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Hopping mad at HopGuard

I put off writing this post for a very long time—since November, actually. Although I often display irritation in my posts, I try damn hard to remain civil. But the makers of HopGuard have pushed my civility to the limit. I had to cool down for months before I could write something that wouldn’t get me banned from the Internet.

From the top, the story goes like this:

I do not use hard chemicals in my hives but, since mites are a problem, I use one of the so-called “soft” or “natural” products. Although I’ve tried formic acid-based products, I prefer the thymol-based ones, either Apiguard or Api-Life Var. I used them according to package directions and had excellent results. As far as I know, I never lost a hive to mites in the many years I used those products.

Like all treatments, however, they should be rotated with other treatments to lessen the chances of building resistant strains. When HopGuard came on the market I was ecstatic: here was a product that was easy to use, had an active ingredient other than thymol, and didn’t require the dreaded “fumigation chamber” in hot weather. I read everything I could find about it and wrote extensively about it here at HoneyBeeSuite.

When it came time to treat for mites last summer, I read the directions carefully and watched HopGuard’s own video several times. I calculated how many strips to use per hive based on the number of brood boxes and the number of frames covered with bees, and I staggered the strips in the pattern they recommended. I followed every last instruction from the package insert and the video to the letter.

I was happy with the way the bees reacted to the HopGuard and, although it was messy, I was happy with the ease of use. The insert said I could use the product up to three times per year, but I always treat for mites in August only, so I just crossed that chore off my list. Job done.

Everything was fine until, months later, I saw a post on BeeSource about “progressive” HopGuard treatments. Curious, I read the series of posts. The gist of the thread was that, since the HopGuard strips tended to dry out in the hive, they didn’t continue to kill mites after the first few days. As a result, beekeepers were adding a new set of strips every week for three weeks. According to the thread, Mann Lake, the company that sells HopGuard, was advocating this procedure.

I had trouble wrapping my mind around this. It sounded like an off-label use, something a reputable company would never advocate—at least not publicly. I re-read the label. It says that a treatment is one set of strips and that the treatment may be repeated up to three times a year. To me that meant maybe spring, summer, and fall . . . or something similar. No rational person reading the instructions would conclude it meant three weeks in a row.

I didn’t believe it, so I wrote to John I Haas, the parent company of BetaTec Hop Products. I received an answer that reads in part, “. . . the HopGuard strip does dry out over time in the hive which reduces its efficacy. In using only one round of strips when there is brood in the hive, the mite phoretic load will be reduced and this could help the beekeeper keep his hives healthy enough to get them to a time later in the year when other treatments and/or HopGuard can be used more effectively. . . . Tests by the USDA and by a number of commercial beekeepers have found the [sic] several consecutive applications do in fact reduce the overall mite load and have saved hives that would probably have died. The label does allow for multiple applications . . . up to 3 times per year. . . .”

But again, I ask you, how was I supposed to know that “up to three times a year” meant “three weeks in a row?”

By the time this little gem of wisdom came to my attention, I had already lost many of my hives. I’ve lost more since then . . . and all the post mortems indicate mites. After successfully wintering year after year by using Api-Life Var according to package instructions, I’ve now lost most of my hives by using HopGuard because I didn’t know that “up to three times per year” means “three weeks in a row.” You have no idea how hopping mad I am.

Furthermore, many of the good things I said about HopGuard in previous posts aren’t really true. For example, it’s not more convenient than other products if you have to apply it three times instead of just once, and it certainly isn’t cheaper. But more than anything, it seems unconscionable that a company would go to market with—and write instructions for—a product that they themselves didn’t know was going to dry up in three days. Didn’t anyone do field trials?

The makers of HopGuard cost me a bundle of money. Worse, I was an enthusiastic advocate of HopGuard. I promoted it, recommended it, and my posts about HopGuard have received much traffic. The boondoggle caused me to let my readers down. How many of them lost hives due to lousy instructions?

So that’s my story. I will rebuild my apiary, although not all at once. I’ve learned my lesson about trying new products. I apologize to any of my readers who lost their bees. To be fair, HopGuard appears to be an effective product, but the obfuscatory language is just plain unacceptable. So to BetaTec I say re-write your materials. Fix your website. Say what you mean. Get real.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Screen shot from Betatechopproducts.com, captured 2-8-2012.

Comments

Sarah
Reply

So what do you think about this “new” fly in California that lays its eggs in a honeybee’s cranium?

The packaging of HopGuard is deceptive,and that is the same as lying.

