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Lots of Varroa in an Alcohol Wash -- Too Many!

Saturday September 1st 2012
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I have a sore throat today, and the day is cooler, but I plan to do some sugar and alcohol shakes to compare to the drops of the past five days.  I am becoming increasingly convinced that all the various people doing mite drops are doing them differently.  If I am really ambitious, I'll get out the oxalic evaporation equipment and do the test hives.

The scale reads "77" this morning at 8:49.

To BEE-L today:

Regarding the patterns on the boards at http://www.greatlakesipm.com/instrvb.pdf
and maybe more, I see they do not seem to have patterns out to the edges of the bottom board.

I did a quick calculation and see that any drop board which does not count the outer one inch area around the periphery of the bottom board is _ignoring 25% of the board area_.

I suppose that some screens are smaller than the hive and the drop area does not always extend to the edge, but I see mites out to the edges. If they are in a shadow area, I assume they moved a bit after dropping and before being chilled or stuck in the Vaseline.

So, since I am counting boards today and my boards are the size of the inside of the hive (even though there are shadows from wood parts above I assume that all the mites that hit the screen floor eventually fall through due to bee movement on the screen), I decided to count just the outside 1" and then the whole board.

On the board I just did, I got 24 mites in that outer area and 110 on the entire board, so it seems that, in this case at least, 25% of the mites were on that 25% of the board.

What are people counting?  Are the researchers ignoring the outer 1"?

Do the commercial drop boards have patterns that extend to the outer edges of the floor?  I have not seen all (any actually) of the patterned boards on the market, so I don't know.

I ask those of you who have the commercial boards, what do you see and how do you deal with the areas outside the patterns?

I also wonder what people have found the best coating for the boards and the easiest way to apply it, and to remove the mites after each use.

I have been experimenting with an air nozzle, using my 120 lb/in2 air compressor and it seems to be a solution that does not involve scraping off the goo every time.

Here are today's drops.  I did some sugar shakes and alcohol washes to see how they correlate.  I also decided that I definitely reversed the order of the first day's board counts and corrected that, contrary to what I had said earlier.  The error is just too obvious, from the pattern of subsequent results -- and especially in light of the discovery that hive #2 is just getting going with a new queen.

Hive # Aug 28th Aug 29th Aug 30th Aug 31st Sep 1st Av Sugar Shake (adj) Alcohol Shake (adj) Shake Total (adj) Mites per 100 Bees Percent of Daily Drop Bee Sample Count Size
1 113 107 28 72 70 78 15 18 33 10.9 42% 350
2 4 6 2 7 25 9

Too small new queen

3 174 106 60 122 78 108 13 29 42 14.1 39% 249
4 31 29 8 21 32 24            
5 22 21 10 10 8 14            
6 21 39 15 22 41 28            
7 76 103 86 92 75 86            
8 155 102 86 186 181 142            
9 90 71 32 45 67 61            
10 41 54 29 81 110 63            
  727 638 356 658 687 613            
Av 73 64 36 66 69 61            

What I get from this limited comparison is that in my current situation, the drop number is about 2.5  times the the wash total for 300 bees and about  7.5 times the 'percent infested' as commonly used as a benchmark and which represents the phoretic mites on 100 brood frame nurse bees as determined by alcohol wash.

Of course, neither of these tell me what the total mite count is in the hive since we do not know what percentage of the mites are hidden in brood.  I suppose I could go out and open 100 worker and drone cells at random to see, but the idea does not appeal to me.

Again, referring to Jean-Pierre Chapleau's pages we see his appraisal of the meaning of various levels of mite drop.

*   *   *   *   *

By afternoon, I was feeling very tired and had a nap.  My nose is dripping a bit, too, so I guess I have a summer cold.  Yesterday I had a headache and a little of it lingers.

*   *   *   *   *

I felt better after supper and decided to shake and wash one more hive.  The results from the first two hives were close to one another, but this time, the result was quite different.  I had decided to double the sugar to about four level tablespoons and as a result (I assume), got far more mites than when using the recommended two tablespoons of icing sugar.  I got 17 mites with the sugar and only 8 more with the alcohol.  The wash and shake results combined only amounted to 176% of the daily drop from that hive, so there goes my theory.

The sugar shake can work, but an allowance must be made for the fact that it does not seem to get all the mites.

I also remembered that I have some Dri-loc 50 pads in pails from about ten years ago and they are still soaking and still smell of formic, so I put two on each of test hives 8, 9, & 10.  We'll see how that affects the drops.

