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Winter Preparation - Get Started!!!

The leaves have not started to turn but it is time to prepare the hives for winter. The bees raised over the next eight weeks are going to be the bees keeping the hive warm ...

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The leaves have not started to turn but it is time to prepare the hives for winter. The bees raised over the next eight weeks are going to be the bees keeping the hive warm over the winter and raising the Spring's brood. Now is the time to give them all of the help you can by reducing the mite population before their eggs are laid.

The Varroa Destructor (previously miss-identified as Varroa Jacobsoni) does not cause a lot of problems over the winter because they reproduce within the brood cells and since there is no brood, there is no Varroa reproduction. Unfortunately their damage has already been done in that those bees raised just before winter normally have the heaviest mite populations preying upon them in their pupa cells.

The heavy saturation of mites in the fall brood is from a two-fold cause. One problem is that the mites have been reproducing all summer so that the total mite population in the hive is reaching its peak. The second cause of concentration is the reduced amount of brood, so that multiple female mites enter each pupating brood cell. Each female mite will be feeding off the pupa and laying eggs for four to six nymphs that will also feed on the pupa. The pupa, if it survives, is left weak, and often deformed, thus lacking the ability to aid the colony over the winter.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) guidelines recommend treatment if an ether-roll or powdered sugar-roll with 300 bees yield three or more mites at this time of year. The same is true for a 3-day sticky board test with natural mite fall. At the last meeting of the Long Island Beekeeper'sAssociation, we demonstrated the powdered sugar test and found over ten mites. Treatment is through the application of Apistan strips, one strip for each five brood frames. Honey supers must be removed before application and not replaced until four weeks after its use. A re-test should be performed three weeks after application of the Apistan. If this test is also positive, the mites are probably resistant to the Apistan and should be treated with an alternative treatment. Checkmite is effective but very hazardous so read the label and handle with extreme care!

Acarapis Woodii, the trachaeal mite, is a small mite that lives within the trachea of the honeybees. Since a summer bee only lives for about six weeks, they generally do not build up sufficient populations to cause significant problems for the bee in the summer. In the winter, however, the bees live for much longer and each successive generation of mites within the trachea cause that much more congestion until the bee is hardly able to breath enough to sustain itself, let alone heat and care for the cluster.

Treatment for the tracheal mite is with the use of Menthol, one ounce per colony. Since the menthol requires warm days and nights to evaporate, it must be applied in late summer or early fall to reduce the tracheal mites before the winter cluster. Right now we just assume all of our bees are infested with the tracheal mites. The testing is too difficult and expensive to make IPM methods justified.

Another method that has been shown to reduce the infestation of young bees with the mites at the start of their life is to use a patty of Crisco and sugar in the hive in the fall. This reduces the infestation of the young bees at this critical stage and is not so dependant upon temperature.

There is some evidence that our bees are developing resistance to both mites. Unfortunately, the test can just as easily lead to the death of the colony as to a demonstration of resistance. Hobbyists with a few hives may want to try one without medication and small scale beekeepers may try a yard, but the professionals are too dependant upon their bees for their livelihood for survival to risk losses.

Advanced preparation is the best aid as it may be too late to take action if your bees are discovered too weak to survive in the middle of winter. Prepare your bees now!

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