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Varroa mite treatment options and the mite check program are the topics of conversation as we join Nicole and Mark of Bee Squad in this episode of the Backyard Bounty podcast.
What You’ll Learn
- Varroa Mite treatment options
- What is Bee Squad
- How the Honeybee Health Coalition works to help with varroa mite treatment.
- Mite Check Program
Mark Dykes is the extension and Bee Squad coordinator for the van Engelsdorp Bee Lab and has vast experience with varroa mite treatment. Previous to his position at the University of Maryland, Mark was the Chief Inspector for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS). During his tenure at TAIS Mark helped to create the Texas Master Beekeeper Program and the Texas State Honey Bee Diagnostic Lab. Mark was also a supervisor with the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Apiary Inspection Service and the apiary manager for Dr. Jamie Ellis’ honey bee lab at the University of Florida. Mark has a degree in natural resource conservation from the University of Florida and is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Bee Squad Website
- Bee Squad Facebook
- Bee Squad Twitter
- Email us! Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com when we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, everybody. And thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today we're joined by Mark who's the Bee Squad coordinator and we're going to talk about some different mite treatment options and resources for new beekeepers. And so Mark, thank you so much for joining me today.
No, it's my pleasure. Thank you.
So can you tell me what exactly a bee squad coordinator does? And a little bit about your background with beekeeping?
Sure. So I work for the Van Englesdorf Bee Lab at the University of Maryland. I primarily take care of the extension education portion of that. So educating local beekeepers on best management practices, Varroa control, that type of thing that is primarily what I do, obviously wear a lot of hats with that. In addition to all of our education program, we actually have a hive management service where we work with local landowners and manage colonies on their property. And from that we actually gain a lot of information about local trends as far as mite loads and nutrition and that type of thing and we use that information to help guide our local Best Management Practices. And prior to joining the Van Englesdorf Lab, I was the chief Apiary Inspector for the state of Texas for a few years. Previous to that I was a supervisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture, Apiary Inspection and then prior to that I worked for Dr. Jamie Ellis at the University of Florida at the Honeybee Lab there as the apiary manager so I've been kind of in many different hats in the beekeeping industry and absolutely loved every one of them.
So you might at least a little bit know what you're talking about is what you're saying.
I will preface that with I have been wrong before and will be wrong again but all those mistakes and hopefully give you better information next time.
Well, you definitely have quite the impressive background and history. I imagine that you've kind of, you've really seen a lot of things on multiple levels from I assume backyard all the way to commercial and everything in between.
Yeah, yeah. So I've dealt primarily with commercial beekeepers in my inspection days, but here at the lab, and then at the University of Florida, I dealt a lot with backyard beekeepers, small scale beekeepers. So it's been kind of neat to see the difference in those industries. And there are vast differences. But there's a lot of similarities. So it kind of overlaps in many ways.
So with your experience on the backyard level, what are some of the main problems that you've seen facing the backyard beekeepers?
I think one of the biggest things is just a lack of understanding of bee husbandry and bees in biology. It's a lot to get into when you start beekeeping, and so there's a pretty steep learning curve. I think mostly the beekeepers get into it with a very good purpose. They really want to become beekeepers. They want to do the best for their bees, but there's just a lot to learn. And so I think that becomes the biggest hurdle to becoming a good beekeeper is just getting over that knowledge hump.
Yeah, it really is overwhelming and I don't think a lot of people realize there really is so much it's kind of like, I don't know, I'd say getting a horse. I don't know anything about horses. So I feel like people don't realize that you have to do a lot of homework before you go and get these animals. It's not just you get them and put them in your yard and and you're done.
Exactly and that's the big thing is that you know, I do like to use the analogy of livestock with bees even though there are you know, a lot of other implications when it comes to bees in general. But truly understanding proper husbandry, proper pest control, proper nutrition. These are all important you know, just like a winning thoroughbred or a prize dog. You gotta have everything in order to make it healthy and happy.
And I know that one of your specialties with the health and the well being of honeybees is mite treatments and your work on the Honeybee Health Coalition Varroa guide?
