Splits and Varroa: An introduction to splitting hives as part of Varroa control by William Hesbach. Copyright © 2016. Northern Bee Books, West Yorkshire, UK. Paperbound.
When a colony is without a laying queen long enough that no open brood is left in the hive, varroa mites have no place to reproduce. This lack of brood can greatly reduce the number of varroa mites in a colony. In Splits and Varroa, William Hesbach of Wind Dance Apiary details all the steps a beekeeper must take to produce viable splits and reduce the varroa population at the same time.
With clear step-by-step instructions, Bill explains the importance of timing each phase of the process. In addition, he provides optional ways to facilitate the brood break. For example, he explains how you can do a walkaway split and allow the colony to raise an emergency queen, how to time the introduction of a ripe queen cell, and how to time the introduction of a virgin queen. So, depending on your objectives and your resources, you can choose the method that works best for you.
Don’t forget the parent colony
He also explains how to handle the parent colony so the brood break is long enough to reduce the mite population in both halves of the split. The use of a push-in queen cage is explained, along with how to make your own cage out of hardware cloth. In addition, Bill explains the importance of monitoring varroa levels so you know if your system is working.
This short book is crammed with useful information. I especially like Appendix One that contains a simple explanation of varroa population dynamics, and Appendix Two that has a “critical date” chart that shows you exactly how long you need to wait at each step. With this book as a guide, and a simple calendar, you should be able to record your colony progress and plan your steps along the way.
How effective are brood breaks?
You will hear various opinions as to whether brood breaks actually work to control varroa. In my experience, results will vary according to how isolated your apiary is. If your colonies are far from other mite-infested colonies, you can get excellent results from this technique. However, if your neighbor’s bees are nearby and untreated, drifting bees can quickly replace any mites you lose during the process.
That said, the technique is certainly worth a try because everyone’s situation is different. As I mentioned earlier, I have a top-bar hive that I’ve left untreated for seven years. But I allow it to swarm whenever it wants, which is multiple times per year. It is my belief that the frequent brood breaks allow it to thrive because the breaks cut into the mite population time and again.
My other colonies are treated, so while drifting bees still transfer mites to the top-bar hive, the rate is lower than if my other colonies were untreated. In an interesting twist, when I install swarms from the top-bar hive into my Langstroths, there appears to be no natural mite tolerance or hygienic behavior transferred to the new colony. For this reason, I think it’s the frequent brood breaks that keep the top-bar colony going. I’ve also found that when I make splits and enforce brood breaks as described in this book, my colonies have lower mite counts for many weeks.
Options are a beekeeper’s best friend
As a beekeeper, I like to have many options when it comes to varroa control, and I like to combine them in a way that works for my particular colonies. A protocol of splits and brood breaks is one of those choices that has been used successfully by many beekeepers. Indeed, I agree with Bill when he writes, “I encourage you to monitor your mite counts and use splits as part of a larger IPM program designed to keep your bees healthy.”
If you would like to add brood breaks to your mitekeeping repertoire, this small book will guide you through the procedure and timing. It is clearly written, succinct, and well-illustrated. Since a variety of approaches is never a bad thing when it comes to varroa, this text deserves a place on your bookshelf.
Splits and Varroa is currently available on Amazon and other outlets.
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