The Varroa Mite is a major factor (if not THE major factor) to the decline in honey bees. This little tiny mite causes many problems. They spread diseases, weaken the immune systems of the bees, and can even cause deformities like shriveled wings. It can be nearly impossible to completely eradicate mites from our hives, but managing them to keep their numbers low is key to success in beekeeping.
Many beekeepers avoid treating for varroa mites unless the amount in the hive is high enough to warrant treatment. How does a beekeeper count the mites in their hives? The best ways are to do a powdered sugar or alcohol wash. This link will take you to a wonderful article on this topic by Katie Lee, Gary Reuter and Marla Spivak.
I encourage folks to read this, but in short, here is how I do it!
Get a mason jar and replace the tin round lid that fits into the ring with hardware cloth.
Pour a half cup of water into the jar and mark the outside with a sharpie at the water line.
Use a measuring cup to collect bees from a frame of brood. Be careful to not collect the queen! I have found that holding the measuring cup to the frame at an angle and pulling it downward (rather than scooping upward) causes the bees to roll right into the cup.
Pour the bees into the mason jar and quickly screw on the lid.
Gently knock the jar on your knee to drop the bees to the bottom of the jar and assess if you have collected a half cup of bees. Do your best to collect exactly a half cup.
Pour isopropyl alcohol through the hardware cloth. This kills the bees but causes the mites to separate.
Swirl the jar, sloshing the alcohol around for a good minute. Let the jar rest and repeat the swirling.
Pour the alcohol out through the hardware cloth into a white or light colored bowl.
From here you can see the little mites (not so little!). They are a deep maroon color. You can see just one in this photo.
How many mites is too many? How do I know if I should treat? What do I treat with? Those are all good questions with many answers. Check out my upcoming blogs (and YouTube videos) for more of my perspective on these questions!
Keep your bees buzzin y’all!