Dri-loc 50s soaked in 65% formic are very effective against varroa and also tracheal mites.  It takes, however, about 5 applications a week or so apart to get full control since many varroa are hidden in brood at this time of year.  Temperatures should be between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius for best effect and to avoid damage from excess evaporation on hot days.

From http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/bees/11-treatment-recomms.htm

Treatment Material: 65% liquid formic acid.  Multiple applications: 30 to 40 ml pad for 2- storey colony; 15 to 20 ml for 1-storey colony.
Method of Treatment: Apply one 30 to 40 ml pad for double box or 15 to 20 ml pad for singe box / per hive. Place the pad on the top bars close to the brood area. The treatment is to be repeated up to six times at 1 to 10 day intervals as per label instructions.
Comments: Ensure that colonies are large enough to have 6 or more frames of brood covered with bees when applying organic acid treatments.
Outside temperature highs should be between 10 to 26C at time of application. Temperatures above 30C may cause excessive damage to the colonies.
For complete label instructions and future updates refer to: http://www.medivetpharmaceuticals.ca//Guidelines/pmra%20final%20english%20label%20june%203.pdf
Note: 65% liquid formic acid is available for use in Canada by Medivet pharmaceuticals Ltd.


For Control of Tracheal and Varroa Mites: To control varroa and tracheal mites, Formic Acid 65% is to be applied onto an absorbent material (e.g., an absorbent paper pad) placed on the bottom board or the hive top bars, at rates of 30 to 40 mL per two-story colony or 15 to 20 mL per one-story colony. Use when outside temperatures are between 10C and 30C, and leave hive entrances fully open. The treatment is to be repeated up to six times at 1 to 10-day intervals for the control of honey bee tracheal mites and varroa mites. Repetition of treatment at least 4 times is recommended if used as a stand-alone treatment, but fewer can be used if part of an IPM program.

... And one more image from Jean-Pierre Chapleau that gives me hope.  Medhat has also pointed out that a single application of two pads to a double can cut the mite load by one third to two thirds, and I have seen the results in my inspecting rounds.  In my mind there is no time for delay at this point.  I need to knock the mites back by at least a factor of ten ASAP

A 1/3 reduction means 1000 mites drops to 667.  Another similar treatment with the same efficacy drops that number to 444, then another to 296 and fourth, to 197.  A fifth reduces that to 132, etc.  Five such treatments would have an efficacy of 87%, although efficacy calculations can be confusing.

A 2/3 reduction gives 333, 110, 37, 12, and 4, so a small difference in efficacy for each application makes a huge difference.

One of the problems with applying formic or oxalic acid is getting a good distribution in hives of varying geometry.  I can see that reducing the hives to 2 boxes wouild make treatment much easier, regardless of what I choose to use.


Character, not circumstances, makes the man.
Booker T. Washington

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Sunday September 2nd 2012
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The hives in yellow were given two "Mite-Wipes" under the pillow last evening.  It was +15C when  I put the pads on.  From that point, the temperature dropped steadily to a low of (+2.2 C) overnight and then rose to +10C this morning when I picked up the boards.  Our expected high is +21.

Hives 8 and 9 are in three boxes, and hive 10 is in four. That seems to make a difference in efficacy.  These hives are on the far pallet in the picture. 8 is on the left, 9 on the right, and 10 is visible behind them.

After counting drops, I spent most of the day doing bookwork.   I did go out an examine the pads, though and it seems they have given off most of their acid, but still have a strong acid scent and I had to be careful and wash my hands after.

I'm tempted to use up the pads on my hives tomorrow.  I can see that it does not do much on the four-high hive though, so I wonder if I should use more than two pads on the tall hives or...?

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.
Henry Mencken

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Monday September 3rd 2012
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Labour Day

I'm feeling more energetic today.

I decided to time the mite drops and found that I took twenty minutes to prepare the boards by blowing off the mites, then exchanging boards from the ten hives. 

Counting turned out to be slow, though, as one board has over 800 mites and counting to 800 takes about thirteen minutes at one per second. (800/60=13.3).  Of course, I counted by two, but made mistakes and had to start over, so I then recorded each row.

I have now spent a half-hour counting and have only done three boards.  The non-treated hives will be faster, but 'm thinking, that maybe I should not count for a few days, then resume and see what the background drop returns to after the treatment wears off.  Either that, or I need to figure a way to reduce the counting, perhaps by only counting a portion of each board.

It seems the formic is working!  Drops are 8x and 6x the previous daily average.  The hive with four boxes is not showing any response to the pads, though.

