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Booklet review | Splits and Varroa

Splits and Varroa: An introduction to splitting hives as part of Varroa control by William Hesbach. Copyright © 2016. Northern Bee Books, West Yorkshire, UK. Paperbound.

When a colony is without a laying queen long enough that no open brood is left in the hive, varroa mites have no place to reproduce. This lack of brood can greatly reduce the number of varroa mites in a colony. In Splits and Varroa, William Hesbach of Wind Dance Apiary details all the steps a beekeeper must take to produce viable splits and reduce the varroa population at the same time.

With clear step-by-step instructions, Bill explains the importance of timing each phase of the process. In addition, he provides optional ways to facilitate the brood break. For example, he explains how you can do a walkaway split and allow the colony to raise an emergency queen, how to time the introduction of a ripe queen cell, and how to time the introduction of a virgin queen. So, depending on your objectives and your resources, you can choose the method that works best for you.

Don’t forget the parent colony

He also explains how to handle the parent colony so the brood break is long enough to reduce the mite population in both halves of the split. The use of a push-in queen cage is explained, along with how to make your own cage out of hardware cloth. In addition, Bill explains the importance of monitoring varroa levels so you know if your system is working.

This short book is crammed with useful information. I especially like Appendix One that contains a simple explanation of varroa population dynamics, and Appendix Two that has a “critical date” chart that shows you exactly how long you need to wait at each step. With this book as a guide, and a simple calendar, you should be able to record your colony progress and plan your steps along the way.

How effective are brood breaks?

You will hear various opinions as to whether brood breaks actually work to control varroa. In my experience, results will vary according to how isolated your apiary is. If your colonies are far from other mite-infested colonies, you can get excellent results from this technique. However, if your neighbor’s bees are nearby and untreated, drifting bees can quickly replace any mites you lose during the process.

That said, the technique is certainly worth a try because everyone’s situation is different. As I mentioned earlier, I have a top-bar hive that I’ve left untreated for seven years. But I allow it to swarm whenever it wants, which is multiple times per year. It is my belief that the frequent brood breaks allow it to thrive because the breaks cut into the mite population time and again.

My other colonies are treated, so while drifting bees still transfer mites to the top-bar hive, the rate is lower than if my other colonies were untreated. In an interesting twist, when I install swarms from the top-bar hive into my Langstroths, there appears to be no natural mite tolerance or hygienic behavior transferred to the new colony. For this reason, I think it’s the frequent brood breaks that keep the top-bar colony going. I’ve also found that when I make splits and enforce brood breaks as described in this book, my colonies have lower mite counts for many weeks.

Options are a beekeeper’s best friend

As a beekeeper, I like to have many options when it comes to varroa control, and I like to combine them in a way that works for my particular colonies. A protocol of splits and brood breaks is one of those choices that has been used successfully by many beekeepers. Indeed, I agree with Bill when he writes, “I encourage you to monitor your mite counts and use splits as part of a larger IPM program designed to keep your bees healthy.”

If you would like to add brood breaks to your mitekeeping repertoire, this small book will guide you through the procedure and timing. It is clearly written, succinct, and well-illustrated. Since a variety of approaches is never a bad thing when it comes to varroa, this text deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Splits and Varroa is currently available on Amazon and other outlets.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Varroa-mite-by Scott-Bauer-USDA.
Varroa mites by Scott Bauer, USDA.

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Comments

WesternWilson
Reply

Thank you for pointing out that in bee dense areas, brood breaks do little to relieve colonies infested by mites. In listening to advice to use brood breaks for Varroa control, the point frequently left out is that a brood break is exactly that…a break from brood production. Every day your hive is broodless, it shrinks by the new brood that is not emerging that day + the number of field bees that die of old age. In a healthy colony, that will mean 2000 bees a day, on average from average queens. It does not take long to seriously reduce colony size, a big consideration if you have a honey harvest planned, want to make increase, or are approaching robbing season or winter. Particularly in bee dense areas, brood breaks are not a panacea for Varroa mite infestations, and may severely impact apiary goals.

