Kimberley spoke well when she said, "maybe we should be called Mitekeepers."
Our girls are afflicted with varroa mite, that vampire of the bee world. Varroa mites weaken the bees, kill brood, and pass along dreadful viruses. We've treated three times this year with Apiguard, and were dismayed to find that one week after our last Apiguard treatment, a powdered-sugar dust knocked off well over 63 mites from Veronica in 5 minutes. Randy Oliver recommends that you find no more than few mites fall in 5 minutes after sugar dusting.
Our mite counts are not good and we’re worried. In the mornings the cement pad is littered with dead bees. When the day warms enough for the bees to work, I often see them carrying dead sisters away from the hive. (They don't like to have dead bodies littering their living area, anymore than we would.)
All our beekeeper friends have warned us: take a more aggressive approach to help the girls or probably lose them all this winter. Monday we applied a formic acid pad (thanks to local beekeeper Thomas Kemp) to Veronica, our stronger hive.
We're not treating Betty with formic acid; she's is far too weak. The idea is to poison the mites, but not the bees. Kind of like chemotherapy. We don't think Betty could survive the treatment, but we're hoping Veronica can.
We were dismayed when we opened Veronica’s hive; what two weeks ago had been a top box boiling with bees was now deserted. This is worrying. However, as we watched, bees came up to see what was going on. That cheered us a bit. We're hoping that they were all down in the bottom box keeping queen and brood warm.
We quickly put the pad over the top bars and closed up the hive. Formic acid, while marketed as a "natural" mite control, is still pretty toxic; the precautions say to use chemical-resistant gloves, eye protection, and a respirator.
The formic acid stinks. Really stinks. Like vinegar, only stronger. It makes your eyes and throat burn, even from five feet away. I feel so sad for our girls.
To read more about mite control, try Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping website. And keep your fingers crossed for our bees.