Man!  Am I sick of counting mites.  A few on a board is OK, but at this level, it gets to be real work.  A clicker counter would be very handy.  I figure I have to record at least a few of the hives under treatment to see if the treatment works, but frankly, a glance at at board tells the tale.  On the boards from the two hives where the treatment is working mites are very obvious.  On the one where it is not, the boards are not nearly as peppered with dark spots.

I think I'll have to keep monitoring these few treated hives to see how long the effect lasts and where the natural drop settles afterwards, but I think I'll just go out and use up the rest of the pads today.

I should also check the hive where the treatment is not working to see why.  Is it the extra box?  Did I put the pads on wrong side up?  The pads are perforated on one side only.  I can't tell with my naked eye, but with glasses, I should be able to tell.

All told, including breaks and writing here I am coming in at almost two hours for the ten boards.

*   *   *   *   *

I decided to do an oxalic drizzle on hives 1 and 3, seeing as I have a history on them and they have comparable drops.  When  I got to the yard, I found that doing 50ml to the hive and 5ml per seam was not going to work.  There were about 25 seams with bees, so I reduced the 5ml to 4 and did all the seams that had many bees, resulting in a dose of probably 60 ml per hive.

Then I checked the three hives treated with formic and found, sure enough, that the one which dropped the most had both pads with the perforations down, the one with less drop had one up and one down, and the one that had little drop had both with perfs up and the pads were still soaking wet since the top was covered by the plastic pillow, sealing the fumes in..  In the other hives, the bees were already chewing on the pads.  I corrected the inverted pads and left everything as it was otherwise.

Then  I put pads on all the untreated hives and decided that I like the three and four-box hives better than doubles for this treatment since the acid is not as close to the brood. 

These pads were made up ten years or so ago and seem just as good as new except that the filler has compacted a bit.  Nonetheless, they hold the acid and it seems fine.  It should, I guess, they were pickled in acid.

When I started, I discovered I had no rubber gloves, so put the pads on the hives bare-handed, washing my hands in between four-packs (I always carry a water bucket).  After doing 15 hives, my fingers are a little rough, but no worse than if I had been mechanic-ing. 

I really should carry baking soda as well, as baking soda neutralizes acid instantly.  I wonder if I should dust the inside of rubber gloves with it.  Any acid entering would fizz and puff up the glove, forcing the acid back out and alerting me to the hole.

Water just dilutes acid and even now, sitting here typing, if I lick a finger I can still taste a little acid although I have washed several times and put on lotion.

Some people equate formic acid with nitric or sulphuric acid and are frightened of it, but  IMO, there is no comparison.  Formic is like strong vinegar.  It can take your skin off after prolonged contact -- and has done so to more than one beekeeper who had a pinhole in a glove -- but short-term exposure followed by thorough washing is harmless unless you have a cut or sensitive skin.  Formic is really dangerous to the eyes, though, so rubbing them or splashing them would be a very bad idea.

Moreover, I won't work barehanded when I do the rest of the hives, as the skin is a little rough now, and would be more susceptible to the acid.  I'll wear rubber gloves and make sure they do not leak by taking them off and checking often.

Proper protection is the best policy.  I only mention this experience to reassure people that a little formic acid on the hands for a few minutes will not hurt a person.

 (added two days later)

Forget about that!  Two days later, the skin where the acid had been in contact has turned grey and I can feel that the thick outer layer of skin has separated from the layer underneath.  The acid apparently killed the outer layer.  The condition is quite painless, but if the outer skin breaks before the under layer toughens, then it will be a problem.  I'm taking it easy on my hands until this condition improves.  If it does this to hands, imagine what it could do to eyes.  Be careful out there!

*   *   *   *   *

I went out again, just before supper and put 2 formic pads each on 28 more hives and plugged the upper holes.  It took about 28 minutes.  Now, I feel a lot better.   48 hives are now treated and am about half done the first treatment!

Now I feel more as if I can get away to Ontario for a week or ten days without having my bees die on me.

I'm looking forward to doing drops tomorrow.

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries,
it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.
Isaac Newton

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Tuesday September 4th 2012
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We have some cool days coming up. according to the forecast.  Yesterday, I began work on the furnace, but left it to cool.  I got busy with the bees and did not finish, so today I have to clean it and put it back into service.

This morning I should have some very interesting counts on the test hives, as I treated them all, two with oxalic drizzle and the rest with formic pads.

Last night I decided to read some old diary pages from last year and see I spent much of September in Ontario.  I'd forgotten that.  I plan to get down there soon, but not until I am satisfied that my bees are out of danger.

