Your Source For Beekeeping News, Information and Entertainment
May 15, 2023

Varroa Control with Bill Hesbach (S5, E48)

On today's show, we invite Connecticut Master Beekeeper, Bill Hesbach back to the show to talk about the latest developments in practical varroa management. Whether you are a long time beekeeper, aka BVD beekeeper (Before Varroa Destructor) or a new...

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On today's show, we invite Connecticut Master Beekeeper, Bill Hesbach back to the show to talk about the latest developments in practical varroa management. Whether you are a long time beekeeper, aka BVD beekeeper (Before Varroa Destructor) or a new beekeeper, varroa complicate the way you learn about and manage your honey bee colony.

We talk with Bill about varroa and the various management approaches available to beekeepers today. We discuss on-lable and off-lable use of chemicals (organic and non-organic) as well as IPM practices.

We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura


This episode is brought to you by Global PattiesGlobal PattiesGlobal offers a variety of standard and custom patties. Visit them today at and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

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Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC

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S5, E48 – Varroa Control with Bill Hesbach



Jeff Ott:Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast, your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum:I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties:Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at

Jeff:Thank you, Sherry, and a quick shout-out to all of our sponsors whose support allows us to bring you this podcast each week without resorting to a fee-based subscription. We don't want that, and we know you don't either. Be sure to check out all of our content on our website. There, you can read up on all our guests, read our blog on the various aspects and observations about beekeeping, search for, download, and listen to over 200 past episodes, read episode transcripts, leave comments and feedback on each show, and check on podcast specials from our sponsors. You can find it all at

To everybody, thanks again for joining. Kim will be here in just a few moments. You can help us open the next episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast by sending a greeting to us, much like you've heard earlier this month from other listeners. Just send us a recording captured on your phone, your tablet, or computer, voice memo app, welcome listeners to the show, and include who you are, how many bees you keep, and your greeting.

I hope all you, moms, had a great Mother's Day yesterday. Did you take some time for yourself and put the bees and festivities on hold while you peeked inside on your bees? I sure hope so. How about the rest of you? Did you wish your queen mothers a good day? [chuckles] All right. Well, about this time of year, everyone pretty much has all their packages and nukes in place. You're probably chasing swarms still.

I don't know about you, but I'm always relieved when swarming season is over and the colonies get down to business. The first swarm is exciting and amazing to see take off, but by the third or fourth swarm or the fifth or sixth call about a swarm of bees on a fence post or hanging from a tree branch or worse, buried in the tangles of brambles somewhere, I am out of equipment and tired, but that's me. Your mileage may vary, and that's what makes it fun.

We have a great show lined up for you today on an important topic, Varroa mites. Whether you knew it when you started to keep bees, or it was foisted upon you through time, when you manage honey bees, you are, in fact, managing two critters, the honeybee and the mite. It is a fact that is unavoidable. The more we learn about Varroa, there is the slow realization that there will be no magic breed, no chemical, organic or otherwise, or piece of equipment that will eliminate this parasite. We as beekeepers must somewhat kick in and track in their feet, actively manage this pest on our honeybees. Ignoring it and say, "Natural selection will result in a super beet," will not work, at least not in our lifetimes. Maybe in your grandchildren's lifetime.

I'm not referring to us 60-year-old beekeepers out there, I'm talking to the 20 or 30-year-old beekeepers. Whether you have one or 1,000 colonies, you must have a Varroa management plan. As Ben Franklin is quoted to have said, "If you failed to plan, you are planning to fail." As many, too many beekeepers found out through their winter losses, lack of a plan or a realistic plan will result in losses. Today's guest, Bill Hesbach, is a Connecticut beekeeper, EAS master beekeeper, a speaker, an author of articles in Bee Culture and American Beekeeping Journal. We've invited him to the podcast to talk to us about Varroa management. That's coming right up, but first, a quick word from our sponsors.


