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.