Combating the Mighty Mites

Varroa destructor is a mite that feeds on honeybees and is arguably the single largest driver of the global honey bee health decline. As its species name implies, the varroa mites can DESTROY a hive population if not controlled and monitored. 

These mites feed on the fat bodies in the adult bees (lucky bees), but they also introduce dangerous pathogens like viruses and bacteria which damages bee health and cause hives to collapse. The mites enter the hive as hitchhikers and reproduce rapidly in the brood.

As honey bees are primary pollinators of major crops across the world, if this threat is not controlled, it can spell serious disaster to food supplies.

We want to be good stewards of the hive so if you remember we treated Hive #1 for mites in June and the other two hives had been treated before the Nucs were delivered and installed. It has been too hot to treat for mites in July, but today we performed (my) first inspection. These mites are reddish-brown and visible to the naked eye. 

There are a variety of ways to sample your hive for mites; we chose the alcohol wash method. For all sampling methods you must first obtain about 300 bees; that is 100 mL of bees – again with this liquid measurement for a living creature! The sample is taken from the brood chamber as we strive to capture nurse bees – those who have newly emerged and are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the hive before they are fully mature. The reproductive stage is where mites tend to multiply in the hive. This makes for an easy calculation of # mites per hundred to determine level of infestation. See the video below for the proper ‘scooping’ technique:

The sample of bees is put into an alcohol solution and shaken vigorously to dislodge any mites present. As you might suspect, the relatively small samples of bees chosen for this brave journey do not survive, but their sacrifice does not go unappreciated. The stakes are high; the survival of approximately 180,000 bees in our hives as well as those they may encounter and contaminate in neighboring populations. 

We had good news today – no mites found in any of the Whiting Forest hives! We therefore opted not to treat for mites and check in again next month.


Hive #1 (center of photo) was completely full, so we added another super to encourage more honey production. The white super is the new one and was inserted below the one that was already full of honey. Elly said that the bees don’t really like to cross a honey super; I assume that means they would be less likely to fill the new one. 

Hive #2 (Right side of photo), the one on the right was finally ready for a super as well. The hive has bounced back from its original missing queen and is producing some exquisitely clear honey. 

Hive #3 still has the same number of stories, but the honey super we placed on the hive was still mostly empty even after we removed the queen excluder a few weeks ago. Our expert suspects these bees didn’t really like the new equipment (not used before). You will notice in the photo that we replaced the honey super with a different one, one that had been used before so we will see if that helps get things moving as they don’t have to build out the comb in this super. We left the removed super next to the hive so any bees inside could find their way back home.

While it is SUPER exciting (and delicious) to see the honey being produced, it is maintaining the health of the hives so that they survive the winter that is our highest priority. Stay tuned for further updates. 

Let me know what you are curious about and maybe we can address that in an upcoming post.