Sherry:This episode is sponsored in part by Blue Sky Bee Supply. Check out for the best selection of honey containers, caps, lids, and customized honey labels. Enter coupon code PODCAST and receive 10% off an order of honey containers, caps, lids, or customized honey labels. Offer ends December 31st, 2023. Some exclusions apply.


Sherry:Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honeybees encounter scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers, we feed our bees artificial diets of protein and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing, though, are key components, the good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food and convert it into metabolic energy. Only SuperDFM-HoneyBee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy, necessary for improving longevity, reproduction, immunity, and much more. SuperDFM-HoneyBee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honeybees. Find it at or at find bee supply stores everywhere.

Jeff:While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to the Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Bill Hesbach. Bill is a well-respected beekeeper in Connecticut, right, Bill?

Bill Hesbach:Yes, Connecticut.

Jeff:Connecticut. Bill has been on the show in the past. We have him back today to talk to us about Varroa. Bill, again, thanks. Welcome back to the show.

Bill:Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Kim:Bill, it's good seeing you again. It's been a while.

Bill:Kim reminded me before the show that we're native. Are you a native Connecticut?

Kim:I passed through Connecticut. I came there from Wisconsin.

Bill:Okay. All right. Okay.


Bill:I feel like I'm coming home. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about Varroa. Although it's a damaging parasite, it's something that we have to pay a lot of attention to. It'll be great to give it a little discussion here. It'd be nice.

Jeff:Absolutely. The Varroa is such an important topic. Well, I know all three of us started well before Varroa made its presence in the United States, and it's a hard thing for us to adapt to. The beekeepers just starting in beekeeping are learning about beekeeping with Varroa. It is a challenging pest to deal with. It's devastating, actually.

Bill:It's devastating, and new beekeepers, especially, are a little bit perplexed by Varroa, and rightfully so because they're faced with the initial attempt to learn about bee biology, so they have to learn the actual biology piece. Biology, and that's a long learning curve right there. Now, if you add a formidable parasite to that equation, they have a double whammy. They don't get the opportunity to just learn beekeeping before they have to manage a pest in the county. That, I think, is problematic for most beekeepers because they're, first of all, shying away from the biology piece until they learn it, and then the first thing we tell 'em is, "You have to manage Varroa," so it's difficult.

We can understand, I think, why a lot of colonies die still from parasitic mite syndrome because beekeepers are trying to get up to speed with how to deal with Varroa.

Jeff:Well, at this time of year, we have two types of beekeepers, those that are just getting the beekeeping right now, that just received their packages or their nukes in the last several weeks, and then we have the beekeepers that just experienced their first winter [chuckles] with bees, and if they're unfortunate enough to have had dead outs, and they've lost their one or two hives or even three hives that they started the fall with, they're saying, "Doggone those Varroa," or, "What happened?" That's the ugly hit-in-the-face reality of Varroa at this time.

Bill:Varroa will take a colony right down. Let's start with the package piece because that gives us an opportunity to deal with mites right away. I think it's important for new beekeepers especially to take some action in Varroa with packages. Now, lots of times, package bees will come fairly clean because they've been treated at their origin, but I like to always start with a little treatment, an organic acid treatment with a package. You can do that two ways.

You can follow the label instructions, Api-Bioxal. That's the only legal oxalic acid we can use in our colonies. You follow those instructions, and it gives you specific treatment modalities for packages. One is to feed them with a spray of oxalic acid and sugar water. That's fairly simple to do. The first step in that treatment piece is that you spray the piece with regular one-to-one syrup, and you let 'em feed on that for a couple of applications. That gets their honey stomach a little bit full and means that they'll digest less of the next part of this, which is the actual oxalic acid and sugar water treatment. You spray them then in the package, and you can drop Varroa that way. Now, that's a little bit easier for newbie keepers to do.

My preference is to actually install the package inside of whatever I'm going to install on, foundation, or drawing comb, and then wait till the queen is laying, and you have a certain amount of time for that. You can figure that out, just by looking inside the colony and look for eggs. Before any cells are cap, you give 'em a Oxalic acid vaporization treatment. We've changed the name, by the way, we can talk about them as phoretic mites, or we can say they're dispersal mites, whatever you want to call 'em.