Hive Number August 28th August 29th August 30th August 31st Sept 1st Average
to date
Sept 2nd Sept 3rd Sept 4th
1 113 107 28 72 70 78 60 64 168
2 4 6 2 7 25 9 15 17 463
3 174 106 60 122 78 108 72 98 152
4 31 29 8 21 32 24 34 56 415
5 22 21 10 10 8 14 16 9 31
6 21 39 15 22 41 28 40 57 112
7 76 103 86 92 75 86 79 180 386
8 155 102 86 186 181 142 360 813 428
9 90 71 32 45 67 61 294 489 157
10 41 54 29 81 110 63 81 87 62
Av 727 638 356 658 687 613 105 187 237
Av 73 64 36 66 69 61      
  = 2 Formic pads applied Sept 3
  = 2 Formic pads applied Sept 1
  = Oxalic Drizzle Sept 3

The drops are not quite as expected.  (At right is a thumbnail to a more complete version of the table above).

  • Hive 1 got oxalic drizzle and doubled the drop.  I had expected a much greater response.  One explanation is that almost 50% of my counts are callow mites, newly emerged from cells and the balance are mature mites.  I have not distinguished between mature and callow mites, so if 50% of previous counts were callow mites which will drop in the same numbers regardless, then doubling the drop by treatment doubles the total, but quadruples the mature mite drop.

  • Hive 2 has a young queen and a smaller population than most in this yard.  It is in two boxes. It had low drops until I put on formic.  I don't know what to make of this drop.  It looks as if I switched 2 and 3, but I am sure I did not.  In fact, boards 1 and 3 have a few drops of OA syrup on them as proof.
    My best guess is that the phoretic mites in this hive were all young and therefore not dropping from old age as they do in hives with mites of all ages.  When hit with formic, though, mites die, both young and old.  This also the only hive in this group that is in two boxes and therefore the two pads would have had less volume to treat.  Moreover the pads were closer to the brood frames, which is where the mites are most concentrated.

  • Hive 3 got oxalic drizzle, too and the drop is up a bit, like hive 1.

  • Hive 4, in three boxes increased its drop by 2x over the average of previous drops.

  • Hive 5, in four boxes merely increased its drop 17x over the average of previous drops/

  • Hive 6, in four boxes increased its drop 4x over the average of previous drops/

  • Hive 7, in four boxes increased its drop 4.5x over the average of previous drops/

Hives 8, 9, and 10 were treated previously.  On the first day after,

  • Hive 8, in three boxes increased its drop 2.5x over the average of previous drops

  • Hive 9, in three boxes increased its drop 4.8x over the average of previous drops

  • Hive 10, in four boxes increased its drop 1.3x over the average of previous drops and does not seem very responsive to formic treatment

The above, IMO, illustrates the variability in response to formic between hives.

*   *   *   *   *   *

I found enough Apivar for about 35 hives when I was looking for oxalic yesterday and realise that I have 25 hives in doubles.  They are obvious candidates for this treatment.  For the taller hives, I would have to pull boxes, so at this point, I'll stick to acids for them.

I went out an put Apivar into the doubles and in the process found two more duds.  I'm down to 90 hives now.

Then I began checking the taller hives to see how they will accept Apivar and if the brood is up where I can put it in easily.  I worked over 8 tall hives in a half-hour and figure I can do a good job of installing Apivar into all the hives in a day or two.

I had noticed that my fingers were grey where I handled the formic acid, but as I was working today, I noticed that the skin is loose on the finger, so I gather that the tough outer skin was killed and there is fluid under it.  The fingers are not painful, but it goes to show how wrong I was.  I'll have to be careful not to damage the dead skin until the new skin growing underneath has toughened up.

I'm taking it easy on my hands until this condition improves.  If it does this to hands, imagine what it could do to eyes.  Be careful out there!

No human thing is of serious importance.

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Wednesday September 5th 2012
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In comparing my current varroa levels to last fall's counts before I began treatments on October 13, 2011, It is clear that my current levels are over ten times as high as then.  I think that the take-home message is that oxalic vapourization is not an easy way to control varroa and that I should have done a treatment this spring.  Apparently, just splitting will not keep ahead of varroa for me, even with broodless periods.

I collected the drop boards this morning, but was finding counting to be impossible with such high counts now that I am treating.  i started making a mask to hide 3/4 of the board at random, so that only 1/4 would have to be counted, but that proved a bit harder than it seemed and I left the boards for later.

