Varroa mites in Australia

by Flow Hive 16 min read

Today Cedar was talking about the varroa mite situation in New South Wales. He explained what the current directives are for beekeepers in the region and talked about varroa detection and treatment options. He also answered your beekeeping questions.



Video Transcription

Varroa mites in NSW

Good morning and thank you for joining us for the live Q &A. This week, we've gotquite a situation happening here in Australia. For you in the rest of the world, you're used to the varroa mite, but here in Australia, we're not. We are the only honey-producing country that doesn't have varroa mite yet. But last week in Newcastle, which is on the east coast of Australia, about six hours drive south from where we are, varroa mite were detected and the Department of Primary Industries are going through a procedure trying to eradicate it right now. So it's a bit of a serious situation. We would rather not have varroa mite, there is big ramifications for it. There's a lot of treatment that needs to happen. And it's just more work to do for the beekeeper. So if we can keep it out of the country, that would be better.

So my son woke up this morning and some of you might know my son Jarli. And he said, I want a 3d printedvarroa mite. And I thought, well, okay. And sure enough, I found one and here we are, a 3d printed varroa mite. So this is what they look like. They're a sort of a slightly darker red colour than this. Well, the female is. The female is a dark red colour and it looks like a kind of tick. It has eight legs underneath here. And if you're a bee, it would be about the size of a rabbit and it attaches in the larval stage. So when the bees are in their larval stage here, you can see down cells, if you have varroa, the varroa mites actually attach themselves to the larva. Then that larva goes to its metamorphosis.

Meanwhile, these nasty varroa mites are feeding on the fat body. And then when it emerges as a bee, it's still carrying these mites with it. Now some of them might drop off and they go, and the female mites lay eggs in new larva and so on. So countries that have the varroa mite need to deal with that. And the way they do it is usually by monitoring how many mites are in their hive and if they're getting to an excessive amount, they'll tend to treat for those. Now there's all sorts of options there. And if you've got good varroa mite treatment options, then chime in below and share your knowledge from the rest of the world that does have these annoying little varroa destructor mites. Now fingers crossed, here in Australia, we can kick it out. The DPI and the Australian honeybee industry council are working hard right now to eradicate the mites that have come into the Newcastle port.


Register your hives

And as recently as last night, there's been more detections, 65 kilometres to the Northeast of Newcastle as well. So the quarantine zone has been extended. And what we need to do as beekeepers is followthe advice from the DPI. Now we'll put links in below. It's really important. It's really important that we do our best to eradicate this pest. So if you have a beehive, whether you're a Flow Hive beekeeper, top bar beekeeper, conventional Langstroth beekeeper, then you must beregistered with the DPI. It is a requirement to register your hive and in doing so, there's a contribution that goes towards helping situations like this. Now, if you're a new Flow Hive customer, you would've received an email with the information to go and register and get your beekeeper number, which needs to be on all of your hives.

Now, the reason why it's important is that way the DPI can contact you if there's an emergency like this. So there's no penalties for registering late. If you have a hive and you still haven't got around to registering, then make sure you go to the DPI and register and get your beekeeping number. That way you'll be up to date. And we'll put links in below to, to guide you to the DPI. So you can get up-to-date information. We aren't an authority and can't really tell you what to do or what not to do, but basically in the state of New South Wales right now, you cannot move a hive. And that's really important, okay? Because we don't want to spread the varroa mites from one place to the other. That'll make it harder to eradicate.

You cannot also tamper with your hive. Now it's just been clarified last night on the latest DPI update that includes harvesting honey in any way. So you cannot tamper with your hive. You cannot harvest honey. However, they do say you can do counting of mites with the sugar shake and so on. So there's also the alcohol wash method. And I'll go into a little bit of that as we go on, but basically what we're trying to do is kick out this mite out of the country. So fingers cross everyone and make sure you're registering and make sure you're staying up to date with the DPI and their information and making sure that we do our very best here in Australia to kick out the varroa. Any questions, put them in the comments below.


Varroa Questions

How will you manage your hives up that way to prevent swarming given that you can't harvest honey or add supers? The flow still occurs during winter in northern New South Wales, right?

