Saturday, May 30, 2009

Part 1 - OBA Tech Team's Bee Integrated Pest Management Program

The course was called the Integrated Pest Management Program and it covered all the different ways to care for your bees during the year.

Last Sunday I drove to Guelph, Ontario, so that I could participate in a one day training course put on by the Ontario Bee Association's Tech Team.

This wasn't an introduction to beekeeping course, although they teach that as well. The focus of this course was on how to properly monitor your hives for pests and diseases and how to properly treat them.

We had perfect weather and it was a wonderful day, well worth the 1.5 drive. The training involved classroom time and two sessions out in the bee yard, located in a large apple orchard.

Of course, a great emphasis was put on Monitoring your hives so that you know what's going on in the bee yard and so that any problems can be dealt with before they grow worse.

Monitoring for Nosema:
Nosema samples can be sent to a lab to determine if your hives have Nosema apis or Nosema ceranae.

Nosema apis often shows itself as a dysentery with bees pooping inside the hive or down the outside front of the hive, disjointed wings and bees crawling in front of the hive. With Nosema cerane there are no visible signs to tell if bees have it.

The test sample will be of the field bees returning to the hive.

Take a glass jar and fill it with about 1/4 cup of 70% isophroyl alcohol (available at drug stores). It is important to collect only field bees for this test. Collect the returning bees from the front of the hive.

The bees are then shipped to a lab (two in Ontario can do this for approx $8.00 per sample) which will analyze them for nosema.

All jars should always be labeled with: Name, Date, Yard and Colony, especially if you have multiple bee hives and yards.


Each sample jar for the lab should have 30 bees for a colony sample or 10 bees per hive for a yard sampling. The alcohol kills the bees instantly. The alcohol can then be poured off and the sample put in a zip lock bag for mailing - don't send alcohol through the mail.




To help with collecting the adult field bees from the front of the hive, the Tech Team came up with a really clever adaptation of a dust buster by adding plumbing parts.

It sucks up bees very safely and efficiently. Their design is available and can be downloaded from the OBA web site at:

http://techtransfer.ontariobee.com/index.php?action=display&cat=49&doc=Nosema_Detection_Info_Sheet.pdf

Read more about how to treat bees for Nosema at the Ontario Bee Associations website at: http://techtransfer.ontariobee.com/index.php?action=display&cat=52&doc=Nosema.pdf

The registered treatment for Nosema is Fumigilin B - see Part 2 of this article to be posted in the near future.

Various Methods to Monitor for Varroa:

Screened Bottom Board with Sticky Trap:

It's recommended to place a Varroa Mite Trap under the deep hive box for the entire spring and summer.
The trap should be removed for winter.

There are several different designs but the main concept is that #8 wire hardware cloth of either galvanic metal or stainless steel is stapled to a wooden frame that sits under the hive, often on top of the bottom board. Underneath the mesh is a tray, usually a cafeteria style tray, with a sticky paper.

(Pictured here is the Mesh screen placed on top of a reversed bottom board. The bottom board is reversed so there is no second gap at the front that will confuse the bees).

Note too that the tilt of the hive will then need to be changed to backwards so that water can drain off the hive and not sit inside.

How it works:
Any mites that fall off bees and fall to the bottom of the hive will fall through the wire mesh. The mesh is large enough to allow the mite to fall through but too small for the bees to go through.

To stop the mites from crawling back up the hive through the mesh and hitching onto a bee again, a sticky trap is set up under the wire mesh frame so that the mite sticks to it and dies.

(Typically there should not be dead bees on the sticky trap as there are in this photo - these bees got in through a gap in the back of this hive).

The Sticky trap is so simple to make - a paper file folder opened flat and placed under the screen.

Draw grid lines on the folder so that you can count the number of Varroa that fall on the grid. To make the folder sticky so that it holds onto the mite coat it with a thin layer of either Vaseoline or Crisco shortening.

The circle mark on the photo marks the Varroa Mite.

The mites are monitored, by doing what's called a "drop count" by counting the number of mites that fall in the grid area in a 24 hour period of time (or leave it 3 days and divide the count by 3).

Up to 3 mites in a 24 hour period is considered a tolerable level. Anything above that it is recommended to treat the hive.

If Varroa Mites are found on adult bees at any time that means a heavy infestation.


Reports have said that by using the sticky trap method alone, 15 to 20% of mites can be removed from the hive.