Johnny Mason
Reply

Wow. This is a pretty big fail on HopGuard’s part. They can’t assume that people will want to experiment with the lives of their bees when not explicitly directed. Especially, when it is stated by the company themselves that “HopGuard is most effective when used during the pre-pollination period (before sealed brood), mid-summer, and the onset of winter brood development.” This sounds directly related to the sentence that directly follows it, “May be applied up to 3 times per year.” I’d be pretty upset too to lose so many colonies directly related to HopGuard’s piss poor communication. I think they owe you some money.

Laurie Hawel
Reply

I’m so sorry about the loss of your bees. I hope that you will find solace in the new bees you will nurture. You did everything you knew to do, don’t fault yourself in any way. This company has at best a communications problem and at worst, an intelligence problem.

Best Regards, Laurie Hawel

Wiley Sanders
Reply

I can certainly understand the frustration. I have been in the pest management industry for almost 20 years and there are many products on the market with labels that make limitations of the number of times per year they may be used but do not address the spacing between applications. After many discussions with manufacturers, state and federal agencies, I now understand that unless there are specifications in the label to require a time frame between applications it is up to the user to determine the best use. Due to this much more research goes into my choices of products.

Rusty
Reply

Wiley,

This is news to me. It seems like the manufacturers should just explain that on the label rather than leaving the consumer to guess. I would have been afraid that using HopGuard three weeks in a row would harm my bees–instead not using it three weeks in a row harmed my bees. Go figure.

Thanks for writing, Wiley. I learned something.

Emily
Reply

This is perplexing. The makers of Apiguard make it clear that the ideal treatment period is four-six weeks. I wonder why HopGuard did not make their instructions clear. Sorry to hear that you have lost a lot of colonies.

Phillip
Reply

To me, the lesson learned is, if I try something new with my hives, it’s probably safer not to try it with all my hives. Because if something goes wrong, all my hives take the hit.

I don’t want to talk about what I’ve done to learn that lesson, but that’s what I take from this story.

Chelsea
Reply

I think it’s unreal that a company can get away with such useless and misleading directions for a product that is used for the health and survival of livestock. No wonder you’re choked, Rusty. I’d offer to bring you some splits this summer, but I doubt they’d let us through at customs.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks for thinking of me, Chelsea. What a kind thought!

Todd Balsiger
Reply

You have now gained a little wisdom. This is not new — I experienced much the same using Apiguard. Using new miticides can be tricky, and what works in some locals doesn’t in others.

Randy Oliver’s suggested use of Apiguard, 25 grams between brood chambers, was tremendously destructive to my hives. Suffered huge losses. I loved Mite Away II, which is now gone, replaced by MAQS (which has been implicated in queen loss and high brood mortality).

Chelsea
Reply

Rusty,

At our Bee Master course today, Dr. Rob Currie (Professor at the University of Manitoba) described his test of Hopguard by saying that it apparently must have been “a nice tasty snack for the mites” because it was so ineffective. It performed the worst in his tests of all of the treatments he tried. Hopguard is not registered (or even on the radar) for use up here, so I didn’t want to waste class time asking about the details of his treatment, but I suspect he was operating based on his understanding of the manufacturer’s specs too.

Rusty
Reply

Chelsea,

Wow, that’s interesting. I can’t imagine that anyone would run a test of a product without following the manufacturer’s instructions and yet it’s the instructions that are so misleading. Those who have used HopGuard three weeks in a row find it to be effective, so I’m sure you are right.

I still get so upset with HopGuard I try not to think about it . . .

James C Bach
Reply

Well Rusty, it seems to me that you “presumed” that the HopGuard label meant spring, summer and fall, when it didn’t say that. The label says four to six weeks because the research that was done was for seven day treatments. In my work with Haas and ARS on HopGuard I informed them that depending on the size of the treated colony the product was tracked off the strips in two to three days. I also tested the strips on my own colonies using sticky boards and noted that mite fall occurred during the first three days and dropped below desired levels after that. But researchers like to leave some wiggle room so suggested treatment for 7 days. If, and when you saw the dry strips after a few days you could have wondered about how long the strips were effective, or you could have tested the treatment with sticky boards. Most pesticide labels leave some things to be desired in interpretation. It is most difficult to write a label to cover all circumstances and the presumptions of the persons reading the label. Sorry about that Rusty but I still consider the cost of using HopGuard very effective especially on broodless colonies, installed packaged bees, small colonies in the spring, and when mite levels are low. I won’t use it on 20 comb colonies, I’m planning to use Mite-Away Quick Strips for that if I need it.