I'm going to default to phoretic, I think, because it's ingrained in my head, but the real terminology at this point is dispersing mites. Anyway, all those mites are out on bees somewhere, and it's a good opportunity. They're vulnerable, at that point's a good opportunity to get 'em all out of the colony. If you start with a package that has zero or very low mite count, one or two mites. You have a very strong approach to that first year of mite control.

Jeff:Can I go back to the original when spraying down the row with the oxalic acid mixture? I just want to make sure it's clear that the first spray is just with straight sugar water, and then you get a second bottle, or then you add the Oxalic acid, and then you spray them with the Oxalic acid sugar water mix.

Bill:Yes. The reason, the scientific reasons for that is the bees that are hanging on the outside, every bee in there is, there's no comb in that box, usually. They're all those mites of phoretic, and you don't want 'em eating oxalic acid. Now, we're not going to talk about the other alternative methods of mixing oxalic acid with other products because it's not legal. There are people that are experimenting with other substances to mix their oxalic acid with that the bees would not ingest because they don't need it. That would leave the oxalic acid suspended on those bees, and do, in my opinion, possibly less harm. Any asset that a bee ingest affects its microbiome. They get over it really quick. It's just a matter of thinking about what we might do in the future, but we have to leave that up to the EPA to prove those.

Jeff:It's not something a new beekeeper wants to experiment with.

Bill:Absolutely not. That brings up the point that we really need to educate the beekeeping public, especially new beekeepers, that they need to follow all the rules, label instructions on the different products that they use to combat Varroa during the year. That's incredibly important. We don't want to endanger the bees, and we don't want to prolong or provoke any kind of resistance in Varroa.

Kim:Bill, let me go back three steps here. One of the things you mentioned was testing for mites. If you've been at this a couple, 3, 5, 20 years, you know what that means. If this is your first package and this is your first time, what's your recommendation for the technique for testing for mites?

Bill:One of the most useful one would be a alcohol wash. What I encourage newbie keepers to do right away is to, in some way, manage the bottom board, either with a screen bottom, so they can put in a sticky board because it helps in a couple of ways. First of all, if they leave that sticky board in the colony for like 72 hours, they'll get an idea of what kind of mite population they have on those bees. Invariably, some mites will drop out of cells or die and land on that sticky board, and then you get an idea if you have a mite count at all in that colony.

The best one, in my opinion, is the alcohol wash. That requires that you learn how to actually sample 300 bees in your colony for Varroa that are phoretic on those bees. You'll kill them instantly with alcohol. I like to use 90%, but I've also used, very effectively, a combination of water and dish detergent. A couple of tablespoons of dish detergent in a spray bottle, or one in a mixture of a gallon of water, you can use that as a wash also. The research, done by Randy Oliver, shows that that's a very effective way to do it without alcohol.

Kim:How many bees do I have to test to be relatively confident that I have a feel for what's going on in that colony?

Bill:Yes, you have to sacrifice 300 bees out of the colony. That's 0.5 cup. You can actually shake them into a Tupperware tub off of a frame. Normally, we choose a frame of bees where there's brood on it. We're looking for nurse bees because nurse bees are going to carry Varroa on their underside, and Varroa then find their way into cells on nurse bees because they need to get into brood, and nurse bees are around brood. We try to figure out where that nurse bee population is.

That's usually a little bit off center of the center of the brood nest because usually, the center of the brood nest is more mature. We're looking for those outlying frames that show some eggs in different stages of larva. Then you can shake those into a Tupperware tub, I usually bang that tub a little bit. Then what happens is then the foragers will leave that tub because they have a tendency to want to fly away. What's left usually are regular nurse bees. Now, the bee you want to check for in that tub--


Jeff:Sorry. I'm laughing here because--

Bill:The bee you want to check for in that tub is the queen, or else, you're going to put a brute break into that colony that you didn't want to really put in. It gives you an opportunity if you could do it that way, to find her easy. If you hadn't spotted her on a comb in the tub, she's very obvious.