So it's really important that we get on top of this varroa before the swarm season. Now, here we are in winter and we've got a fair bit of winter to go. So we've got a stroke of luck on our side there. If it had come in in the middle of swarm season, it would be harder to control. So hopefully by the time it's swarm season, we will be able to manage our colonies effectively again.

From what I've read, oxalic acid treatments for varroa are the least toxic and most effective.

So oxalic acid is a treatment for varroa. Now, what people generally do is they count the mites in various ways and check their hive. And lucky for us as Flow Hive beekeepers, we've equipped our hives with a way to help you count mites, should we have to do it in Australia. But also for the other countries that already have varroa, we made that decision in 2015 when we launched, knowing that it is possible that one day here in Australia, we may get varroa mites to deal with also. So we made it worldwide screen bottom boards. So I'll just show you what the screen bottom board looks like. If you come under here, you can see this big screen and our Classic hives also have a mesh bottom board.

Now, what that means is as bees groom themselves, mites will fall through that screen. So if you've got your tray in here, you might want to turn it over or clean it out. And then on top here, you can add your sticky mat or you can put it in the tray here. So what a sticky mat is, is simply a mat that when varroa falls to the screen, they'll get stuck there to that sticky mat. And people tend to either purchase them or make them by getting a piece of cardboard or paper and coating it in something sticky. Some people use vegetable oil, three parts to one wax, cook it up and make a sticky substance that they can paint onto their piece of cardboard or paper.

And they put that under the screen here. Others use Vaseline or even engine oil or Copha, which is also called vegetable shortening in the USA. And that'll create a nice sticky point for the mites also. So that way, what people do is they count the mite load. And if there's too many, they'll then treat, as you say, with oxalic acid. Now, not everybody. There's people that have all different opinions about how to go about this stuff. And if you've got opinions on what you should do with varroa in a hive, please share it. But oxalic acid is a common one and those strips go in your hive. And the fumes of the oxalic acids actually killed the varroa on the bees. Now it's hard for that to get down the capped cells. Varroa are about two millimetres big, or just a little bit less than two millimetres.

So this is an oversized 3d printed varroa that my son printed this morning. And at two millimetre size, they attach themselves onto the larva. Now they prefer drones. They're clever, drones have three more days in gestation. So instead of being 21 days, they're 24 days in their gestation from being a larva through to metamorphosis and emerging as a bee. And that gives the varroa mite a bit more time to do its thing and grow up in that cell from an egg. So varroa only attacks honeybees and it's very specific. And this isVarroa destructorthat's been found in the port of Newcastle in Australia, which is the most destructive one. So we really hope fingers crossed that we can kick it out of the country.


Hello from San Francisco bay area in California USA. There are various treatments for varroa, not just oxalic acid. More different treatments are better to avoid resistance.

Okay, great. Chime in and help us Australians understandhow to treat varroa, should we fail in our attempts to eradicate it. So fingers crossed. Hopefully we don't have to deal with varroa going forward, but if we do, it's not the end of the world. We've got people like you to help teach us how to manage it. And I'm no expert in varroa. So please chime in and let us know what you do.


Can we still do inspections and feed our bees sugar water? (Byron Bay, NSW, Australia).

This is really important. We cannot tamper with the hive, harvest honey, do anything to the hive. That's the directive at the moment. But stayup to date with the DPI. I'm sure they'll clarify as time goes on. I imagine they're extremely busy right now. Just all hands on deck, trying to contain the outbreak and trace where it's gone. But last night they clarified that we can't harvest honey. And it doesn't say about feeding, but I would say that fits into tampering. They do not want you to do anything with the hive, except for if you are going through a mite counting process. So please abide by the rules. If you haven't registered or you know anyone that hasn't registered, whether they be a Flow Hive beekeeper, Langstroth beekeeper or other, then please encourage them. If you're in Newcastle you would've received our correspondence. Saturday we got the alerts from the DPI Friday, and that has the links to register if you haven't. And also if you're a customer of ours, you would've received them after purchase, the links to register with the DPI. So it's a really important thing to do. If everyone can encourage anyone that hasn't to do that, and it helps the DPI track where hives are, and that might be the critical difference, especially if you're around the Newcastle area. No penalties for registering late. So don't worry, just jump on there and register. There's a small contribution which helps fund things like protecting these mites from coming onto our shores.


Will the DPI's restrictions on hive movements affect shipping of Flow Hives?