Sibroy
Reply

Hi! Сочувствую,крайне не приятная история…

[Editor’s note: “Hi! I’m sorry, it is not a nice story …”]

Jerry
Reply

I had a hive that was dropping 300 mites/day on a sticky board. I treated it with HopGuard. Everything I read said it would not kill mites in capped brood (which is where a lot of mites are). Because of that I waited 10 days and then treated again (also recommended in a lot of the articles I read).

After the first treatment, it dropped over 3000 mites the first day, then fewer each day. After the 2nd treatment 10 days later, another big kill off of mites. Within a few days, no mites showing on sticky board test at all. These treatments were in October of last year. Several people had told me the hive could not survive after having that many mites. Not only did it survive, it never slowed down. This spring the hive was still doing great! It was so large that even after a couple of swarms I was able to split the hive into 3. All are extremely large and active. Maybe the instructions could have been clearer but it worked great for me. Not bad for something listed as food grade.

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

I’m glad you had a good experience with HopGuard. My complaint was not with the product—which seems to work just fine—but with the instructions. I felt they were (are) unclear that you need to reapply the product in successive weeks in order to get an effective treatment. People who have done it correctly seem to get consistently good results, just like you did.

Mike
Reply

Interesting article. I have used Mite A Way, Mite A Way III, and always experience a bee loss of about 1/3rd the colony every time from their use. I find this unacceptable. So, I started using Hopguard and have found the results very pleasing. No bee loss and it kills the mites. I do agree the instructions should be better worded when it says “can be used 3 times a year”, but if you watch the video they put out on youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2y4rndPhlo, it does say the hive is effectively treated in several days after applying the strips.

Ok, now you are going to get mad at me for saying this next part. As I was reading your article, I remember how you praised Hopguard in the past. But now that you lost hives, you are blaming Hopguard for those loses. You could be right, but I don’t totally buy it. There could be many reasons other than the Hopguard as to why you lost hives. Seems you were happy with Hopguard UNTIL you lost hives. For instance, here where I live I have a 2 friends who both lost over 40 hives last winter. One treated for mites and the other didn’t. Both are at a loss as to why they lost 90% of their yard. At any rate, I’ve have had great success with it and it does kill the mites. I use it in the Spring and Fall and experience no bee kills like I did with Mite A Way.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

As I stated in the article, I have no issues with the product, only the instructions. So, to re-word, the HopGuard instructions caused me to apply the chemical incorrectly and as I result I lost many hives to parasitic mite syndrome.

Tim
Reply

According to what I’ve read, the issue is the Hopguard is only effective against mites on the adult bees, not those mites inside capped cells. So like other treatments that only work against mites out of the cell, its most effective when the hive is in it’s brood-less period. Otherwise, it the hive must be retreated weekly to hopefully catch the mites as the leave the capped cells over a full brood cycle. While I caught this fact the first time I read about it, it isn’t apparent the in the manufacturers literature.

It doesn’t appear they found a formulation that would last the entire 3 week period successfully, which isn’t terribly surprising. I’ve see other treatment fail to last their entire treatment period and they were suppose to last longer (even the old formic acid pads and thymol)

I rather view HopGuard more of a follow up treatment in November (for us in Ohio) after if you can get that far with other soft treatments (or if you have checked and your treatment (of any kind) was not as effective as you may have thought. Oxalic acid is another treatment that can be used the same way. Simple, very, very cheap, but really only effective against mites on adult bees, and best when the bees are both brood-less and in a cluster.

Another option would be to use it when requeening with a queen cell. The hive goes though a near broodless period, so if you time it right, you can hit the mites within the first week when the queen begins laying.

Rusty
Reply

I agree the drying out problem is severe. The directions tell you to remove the strips after four weeks, which gives the impression they are still somehow efficacious after that amount of time, which of course they are not. I still think that the directions are the major problem with HopGuard. The product itself works quite well.

Tim
Reply

I should also add… don’t rely on any treatment to work as advertized, even if you have used it successfully before. Many commercial beekeepers have been bitten by relying on commercial treatments only to find that they stopped working. I’ve also found the treatments sometimes don’t work as well under certain conditions. I’ve had formic acid pads that were suppose to be a 3 week treatment, dry out in little over a week. Thymol based treatments some hygienic bees cleaned out of the hive in a matter of days, etc. If you don’t check, you will be bit sooner or later. Make sure you have a backup plan.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Tim. All good points. I have a post in the works about this very subject–just need to do some more mite counts before I write.

