Some of you may remember this past spring, I joined Bee Informed Partnership’s 2022 Sentinel Apiary Program. As part of this program, I sent in monthly samples from four of my beeyard colonies from May through October. I also collected pollen samples for pesticide analysis… though in full disclosure, I missed the deadline for that analysis due to a... time management issue… I also entered inspection and management data from the field on a very convenient app for my cell phone or iPad.
For participating in this program, I received monthly analysis of the number of varroa found in each hive’s sample, as well as the results of two nosema tests. All of this is tracked and reported back to me on a dashboard the BIP team created for each participant. My data is also combined with other Sentinel Apiary Program participants (hobby, sideline and commercial beekeepers) for national reporting on the health of honey bees. You can see how all of this data summarized on the BIP site. See how your state is doing!
What did I learn from this exercise? I have to admit, that being a BVD beekeeper [now get those tighty-whitey visuals out of your head - just don’t go there - it is not pretty!] What I am mean is - as someone who learned beekeeping Before Varroa Destructor, it’s reinforced on me the absolute and utter destructive nature of the varroa mite on a colony.
It has taught me that one MUST take regular mite samples. Yes, it is not fun killing 300+ bees per colony a month in a sample. However, what I gained is a true understanding of how the varroa are destroying my colonies - right under my nose.
You know, from from the outside, a colony will appear totally normal. If you pop open the top and peer inside it will look normal. Look at the top of the frames, everything will appear normal. If you pull a frame… the bees will be working and all will appear normal. The bees will appear healthy until they don’t and the colony dies. Usually, this is during the winter, while surrounded by a full hive body of honey.
It is depressing to open colonies in the spring and find they died earlier in the winter. Odds are, if you left enough honey on them, they didn’t die because of starvation or the cold or moisture or temperature swings or mice or anything else. They died because of varroa mites.
That of course is a broad generalization, so take it as that, but in this case, a corollary to Occam’s Razor is definitely in play. You know Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution is almost always the best. A corollary is the simplest cause is almost always the reason. If you do not manage year round for varroa, your bees will die. And what’s more, before your bees die, there is a strong likelihood they will take varroa with them to your neighbor’s hive. Varroa is a gift that keeps giving.
So, regardless of your approach to beekeeping - natural or chemical free, Langstroth or top bar, Warre or Horizontal, have a solid management plan for varroa and do regular mite counts. They will not go away on their own.
Join BIP Sentinel Apiary program in 2023, force yourself to look in the mirror and see just how effective your current management practices are against varroa. You may surprise yourself.