Yeah, and so that's a big issue facing honeybees these days are mites. And then honestly, it's the viruses that they vector is the bigger problem. Bees can survive with mites. They are native to the Asian honeybee and they've found ways of adapting and living with it. But when it jumped host over to the European honeybee, they haven't developed immunities or ways of dealing with them. And so that has become a huge problem and then you throw into that mixture, the viruses that the mites can bring over to the bees, and then you add on top of that poor nutrition and exposure to pesticides and the myriad of other issues facing the bees. It just becomes this this bad, bad situation.
And you mentioned that the Eastern honeybee was able to develop a way to survive with the Varroa but the Western honeybee hasn't yet. Do you happen to know how long it takes for that maybe not resistance but that ability to survive with the Varroa takes?
It's gonna take quite a bit and we're looking into that now with a lot of the selective breeding programs of hygienic behaviors to where they'll remove brood that has Varroa mites in it thus ending the reproduction cycle of the Varroa mite. But also bees that groom and remove the mites and so there's a lot of good research going on with that. But the problem with bees is because of the type of mating the Queens do, it's hard to hold on to those characteristics over multiple generations. As you know, one Queen can mate with up to about 15 different drones and so, you know, we have trouble holding on to that without a very strict breeding regime.
That makes sense. Does the Eastern honeybee have a different mating pattern?
It deals with it in more of grooming behavior.
Okay, interesting. So when we are looking at different mite treatment options, I mean, there are so many different choices out there. Are you able to kind of help us decipher when and which one and for how long and just kind of where to even start when thinking I might treatment?
And so that's a great question. And so that's something that the Honeybee Health Coalition looked into a number of years ago, we had a kind of a roundtable meeting deciding what resources were best needed in the industry. And one of the main things we came out with was just information on treatments. You know, there's a number of different treatments out there, both organic and synthetic. Included in those treatments are different weather conditions, different hive conditions, whether you can have supers on with collecting honey for human consumption, just a myriad of different issues that you have to look into in order to decide which treatments best. And so what we did is we created a guide that actually allows the beekeeper to go in and look at all the different treatments kind of and compare and contrast. We kind of break it down by the condition of the hive, whether it has brood in it, whether it's increasing the amount of brood, whether it's kind of peaked, whether it's decreasing or whether it's dormant, and then we further break that down by temperature, whether it's synthetic or organic. And then all of that we put into the tools for Varroa management, which is a guide that's available for free online that you can download to your smartphone you can download to your computer, we do update it from time to time as it becomes necessary. So it is a living document. Anytime there's significant advancements made or research we'll update the guide and so that's allows beekeepers to get the most current and best information out there. In addition to that, we actually went a step further and created a tool that's a citizen online decision tool that allows beekeepers to input that information, the condition of the brood, the condition of the hive, whether they'd like to use synthetic or organic chemicals, and it'll produce the results or free the results of what treatments are available at that time, and so it's a really easy to use guide that one is an online guide, it's all available for the HoneybeeHealthCoalition.org website. And so those will definitely help you down the path. In addition to that, we have a video series that walks you through all the different treatments that are available, and shows you how to use them. And so with all of that, we hope to produce this really good resource so that beekeepers to kind of demystify treatments and allow you to go by the best science versus the most hits on Facebook, or whatever social media platform people get their information from. And so that's that's definitely what we've tried. I think we've done a very good job of doing that with this guide. It's it's been widely downloaded, and it's very, very useful. I use it all the time in my teaching.
Yeah, I know that I definitely use that guide. Now the online resource that you mentioned, where you can input your information and have it generate the data for you. What was that one called?
That is the Varroa Management Decision Tool.
Okay. And I assume is there a link to that within the guide? Or is that on the website?
It's on the website. If you go to the website and go to the tools for Varroa management, they have all that kind of contained in one place along with a video series that you can I think it's all linked on to YouTube. So it's very easy to to watch. The nice thing with this is is it can be used in club meetings, it can be used by the beekeeper in the field, if they have a question and they have good internet connection, they can watch the video on how to apply the treatment right then and there.
