there. And then the mites will drop through the screen bottom board. All we need to do now is make this a nice sticky surface. So there's multiple things you can use for that. Some people use a mixture of vegetable oil and beeswax and they cook it up. Some people use Vaseline. Some people use even engine oil. In this case, I'm going to use old cooking oil that's been sitting around long enough to get almost the consistency of honey. And I had that around because I collect old fish and chip oil from the chip shop to run my car on. But when it sits around long enough exposed to the air, it ends up very sticky like honey. All I'm gonna do is paint the sticky stuff on here. Cofa is a common one that also gets called vegetable shortening. Basically, you want something that's just a bit thicker than vegetable oil in order to stay nice and sticky on your sticky board.

So there, we've got our sticky board, it's ready to go. And all we're going to do is place it underneath the hive. Now, if you've got our Classic hive, you'll already have a piece of Corflute and all you need to do is clean it or turn it up the other way, put your sticky material on. Do not use honey as honey will then attract the bees to this area. We're now putting that in well come back 24 hours later and inspect that for any sign of varroa mites. And that's it.


Alcohol wash

Cedar:

Now I should also talk about alcohol wash. Now alcohol wash is more reliable than a sugar shake. So if you are in that zone, I actually encourage you to do the alcohol wash.

So it's similar, but the sad bit is, those bees you put in the jar will die, because instead of putting icing sugar on them, you're putting alcohol or methylated spirits on them. And when you swish it around, then turn the jar up the other way, the alcohol and mites will go through. And instead of pouring it into water, you just pour it into another jar. So you can see all of this online, how to do an alcohol wash and the DPI has put videos out. But the alcohol wash is more reliable than the sugar shake. And if you are really close, then I would encourage you to help out by doing the alcohol wash or the sugar shake.


Trace:

Peter Cox, one of our ambassadors in South Australia is saying they've been asked to do alcohol washes and send the bees in for testing if they've purchased queens from breeders in New South Wales, but he thinks it's mainly a precaution at the moment.


Varroa questions

Do you mainly check the nurse bees when doing the sugar shake?

Stuart:

Yes, that's what we were doing. We were shaking from the brood and we took the bees from the centre of the brood nest, hoping there were more nurse bees there. And that's because varroa reproduce inside the brood cells.


How often should I do a sugar shake in the red zone?

Cedar:

If you are in the red zone, you'll have to follow what the DPI suggests, that's the lockdown zone. If you are around the red zone nearby, then you should do it as often as your willing. Everything helps at the moment, especially in the next two weeks, we've got a window of opportunity here before bees swarm. Now, once bees are swarming, any hive with varroa could take off into the forest into a tree hollow or whatever, and that's going to be a lot harder to get on top of. So these next two weeks are critical. There's a whole big team of people, beekeepers, fire brigade and all down there going through the process of sugar shaking.


Will you test all the hives in this apiary? Or will you just do a few?

Stuart:

We have tested them all. And it's important to do at least a couple. And the more you have of course, the harder it is to do them all. But you can see once you get used to it, it's a pretty quick operation. And so we're asking everyone to put that effort in, because it's so important to us in Australia to try and remain varroa free. It makes a huge difference to the amateur and the professional beekeepers and also to the orchardists for example, the almonds and so on. Because if we get varroa established in Australia, it's going to cost more time, more money for every beekeeper, whether you're amateur or professional to keep on top of it. And it's going affect the movement of bees to places like the almonds for pollination and so on. So it's very, very serious for us. And that's why we're asking for cooperation. And if that means a little bit more time testing all your hives, why not? Particularly if you're anywhere near the hotspots. But more have appeared lately. So you never quite know. It's possible that someone moved bees to your area before we knew varroa was in the state and they could be around.


Cedar:

Yes, this is very serious and hopefully we can kick it out. I also want to say, it's not the end of the world. Every other continent does do a lot of beekeeping with varroa mite. So if we can't kick it out, then what we'll be doing is learning from the rest of the world on the management practices that you have to include in your beekeeping to minimise the damage from varroa mites.


Trace:

Charlie has tuned in from Newcastle and just saying to encourage beekeepers to volunteer to help in this operation in Newcastle, and they'll learn a lot about the process and contribute to eradicating varroa.


Is it okay to start spring management now? I have five hives and if I do spring management, I don't want more hives. If I need to split hives, am I able to then pass them on? (NSW)

Cedar:

You cannot move a hive. So this is the restriction at the moment in New South Wales, we can't move hives around. So you can take a split and that will drastically reduce the swarming tendencies. Now the last two livestreams have been focused on spring management. And what we did was cut out some of the comb in the brood box, which then leaves new space for the bees to actually draw the comb out out, and then more real estate there for the queen bee to lay her eggs. And that's the primary swarming trigger is that overcrowding, nowhere to lay. So you can get in there and make some more space in the brood nest.

You can add another brood box or super to your hive that will also help. You could also get in there and knock off any queen cells they are preparing. So they're your spring management practises. And if you want to have a look at that, have a look at the last two livestream videos. And it's not too early to start to answer your question. In the Southern colder parts of the country, it might be a bit early still. But spring is pretty much here for our bees on the east coast here.


In terms of spring management could our Flow beekeepers just add another honey super box?

Stuart:

Certainly, that gives the bees more room, because with the Flow Hive, there are six Flow Frames in a standard eight-frame box, which gives the bees slightly less room than in a standard super. So there's good argument for putting a second super onto a Flow Hive. Particularly if you've got a vigorous colony and you get strong nectar flows, they'll need that extra room, not only to store honey, but to fan it off to dehydrate the nectar into honey.

How did the varroa mite get to Australia?

Cedar:

So that's unknown at the moment, but usually the way these incursions occur is through the ports and it was picked up in Newcastle port. So one assumes that it came in through cargo. But bees can exist on ships, on old ships. They can also exist potentially in large furniture that's in containers. Perhaps somebody didn't notice there was a hive and it was winter when it was sent. So they were hibernating in the back of an old lounge. Who knows? That's how bees can move around. Here in Australia we have sentinel hives around our ports, which get checked every six weeks, and if varroa is detected, then it's all on - and that's what did happen. It does look like the varroa have been here longer than first anticipated. So they've been here for many months and they have been spread around by the movement of a commercial apiary. So we are behind the eight ball and hopefully we can catch it.



Cedar:

Thank you very much for tuning in. And just a reminder for those in New South Wales, you still cannot move a hive, but please do your spring management. If you missed the last two livestreams about spring management, have a look at that. You wanna make sure you're doing your spring management and your sugar shakes to help stop the incursion of the varroa mite.



Want more? Watch past videos, and get notified of livestreams as they stream on Facebook here

 

For in-depth training, check out our online beekeeping course at TheBeekeeper.org.


Also in Beekeeping Livestreams

How far do bees fly?
How far do bees fly?

by Flow Hive 1 min read

Read More
Should I let my bees raise their own queen?
Should I let my bees raise their own queen?

by Flow Hive 2 min read

Read More
How do I prevent my bees from swarming?
How do I prevent my bees from swarming?

by Flow Hive 5 min read

Read More