They won't affect shipping at all because there's no bees in this box. I'm allowed to tamper with this hive because it's actually an empty hive. It is not a honeybee colony. So you can certainly go on purchasing hive equipment. And there's no issue there. It's only once you've got a honeybee colony, they want to limit the spread. So you're not allowed to move a hive, tamper with a hive, harvest honey, in any way or harvest comb from your beehive at the moment. And that is New South Wales statewide. Stay up to date, it's changing daily. Have a look at the DPI.

How are the DPI controlling the wild hives in cavities and trees?

So that's a really good point if you are in the Newcastle area and also extending north now, 65 kilometres north, and you know where a wild hive is, then please jump on the hotline (1800 084 881)  andreport where that hive is. Because it's really important that we find every single hive that has varroa in the region and make sure we're getting rid of these mites. They're about two millimetres and this is Varroa destructor, which is a very destructive mite. And we do want to kick it out of the country. And I understand there's a lot of effort going in right now to do that.

I'm looking at getting into beekeeping and doing some research on hive models, including Flow. 


Beekeeping Questions

Would you recommend a Flow Hive for a very new beginner? Looking to be very hands-off and let the bees do their thing.

Okay. That's a great question. And you should know that no matter what type of hive you choose, then looking after your bees is the same. So down here in the bottom box, we've got typically wooden frames with the bees, drawing their wax in a perfectly natural way and the queen laying eggs and so on. Now, whether you've got a Flow Hive, conventional Langstroth, the top bar, it's all the same. You need to make sure your hive's happy and healthy, and it's mandatory to inspect your hive for pests and disease. The Flow Hive invention, which you can see up here is my father and I's invention. We spent a decade working on, and what it's about is harvesting honey. So when it comes to harvesting honey, the Flow Hive is very different to conventional hives. We have invented the Flow Frame, which you can turn a key in the top here. And what it does is make channels inside the comb and the honey flows down and out in a gentle easy way to bypass the conventional ways of harvesting honey and people are enjoying it all around the world. And it does mean you don't need that extra equipment, whether it be centrifuges or presses or other methods of harvesting and filtering your honey. You don't need the hot knife to decap and so on. So it is easier in that way and less equipment, less space used in your house or shed. You simply have a hive like this in your garden, and everything's contained within it. And you can have this beautiful, fresh honey that needs no further processing right out of the back here. So about half of our 100 hundred thousand or so customers all around the world are beginners.

Here in North Carolina, we typically have a dearth in July to August. How would you recommend we protect our hives from robbing during a dearth? Would the Flow Hive entrance reducer be enough, or should I buy a robbing screen?

So the entrance reducer should be good to help close up the entrance. So if you have a look at the entrance here, you get this Flow Hive entrance reducer like this. Now it's double-sided. So this way up is close, this way up is reduce the entrance. And how it works is you put these two little L-screws in your hive. Then on goes the entrance reducer. You simply just swing these around into place. And there you have it, a reduced entrance to this size. Now that should help with mice infestations. It should help with robbing. It should help with wasps as well, because what you're doing is you're closing down the entrance and making it easier for your colony to defend itself from those pests. And it's typically what you do when there's a robbing issue, is close the entrance. If you don't have one of these, then you can easily make an entrance reducer just by poking anything into the front of the hive. Even a bit of straw from your garden will do, poke it in and just leave a small gap like that for the bees to go in and out. And that will be greatly helpful in a situation where you've got other bees coming to take the honey from this hive.



Why is the Flow Hive expensive? Why don't you make it cheaper?

So the Flow Hive, I guess it's a revolutionary product in the way that it contains our invention that we worked a decade on and it's very different and we've taken it a stage up as well by adding all of these features that do help you with your beekeeping. Now there's a few things to consider when you are considering taking up beekeeping. And one is the Flow Hive doesn't need the other equipment like the centrifuge, which can be expensive, like the hot knife, the decapper, all of the tubs and buckets, the filtering process and so on. So it's not apples for apples in a way. And another thing to note is you don't need so much equipment on each hive. So here we have a brood box and a super. Now I find that's enough, because what you can do when, when the flow is on, is keep harvesting, honey, storing honey in your jars on the shelf, rather than adding more boxes. Now, beekeepers will typically keep adding boxes. So you probably need to compare something like this to a hive that's got multiple boxes on it when you are doing your maths. But I encourage you to try all sorts of beekeeping, whether it be top bar beekeeping, warre hives conventional Langstroths, Flow Hives, and just see what works for you. Another thing is we have made some different price points there for people that can't afford all the bells and whistles. We have what's called the hybrid hive, which is roughly half the cost of the others. And it contains just less Flow Frames in the middle here and then conventional frames on either side.

