Outwitting the mites
At the end of last summer when it was time to treat for Varroa mites, I decided to use ApiLife Var. I try to rotate through the “soft” treatments and not use the same one year after year, a practice designed to slow the development of resistant mites.
I had used HopGuard the previous year with disastrous results. I didn’t blame the product itself but rather the instructions, which were totally confusing and, I believe, misleading.
In any case, it wasn’t the year for HopGuard so I chose ApiLife Var, which shifted the active ingredient from hop beta acids to thymol. I had used ApiLife Var many times in the past and always had good results.
So the second week in August I removed honey supers, inserted the Varroa drawers, took off the screened inner covers, and reduced the entrances. The idea is to make the hive into a fumigation chamber, sort of like tenting a house before spraying it. It is process I hate because, right in the middle of the hottest days of the year, you lock down the bees till they can barely breathe. Still, it’s part of the process, so I did it.
I persisted with this method during the three weekly treatments required by the label. It was August 31 when I finally re-opened the hives and pulled out the Varroa drawers.
Mites playing hard to get
Much to my surprise the mite count was low. At first blush, this may sound like a good thing, but I knew something was wrong. Terribly wrong. The trays should have been thick with mites. I should have seen thousands—not mere hundreds—collected below my triple deep hives.
Why so many? Because I treat for mites only once a year and this was the end of the year. In addition, autumn was approaching so brood nests were small and shrinking. Dead vampires should have been everywhere.
I went back to the house and rummaged through trash pails until I found the ApiLife wrappers. I checked the expiration date, but that was not the problem. I re-read the instructions and double-checked the temperature parameters, but I could find nothing amiss. What was going on?
I spent a sleepless night trying to decide what to do. The bees just went through three weeks of hell in their fumigation chambers and I didn’t want to prolong it. But if I didn’t do something, I was sure mites would kill off the colonies by spring. I was confused and by morning I was even beginning to doubt my own estimate for the number of mites I should have seen.
By then it was September 1 and getting late for raising a crop of winter bees that had never been exposed to mites. It was then I remembered the partially used package of HopGuard I had tucked away in the shed. I opened it and decided there was enough to do the job. I hesitated. Poor bees. But I couldn’t shake the feeling I had to do something, so I did.
HopGuard to the rescue
I HopGuarded all hives—not according to package directions, of course—but according to what I knew the package was supposed to say . . . three treatments, three weeks in a row. I kept fretting, kept second guessing myself, but I did it anyway.
After three days of worry and suspense, I pulled a tray to have a look. OMG! There they were! Thousands of gloriously dead mites lying in heaps and piles—just like I wanted to see. It was as if the ApiLife Var had done nothing except irritate the bees. I washed the drawers and returned them to the hives. The mites continued to accumulate furiously for a few more days, then the drop tapered off. Soon afterward, we dove into the long, wet, coastal winter.
At this point, I can tell you my bees overwintered with no discernible mite problems at all. But if you asked me what happened back then, I can’t say.
Did my mites develop a resistance to ApiLife Var? Maybe. Or did I buy a bad batch of the stuff? Maybe. Did the HopGuard save my bees? Absolutely. Has the company re-written their hare-brained instruction sheet? I didn’t even look.
The takeaway message is simple: trust yourself. I don’t know why I was so convinced the mite counts were bad, but I do know that intuition and a partial bag of year-old HopGuard saved my bees.