One common kind of complaint I guess you could say that I've seen online is people saying, you know, I've tried treating my hives, it hasn't worked. So forget it. I'm not going to treat anymore and I'm just going to go to treatment free because treating my hives, I still had mites, they still died, whatever, you know. Is there a rotation that people need to do of these treatments or is there some tips that you can offer for people that might have had failed treatments or something, some advice for those folks?
Absolutely. And so there's a lot to unpack with that. But first and foremost, we always recommend monitoring before treating, and if you're below about three mites per hundred in your testing, we wouldn't necessarily recommend treating. That's kind of the economic threshold, anything above that we would and so monitoring with either powdered sugar shakes or alcohol washes is the best thing to start with. And that'll kind of give you a base level to say okay, well this is how many mites per hundred I have in the high. This is an estimation of the infection. Once I treat, I will want to monitor that after the treatment, usually waiting about a full brood cycle that way you see anything that was under capping and then comparing those, obviously we would hope that it reduced the number. If it didn't, it was one of two things could have happened. Either the treatment was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. Either it wasn't applied properly or It may have not been the right treatment for the conditions in the hive. In other words for an example for that is Oxalic Acid is an extremely good treatment but only when the hives relatively brood free. The reason for that is is Varroa mites spend a good portion of their life under the cappings of the brood. And so if you're treating with something that is, doesn't penetrate those cappings during the treatment, any mite that was under that brood is not going to be affected by the treatment. And so making sure you have the right treatment for the right hive conditions is very important. As far as rotating treatments, we do recommend that it is best for reducing resistance to treatments. Right now there are two synthetic chemicals that are pretty well documented to have a lot of resistance in most mite populations, although they're showing that some have reduced the resistance to it over time. But rotating through chemicals is always best. We recommend that as part of an integrated pest management regime when it comes to working with your bees and reducing mite loads in the hive. And so those are a couple things to think about. And kind of incorporate into your beekeeping operation.
Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. It seems like anything done by humans always has room for human error. So knowing some common causes of human error, maybe we can help prevent doing that ourselves.
Learn from other people's mistakes.
Exactly. And I mean, ultimately, we would love and our ultimate goal is to get to a treatment free stage where we don't have to treat for Varroa mites that we want the bees to develop a resistance to them to, you know, find other, especially non chemical ways of dealing with it. But unfortunately, right now, we're just we're not to that point, maybe one day and fingers crossed. I hope before I retire, I see that.
Sure. Well, I think it's pretty safe to assume that, you know, nobody wants to be adding the extra time, effort, expense, chemicals, you know, and otherwise and not only for the health of the bees, but just for the time and energy that it takes. So I think that's definitely a common goal at all levels.
Oh absolutely. I mean, you know, treatments are not cheap when it comes to both your time the wear and tear on the bees and you know, the worry about cross contamination and that type of thing. And so, you know, using an integrated pest management routine to lower your Varroa mites is your best shot. You know, I do my best to not treat with chemicals if I can, if the mite levels are high enough to where I decided that that is the only option then I will go forth with that, but I do my best to treat using brood interruptions using drone comb removal, screen, bottom boards, resistant queens, you know, these are all things that you can do non chemical wise to help reduce the number of Varroa mites in your hive.
You know, obviously the Oxalic Acid is kind of the new kid on the block but is there anything else that's kind of coming down the pipe that you know of this new or different?
Nothing that is showing a lot of promise yet. One of the things the Honeybee Health Coalition is doing is working with the USDA and some other partners, both private and public to look at other compounds that might be effective as Varroa treatments. Right now that research is still ongoing and they don't really have any results to publish. But unfortunately, we don't have any new tools to add Oxalic acid like you said, this is the new kid on the block. You know, that may change in the next year or two, I don't know but you know, fingers crossed we we continue to add organic treatments to that list.
And I don't know if you might have any feedback on this and if not, that's not an issue, but I know that I see people posting about using essential oils, and I know that some of the treatments are essential oil based, but have there been any studies on just buying a high quality essential oil and using that on your own in the hive?
