Ten Rules: Rule # 3 Part 1

Pest Management – Rule 4

Although the staple pests and diseases are still with us, and will rise and shine on occasion, the 5000 pound gorilla is and has been for almost 3 decades…Varroa. But it’s more than Varroa really, so much more.

Varroa by itself is still a nightmare, but for just this there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. You know the story…a pregnant female enters a brood cell just before it’s capped, feeds, lays eggs. Male first, then a female or two or even three if mom found a drone cell, then sisters and brother mate so when the bee leaves one, two maybe three pregnant females leave with the bee and it starts all over again. The feeding in the cell part is bad enough, especially if more than one pregnant female enters the cell. In fact, a bunch of feeders can actually kill the bee.

Mostly though, they don’t kill the host bee, but what they do that is so darn evil is challenge the immune system of that bee so for the rest of her now shortened life (the feeding damage shortens her life already) she is even more susceptible to the other health issues she has…nosema, pesticides, and especially the viruses that abound in a hive. In fact, the Varroa and virus complex has evolved, at least in my book, into one word – Varroavirus. And those viruses are spread by contact, by feeding by cleaning… from bee to bee, from queen to egg, from worker to drone, from nurse bee to larva, from worker to queen…once in the colony nearly every bee inside can become a host.

Mostly, any one, even two or three of these viruses is a challenge once they infest a bee, but an otherwise healthy bee can deal with them. It’s when they have additional issues…contact with a pesticide, a nutritional imbalance, Nosema or simply the damage from a feeding Varroa that things go south. The combination of any and/or all of these amounts to a stress greater than what would normally be the sum damage of the individual viruses, diseases or the damage from Varroa. That’s why Varroa is such a demon, and, obviously, why populations in a colony need to be controlled.

So. Controlling Varroa populations in your colonies is certainly a must. No, absolutely it’s a must. But that doesn’t mean dumping in gallons of toxic chemicals, or even pints of not-so-toxic chemicals, or even any chemicals at all. In fact, done well, never shall a chemical soil the inside of your hives.

There’s a whole list of things to do to keep both Varroa and chemicals out of your hives…and the two most obvious shouldn’t be overlooked. First, and always foremost…isolation. Keep your bees far from other bees, and do not introduce bees to your apiary from other locations. Simple to do say, not so simple to do however. How do you keep other bees out of your area? First, don’t intentionally introduce them…don’t buy bees from other beekeepers, not even queens. Don’t harvest swarms. Don’t remove bees from buildings. Keep entrances reduced so your bees can easily intercept both robbers and drifters. Especially drones.

To replenish your stock, to get replacement queens, or to grow your holdings you have to build from within. It’s slower than the other way, and it lends itself to some inbreeding if you’re not careful, but it will slow, or stop the spread of Varroa in your bees. It’s the first rule of Integrated Pest Management – avoidance. Don’t count it out.

Next will visit using honey bees that show tolerance or resistance to the presence of the mite in their midst. They exist, and you can find them.


  • I like your recommendations and discussion. Maybe add to this story on how not to invite bees into your hive, something to be said about no external feeding or type of feeders to avoid and use, what to do about needed water for our own bees ?

  • I totally agree that the beekeeper must actively do something about Varroa mites. I see way to many beginners go the “no treatment” route and do absolutely nothing, not even IPM. Needless to say, they have to buy new bees every Spring. However, I’m not sure the “isolation” first line of defense suggested here is very practical. If you live in good bee habitat, its likely somebody nearby will have bees as well… so much for isolating your bees.

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