Does the queen stop laying brood during a dearth?

She will throttle down her laying to match the nectar flow. So that's an important function of a hive is to change the size of the hive if there's not enough forage available. So if you are in a long, cold winter, however, then the bees will take that a step further. And what they'll do is breed what's called fat bees, which have more fat on their body and they can last longer a forager bee. The fat bees will last up to six months, or maybe even more, so they're important to carry the hive through that dearth. But they probably won't breed those unless it's getting cold in wintertime.

Can I split my hive into a new Flow Hive?

You certainly can. The best time to split your hive is when bees are really bursting at the seams. And for that is normally springtime. So let's say you've got bees starting to beard here. They're hanging down from the landing board. They're starting to build up here, in some cases they're covering the whole front. Typically they'll do that on a really hot day. You're opening the windows and it's hard to see the comb because there's so many bees in there, then it's a really good idea to take a split because that will alleviate the main thing that triggers swarming. And that's not enough room for the bees to actually for the queen to lay eggs. So when you take up to half of the frames out of this box and put fresh ones in what you find is there's now a whole lot of new area for the queen to lay. So that's a good thing to do for what's called spring management, where you are trying to make some new real estate for the queen to lay in.


I understand you have half-size Flow Frames for Asian bees. Do you have the boxes for them yet?

That project, we don't have going anymore. It's something we did do, but if the demand came, we could get that project going again. We didn't supply the boxes. They were just using the frames in Japan and making their own boxes at that time.

I was hoping to utilise the Flow Hive system, but wanted to alter the dimension slightly. Is there any chance of customization?

There is. So if you are a bit of a tinkerer, then you can change it by taking out some of this segment if you need to shorten it, which I assume is what you're talking about, then all you'd need to do is take the wires off, try and leave it in segments, if you can, because it's a bit tedious to restack them. Take some of the segments out, put the end-plate back on, and then rather than reuse this cable, you can just use some stainless steel tie wire to do that same job, make sure you're following that same pattern. And what that'll do is tighten it all up for you again, with a twist at the back, and you can shorten the frame. And you can go two cell lines at a time.



Thank you very much for tuning in today. And I just want to do another shout-out for everyone here in Australia to follow the updates from the DPI about the varroa mite. To encourage everybody to register, if you know anybody that hasn'tregistered their hive, then make sure they register.

It's really important, especially in the Newcastle zone that everybody is registered. So the DPI knows where those hives are. And that way, if there's an issue in the area, it can be dealt with. We really need to eradicate this mite and fingers crossed, we can. The rest of the world does have it, and they get along okay with treating it and so on. But we would rather not, it has big ramifications for the honeybee industry here in Australia. And we really want to make sure it doesn't take hold. Also, if you know where wild hives are, make sure you're reporting them. There is a hotline number (1800 084 881) we'll put links in below. Make sure you arereporting where wild hives are if you live in that Newcastle area or up to a hundred kilometres north now. And make sure you are following the DPI's orders, which are to not tamper with your hive at this time.


So there's astatewide directive in New South Wales, do not harvest honey from your hive, do not do brood inspections, do not do anything to your hive unless you're specifically doing mite control in the form of a sugar shake or alcohol wash or something like that. I'm hoping that as Flow Hive users, we can help the situation by using the screen bottom board, which is helpful in monitoring and counting mites. So hopefully it doesn't get to this, but if it does hopefully we can be of assistance as a community by using the screen bottom board and either making or purchasing sticky mats that you put underneath, which enable you to count any mites that fall through the screen. But as said, the DPI's current directive is to do nothing to your hive, do not move them is the main one and do not tamper with it at the moment. So stay tuned to the DPI. It's changing daily and fingers crossed. They're confident that they can get on top of this. And I really hope that they can thank you for tuning in. Thank you for all the great questions.



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