This post, bound to be wildly unpopular, is a reminder about Varroa mites. At this time of year, when colonies are large without a mite in sight, it’s easy to underestimate them. But like a terrorist cell, they work in secret. They know their time will come.
During spring build-up of honey bee colonies, the bees out-produce the mites. But come late summer when drone production stops and worker production slows, the mites will out-produce your bees. If you are not ready for the reversal, your hive may not survive till spring.
It is hard to make winter preparations in the heat of the summer. But if you wait until October to think about overwintering, you will have already missed the Varroa train. In fact, there will be no seats left on the train after August—they will be claimed by hoards of mites doing their best to kill your colony.
If you want a reasonably good chance of seeing your bees in spring, you need to finish your winter preparations in just a little over three months from now—about 14 weeks.
“How can that be?” you wonder. Well, here’s the thing to remember about Varroa mite treatment: How you treat is up to you, but when you treat is not. Here’s why:
Summer honey bees live four to six weeks, but winter bees can live six months or more. The winter survival of your colony is directly dependent on the health and vigor of those winter bees. If they are weakened by mites or viruses, your colony has little chance of survival.
But it’s your summer colony that has to raise the winter bees. To produce a healthy winter population, they must raise winter bees in an environment free of both Varroa mites and the diseases they carry. The winter bees will be raised in September or October, which means that in most of North America, your colony needs to be virtually mite-free by the first of September.
Now is the time to decide on a treatment regimen. Many options are available from powdered sugar to organic acids to commercial pesticides, as well as various management strategies such as drone trapping and hive splitting. I urge you to read about the pros and cons of each and to avoid commercial pesticides whenever possible.
Regardless of the option you choose, you must make a plan. For example, using powdered sugar alone requires weekly applications from now till winter, so you need to get started. If you plan to use one of the organic acids, you may need to order the product and accumulate the necessary equipment and know-how. If you are going to trap drones or restrict egg laying, now is the time.
So yes, I know it’s only May, but if you want to derail the mites before they rule your winter hive, it’s not too soon to start.