So I don't know of any studies on store bought essential oils like that. I will tell you that the essential oils like the Thymol, all the Beta Hops, the Formic acid, that type of stuff, although the Formic, I guess when we consider that list. But, you know, those have been very, very well tested and the dosage has been very, very well defined and kind of dialed in to reduce Varroa mite numbers. And so when it comes to home brewed cocktails like that, I always advise against that. The main reason being is that the quality control is not there. Most people are not chemists and are able to mix them properly in the proper ratios. So I really recommend people staying away from that and just using labeled products. The biggest thing is you just don't want to hurt your bees. And so using something that hasn't been tested and hasn't been dosed properly can can cause damage.
Sure. No, that seems very reasonable. I know I had somebody reach out to me once because I do use essential oils in my home and she had some questions about using essential oils in the beehives and wondering about certain temperatures to use them and I didn't have any resources for. So I didn't know if that was something that maybe had been studied at a certain level, because I know there's definitely interest in it.
Yeah, I think there's interested and I think it's something that could be looked at. But like I said, the, the companies that make these and spend a lot of time and energy formulating them and getting them properly tested, properly vetted, especially through the labeling process. And so a lot goes into that. And one of the things I always recommend to beekeepers is to support that industry. The reason for that is just like with anything, it's a matter of economics. If it's not shown that there is money to be made in selling some of these treatments. Companies just won't look at it because there's just not a market. And so, well I'm not saying these companies are in it just for the money because I don't believe all of them are if we're not supporting the industry in that way then then there's is not going to be these developments. And so I always definitely recommend, you know, supporting the companies that are looking to help bees.
Sure. Absolutely. Nobody's going to be in a losing business even if it has a good, a good moral basis behind it.
Yeah, I wish we could we could get a patron that would come in and just, you know, wave a magic wand, we'd have all the research funds we need and all that kind of stuff. But the fact of the matter is, that's just not gonna happen.
Sure. So do you have any other resources or recommendations or class suggestions for people that are new to beekeeping?
Sure. So one of the things I always recommend is, first and foremost, be careful where you get information from. There's a lot of really great information out there and unfortunately, there's probably twice as much bad information. And so looking at things like the Honeybee Health Coalition, the Bee Informed Partnership, which is a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping beekeepers keep their bees healthier. Those are good sources of information, one that I always recommend is the Michigan State University has a project Keep Bees Alive. And Megan Milbrath, who I think has been a guest on your show before is a absolutely fantastic resource for all things, keeping bees healthy, especially Varroa mites. And so she has quite a bit of information on her website, it's just simply Keepbeesalive.org. And within that they have videos, they have other information about monitoring and checking for Varroa mites just really a wealth of information. And so I would, I would highly recommend checking out her website. In addition to that, most states that do bee research and have extension services have agents or professors that can help. And so reaching out to them is a big thing that you can do, reaching out to your state organization to your local organizations will always help. And so those are some of the big sources of information that you can find. Anytime you look on the interne, be wary if it's not something associated with a university or an extension service. Those are generally well vetted information sources. There is a resource on the on the web that is kind of the storage house for a lot of the extension information. And that's Bee-health.extension.org. And so that's B dash health, and then dot extension.org. And that is run by several different extension services throughout the United States. And that's a kind of a clearinghouse like I said for, for really great information. And so those are some some good sources. And there's, in addition, there's a lot of good books out there to read. So I highly recommend, you know, picking up some books and reading through them and understanding that it's hard to write for every part of the United States. So if you can find books that are tailored to your area, that's probably a lot better than the ones that are tailored to the South or to the North, depending on where you live.
So now that we have all of these resources and you know a little bit more information about treating mites, once we've treated for them, what's the next step? What do we do from here?
