Beekeeping is a delicate balance of numerous factors, with honey production being a primary goal for most apiarists. However, the pursuit of a bountiful honey season can inadvertently lead to challenges, particularly concerning the varroa mite—a formidable threat to honeybee colonies. In this blog post, we explore how a good honey season can contribute to issues with varroa, focusing on the interplay between strong hives, increased varroa populations, robbing behaviour, and reinvasion.
Strong Hives in a Good Season
As many of you would know, a strong hive is typically characterized by a large and healthy population of worker bees, an abundance of brood, and a well-functioning queen. A good honey season with plenty nectar around, allows a hive to flourish and expand to full strength with brood boxes often maxed out with 8-10 frames of brood in each box. Bee populations are at an all-time high.
Increased Varroa Populations
While a strong hive is a testament to successful beekeeping practices, it also provides favourable conditions for the varroa mite. They thrive in colonies with high bee populations, as more bees mean more potential hosts for these tiny parasites. The mites attach themselves to honey bee pupae, feeding on their bodily fluids and transmitting various viruses that weaken the colony. This is why treatment of varroa during the honey season is critical. Vaporising with InstantVap is a very quick and easy method, with no need to open the hive to treat. Extended-release OA strips are also a popular option in many countries as a maintenance treatment that you keep in the hive all summer. A lot of beekeepers do both together!
Robbing Behaviour and Varroa Spread
One of the consequences of a prosperous honey season in an area is that once the flow dries up, you have a lot of large hives hungry for nectar! Robbing occurs when worker bees from one hive attempt to plunder the honey stores of another hive and this can be especially bad after a good honey season during the Autumn. Unfortunately, not every beekeeper treats their hive for Varroa during the summer or early in the Autumn. This means when Robbing activity starts to occur, Varroa Levels can be going up exponentially in your neighbouring hives.
The problem with robbing in the context of varroa lies in the fact that mites can hitch a ride on robbers moving between colonies. The mites can then infest new colonies, contributing to the spread of varroa within an apiary and across multiple apiaries in your neighbourhood. The sheer intensity of foraging and robbing after a good honey season amplifies the risk of varroa transmission.
Reinvasion: A Persistent Threat
Even if beekeepers successfully manage varroa levels within their hives, the risk of reinvasion remains a constant concern. We hear many stories of Beekeepers managing varroa successfully in their hives during Autumn, yet strong hives going from having very few mites to a high infestation in only 2-3 weeks! Beekeepers need to be extremely vigilant during this time and be ready to treat at any point. Vaporising, once again, suits this situation very well – one blast done correctly kills all phoretic mites in the hive.
You can however help to prevent these adverse effects of robbing with a Robbing Screen. Our RobberGards have proved to be a very popular option in this situation! Where Beekeepers have previously had varroa levels explode in Autumn, our RobberGards have helped them to control this far more effectively.
A successful honey season can be a double-edged sword for beekeepers, as the prosperity of strong hives may inadvertently lead to increased varroa mite populations, robbing behaviour, and the persistent threat of reinvasion. As we revel in the sweetness of harvested honey, it is crucial for beekeepers to remain vigilant in their varroa management strategies, employing a combination of monitoring, treatment, and apiary hygiene to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of their honeybee colonies (and everyone else around them!).