Varroa Mite Test Kit
We heard Randy Oliver speak at the Puget Sound Beekeepers meeting. He urged us to test for varroa mites so that we know our numbers. We put together a test kit from some simple items from our home: Two jars, isopropyl alcohol, a screened top for one of the jars (I used a jar top for growing sprouts), a jar ring, a 1/3 cup (200ml) measure and coffee filters.
We tested the bees for mites by finding a frame with brood (the nurse bees have the most varroa mites), making sure the queen wasn’t on that frame and then sweeping bees into the measuring cup. These bees are then dumped into a jar with about 3/4 inch (2 cm) of alcohol in the bottom. The bees die almost immediately as do the associated mites. The bees are swirled around in the alcohol for about 1-2 minutes. The screened top is screwed onto the jar with bees. The coffee filter is fixed onto the other jar with a canning jar ring and the liquid from the killed bees is poured into the filter. The screen lets the mites and alcohol fall through into the filter. The filter allows you to save the isopropyl alcohol so that it can be reused. 1/3 cup of bees is about 200 bees so you divide the number of mites by 2 to determine your count of mites per hundred bees. Randy Oliver says that he does not want to see more than 2 mites per hundred bees.
Powdered sugar could be used in place of the alcohol and the bees would not be killed. In this method you shake the bees with the powdered sugar in a closed jar and then put a screened top on the jar and shake the powered sugar onto a white paper plate. The mites come out with the powered sugar. A fine spray of water dissolves the sugar and allows you to count the mites.
Getting the measuring cup full of bees and then to getting the bees into the alcohol was the hardest thing about the test. The bees don’t want to get into the cup and then they do not want to stay in the cup. We did not always get a full 200 bees for a test run. We kept the bees in the cup by brushing as many bees into the cup as we could and then putting the brush over the cup and dumping very firmly and quickly into the alcohol. We estimated the number of bees by how full we got the cup.
Varroa Mites in a Coffee Filter
This is what you do NOT want to see when you test for mites in a hive. We found that we had let the varroa mite population build up to a high level in many of our hives. We need to institute a rigorous program for mite control next season for healthier happier bees through the whole season. For right now, we did treat our hives with formic acid after we tested for mites. This is considered a natural treatment as bees already have formic acid as part of their environment and part of the honey. It is also quite effective in killing mites.
A Wax Moth
I saw this wax moth by some wax that I had taken out of the solar wax melter. There is just a bit of honey still in the wax.