Bob
Reply

Rusty, I haven’t tried hopguard and likely won’t. I drone trap through the season until the queen stops laying drones and the frames begin to fill with fall nectars. I also use apiguard as a primary treatment. My belief as taught by a retired commercial pollinator is to get the mites under control after the July extraction period. Waiting until the hives go broodless (fall) is too late. Most products want the beekeeper to treat in the fall. That’s too late for around here in Philadelphia. Hives will crash by this time. In my management of hives, what I want in September (low mites, heavy brood, solid food store) needs to be prepared in early July. So formic acids are out and I don’t like the results on queens anyway. I also had the opportunity to teach with a nationally known beekeeper (published articles in national bee journals) and he felt the same way.
Get those mites under control before fall. The fall brood is your winter population. These emerging bees have to be healthy or it’s the end of that hive.

Jerry
Reply

I just overwintered 10 hives also. I had decided that I wasn’t going to treat for mites anymore. I wondered if, over time, the treatments didn’t do as much damage as the mites. So, this last summer and fall I didn’t treat or even check for mites. After removing honey supers in July, I very rarely opened the hives at all. When I did, I didn’t go through the entire hive, I just pulled a frame or two to make sure everything looked ok. In the past I usually lost about 1/3 of my hives over the winter. This winter 10 out of 10 survived. I’m not recommending that others don’t treat. But unless I start incurring more losses than I did when I was treating, I’m staying treatment free.

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

That is excellent, let us know how it goes. Just curious . . . when did you last treat and with what?

Jerry

I treated last in the summer of 2013 using HopGuard. I had used it the summer before with good results but the last time I used it, I had one hive that absconded the next day. I don’t know that HopGuard had anything to do with that as the other hives did fine. Even though HopGuard would kill lots of mites, they always came back pretty quickly, so I always had hives going into winter with large numbers of mites. I still only lost 10 to 30% over the winter. During one bee club meeting I noticed that most people were saying they lost about 1/3 of their hives during the winter, regardless of what mite treatment they used. I decided to not treat last summer just to see if my losses would go up. To my surprise, no losses at all! Maybe I was just lucky, but I don’t plan on doing any mite treatments unless my losses go higher than 30%.

Rusty

Jerry,

I think 1/3 loss is pretty much normal, so 10 to 30% is excellent. Please let me know how it goes. I’d love to lose the mite treatments.

Bryan Duncan
Reply

Rusty, I read your post before on the failure of HopGuard and thought, thanks for the warning (I treat with thymol in the fall). Today I was helping out at our associations apiary and was conversing with my mentor. I told him I was buying four more packages of bees this spring for my new hives. He said the problem with package bees were that they were usually infested with varroa. He said to use HopGuard after you install the bees but before there is any sealed brood. I figure two strips, three days after the bees are installed should do the trick as far as eliminating the mites that arrive with the packages. This seems to be the only way to use HopGuard. I also read that treating the package before installing by doing a powdered sugar shake on the package (don’t sugar the queen) will cause a lot of the mites to fall off before they go in the hive. Do this on a white sheet to see how many mites fall out.

Rusty
Reply

Bryan,

Treating packages is much more common than it used to be. And you’re right, this sounds like a good use for HopGuard.

Melissa
Reply

Rusty, is there anything you can use in a tbh for spring treatment for varroa? I had just bought mite away strips, taking them back….
Hopguard was recommended, but that’s pretty spend for a few hives
Thnx

Rusty
Reply

Melissa,

Oxalic acid is cheap, readily available, and works well. I have directions for applying here.

Mark
Reply

Hi Rusty

It is interesting that on their own video of use of HopGguard, they talk about applying three times a year – Spring, Summer and Fall… Nothing about repeating three times in three weeks! You have my sympathy for your losses, and my gratitude that you found this, providing me with an opportunity to learn without making a bad mistake.

Jack
Reply

If you kill the existing capped brood at the same time as applying Hopguard would that work for a single treatment?

I’m not sure what the best way of killing would be, but if one could eliminate the protected mites it would seem that the single treatment would be effective in theory.

Rusty
Reply

Jack,

That should work, although I don’t know how you would kill the brood. What many beekeepers do instead is confine the queen to one small part of one frame so she can’t lay eggs. When all the brood is hatched, then you treat.

Jack
Reply

Tried the queen cage method, but that assumes that one can find the queen. After the 5th hive without spotting a queen I gave up. These old eyes never find queens when they are looking for her.

Jack

Rusty
Reply

Jack,

I get that totally!

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