Jeff:I like to think that if you do sample your bees, ultimately, at some point, you're going to also sample your queen. Just prepare for that eventuality that's going to happen at some point no matter how good you are. At least that's what I tell myself. [laughs]

Bill:Did that answer your question, Kim?

Kim:It tells me the numbers I'm looking for. I'll go back even maybe a half a step further for people that I'm going to greet my package this afternoon. I'm going to bring that package home. I'm going to get it installed. Now, you're saying, "Wait until there's brood in that colony," so you're looking at a week, 10 days after I get that installed?

Bill:Yes. You have to pay close attention to it. The reason I'm suggesting that you wait is if you start sublimating oxalic acid in a colony where the queen is first of all caged still or hasn't begun laying, there's no reason for them to stay. You can provoke them to abscond, but they won't leave brood, which we all know. That's why I say delay that process just a little bit when you first see eggs, so do you know that the queen is released, and we tell new beekeepers all the time when they're installing their package to pull the cork on the sugar side of the cage and then not the other side if you have a California cage or a Benton box.

You just pull it out, and then it'll take a couple days for the bees to eat through that candy, and then the queen is released. Usually, we're telling beekeepers to go back and look three days later or so, so the queen is released. That's day one, kind of. Then she might take a couple days to start laying. Most of the queens that I saw this year in packages that came up start to lay beautifully right away after day one or two. That's your day one.

Now, the clock starts on you for this treatment. If you wait nine days, if there's Varroa in that package, they're in the cells at that point under caps, and you can't get 'em on oxalic acid. You're certainly not going to put formic acid on 'em this time of year, especially when they're just a new package, 10,000 bees and just a small population. You wouldn't risk that. It's not necessary. Then you could do a dribble, or you could do a vaporization, which I prefer because it's so easy to do. Then that'll kill the mites, most of 'em, 97% or 99% of of 'em will be.

Kim:I'm putting 300 bees in this container. I'm adding my alcohol or soapy water mix, I'm shaking and shaking and rolling and rolling. Then I very carefully dump out the contents of the container, I had them in either through a screen or someplace where I can separate the bees from the liquid. The mites that come out will go in with the liquid. I've got 3000 bees in a package. How many mites-- of course, I don't want to find any, but where's the ceiling of how many I want to fight before I panic?

Bill:[laughs] Let's just back up a little bit because maybe I didn't make it clear. When I was explaining that my favorite technique for finding mites is an alcohol wash, it wouldn't be with a new package, because you could do it with a new package, but I don't suggest. I think that either a vaporization of some kind at that point is really the key. I would wait a little bit. Now when you install a package, depending on where you live, somewhere between 8 and 10 weeks, it's up to full strength. If you're going to wait all of that time to do an alcohol wash, if you're going to do an alcohol wash, I would wait a longer period of time. That gives mites an opportunity to begin to reproduce. What I was talking about initially, that technique is to just clean the package out from mites.

Then later on in the season, you're going to find that you're-- and I, by the way, recommend for my new beekeepers. We have 600 members at this point in Connecticut Beekeepers Association. Every year, we get 200 new members that show up for our schools and at our bee yards. I recommend to them that they do this procedure to clean the package, but then later on, as their colony grows, I recommend that they test for mites every month. I recommend that they use the alcohol wash at that point.

300 bees, and we try to keep the mites around 6 in that 300 bee wash, depending on how you do it. You explained how you can find your mites. I have a little jar that I can shake 'em in, and the mites fall down, and I can put it up to the sunlight and count to mites in the same wash device. In that case, it's easy to see 'em, but I don't want that over. If it's six mites in May, you're in trouble.

Jeff:There are multiple products on the market that the jars with a screen involved of some sort that will help you with that process.

Bill:They make it much easier to do.