Counting is one thing, but the time has come to treat seriously, and I need more Apivar, so I called Joe and we decided I'm off to Spruce Grove to pick up supplies for both of us.


You may as well face up to the bad news, your colonies are heavily infested with varroa. In a personal conversation with Jean-Pierre Chapleau several years ago, he had dismissed treating colonies that were 3 high with formic acid because of the reduced efficacy with that extra box. Most of his work was done using and treating colonies when they were 2 high. His charts include a lower dosage when hives are only 1 high.

I once had hives that had very high mite levels average 10-11% , going by memory. The alcohol wash method was used to measure the mite loads on the bees. Bees were starting to show PMS symptoms. I treated a minimum of 6 times at 5 days apart per treatment with 2 pads each soaked with 35 ml per pad. I may have treated 7 times. I'm not sure anymore.

Anyways after the formic acid treatments mite levels were back to about 4%. This is the threshold at which to treat for fall bees. Bees were looking good again. No more PMS symptoms, no wingless bees, no chewed up abdomens.

I brought the colonies back (home) and about 3 weeks later the deformed bees started to show up again. I guess there were still quit a few mites left in the brood. Most of the crew quit so it took some time before I could fumigate oxalic acid on the bees. I did not have a good commercial system of delivery. By the time I did about 30 days went by. The bees paid a fairly heavy toll and losses were high that winter and bees were slow to go in the spring.

Anyways if I were you I would knock all hives to 2 high if you wanted to use formic acid and probably give a minimum of 6 treatments each hive at 4-5 day intervals. Afterwards I would fumigate with oxalic acid in mid October onwards.

This would make the Ontario trip difficult to pull off. Or if you are looking for an easier option spend a few nickels on Apivar strips and protect your investment. Come spring you will likely have bees to sell, so you can start all over again.

What is it they say about bees? One colony is too many and one thousand ain't enough. Regards

I very much appreciate that note.  It came at time when I had just reached the same conclusion.

I have been trying to avoid using Apivar, just to see if I can get along with oxalic and formic.  I can see that doing so is not easy.  I wonder how US beekeepers manage with only the approved methods they are allowed.  From what I have heard, and although many speak of using the weak solutions which are permitted, it seems that no one dares say what is really being used.

We are lucky to have responsive government and approval to use Apivar.

I met Jean and the kids in Lacombe for supper at McDonalds and spent the night at their place.

Never murder a man who is committing suicide.
Woodrow Wilson

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Thursday September 6th 2012
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Today, I pick up the Apivar and tomorrow looks like good day to work bees.

My fingertips seem much better this morning.  I was staring to worry about them last night, but the fluid seems to have gone from under the skin. It will be a day or so until the skin under the blisters is thick enough, so I am being careful not to damage the outer layer.  It is getting dry, though.

I left Jean's around 9:30 and drove to Spruce Grove.  I have a slow leak in a rear tire and stopped at three tire shops along the way.  It was a waste of time.  None could fix it without an hour or two of waiting.  I wasn't too worried, as that tire only loses a few pounds a day, but the leak seems to be getting faster and I was about to haul a valuable load so I thought it wise to get it repaired.  I didn't, though, and got to the Co-op around noon.  They loaded the Apivar, 12,000 strips in total, and I bought a few items seeing as I was there, including some slick little mating nucs made by Mann Lake.

I arrived home without incident and had supper, then looked around the beeyards.  As I checked the quonset yard, a spray plane came right over my hives and house a number of times (left) at low altitude, spraying something 1/4 mile directly east of us.  I took a drive and saw that the target was a barley field right beside a field of alfalfa in full bloom.  I have no idea what was being sprayed, but I am thinking it was a desiccant to ripen it faster.  Getting the crop off in a timely manner is important to grain farmers, just as it is to beekeepers.

The hive scale says "79" tonight, for a change of only 2 lbs since the first of the month.  This fall is not '2009 all over again', as hoped even if there are fields of alfalfa in full bloom east and west, the hives are not gaining and I see some robbing beginning.  Fall 2009 is shown in the charts below. 


That year the hives put on almost 30 lbs between the final days of August and now.  This year that number is only about eleven pounds.  I'm pulling out the extra room, and reversing where necessary to get good, darker brood comb on top as I put on Apivar since I have to find the brood area anyhow to place it properly.  From this point on in 2009, the hives added about forty pounds.  There would be enough room in the hives for that much in the hives -- on the off-chance the flow ramps up -- even after I remove the unnecessary boxes.

I really doubt we will see a gain like that this year, but anything can happen.  At this point, varroa control is Job One.  That is why I dropped everything and drove 600 km to bring back the Apivar.

