By Kimberley Burch, Sunset imaging specialist and Margaret Sloan, Sunset production coordinator

Despite W.B. Yeats fantasy of living in the “bee-loud glade,” living off the land isn’t all romance.

Recently we found two poor worker bees wandering around on the ground, unable to fly because of their misshapen wings This is a sign of the deformed wing virus, caused by the varroa mite.

Varroa mites are nasty tick-like parasites: they suck bee blood, spread disease, and weaken the bees. These mites are a scourge of Apis mellifera, our European honeybees. Unchecked, an infestation can quickly kill the hive, and in fact, have wiped out many domestic and feral hives.

We immediatly dusted both hives with powdered sugar, a suggested technique from Randy and the beekeeping world. The powdered sugar makes the mites lose their grip and fall off the bees. It also elicits grooming in the bees (they’re covered in powdered sugar!), and they knock off more mites. We have screened bottom boards, so that the mites hopefully fall through to the ground and don’t crawl back into the hives.

One hour after dusting, the mite count was 94 in Betty, our weaker hive, and 41 from Veronica. These are pretty high numbers. Randy recommended we use a Thymol treatment as soon as possible. We’ve ordered Apiguard. We'll see how it goes.

We’ve also got a drone-brood frame in Veronica’s second brood box. Mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone brood (drones are the boy bees). Every 4 weeks we take out the drone brood comb to kill the drones and the mites living off the baby drones.

Raising livestock, chickens or bees, is full of tribulation. No wonder we all flock to the grocery store.

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