When you think about how many off spring just one mite can produce, this is a substantial reduction.

Plans to make your own Varroa Mite trap can be downloaded from the OBA website at: http://techtransfer.ontariobee.com/index.php?action=display&cat=49&doc=Screened_Bottom_Board.pdf

Using Drone Traps for Varroa Mites
Drone traps are another way to reduce mite infestations. The Varroa Mite prefers to raise its babies in drone cells. Drones pupae are larger than worker bee pupae and they take 24 days to hatch which is a longer incubation than a worker which is 21 days.

It's believed that this extra time is what the Varroa likes to take advantage of.

Plastic foundation (here pictured coloured in lime green) is now available from bee suppliers. These frames can be inserted, one per deep, into the hive box. It is very important to count the days that the frame is in the hive so as to be certain to remove it before the drones and the Varroa babies hatch. The frame is removed after 28 days (allowing 4 days for egg, larva, pupa and capping of the cell). This time frame is prior to the drones hatching.

You can use a capping scraper to remove approximately 100 drones to do a visual check for Varroa Mites. 1 or 2 mites per 100 drone pupae is okay.

The frame can be stripped clean and the contents of comb, dead drone pupae is destroyed. Be certain to remove it from the bee yard so that bees cannot fly to it and accidentally pick up and living varroa. Once everything is removed, the frame can be returned to the hive. The bees will rebuild the drone comb and the process is repeated again, as well as counting the days to hatching.

Another way to work with the drone trap is to freeze it. Then the frame full of dead drones and Varroa can be put back in the hive to be cleaned by the bees. The advantage with this method is that the bees won't have to rebuild the comb, the downside is that they will have to clean up the cells, removing the dead bodies.

I feel sorry for the boys, but they are sacrificing themselves for the good of the whole hive!

Monitoring Varroa with the Sugar Shake

This test is done of nurse bees shaken off frames from the hive.

Be sure to find the queen before shaking frames into a plastic bin.


Collect 1/4 cup (150 bees) of these nurse bees and put them in a jar with a modified lid.

Modify the lid by cutting a circle out of the top and adding window screening.

Press 1 tablespoon of icing sugar through the screening onto the bees.

Lightly shake the jar to spread the sugar over the bees. Then empty the contents onto a flat surface.

The bees will be completely white. The powder sugar interferes with the Varroa Mite's ability to cling to the hairs of the bee and they fall off.

Count the number of Varroa seen in the drop. Be sure to record your results.

I originally preferred this method when reading about it because it didn't kill the bees but after seeing it done, the bees were really struggling to breathe. It appeared their spiracles were completely clogged with the powder. They could barely move and to me it seemed to be torture for them, causing a prolonged or slower death - most did not survive the test. I think the ether roll or alcohol jar would be a more effective method and a quicker more merciful death for the bees.

Icing sugar also has some cornstarch in it which the bees can't digest so a confectioner's pure sugar powder would be better to use if doing this test.


Varroa Ether Roll:

This method is handy to do in the bee yard for a quick spot check of Varroa Mite levels.

This test is done on nurse bees shaken from brood frames into tubs.

Check your hive for the frame with the queen and capture the queen and put her in a queen cage.

Take 2 or 3 frames and shake the frames into a plastic tub.

Scoop 1/4 cup (150 bees) bees from the tub into a jar. Open the lid slightly and quickly release two squirts of Ether (Starter Fluid).

Shake the jar. It kills the bees instantly.

Place your finger on the side of the jar as a marker and roll the jar one cycle.

Any Varroa Mites that have fallen off the bees will be stuck to the sides of the jar.




Record the numbers in your records.

Varroa Alcohol in Jar Test:

This test is of nurse bees shaken off into a tub from the frames. First be sure that the queen is not on the frames being shaken.

Take 1/4 cup of bees (150 bees) and place them into a jar in which there is approximately 1/4 cup of 70% isophyrol alcohol (avilable at drug stores). Shake the jar vigorously for 3 minutes.

Once the bees are dead, pour off the entire contents into a white plastic tub. The white plastic helps to make the dark circular Varroa Mites show up better. The Varroa Mites that will have fallen off the bees will fall to the bottom of the tub.

For more info on dealing with Varroa Mites, visit the OBA's website at: http://techtransfer.ontariobee.com/index.php?action=display&cat=52&doc=Varroa_Mites.pdf
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