The only paradise is paradise lost.
Marcel Proust

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Friday September 7th 2012
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I was up early, at 4:30, having gone to bed early last night.  Today promises to be a big day.  I have to register the truck again, this time as a farm vehicle, and also put in Apivar.  I'll try to avoid working the bees in the hottest part of the day if the temperatures hit 28 as expected and we'll see how my energy holds up.  My cold seems to have ended.  For the past week or more, I was stuffy and had spells of sudden and overpowering tiredness.  Ellen has been experiencing the same.

We're getting closer to freezing each night, but so far, no frost.

I've given up on doing drop counts for now, since they are time consuming and I have a baseline from the past week.  I know that I have too many mites and that oxalic will not bring them under control from these levels in time to save them.

Now is the time for action.  I'm not seeing brood damage or crawling bees or K-wing yet, so hopefully my intervention will be in time.

What I have learned in the past several years is that one cannot rely on oxalic to maintain control without repeated treatments and careful monitoring all year.  Strips like Apistan and Apivar are different that way, it seems, since they provide a uniform and lasting control.

I'm also thinking that EPS boxes, since they are so good for the bees and build-up also accelerate the varroa build-up, requiring added vigilance.

The next few days look perfect for putting in Apivar and letting it work.  The bees should be quite active in the hives and around the neighbourhood.

Movement of bees throughout the hive is important for Apivar to work best.  The bees have to contact the strips and then distribute the treatment amongst themselves by contact.  The strips should be placed close to the brood, as that is where most of the mites are, attached to young nurse bees, waiting for an opportunity to move into a cell about to be capped.

I got to work about eleven and soon had 12 hives done.  Some were large and could not be easily reduced in size, but some became doubles.

Then it was time to go to town to run some errands, like get the truck and van tires fixed, register the truck, and give the AFFRD paper to the UFA. 

That last item was a bollix.  The AFFRD paper is in my corporate name and my UFA account has always been in my personal name.  Could they just change the name on the account, seeing as the company has been paying and using the account for decades?  Apparently not.  They want me to apply all over again from scratch with a ponderous and needless credit ap.

I don't want credit.  I prepay my account and seldom owe them money.  They usually owe me.  Besides, I spend maybe $2,000 there in a year because the are usually overpriced.  With farm fuel, that could be different, but we are not talking big money.

I find such hassles to be real time-wasters, and tiring, especially when dealing with an individual with a negative "tain't feasible" attitude like our UFA agent.  The thing is in progress...  I think.  No worries,  I have 350 litres of fuel to burn on hand from years ago, and there are other cardlocks.

I got out and did the rest of the south yard.  I'm taking my time, rearranging the combs as necessary, pulling honey where it is in the way, inserting Apivar and piling on the patties.  I made sure that brood is in the top box to ensure that the Apivar contacts the nurse bees.  When I finished, there were 17 good hives in the south yard.  

Click thumbnails to enlarge

The before picture is at left, after picture on right. The two Apivar strips are separated by two frames and one is 1/3 from the front and one 1/3 from the back.  They are hidden by patties.

I have a lot of patties to use up before they get old and I figure that I don't want the bees making winter bees until after most of the varroa are dead.  Moreover, some colonies are still building up and I want them all to be full size for winter. There is not much in the way of pollen out in the fields.  Will they eat all the patties I am putting on?  I'm betting the patties will all be gone in a week or two. 

Patties should be used within a month or two after purchase, assuming the dealer has fresh stock.  A little longer won't hurt, but six months or a year in storage is getting too long.  Old patties can be worse for bees than no patties at all.

By the time the patties are gone, the varroa levels should be declining drastically.  Varroa can only hide in worker brood from day 9 (capping) to day 21 (emergence) and a little longer, to day 24 for drone brood, so every 14 days, all varroa should have been exposed to Amitraz at least once. (The table below is from WIkipedia).

The Apivar treatment period is 42 days, and that just happens to be the total of three such 14-day periods.

Apparently the trigger to start making winter bees is a  decline in pollen coming into the hive,  I found previously that feeding patties in the fall causes and extra round or two of brood.  Without varroa control, that could lead to a varroa overload, but with the strips in, another round should be a good thing.

I place the patties right above the strips since it is the young bees that eat the patties and the young bees carry a disproportionate percentage of the phoretic mites. 

I have discovered, BTW, that although normally patties are consumed best right near the open brood, bees in strong hives will consume patties at some considerable distance from brood in warm weather.  It seems that the young bees wander further in the hive and even outside when the clusters are large and the weather is warm.

