We pulled honey off of the hives the other day and a typical part of that process is taking a general gander (technical term) at the health of the colony. I usually look for the queen although I don’t spend a lot of time on that during the harvest. I do definitely look for eggs though. Eggs mean a queen was nearby in the last few days. I like to see a good number of worker bees and a typical brood/pollen/honey pattern in the nest. I usually get a good feel pretty quickly whether the hive is “hot” or overly defensive. In no way do I tolerate a hot hive. It’s dangerous for me, for other people and animals nearby and it is generally just not any fun whatsoever to work in a hot hive. I’ll tell you how to correct that in another post soon.
Anyhow, the other thing I do is a varroa mite check. Varroa mites (or just plain mites) are what began decimating wild honeybee colonies in the late 1980s around the United States. The mites are parasitic little pieces of evil that literally drink the bees dry. They are vectors for disease and just plain suck. I look for obvious signs of varroa mites… the mites actually hanging on the bodies of adult bees as well as for misshapen wings (they look chewed upon) that often indicate varroa. I also pop open a few capped drone cells (drones are the male bees that serve no purpose this time of year for me…queens are already mated and healthy. They will be thrown out of the hive in a few weeks anyhow.) You see, varroa like to attach to the bodies of the larva where they simultaneously mature with the bees.
So, I popped open a few cells and did indeed find varroa on some of the drones. There are several mostly effective methods to treat against the varroa and I am due for another treatment anyhow so I will add that in the next week or so. Most treatments take a few “doses” so that’s what I will do.
I also use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques including screened bottom boards and small cell honeycomb to help. Working around varroa is a necessary part of keeping bees nowadays so I just keep up on research and assume varroa exist in every hive. Following the routine has kept my bees alive and healthy for years now! I still hate those nasty little bugs though!