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Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

A nasty end-of-season surprise from Varroa

Varroa mortuary -- dead varroa mites interspersed with various hive debris. (Click the image once for a closer look.)

After all the talk about this being a bad year for varroa in northern Europe, I received quite a shock last weekend when I inspected the varroa screens after the two-tray (four week) treatment regime of Apiguard.

As is common with Apiguard treatments, the first tray treatment produced only a small varroa drop. However, as the Apiguard took effect and as the emerging brood exposed more mites to the treatment,  it must have been raining varroa!

I would guesstimate that the total mite drop was about 1000 — which is just at the danger threshold guideline set by FERA in the UK (in Europe and parts of the USA, the thresholds used is sometimes 3-4,000). I use one varroa monitoring screen in each of my apiaries and each apiary, 4 kms apart, showed similar results.

From this I take two lessons:

  • Apiguard is working
  • never be complacent about varroa mite levels — just because there is little evidence of their presence in a colony, they can be there in force ready to wreak havoc when circumstances conspire.

Varroa tray -- the full results

If those colonies had not been effectively treated this year, I dread to think what would have happened during the course of next year when the varroa levels would have started at a very high level. As it is, some varroa mites will always escape any treatment and live to breed in the next season. In my colonies I would expect that the starting number next year will be low.

(Incidentally, the knock-down from treatment with Apistan tends to show up much earlier,  and large mite falls can be expected even in the first 24 hours — treatment should however be continued for the six-week period to make sure that the mites breeding in brood cells are killed.)

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger


The view from Apimondia 2013

I’ve put a Facebook photo album up of some of the sights that have caught our eyes at Apimondia this year. The link below should be accessible even if you don’t have a Facebook account.


Below are a few tasters.




Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

Fun and Friends, Queues and Chaos at Apimondia 2013

Since Beijing 1993, even before Vita was founded, the biennial beat of Apimondia has provided the rhythm to our business lives. From Melbourne to Montpellier and Durban to Dublin, Vita has long been a huge supporter of Apimondia, and frequent Gold Sponsor.

Jeremy Owen, of Vita, being interviewed for Ukrainian TV

Jeremy Owen, of Vita, being interviewed for Ukrainian TV

Kyiv 2013, is no different and we began building up to this event almost on the flight home from Buenos Aires two years ago. We’re a Gold Sponsor again this year and there are about 15 of us manning the stand, from all over the world.

I should say, there are now 15 of us manning the stand. On day one, only three of us were able to get through the doors to set everything up. I was one of the lucky few – arriving early enough and with a staff pass that allowed me to get in blissfully unaware of the mayhem going on outside.

Sadly, most were not so fortunate. Stories abound and the one thing we can say about Apimondia this year is that it’s given everyone something to talk about. Sadly, delegates aren’t swapping beekeeping tips and stories, they’re comparing notes on time spent queuing and fights witnessed. I think the worst I’ve heard is seven hours in the queue, unprotected from the bitter rainstorms.

It’s rare to hear of anyone who managed to register after less than three and a half hours in a queue that has been described to me as a rugby scrum or the bottom of an American football pileup. Veterans are amazed that the flimsy registration desks held up to the shoving and I’m surprised that I’ve not seen more black eyes wandering around the congress!

Over the past seven or eight months, we’ve been in very close contact with the local Organising Committee and they’ve really done everything possible to help make this a successful, innovative and memorable congress. While a lot of avoidable mistakes were made, the Committee will also point to some technical problems that could not have been foreseen.

Unfortunately, Apimondia 2013 in Kyiv will be a memorable one, but for a lot of the wrong reasons.

To end on a positive note, part of the problems with registration were due to an unprecedented demand for entrance to Apimondia which must be a good sign for the health of the beekeeping sector. The volunteers here have worked themselves to near collapse in extremely difficult circumstances, and the organisers always try to find time to help in any way they can. As always we’ve caught up with old friends and made new ones and we’re already planning for and looking forward to Daejeog, Korea in 2015. Onwards and upwards!

Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

Swarm or fungus!

The barely visible swarm/colony high up in a birch tree

My local school reported a fair-sized swarm high up in a birch tree on Friday. That seemed a bit odd because it is so late in the season — unless of course it was an absconding colony escaping a chimney sweep or maybe even from disease.

It’s still there today (Monday) and I am beginning to suspect that it may have arrived some time ago and that it has built comb and set up home. Maybe it’s only recently that the sharp-eyed youngsters have spotted the swarm. It takes some time to find it even when you know it is there because it looks very like a birch tree fungus — except it flies!

