Varroa Mites are increasingly becoming an issue in the United States. If you keep honey bees, you must check your hives yearly. Left unchecked, if the mites get in you can face colony collapse during the winter months. The problem being that bee keeping is so hands off, it is easy to not check on the girls as summer dwindles, and then have an unpleasant surprise in spring.
So, if you want this to keep coming (capped honey), you have to make sure the girls are doing OK, and if not, give them some help.
Kirk took a class on it, that was hands on, where they opened up hives and checked/treated on site. This is a great way to learn, less chance of hurting the bees, and well, getting stung! Look around your area for a local bee keeping group, or if you have a store in the area for bee supplies, check with them. If you live in the great Puget Sound area, check out Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. In our local area, anything taught by Danny (Green River College Honeybees) is well worth the time and money.
Once suited up, we had to find a good frame of bees to test, out of each hive. To give an idea how it is done, we have a brand new 5 gallon bucket, with lid, only for this. You pick out the frame (making sure the queen is not on it! Nor any queen cups) and stick it in the bucket. With a quick hard tap, the bees fall off the frame into the bucket. A helper must quickly cap it. Then get the frame back in, to help settle the bees down. They will not be happy, as you are probably near the queen. You may want to have your smoker on hand, to help quiet them.
With a clean quart mason jar on hand, tap the 5 gallon bucket to settle the bees, then quickly turn over. The helper will make a funnel with their hands, and get as many bees into the mason jar. Quickly capped with a mason jar band (ring) that has had fine mesh fitted into it.
Then you sprinkle powdered sugar in, through the mesh, and shake the jar. This coats the bees. Then turn over and shake gently onto the lid of the 5 gallon buckets. Any black dots you see are mites – and start counting.
For example, we had about 5o0 bees in the jar, and 5 mites. This is relatively acceptable numbers.
Then release the girls. They look like little muddy buddies…the other bees will clean them off quickly though.
However, I do think it is best to take a class, that is hands on – and then make sure you have a helper. (Part of why I didn’t go into super detail above) As always, if you are getting this deep into a hive, be sure to be suited up. The bees, who are normally very docile, got quite upset with us. Kirk got a few stings, one on his head, and a couple on the inside of his upper arm. I treated those with essential oils, lavender and tea tree (melaleuca) work, and will reduce swelling often, and even help pull the venom out. Once you can see the stinger is out (use a credit card to scrape), drop a single drop or two on, or use a prepared rollerball, and gently work in. Go lightly with it. (Do not take this as medical advice. It is what works for us.)