Rusty
Reply

Everything you say is true, but if your bees are sick with viruses your losses are increased by the number of bees dying of illness in addition to normal losses. So the difference is not easy to calculate. We no longer have the luxury of doing nothing, or of taking measures at a time that doesn’t interfere with honey production. Nowadays, cutting our losses and surviving year to year significantly impacts honey production as never before. I agree that brood breaks are not a panacea, but neither are chemicals, drone trapping, splitting, or having our colonies die of viral diseases. We all have to make the best of a bad situation and choose the options that work for us, or at least appeal to us. I think the bubble—the vast increase in the number of beekeepers in North America—has made the problem worse. As I know you know, there is nothing worse for the spread of predators and disease than a nearby hive.

SA Fifer
Reply

Thanks so much for the review on that book!

debbie
Reply

Regardless of brood breaks, the virus load is still there no? No matter how many times someone ‘explains’ the brood break method, I still don’t ‘get it’. The virus load remains. Anymore, isn’t the virus load more important than the varroa load? Help me out here! Seems like the bees just ‘outrun’ the mites. It’s a race against time!

Rusty
Reply

Debbie,

One of the key things to remember is that the viruses are not easily transmitted from bee to bee without the mite. Yes, there is some transmission, but not much. So by lowering the number of varroa mites, you are preventing new bees from getting the virus. The old bees quickly die and are eventually replaced by healthy bees without virus. If the virus moved easily from bee to bee without the mites, it would be a vastly different story.

Jan Olsson
Reply

Rusty,

Thanks for Your fascinating review of this book. Several years ago I developed a system where I remove all brood from the production colonies at the time of spring where they could start thinking of swarming (first honey super full, plenty of brood). The brood is removed with very few bees. The brood is placed in the same yard, but in a different, empty hive. The swarm with the queen (now on foundation) stays on its old stand. This artificial swarm is broodless and responds very strongly to oxalic acid.

After about 20 days the brood can be treated with oxalic and afterwards a mated queen introduced.

This is a rational way to combat Varroa.

Regards
Jan Olsson, Denmark

Rusty
Reply

Jan,

Interesting idea. Do you have any problems keeping the separated brood warm enough?

Ames
Reply

Just ordered it. Thank you.

Rich
Reply

Rusty,

I read your explanation to Debbie and still do not understand the principle at work here. Could you please give me a step by step explanation, kind of a block diagram in text?

Rich

Rusty
Reply

Rich,

Okay, I think. I will work on that.

Brian
Reply

Sounds to me like another good reason to do a Taranov split when it’s time to split a hive.

Rusty
Reply

Brian,

I love a good excuse to do a Taranov split.

Evelyn Schraft
Reply

I took the UMT Master Beekeeper course with William Hesbach. He is a very knowledgeable and insightful beekeeper. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention… I just ordered it!

Rusty
Reply

Evelyn,

That’s interesting because I met Bill in that program as well. We were in the Journeyman section together, but not the master section. Bill is very helpful to me from time to time and I always enjoy hearing from him. By the way, congratulations!

Annie Myers
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for the book review. It was timely for me as I have been reading a lot on the subject and have hatched a plan similar to Jan’s. I ordered the book and will be interested to see how it lines up with my scheme.

Experiment as follows:
Instead of removing brood as Jan does, mid blackberries I plan to to remove my queens (from 4 strong hives) and put them into nucs with food, drawn comb and plenty of nurse bees then move them to another yard. I’ll let the main hives carry on making honey and a new queen. I will treat the nucs with OA before they have sealed brood and treat the main hives once all or most of the brood has hatched and before (or maybe just after) the new queen starts laying.

If it all goes as planned I will have lots of options, cull old or bad queens, recombine nucs and hives, make new hives, give away surplus queens and or bees to friends, etc….. what could possibly go wrong? ; ) Right.

Thanks again for your blog,
annie m

Rusty
Reply

Annie,

Let me know how it goes. I love a good plan!

Dieter
Reply

The longest interval w/o brood are the winter months. Why are they not sufficient? In other words what is the difference? I am told that while the mites can not reproduce during the winter they still stay alive, ready for spring.

This brings up the next question to which I could not find an answer yet anywhere:
“What is the life expectancy of a mite?”

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