So I think the the next step with that, and this is a project that we're helping with at the University of Maryland, in association with the University of Minnesota and Michigan State, is the mite check program. This is a citizen science project that we have going to where we ask beekeepers to input their mite numbers and their treatment types into this database that gives us a visual representation of what mite levels are throughout the United States and it's broken down by county areas. It is anonymous. In other words, we will collect your name on it if you want if you're nice enough to give it to us. But we're not going to post that so obviously no beekeeper shaming or anything like that. But what this does is it provides a map we need to actually go to the website you mitecheck.com, it provides a map of the United States and it shows you in your county, what mite levels have been recorded. And so just like with any scientific experiment, the more sample sizes we get, the more accurate this information is. And so we're really encouraging beekeepers to go to this site to enter an information that way they can see what the average mite count is in their area. And that'll help them kind of think through the process of "Okay, well, if mites are very high in my area, or being reported as high in my area, maybe I need to check a little bit more often." We recommend about once a month, we know that that may not be practical for all beekeepers, but as much as you can, we would highly recommend going to the site and entering your data in there.
And now with that the two questions that come to mind, is there a fee associated with it and how specific do you get on geographical location, ie, can people figure out where I live?
So there is not a fee which is awesome. And so as far as your geographic location, we do ask for address, and it's has a big optional around it. But we mostly use Zip Codes for compiling the information. So it is reported as a county record, not a, necessarily, you don't want to show it as a Zip Code. So unless you're the only beekeeper to county wouldn't necessarily think it was just you.
So they can't go to a map and look at like a map of apiaries in the area.
No, we try to anonymize the data as much as possible. What we are most interested in is getting the mite numbers. And then using that information to help beekeepers understand what mite levels are in their areas.
Yeah, I think that that would not only be helpful for the beekeeper, but really interesting to look at and see how things compare from neighboring counties, let alone neighboring states.
Absolutely. I think it's a very cool project I've been with it for a couple years now, you know, we're trying our best to get as many people involved as possible. We actually have developed a app for your phone. So you don't even have to keep the numbers in mind after you leave the bee yard, you can enter everything from the bee yard and the be good to go with it. And so we would highly encourage anybody that can and is willing to to enter into this program. Like we said, It's free to enter into, there's no commitment or anything like that. We ask you to do as much as you can. But we understand that life gets in the way sometimes. So, you know, as many times as you're out there, as many times as you sample, just enter that information, and it'll help everybody.
And is there a deadline to enroll or can I start in May just the same as I can in August or, I mean, obviously, there's a specific beekeeping season but you jump in at any time?
It is open year round. So if you're in sunny Miami, Florida, and you're keeping bees in December, which actually I've done before, you can enter your numbers then, so it's It's not limited by time or geographic area.
Awesome. I know that in a different episode, we talked a little bit about the Sentinel Program, which sounds amazing, but maybe a little bit too restrictive for everybody. So I think that Mite Check would be a good compromise.
Yeah. And in these programs there's a lot of overlap. And they're, you know, the Sentinel Apiary program is an amazing program that it's providing a lot of really good information. But this is more geared towards a citizen science project, in the fact that you're entering the data, you're not sending it to the Bee Informed Partnership to process. But both programs are great. If you can get into similar program, we would highly recommend that, because it is a little more exhaustive sampling. But if we can just get you to record your mite numbers, we'll be we'll be happy with that.
And do you have an estimate? And I'm sure this number would be hard to track. But do you know about what percentage of beekeepers participate in the Mite Check?
I do not know that. No.
I figured that'd be hard to know, exactly, or roughly how many beekeepers but I didn't know if you had an idea.
My goal is 100%. Of course,
I think, Well, Mark, I really, I really appreciate that. Hopefully we can get your Mite Check participant numbers a little closer to 100 with this episode, but I really appreciate your time and your knowledge and talking bees with us. And so thank you.
Thank you very much. And if anybody has any questions beyond the episode, they can feel free to reach out to us at the UMD Bee squad.
Great. And of course, we'll put all of the links to everything in the show notes. This will be a lots of resources in the show notes. So feel free to take a look at that. Everything that was listed here, we will put in the notes.
Excellent. Well, thank you very much for having me on.
Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your time. My pleasure. And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode and we'll see you again next week.
Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by HeritageAcresMarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show. please email us at Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week!
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