What’s Your Mite Count?

This past July Meghan and I went to the Eastern Apicultural Society Conference in Rhode Island.  It was without question the most intensely educational experience in my brief beekeeping career.  Perhaps throughout the winter I will do some writing about all the many things I was able to learn over that one week period.  But life has been a little nuts with the opening of the store and I haven’t had much time to write.

One of the speakers we heard encouraged the beekeepers to stop asking the common question “how many hives are you running?”  Size comparisons are only fun for those people whose answer is impressive in its enormity.  At EAS the group wanted to become more concerned with the health and vitality of our hives which is a much better measure of how well a beekeeper is practicing his art.  We were encouraged to start asking each other questions like “what’s your mite count?”  Varroa mites are the scourge of modern beekeeping.  Just knowing the answer to that question indicates how much one knows about the state of her hives.

At the time I didn’t know the answer.  But I learned how to find out the answer and I hope to post instructions and video in an upcoming essay, if time and weather permits me.  So a few weeks ago I checked on the hive behind the store and found a count just below the threshold of treatment.  I love my Russian bees.  But I have come to believe, as long as I am using soft treatments for mites, it is better to err on the side of caution and treat for mites.

Before EAS I had already told the nice people at NOD Apiary products I had no interest in carrying Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) at the store.  I’d heard about some of the early formic acid treatments and, though it is considered a “soft” treatment, it seemed like it was pretty harsh on the hive.  But I heard a number of lectures from Randy Oliver, who is a fantastic beekeeper, a prolific writer, and one of the most inquisitive minds in current apiary research.  If you are curious about the science of it, please read the thorough article from Scientific Beekeeping that is linked here, but the short story is my mind was changed about MAQS and I ordered a pallet of the product for sale at the store.

What follows is the non-scientific result of my one experience with the product:  After moving the hive from South Portland to the yard at the store I was a little worried about whether the queen survived the trip.  I checked after the hive had had about a week to settle into the new home and didn’t spot the queen (she’s a cagy one and has been staying hidden much of the summer) but saw eggs and a good laying pattern.  I also counted more than eight (out of sixteen – we use 8-frame equipment) frames of brood.  Six is the minimum recommended number for use of MAQS – if your hive isn’t that strong, stick to the thymol products.  After another week (you want to allow at least three days for the hive to settle after an inspection before using the Quick Strips) I put in the pads between the brood chambers of the hive.  Two of the big selling points for this product (aside from the efficacy against Varroa mites) are it can be used with honey supers on (and the hive is on its way to finishing off a super of beautiful fall honey) and it is a single treatment.  The pads go on right in the broodnest and are left there (and the hive is left alone) for seven days.  The treatment period is only three of those days, as long as the temperature is above 60 degrees during the day.  The literature from NOD said the hive may hang out at the front door in the initial stage of treatment and recommends putting an empty super with frames above the hive to give the bees a place to cluster.  I didn’t have one handy so I put on a feeding shim above the inner cover.  Entrances are left open, including the screened bottom board.  I watched the hive for the entirety of the first day and didn’t notice any unusual behavior.  The bees were coming and going, foraging like crazy on all the Deering Center goldenrod and Japanese knotweed.

Today, thirteen days later ( I would have gone in earlier but business and weather conspired otherwise) I checked in on the hive.  It looks great.  Again, the queen went into hiding when the smoke came in, but I found eggs in a nice tidy pattern.  There was brood at all stages of development and it was being moved downward thus that the top of the oval was about 1/4 into the top hive body.  Above and around that was packed with honey.

I understand a lot of people are concerned about formic acid’s effect on queens and broodrearing.  That seems to have been left behind with this latest generation of products.  And a number of thoughtful beekeepers with far more experience than me are very enthusiastic about the Quick Strips.  I’ll admit my sample size of one hive is not compelling science in itself, but I’ve done my homework and feel fully confident recommending the Mite Away Quick Strips.


About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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