Just when I had given up hope for a flow, the scale gained 12 pounds, or 3 pounds per hive today.  Still, bees were robbing in the south end.  Did that account for the gain?  I doubt it.  The bees were in a good mood.

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with,
that it's compounding a felony.
Robert Benchley

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Saturday September 8th 2012
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I had expected to get Apivar into more hives yesterday than I did.  I knew going to town would slow me down, but I underestimated how tired I would be on returning.  I am also seeing the evening hours for bee work diminishing rapidly.  Whereas I could work until 9 a few weeks a go, I now have to quit around 8 at the latest. At any rate, I did get the south yard done.  In the process, found another drone layer in the process and shook it out, so the expected fall attrition continues. 

When I left, as mentioned yesterday, there were 17 good hives in the south yard.  That yard did not do well on the second split.  Maybe it was too late.  While some nectar flow is always an asset, walk-aways do not work as well when there is a heavy flow.  I now have 91 colonies, I think.

When passing hives, I checked the entrance boards for visible varroa and saw none, although the Apivar has been on for almost a day.  That could be a good sign, since the year I had the big loss, I saw lots on the doorstep.

When  I was done the south yard yesterday, I brought a pallet of honey and leftover items back to the storage area and set it down while I went to look over the nearby hives.   I was only gone about three minutes, but when I got back to the forklift, a small skunk had discovered an open box of patties on the pallet and was head-down in the box, eating.  When he saw me, he ran off.

The outer layer of skin came off two fingers yesterday.  The process was painless, but the new skin is surprisingly sensitive.

So, although the acid damage from exposure for those few minutes was not serious, this shows how formic can damage flesh, and underlines how important it is to protect the skin and eyes from splashes.

The problem, as I discovered, is that contact with the acid does not cause any sensation at the time and is quite painless.  The damage shows up later.  For this reason, trusting thin rubber gloves can lead to surprises.  Working with hives, especially those with old metal lids and nails can puncture such protection, so it is wise to inspect the gloves often and keep baking soda handy to neutralize any acid that does make contact.

If the skin contact is painless, then it follows that lung damage could occur on breathing strong fumes without causing any sensation at the time.  IMO, working outdoors and avoiding the fumes should be safe, but now I wonder.  The skin contact was with concentrated acid.  Any fumes in free air should be very dilute, but leaning over a pail of pads could result in inhaling strong fumes.

Today, I plan to get out early and hope to get the Apivar into as many hives as I can.  The big hives slow me down.  I have to find the brood area and also remove extra honey.  If I find undrawn foundation, I have to make sure it is not in the winter cluster area.  Placing Apivar into small colonies usually only takes a minute or two each, so I did go around earlier and put it into some of the easiest ones.  I may have to reverse them later, though.

*    *    *    *    *

I went to the north yard and got to work.  There were quite a few in three and four boxes and some of that was foundation I put on in expectation of a strong late August and September flow.  The weather seemed right, but the flow has not happened.  I wound up reducing many of them to doubles and having to reverse them to get the mature brood boxes on top.  In working through the first twelve, I also found one had gone queenless.

At right is a shot of a hive that has had formic and Apivar installed several days ago.  Note how the bees have propolized the strips and eaten out the formic pads.  These pads give off all their formic within about one day, if they are put on with the perforations down.

I will be leaving this box of new comb as top box on this hive, contrary to my normal practice.  It will provide me with a comparison to hives with older comb.  In my experience, hives wintering on new comb don't come through as reliably or as strong as hives on older comb.

Before I closed it up, I loaded it up with 5 Global Patties and otherwise left it as-is.  The chunks of comb on the top bars lift the patties for better bee access under them and provide air flow and bee access across the tops of the combs.  Our pillows seal well, even with an inch of patties on top.

I also hate to winter in just two brood boxes, since the limited space tends to make for smaller colonies than three boxes, and they winter better in three, but I had a lot of foundation this year and, besides, the populations in some hives don't seem as large as I expected.

Why better in three? The bees are not crowded and any mites that drop, fall far below the bees and perish.  Triples also have more feed and need feeding later in spring, if at all.

The cluster is also higher off the ground and bees prefer to be off the ground.  When swarming, they chose higher locations in preference to lower ones.  The ground tends to be cold and damp.

