Treatment dilemmas

So if you’ve been following this blog, you may know that I performed a Varroa sugar roll a couple of weeks ago and planned to treat the hives for Varroa using MAQS which use formic acid.

Now there is some discussion in the beekeeping community regarding treatment and no treatment, whether we should be treating or developing “mite-resistant” strains of bees by not treating.

For our food we buy local and we buy pastured (meats and dairy), and if neither option is available, we’ll buy organic from the store. I have my own chickens which are fed organic feed, ranged in the yard when I have time and when the weather allows. They are not treated for any illnesses prophylactically.

Now, one would assume that the same would extend to the bees. But as you know I have been planning to treat them. The reasons are these: the Varroa sugar roll indicated a need to treat, the pest pressure can easily overwhelm a hive or cause it to abscond. I don’t want to lose a hive to either Varroa or SHB and I don’t want diseased bees (the Varroa acts a vector for viruses).

The bees that have requeened themselves are from Peter’s bees. His bees are unreal: quite gentle, very hardy, quick spring builders and great honey producers. Peter never treated except for the occasional powdered sugar dusting. Their honey production and quick spring build-up may be a direct result from leaving lots of extra honey on them over the winter. Who knows. But this is a genetic line I really wanted to perpetuate if I can. So I want them to live.

The other hive, Melissa, has Marc’s queen. She clearly is a good queen but I have no express interest in perpetuating her line (maybe I will next year after I see how they do), though I do want them to survive.

So this was my brain working over the past few weeks:

If I treat:

I can seriously hamper a pest that can destroy my hives. But the parent hive clearly has these as well and has survived incredibly well, with no intervention.

Will I be breeding bees that cannot handle mites? Bees that can’t survive without treatment?

One of the recommended methods to hamper Varroa is to halt the formation of brood by removing the queen for a period of time, effectively making the hive “queenless” and then reintroducing her later. This has already happened to both hives yet the sugar roll shows Varroa numbers which warrant treatment.

If I don’t treat:

Maybe I should NOT treat? If I don’t treat then the hive may die due to the pest pressure. I’m trying to manage the SHB, why not the Varroa mite as well? I have two hives not 100’s. Some folks will be able to not treat and then use the survivor hives (if there are any) to make new nucs, this would clearly not be an option for me.

I went onto the beesource forums to post this question. And as I was formulating the title to the thread and thinking about what I was going to write, I realized my answer: I’ll check every Spring and Fall using a Varroa sugar roll. If treatment is needed, I will treat. If not, then I won’t.

When I came home tonight, we applied the strips and oh my goodness the smell is unbelievable. I only caught a whiff before I purposely stopped breathing. No wonder the bees will beard, especially in the heat. I’ll place a board under the hives to see what it catches–I won’t count, it’ll just be a curiosity.



  1. Queen removal sounds a very drastic method of varroa control to me. It’s not something I’d like to try or have heard recommended by any bee experts over here. What about drone brood trapping, have you tried that?

    I treat because a) it’s compulsory – my hive is on a local association and b) like you, I don’t have lots of hives, only two. Buying new bees is expensive, I want mine to live! Developing mite-resistant strains of European honey bees is probably going to take many, many people generations.

    The treatment we use over here is a shook-swarm in the spring to shake them onto fresh new comb, killing any brood and the mites in the brood. Followed by Apiguard in the summer (after removing the supers) and oxalic acid in the winter. Some people do drone removal in the summer when it’s too early to use Apiguard.

    • The queen is only removed temporarily, essentially you move her into a nuc and then move her back. It’s similar to the shook swarm method without making the bees draw new comb. I was under the impression that the shook-swarm was more for foulbrood control.
      Some people have found that when they make nucs, the varroa numbers drop significantly, thus a break in the brood cycle has been one of the recommended methods, you don’t kill the queen.

      I have a drone frame but my hives didn’t get started until the summer so I didn’t put it in. They needed to put the energy into making workers. But next year my chickens are going to love those drone larvae! I also am regressing the size of my bees which should help.

      • Ah of course, you have chickens! Perfect.

        We do the shook-swarm for general disease control, making sure they have clean new frames without foulbrood or nosema spores, as well as destroying a load of the mites. The queen removal method is interesting. Might be a bit tricky for me as our queens like to hide out for months at a time!

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