Midwinter mite treatment is no substitute for a properly applied late summer treatment that protects your all important winter bees. However, you also need to control mites in the winter or there is a good chance their numbers will reach damaging levels the following season 1.
OA (oxalic acid-containing) treatments are the ones to use in midwinter (e.g. Api-Bioxal). These can be trickled in syrup onto each seam of bees or they can be vaporised (sublimated), effectively coating everything in the hive with a very fine dusting of crystals.
Trickling damages open brood whereas sublimation is exceedingly well-tolerated by the colony.
If you are certain the colony is broodless then trickling is faster 2 and – because you don’t need power or any more PPE 3 than a pair of gloves – much easier.
If the ambient temperature is consistently below ~6°C and I know the colony is broodless I usually trickle. If the temperature is higher and/or I’m uncertain about whether there is brood present I usually vaporise.
I watch the weather and treat after the first prolonged cold spell of the winter.
Experience over the last few years suggests this is when colonies are most likely to be broodless.
Most likely is not the same as certain 🙁
Count the corpses
After treating I closely monitor the mite drop over several days. I use white Correx Varroa trays that slide underneath the open mesh of my kewl floors.
I don’t count the mites every day, but I do try and count the day after treatment and 2-4 days later. I record the mite drop per hive and, over time, look for two things:
- The cumulative mite drop. This indicates the original infestation level of the hive. Usually it’s in the range 10-75 mites (total) for my colonies in midwinter, but – as you’ll see – it can be much higher.
- The speed with which the daily mite drop falls to a low single-digit average. OA treatment is very effective at killing phoretic mites. If there’s a continuing high level of mite drop it suggests that more are getting exposed over time.
In my experience, vaporised OA often results in a greater mite drop 24-48 hours post-treatment rather than in the first 24 hours 4. After that I expect (hope) the daily mite drop tails off very quickly.
Vaporised OA remains effective in the hive for several days. Randy Oliver reports studies by Radetzki who claims it remains effective for up to three weeks. I think this is an overestimate but I’m sure it continues working well for four to five days.
OA, whether vaporised or trickled, on broodless colonies is 90-95% effective i.e. if there were 100 mites in the colony you should expect as few as 5 remain after treatment.
Four to five days after the initial treatment I eyeball the numbers across all the hives in an apiary and look at the profile of the mite drop.
Mite drop profiles
I couldn’t think of a better term for this. Essentially, it’s the shape of a graph of mites dropped per day after treatment.
I don’t usually draw the graph – I have a life – but I do look carefully at the numbers.
Here are a couple of sketched graphs showing what I mean. Days are on the horizontal (X) axis, dead mites per day are on the vertical (Y) axis. Treatment applied on day 0. No count (yet) on day 6.
In the graph above there are high(er) levels of dropped mites on the first day or two after treatment, but levels thereafter drop to a basal level of perhaps 1-4 mites per day.
Each time I count the mites I clean the Varroa tray (the rinse in the title of the post).
Assuming the day 5 mite drop is very low, the profile above is what I’m looking for. It shows that treatment has worked and no repeat is necessary.
The profile below is much less promising 5.
In this graph (above) the mite drop remains high every day after treatment. Sometimes they even increase over time.
If you assume treatment is equally effective – say 90%+ – on the five days after treatment 6 this must mean that there are mites being killed on days 4 and 5 that were not exposed to treatment on the earlier days.
How can this be?
The most likely explanation is that the colony had some sealed brood that has emerged in the days following treatment, exposing previously ‘hidden’ mites to the miticide.
It’s good that they’ve perished, but are there more hiding? How do you tell?
Enough of my hand drawn idealised graphs with no real numbers … what about some actual data?
Real world data
The graph below shows data for seven colonies in a single apiary. All were treated with Apivar in late summer. All were treated with a vaporised oxalic acid-containing treatment on the 28th of November.
I counted the mite drops on the 29th (T+1), the 2nd (T+4) and 3rd (T+5). The figures for 30th to the 2nd were averaged, which is why the bars are all the same height.
- Colonies 3 and 6 had very low mite levels. Though not the lowest in the apiary 🙂
- Colonies 2 and 7 had pretty good mite drop profiles, with low single-digit numbers on day T+5. None of these four colonies (2, 3, 6, 7) need treating again.
- Colonies 1 and 5 have high mite levels 7 and – despite the pretty good levels on T+5 in colony 1 – were both re-treated.
- Colony 4 was also treated again as the profile was flat and I suspected they had low levels of mites but were rearing brood..
Note: The instructions for Api-Bioxal specifically state that the maximal dose of 2.3g/hive should be made in a single administrations with only one treatment per year. Prior to the VMD licensing and approval of Api-Bioxal there was effectively tacit approval for beekeepers to use unadulterated oxalic acid by trickling or vaporisation, without any particular limitations on frequency of usage.
It’s worth stressing that you should not repeat oxalic acid trickling 8.
Here is some real data for repeat treatments of another colony in the same apiary.
The average mite drop per day over the first 5 days was ~60. This justified an additional treatment. Over the next 6 days 9 the average drop was ~20. I considered a third application was needed after which the mite drop per day was in the low single digits.
Repeated treatment is needed if there is sealed brood in the colony.
The likelihood is that two additional treatments will be required.
Here’s a reminder of the development cycle of the Varroa mite in developing worker or drone brood.
Worker brood occupies capped cells for 12 days (days 10 – 21 of development, shown above). Vaporised oxalic acid-containing treatments show a drop in efficacy after 4-5 days 10.
Therefore, to cover a complete cycle of capped brood, you need 3 x 5 day treatments to be sure no mites emerge without them being greeted with a lethal dose of something really, really unpleasant 😉
There should be no drone brood in your winter hives 11 but, if there was, 3 x 5 day treatments should just be enough to cover the complete cycle of capped drone brood as well. However, a fourth treatment might be needed.
Note (again): The instructions for Api-Bioxal specifically state that the maximal dose of 2.3g/hive should be made in a single administrations with only one treatment per year.
Not all hives are equal
There are 15 hives in the apiary containing the bee shed. Colony 1 had just about the highest mite levels. However, as shown in one of the graphs above, adjacent colonies can have markedly different mite levels.
There is no clear correlation between mite drop after treatment and colony size. Colony 1 is a double brood monster, but the others in the bee shed are all single brood 10 and 11 frame Nationals 12.
Some colonies need repeated treatment, others did not.
To maximise efficient treatment and minimise unnecessary miticide usage it is necessary to monitor all the colonies.
It’s also worth noting that monitoring only a single hive in an apiary may be misleading; compare colonies 1 and 6 above in the graph of real data from the bee shed.
This monitoring takes just a few minutes. I usually do it after work. In the bee shed this is easy as I now have LED lighting and it’s nice and dry.
In my out apiaries I have to do it by headtorch … under an umbrella if it’s raining 🙁
That’s the last job of the winter completed … time now to review the season just gone and plan for next year.
Rinse and repeat is a truncation of instructions often found on the side of shampoo bottles – Lather, rinse and repeat. Other than potentially resulting in an endless loop of hair washing, it also means that a process is (or needs to be) repeated.
In The Plagiarist by Benjamin Cheever, a marketing executive becomes an industry legend by adding one word – REPEAT – to shampoo bottles. He doubles sales overnight.
For Varroa treatment the instructions should be amended to Repeat if necessary … and note again the instructions on Api-Bioxal which, at the time of writing, is the only oxalic-acid containing VMD approved miticide that can be administered by vaporisation.