The swarm hangs over the corner of the playground and will be quite expensive to move.

What would you do? Leave it to die in the cold weather when it comes or remove it now? I think it’s too late to distract them with a swarm lure (which has proved a useful diversion in the past to colonies that haven’t settled in).

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Vita at Apimondia 2013

Vita is currently at Apimondia 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine, with a sparkling new stand and a special demo area set up and ready to show off Vita’s Healthy Bee Guide Web App which is now also available in Russian.

Vita smartphone web app zone at Apimondia

Vita's stand at Apimondia in Kiev.

Not a pretty picture, but a healthy one

The eviction of a young varroa mite

This is certainly not a pretty picture, but it does suggest that the bees in the observation hive might be good housekeepers.

Pictured is a bee disposing of a larva — and the reason is clear: there on the lower end of the larva is a young varroa mite. (Double-click on the picture to see an enlarged version.)

The bees are currently being treated with Apiguard varroa control.

And apologies for the quality of the image, but it is a rare sight and I had only one chance to snap it.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

More Than Honey – free screening in Basingstoke

There is a new film More Than Honey, highlighting the international plight of honeybees.  Featuring footage of traditional beekeeping in the Swiss Alps and commercial beekeeping in the almond orchards of California, there is some quite amazing and startling footage.

The film has not yet been released on DVD, but has been showing in some parts of the UK. Vita has managed to secure a copy from the distribuutors and in conjunction with Basingstoke College of Technology will be hosting a showing near Vita’s HQ in Basingstoke, UK, on the evening of Wednesday 16 October.

You will need a ticket, but they are free. Space is limited, so book your place now.

Busy again, but where?

Observation hive bees get into autumnal action rushing in and out of their tunnel to the great outdoors.

After a few weeks idle time, the observation hive bees are out and about again as often as the weather permits. I suspect the ivy is beginning to flower after the August gap. Ivy produces one of the few honeys that I loathe, but I like what it does to provide winter stores for the bees.

I’ve heard it said that its crystallization makes it hard for the bees to use in a cold winter, but here in southern England winters are mild enough to let the bees out frequently enough to gather water to help liquefy any solid stores.

This week, I saw the NASA honeybee forage map of the USA. Fascinating — by clicking on each state, you can see what the bee forage is, its significance and when it flowers.

For British beekeepers there is that marvellous short paper by Dorothy Hodges: A Calendar of Bee Plants. Published by IBRA in 1978, but giving average flowering times recorded in the 1940s and 50s it offers an almost frightening picture of climate change: it is very clear how earlier plants tend to flower now (this tardy spring excepted of course!).

And this year, the beekeeper must-have Plants for Bees, an updated version of the 1945 work of FN Howes’ Plants and Beekeeping was published.

But what I’d really like is a flightpath map to show where my bees are foraging. Any ideas?

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

How long can Apiguard be stored?

We’ve received a few queries about how long Apiguard can be stored.

Applying Apiguard

We know that, as long as the product has not been stored in hot conditions (in direct sun or above 30°C), Apiguard is stable for at least four years and probably up to six years in the sealed aluminium tray pack. We say three years’ stability on the label as this is the normal requirement but product dated June 2013 is perfectly OK to use this year.

However, if you are using a 3 kg tub, from which you have already used a large quantity, leaving a small residual amount of gel in the tub, this should be used with caution. If this is the case, you should try a little dose (25g) on a colony at a time to check the bees respond normally to it.  (If there is too much thymol and not enough liquid left, due to evaporation, then the product could be too powerful and will repel bees strongly, so try a little first and see what happens.) This should also be OK but we cannot guarantee used product past its shelf life.

Video on applying Apiguard:

I never knew housework could be quite so exhausting

Bee with a mission

I’ve just been watching — or rather I’ve just given up watching — a house-cleaning bee attempting to remove a bit of larva from the hive.

She clearly doesn’t know the hive layout too well as she cannot find the exit. I’ve watched her run up and down the sides tightly clutching her debris. Tantalisingly, I’ve seen her walk straight over the top of the exit several times. No amount of willing her, enables her to find the way out. But she does seem to understand its around the edge of the colony somewhere.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the younger bees which do the cleaning and are not yet foragers have not mapped their home yet. (John B Free’s book The Social Organisation of Honey Bees gives a very interesting series of diagrams showing the ages at which bees perform certain tasks.)

However, she is determined to remove the trash from the hive, unlike some people I know who just drop litter anywhere.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Bee Blogger

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