Next on our race to finish reviewing last year’s MBA talks is Dr. Meghan Milbrath‘s Planning for Varroa. Oh, how we have dithered over this review. After all, the link we just gave takes you to an online version that is pretty much the same as what we heard minus a few pictures we are not going to try recreating. What could we add to simply pointing our visitors to it and encouraging them to read it? And yet most visitors seem not to follow links. Since Dr. Milbrath begins by pointing out that we are in the midst of a varroa epidemic it seems important that we at least try to provide a summary of sorts.

Here then is the rede as we understand it.

  • Monitor your mite load.
    • Alcohol wash or sugar roll.
    • At least monthly but especially when winter bees are being made.
  • Know the “safe” level of mites.
    • General consensus as of 2017 is 3% or 9 mites per standard 1/2 cup(100 ml) sample.
    • At levels above 5% illness is usually seen.
    • At levels above 10% the colony is a danger to those around it.
  • Know the tools for managing mite levels and be ready with a plan to treat.
    • Management methods to keep low mite levels low. Used all season to slow mite reproduction.
    • Intervention methods to drive high mite levels low. Used when mite levels are above threshold.
      • It is too late for non-chemical management techniques if the mite load is very high.
      • Vary chemical treatments to discourage development of immunity in the mites.
  • Make slow progress towards treatment-freedom.
    • Make splits of your colonies that require the least treatment.
    • Requeen your colonies that require excessive treatment with queens from resistant lineage, commercial or your own.

But I am hardcore treatment-free and my plan is to just let them die. Why should I monitor?

Please do not do that.

For one, these are useful creatures in our care to whom we owe better than an unpleasant, lingering death.

For another, they may have other useful genes which would be lost if varroa resistance were the only criterion considered.

Finally there may be colonies in the area successfully resisting low levels of varroa who, upon robbing your deadout, will acquire a number of hitch-hiking mites and may now succumb to the heavier mite load, losing good resistance genes for not being perfect. You will have made a varroa bomb.

But my bees seem fine. I do not see any mites. Why should I monitor?

Varroa is very hard to see on bees until it is too late. You will not know if you do not monitor.

But my bees have been surviving without interference for years. Why should I monitor?

Congratulations on your good fortune but conditions change. Dr. Milbrath had a bee-yard where a mere annual split was sufficient to keep mite loads low. The bees did the rest. Then one year the mite levels suddenly jumped. A neighbor had abandoned four hives which then died and became varroa bombs. Her own hives would have done likewise had she not caught the change and treated to push levels back to previous values. You will not know if you do not monitor.

But I got my bees from a treatment-free, resistant source. Why should I monitor?

Your conditions are not the conditions of your supplier. Mite pressure in their area may be lower than in yours. They may be able to manage them simply by all the making increase needed to have bees to sell. For whatever reasons, treatment-free success does not always transfer. You will not know if you do not monitor.

But this is a package’s first year. I need not worry until the second year, right?

One, wrong. We have made that mistake. Two, you know the refrain. You will not know if you do not monitor.

OK. My bees died over winter but it was the cold and damp, not mites.

Did you know what to look for when you inspected the deadout? We have used this excuse ourselves. We were wrong.

Fine. I will monitor. I’ll worry about a treatment when I need it. Which I won’t. Because I have good bees.

May your bees never need treatment but if they do, as with many an unexpected misfortune, it is better to have considered options and decided upon a plan well in advance rather than be forced into hasty decisions under pressure.