Jeff:Yes. I encourage everyone to have that as part of their bee bucket or their bee kit for testing mites. The other, of course, is sugar roll is the other alternative, and to a lesser extent is the CO2 role, as well.

Bill:Yes, the CO2 requires lots of expertise, in my opinion, and equipment. If you're doing AI on Queens, you'll have a CO2 operation already gone, but that's pretty complicated. I like the idea, but it's pretty complicated to orchestrate as a beekeeper.

Jeff:Those are definitely areas that a beekeeper might want to explore as they get more experience with handling bees and understanding mites, but again, the best is some alcohol wash or the soapy water, and look to make sure you're less than six, otherwise, you should be treating.

Bill:You've reached a treatment threshold at that point. Now this gets really interesting, as time goes on, and we'll explain a little bit about, or maybe we'll get a chance to talk a little bit about later on in the season and the phenomena that occurs with mites. You have to make sure that if you're going to do a sugar roll, you follow it up with an alcohol wash on the same beast because [laughter] it just doesn't work as well.

Unfortunately, now, this is a concept that I've been trying to explain to folks for a few years now, but it occurs to me in a lot of the scientists that study this stuff is that we're asking our test technique to get very close to its operating limits. For instance, we're asking this 300 bee sample to provide us with data that it may or may not be capable of being able to do.

For instance, if we miss one mite we don't treat. That's beyond the scope. The test wasn't designed to have levels of 2% and 1% detection. You might as well just go ahead and proactively treat at that point, if that's where you're going to ask that-- Our tools that we have for determining mite populations or dispersal mite populations, however you want to talk about it, we're on the margin of their functionality. Does that make sense, or is it a little bit too technical?

Jeff:No, actually it does make sense. Then I was going to add to the limitations of that fine line of I'm at five, I'm not six, I'm under the threshold. You're also limited by where you collected the bees. If you collected your bees and you have a primarily all-field bees, say, you collected your bees from where they're storing honey, then you're not going to have a true representation of the Varroa in your hive.

Bill:You won't have a true representation of Varroa in your hives. You can miss that population a lot of ways.

That's why I mentioned, if you're going to shake bees off of a frame, nurse bees, and put 'em into a Tupperware bucket before you sample 'em, it's a good idea to bang that down a few times, and the bees that will fly are generally foragers. We know that nurse bees have a tendency to want to walk, and they don't fly as well. You can see that in swarms when they land on something, the nurse bees will walk into a swarm trap where the foragers will just fly in.

They prefer to stay on the ground or in the bucket, and that's why you can scoop them up that way. Yes, you can miss 'em another way now. I just want to make people aware that Zach Lamas is been doing some wonderful research, and he has determined through a number of tests and protocols, we call 'em assays, that his latest theory is that a lot of bees, the bee population where mites reside actually is on drones in the beginning of their life. He's suggesting that our sampling protocol may have to be refined to include some drones if we want to really know where the population is. Then he suggests that as time goes on and the drone population wanes, the mites migrate from those drones over to the worker bees.

That's why we see these spikes later on in the season because the mites were walking around on drones, we never really sample drones, and the only way we sample drones is look under caps. We uncap them and look inside and see if there's mites. He suggested through his test that mites are actually on drones a little bit. That's an aside, and folks that want to look at that research can talk to Zach Lamas or see Zach Lamas' presentation on 'em.

Jeff:This is a great place to take a quick break and we'll be right back.


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Kim:Well, Bill just mentioned something near and dear to my heart is looking at drones in Varroa. I'm starting with a package this spring, and I'm checking-- I'm going to use this word carefully here, routinely, my population is manageable at the numbers that I'm getting depending on whose numbers I'm reading because they do vary somewhat over here. I've got three frames in my whole colony. I've got three frames of drone brood.