I don't think my bees got sprayed, but maybe they did?  Also, I did not feed Global Patties all summer this year the way I did during a previous summer, so maybe that is part of the  explanation for some being smaller than expected.  At any rate, I really stacked patties on now in hopes of a fall build-up.  I have a lot of drawn comb, so maybe I'll slip an extra box under later.  I just need a way to lift the hives.  I miss my hive loader.

This work is going frustrating slowly.  Twenty hives a day is about half what I expected to do, and I am still 8 away from that goal, now, at 4:30. 

I had to quit a while due to the heat of the day, but at 18 degrees C, found the pool a little too cool to swim or I would have had a plunge.  A few minutes soaking in cool water sets me up so that I can go right back to work even if I was overheated moments before and the cooling effect lasts an hour. 

When working in Southern Alberta on pollination or Rockyford area, we often took a dip in the irrigation canals in our bee suits so that we could continue working in the heat.  We also sometimes poured a full pail of cold water over ourselves, bee suit and all, to cool down.  It worked well.

I guess the pool season is over.  I'll get back to work again, now.

*    *    *    *    *

I finished the north yard in an hour or so and now, at 5:30, have 19 hives in the north yard.  They vary in strength from doubles to several in four boxes.   I reset the hive scale to adjust for the frames and boxes that were removed.  When I did a final check, it seemed the scale gained had several pounds during the afternoon while I was working on down the line.

So, now, I have 36 hives ready for winter, except that several of them will need a little attention before freeze-up.

Sweet is the remembrance of troubles when you are in safety.

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Sunday September 9th 2012
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I'm on the home stretch, now.  Two yards done and one to go. 36 hives are ready for winter, and I'll get more done today.

I'm not seeing any varroa on the doorsteps and that is either a good sign, or a sign that the Apivar is not working.  I'll have to do some washes now, and after a few weeks.  I would be very surprised if Apivar has lost efficacy, but someday it will.

This morning, I went out and tidied the finished yards and drilled holes in all the new boxes that are on hives and facing out.  I may also take a page from Barrie Termeer's book and paint those new boxes in place, too.  I have a paint sprayer and a generator, so I could just go out some morning before the bees are awake and paint all the exposed surfaces.  Later, when working the hives, I'll just face the white parts out and do the same to them when convenient.  Eventually, all the surfaces will be blue.

Speaking of blue, I am thinking now that I should have gone with white.  That way mixing new and painted boxes would not be confusing to the bees.

After the cleanup, I began on the swarm hives and had them done in short order.  I then did 3 of the biggest other hives in that yard, and decided that it is a good time for a break, seeing as the bees are getting pretty thick in that row.  I've been working in shorts and sandals and a veil.  I much prefer this to wearing a hot suit.

I've been playing around, examining how life is without strips like Apistan, Checkmite+, and Apivar and if thymol, oxalic and formic are enough to keep varroa in check.. 

So far, my conclusion is that using fumigation or drizzle it is not easy to get or keep control of the varroa levels.  I am also discovering that using formic, oxalic, thymol, etc. requires that the beekeeper reduce the hive volume to one or two brood chambers in order to ensure a somewhat even distribution of the fumes.  For oxalic drizzle, the same measures are also necessary so that the bees are concentrated into a few "seams" for treatment.  That is not consistent with my current methods.

I've been using mite drops as a monitoring method and I still think it is a good method, but in my case, the drop board entrances look so different from my other floors that I am restricted in my ability to interchange strong and weak hives, and switching hives is my preferred (lazy man) way to equalize.

While drop boards are a great way to monitor mites for research or can be adapted to a simple system such as the the way we did it when we were commercial, I have to concede to Randy and Medhat that alcohol washes are fast and get the job done.  I will concede that as long as the hives have no supers, but I really don't know if a wash taken from the top box of a 5-story hive would have meaning and I am not going to remove supers to test.  It is easy to take a mite drop from under such a hive If you have the right type of floors.  I don't at present. Our floors slope and there is little clearance under the combs.  That makes it hard to use oxalic vapourizers and hard to put in drop boards.

I worked until late afternoon, then sat on the swing in the garden and watched Netflix on my tablet, then had a nap.  The weather turned nasty, with high winds and rain, so that was it for the day.

Here is what a dropped BeeMax box looks like.  This one had only foundation and partly drawn foundation and it blew up.  The pictures show how weak the corners are. EPS boxes can be strong, but the corners in these are designed some that only a tiny portion of the cross-section is actually providing the strength to resist bending or shearing.  The Swienty and Meijer boxes are far superior in that regard, although any box will have some damage being dropped from a height.  After all, wood boxes get loose corners from being dropped and often suffer other damage as well.

I'm afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.
Andy Warhol

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