Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oh My! Mite Counts!!!

On my last visit I checked my sticky board for mites. I saw 3 mites on one board and about 2 mites on the other.

The boards were no longer sticky and had been there for over a week so they were pretty covered in stuff. So I got out the Crisco and re-greased them with a medium thick layer to make them nice and sticky and then I slid them in under my Varroa Screen with a bottom board.

The Varroa Screens I get are from a guy in Guelph, Ontario, named Brent (http://www.beewisebeesupplies.com/ $13.00 each). I really like the design - I think it's better than the Dadant version. With the Dadant version, you have to lift the hive to get at the board, at least I think that's how it is used.

With Brent's design, the access is from the back which I much prefer. There is a gap at the back but what I've done is duct taped a flap of plastic sheeting. All I have to do is lift the flap and pull out the sticky board from the back of the hive. Then I can sit on the palette behind the hive, away from the bees, and count mites at my leisure (not that I enjoy it because I don't).

The actual sticky board is a white plastic cardboard piece that I just slide in and out on top of the bottom board. What I should do but I haven't done yet is to draw a numbered grid on the sticky board. That way when I do the counts I'll have a better track record on the drop count.

I let 3 days pass and so yesterday I went to check the sticky trap. I also wanted to put my ear on the hives to listen for piping to see if my queens were still in their battle phase.
Can you spot the 3 mites in the photo at left - click to enlarge? I've put the same photo below with the mites circled in red. Look for a shiny brown circle and you'll often see a little nib sticking out from the front - that's its mouth parts.

On first look, both hives had the same amount of activity. Hive #1 was slightly more active than Hive #2 but not by a substantial amount. The number of bees on both hives though seems less than I thought it should be. I'm suspicious that there may have been swarms from both hives with the old queens leaving... I don't know if there's some way to know other than to look inside and gauge by the number of bees inside... but being a first time beekeeper, I'm not sure how many bees I should expect to see in Aug after starting from nucs in June.

I noticed that the mite drops are all on the "busy" side of the sticky board. In other words, they're on the side of the hive where the 4 nuc frames were placed. On the other side, there's almost no mite drops.

Those frames are the newly built comb newly filled with pollen, honey and larvae after the nucs were installed. I'm curious as to why there's more droppings of pollen, wax flakes, bee parts and mites on that side of the hive. I would have thought by now that the whole deep would be busy and active at the same level.
(I notice that the lumps of pollen tend to bleed colour, making it easier to tell that they're not mites - see photo at left).

The activity looked normal to me, like busy bees coming and going purposefully. I didn't see pollen coming in so I'm presuming the bees are coming back with nectar.

(There's a couple huge fields of soya beans very close by which to the best of my knowledge haven't bloomed yet. Does anyone know if bees will forage in soya beans? I certainly hope so because that will be a huge boon for them very soon).

I pulled out the the sticky trap on Hive #2 and began the count. There was lots of debris to look through so I found I had to look over the board many times before my eyes were better able to spot the differences between flakes and bits of stuff and a real mite.

The mites are chestnut coloured and have shiny backs so if the light is shining on the board too, they're easier to spot.

I counted 12. That means 4 mites per day had dropped. It's also only an indication of the number of mites that have fallen off the bees, not the actual number that are probably above in the hive, which would be many times more. I checked Hive #1 and counted 10.

I wonder if the high mite counts and the terrible summer weather is what made both hives feel they should supersede their queens. I did hear piping in Hive #1 as well but I haven't opened that hive yet, but plan to this weekend.
(Click the photo to enlarge).

I should probably open both hives and look for drone comb to pull with my scraper to try to reduce mites. Just one female mite can take over a hive because it's only the daughters that live to hatch with the drone so their rate of expansion through a hive is extremely rapid.

I do have the lime green coloured drone bait comb foundation which I plan to use in the hives but I have expected these new nucs to build so much comb this summer that I didn't put the drone foundation in this year. Maybe I should have.

Now I will try to get through to the end of August and then treat the hives with formic acid pads.
Of course it is summer and that's the typical time when the mite counts peak. I'll have to talk to other beekeepers--that is if I can get a hold of any of them because they're so busy this time of year--to find out what their typical varroa counts are.
I also put my ear to both deeps and did not hear any more piping so I'm hoping the new queens are sorted out and that they've had a chance to get out and mate with drones.
I did hear the lower "ouch" oscillating sound though which I think might be the sound of queens in their cells... but I'm not sure on this point at all.
This weekend I'll once again recharge my sticky boards again just to make sure all the Varroa are being held on the board and not making their way back up into the hive. Mid week next week I hope to do an inspection on both hives to confirm that the new queens are laying--I'm just giving them a few more days to finish up with mating and to get back into the hive and get settled before I open things up again. I just need to confirm that there's open brood so I know I have a queen laying.

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