Always, always, always, my first choice is let's get rid of those drones before they emerge. I'm doing drone trapping, I'm removing the frames once they're capped, and then I'm replacing 'em so that the queen can lay drones in 'em again, because a colony naturally strives for a certain level of its population to be drones during the growing season, just to keep them going and mating. If I take a step back from the treatments that you're suggesting and look at just drone trapping, am I going to be partially successful, successful, or am I going to have empty equipment in a month?

Bill:You're going to have empty equipment, maybe not in a month, but the following year, you will. If you have the combination of the screen bottom board, drone trapping, a VSH queen, and a brood break, you might be able to make it through. If you do just one of those, you're not going to affect the rural population enough. I mentioned four things, if you took three of 'em, if you took screen bottom boards, drone trapping, and a VSH queen, your colonies die in the same rate as if you don't treat for Varroa at all.

When you add the brood break in there, which is a split or something that we might have a chance to talk about it in a little bit, that will boost your odds. Now, the best way to trap drones, in my opinion, is to wait and put your queen later on around July after the actual honey flows over, and you can force a brood break in your colony. Buy one of these wonderful frames that you can put a single frame in. I like to put in a drawn drone comb in that frame, and it's a cage frame where the queen can't get out, but she can roam around in that comb and lay eggs. Now you have your queen in a drawn-out drone comb, trapped in this single frame, and you let her lay out there for about seven days, then you take her out and put her in another one.

Now, you have to have two of these little apparatuses, and you have to have two fully drawn combs of drone. You let her layout in that frame in seven days.

Now, you've got 14 days when she hasn't been able to lay in any of the colony. You've created a brood break for 14 days. Now, if you let her go now, you can harvest those drones, or you can let them emerge in another frame. You can do lots of things with the drones that you have in those. You can also kill 'em. That's not a good idea if they're really infested with Varroa now. I could explain that in a minute.

Anyway, then you have, on day 21, all of your Varroa are in the dispersal phase or phoretic, at that point, and they're all out of comb. That's when you can also give them a treatment. Here's the key numbers. That was a long explanation, but the key numbers are 14 days, your queen is caged, and then on day 21, you treat. There's only two numbers you have to remember. Anytime you do any kind of a split, it's always the same. If you did a split with ripe queen cells, it's exactly the same. On day 21, you can treat. If you did a walk-away split, it's the same thing, on day 21, you can treat or 24. That's the critical time period that you could.

Now, the reason I like that drone comb thing is you can preserve the genetics of a colony that you like that queen. Then you can let those drones actually emerge inside those traps, and you can treat 'em, and then let them fly. If you don't want to kill the drone population because you've got a wonderful queen, but you do want to use them to trap Varroa, you can do it that way. A little more complicated, some more advanced beekeeping, but you can do it that way.

Jeff:If you let the drones emerge as adults, aren't a certain number of them going to be potentially with deformed wing virus and other diseases, other deformities?

Bill:Deformed wing virus takes a whole cycle. When you take those frames out, you still have till day 24 for them to merge. You have plenty of time to manipulate 'em. That's drone trapping at a different level. The common way to trap drones is put the green frames in, let the bees draw that out, let the queen lay in it, and make sure you get in there and take it out before day 24. Because if you don't do that, then you got a problem. You're making a Varroa factory at that point. You're raising Varroa. You don't want to ever do that.


Bill:You don't want to do that at all. Just to go back on the split thing, if you're going to use splits to try to control Varroa, then one way to do that is during swarm season with swarm cells. You can leave the swarm cells in the parent colony and take the brood away from that colony and make a split and put the queen in the split, and then let the parent colony raise a new queen, and then again, there's those magic numbers you have. Day 21, you can treat the parent colony, which has a large population of bees normally that you want to keep with some treatment, and you're good to go. You can use formic acid or you can use oxalic acid at that point.

Beekeeper should think about the Varroa reproduction cycle as a 12-day cycle because actually, that's what it is. Day one is when the final mite goes under the cap, and then there's 12 days. That's usually day 9, and then there's 12 days before the mites emerge with the new brood that's emerging out of the cap.

