My friend and fellow beekeeper David came over yesterday to help me with a hive inspection and my first “sugar roll” to test for mite load. Although the bees were not pleased (got my first sting!), it was so neat to see what was going on with the hives. I have one that was really booming as far as brood production and honey storage. On the frame pictured in the header, you can see capped brood cells (the yellow ones in the middle) as well as stored honey (the lighter cells on the left side of the frame).
You can also tell the difference between worker brood and drone brood. In the picture below, the cells that are “poofed out” near the top (David is pointing to them) are drone brood. We didn’t find many of these, but I think that’s OK at this point… (Hopefully if there are any knowledgeable beekeepers reading this, they’ll chime in and correct me in the comments! I am brand new at all this.)
A big highlight was getting to see one of my queens! She’s close to the center of the photo below. Lovely to see you, Your Highness.
One of the major threats to honeybees is the Varroa mite, a parasite that feeds off the bodily fluids of the bees, and can also transmit diseases to them. Yuck! There are a tremendous number of varying opinions in the bee world on how to manage bees in the era of Varroa, ranging from being completely hands-off, to managing non-chemically using methods like selective breeding and brood cycle interruption, to using “natural” chemicals like formic acid and oxalic acid, to applying synthetic pesticides. Obviously all of these have pros and cons and depend on the individual beekeeper’s feelings about chemicals, risk tolerance, etc.
Anyway, first things first, it’s important to know your parasite load to determine if treating in some way might be necessary. One way that people check for mites is using the sugar roll. It sounds like a tasty treat, but actually it involves putting a bunch of bees and powdered sugar in a jar with a screened lid and shaking the bejeezus out of them. The sugar causes the mites to fall off the bees so you can count them and estimate their density. Good news is, we only found one lone mite. As you can see (with David’s gloved finger for scale), they are tiny but pretty easy to spot in the powdered sugar once you know what you’re looking for.
The bees survive the ordeal (but are sugar-covered and mad confused, see below). Their sisters clean them up and then they are back in business. Another way to estimate mite load is using an alcohol wash. This is likely to be more accurate, but also kills the bees. I’d rather get a rougher estimate and not off anybody.
I’d been debating about ordering and applying mite treatment (I’ve been waffling between several methods, as I mentioned before), but given the very low mite count, I’m going to wait. I’ll check them again later in the summer, and likely treat at that point so they can be as strong as possible going into fall and winter.
Another neat bee note: After we finished at my house, we went to check David’s hive as well. His has been very slow to build comb and lay brood. We did a pretty careful job looking for the queen, and never found her, but we did find a queen cell! That crazy globular thing below is what the bees build if they are raising a new queen. So we don’t know if something happened to his original queen, or if she’s just weak, but it looks like she may be overthrown if she’s still around. Bees are so cool.
June 24. 5pm. Hive inspection and mite test with David. Hive 1 brood boxes had lots of brood and capped honey, few drone cells. Top super still had ~4 empty frames. Sugar roll—we may not have gotten a full ½ cup of bees, but we did not see any mites. Hive 2 was chimneying, two frames in the bottom brood box were untouched. We rearranged the frames to put these closer to the middle, and frames with some honey/brood closer to the outside. Also rotated the top super 180 degrees to see if that would help with the chimneying. We found the queen in Hive 2! Sugar roll—we did better at getting the full amount of bees, and found 1 mite.