Jeff:Varroa is a big topic, and we're covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time here. I encourage our listeners, there's two resources I like to mention that our listeners should go check out would be the Be Informed Partnership website and also Honey Bee Health Coalition. Both are wonderful resources for finding out the latest approved methods for treating and managing honey bees and dealing with the Varroa problem at the same time.

Kim:No, I think you've done a good job of explaining this. If I've been keeping bees for 20 minutes, I can see where managing mites is at the top of the list of things I need to learn.

Bill:It really is on the top of your list of things you need to learn. There's a lot of folks out there that default, I think, out of fear or out of hesitancy, at some point, to think, "I can just go treatment free." Now, I want to make certain that your audience knows that that's virtually impossible to do it right off the bat with your one colony. What that would mean is that you were the winner of the lottery that got a queen, and a magic queen, by the way, that had progeny that was able to resist Varroa on its own.

Now, the odds of that, it has never occurred, and I know beekeepers with thousands of colonies and are breeding from thousands of colonies and have never been able to find that magic bullet. You can't do that as a new beekeeper. You have to manage Varroa or something.

Jeff:You would have to be out on an island somewhere without any other bees within flying distance.

Bill:Right. You'd have to start with no Varroa. [laughter] Which is almost impossible. Yes, it's here to stay. Jim, I don't know, if in our lifetime if we'll see any-- We might make some progress in it. There might be some science that comes along in the future that disables the reproductive quality of Varroa, but we don't have anything at this point. There's no vaccination against Varroa. I'm sorry to say we have to treat it. It's not as hard as I think beekeepers may think it is, because once you get into routine doing your roles and treating bees, you're fine. Then you can enjoy beekeeping, like you used to enjoy it. You could make honey. You can do lots of things once you get Varroa out.

Jeff:It's not the end of the world. You just can't ignore it and expect it to go away. Keeping bees without any management of Varroa through natural selection, as we're talking about, I just don't think that's possible in today's world at this time.

Bill:It's not impossible at this time. We have to acknowledge and also praise those folks that have been able to stay treatment free for a very long time. What we find out is that whatever is occurring in their apiary operation doesn't translate when you take those queens out of that environment. We don't actually know all the factors involved in making bees more resistant to Varroa and able to sustain low Varroa comps. We don't know. Partially, it's environmental. There's probably a genetic component. I'm sure the accumulation of other toxins in their environment have something to do with.

There's so many factors that may be playing in to that one beekeeper who finds a way to stay treatment free for a while. They're out there. We have to encourage that behavior. Most of the time, those folks are very experienced beekeepers, and they know exactly what they're doing in terms of breeding and all that. You can't expect that.

Jeff:No, absolutely. If you're a first, second, even third-year beekeeper, and thinking go treatment free.

Bill:Yes, you got a long road to hoe. [laughs]

Jeff:It's a long learning curve.

Bill:It's a long learning curve.

Jeff:Bill, we're bumping up against the end of our time. I know you were talking about splits.

Bill:What's important about understanding splits is that you break the brood cycle. The brood cycle occurs for Varroa as soon as the cell is capped. That's their day one, Varroa. Then they go on, and they have 12 more days to reproduce since under that cap. Because, basically, a brood cell is kept on day nine, and then Varroa hang around in the cell for a while, two days or so. Then the founders mite that went into that cell off the bottom of a nurse bee begins to lay an egg. First thing she does is lay a male egg, and then in succession, in 30-hour intervals, she begins to lay females.

They reproduce, are mate with that first male that she laid, and then they grow in the cells until about day 21 from the egg or day 12 from the Varroa cycle. What you've done, if you take that piece out by interrupting the brood cycle, if there are no available brood for Varroa to go into, day 1 to day 9, you eliminate that by either moving your queen to another colony or making a split or whatever. There's no egg-laying activity for the first nine days. Eventually, all of those Varroa are out on bees on day 21.

No matter what kind of a split you do now. You can research splits, you can do walkaways, splits with ripe queen cells, splits with new queens don't work because if you don't interrupt the brood cycle, you don't get an opportunity to treat the Varroa. Then, again, I have a little pamphlet that talks about splits and Varroa and gives you all the timing. You can get that if you want. There's plenty of other resources out there that will describe how to do a split. It's a very, very common practice. Most people are doing it to increase bees.

Jeff:If you're going to do it to increase bees, might as well make the most of that time and reduce your Varroa load.

Bill:Right, and I think the most effective way to do it is with oxalic acid, but you can also do it very effectively with formic acid later on in the season when the temperature profiles, the environmental temperature is right. You have to have 50 degrees plus consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit for the formic acids to sublimate in the colony before it works on the caps.

Jeff:Well, Bill, we appreciate you being on the show today. Kim had to leave. I know he told me to tell you that he appreciate you being on, and we look forward to having you back this fall to talk about winter prep and wintering with bees. I don't want to think about winter right now, but I know that that's an area that you'd like to talk about and you've done a lot of research in. You have a website yourself, don't you?

Bill:Well, it's Yes, I'm a honey producer . Really, if folks want to see or participate in any of the discussions that I hold that are about Varroa and Varroa management, you would go to, that's our organization's website, Connecticut Beekeepers Association. In there are all the publications that-- We have videos, we have a video library, and we have plenty of publications, how to do roles, what's role counts on, what mites are all about. You can go back and look at any of the bee art videos that I've done and look at-- We have live demonstrations of roles, and so on and so forth.

Jeff:We'll have those links in our show notes. I encourage our listeners to go to Bill's website, check out his information he has available, check out everything you can find out about Varroa, follow labels. Bill, it's been wonderful having you here.

Bill:Well, it's been great. It's a wonderful spring day here in Connecticut. I'm going to get out and do some beekeeping pretty soon.


Bill:Always have a good time. See you guys, it's like coming home. I appreciate being here.

Jeff:Thank you, it's enjoyable having you here. We'll look forward to having you back this fall. Thanks a lot. You know, Varroa are such a nasty bug, and as our friend, John Miller, says, "You killing a bug on a bug is just a problem into itself."

Kim:Yes, and if you don't, you won't be keeping bees very long, or you'll keep buying bees very long. You got two choices. Bill explained a lot of good ways to handle it. It comes down to, you got to handle it.

Jeff:Yes, you can't ignore the problem. We can't stress enough if you're beginning beekeeper in the first several years of bees, don't get lured into the non-management style of Varroa management. It's a very expensive proposition, and your neighboring beekeepers will not enjoy having you in the neighborhood.

Kim:Exactly right.

Jeff:Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcasts, wherever you download and stream the show. Even better, write a review, and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on the reviews along the top of any webpage. We want to thank our regular episode sponsors, Global Patties, Strong Microbials, and Betterbee for their longtime support of this podcast.

Thanks to Blue Sky Bee Supply and Northern Bee Books for their generous support. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us questions and comments at leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:43:44] [END OF AUDIO]


William HesbachProfile Photo

William Hesbach

Author, EAS Master Beekeeper

Bill Hesbach is a Connecticut native with a background in engineering.
He's an Eastern Apicultural Society Certified Master Beekeeper, a graduate of the University of Montana's master beekeeping program, and the President of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association.

Bill also operates a sideline bee business called Wing Dance Apiary in Cheshire, CT., producing artisanal raw honey and other natural hive products.

Bill teaches bee biology and various beekeeping methods at meetings hosted by regional beekeeping clubs. Bill is an active member of the Eastern Apicultural Society, where he is part of the Master Beekeeper Certification program. Bill is a regular guest speaker at national beekeeping seminars and was presented the Distinguished Speaker Award at the 2019 EAS conference.

His special interests in beekeeping include bee biology, flight, and the connection between local flora and bee behavior. He's a published author, and his articles on beekeeping appear in The American Bee Journal and Bee Culture magazines. In addition, Bill’s YouTube videos are praised for both content and accessibility.