Varroa mite on its host

Last week I alluded to a couple of set backs here on the urban homestead.

After 10 years of urban beekeeping (and near 30 years beekeeping experience), we’ve had it pretty easy peasey .  But just as our hive count was expanding (and we were counting our honey flow) this month our hives suffered a terrible setback.     Hmm, somehow this rings of a Biblical parable.

The dreaded varroa mite was spotted – not good!   The stealthy and deadly mite somehow slipped in and the bees are fighting for their lives.  These buggers are the vampires of death.  They attach themselves to the bees, suck their blood, transmit disease, and damage the baby bees in their cells.  Horrid, horrid things!

Making sticky traps

Unfortunately,  it’s late in the season and not sure if we can save them all.  It’s heartbreaking to watch but  we aren’t going to concede without a fight.   We’ve given the bees some internal and external arsenal to hopefully combat the infestation.  We’ve made the hard decision not treat with the nasty formic acid. I made batches of sugar drench  water, tacky strips and grease patties all with a potent mixture of essential oils.     It’s an experiment and knowing natural treatments they may not always work.   Still doing research for natural solutions and right now looking into juniper berries to combat the vampire mites.

But as of now, all we can do now is work  and pray.

Hopefully the bees will pull through!

After a decade or more of carefree beekeeping, now that we know that the V mites are present, next year we’ll be prepared!  Armed and ready with essential oils and preventative sugar dustings.  And a lesson in our hearts not to count our honey jars!

:: Resource ::

Mite Control with Essential Oils

Natural Oils and Other Substances for Mite Control in Honey Bees

Varroa Mite Control


  1. Kaitlin SB says:

    Once the mites are spotted it can be tough. Much better to practice prevention with drone trapping. But I have found that FREQUENT powdered sugar dustings (every 4 days) can help get the mites off.

    Also, since most mites are in the brood, a brood interruption can be a good bet. Catch the Queen and make her stop laying for a week to ten days or so. This can help a lot. Even though it is late in the season, you’re lucky in that with your warm temps your girls will probably lay for most of the winter, so you might be able to afford a colony reduction right now.

    Ugh. It is heartbreaking to see those mites on the bees and to watch them suffer a slow death. Good luck!!!

  2. Kathryn says:

    If you need Juniper berries – we have a ton! I was just noticing yesterday how many berries are on the bushes & wondering what we could do with them. We are in the mountains East of you (Big Bear), but everything on our property (what little we have) is organic. We never use chemicals.

  3. Annette Triplett @ CoMo Homestead says:

    So sorry to hear about the varroa. 🙁 We are considering getting bees within the next year or two, and mites are the one thing I keep hearing about and will need to prepare for. I hope you find a solution.

  4. Nebraska Dave says:

    My goodness is there no end to trials and tribulations. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and have never seen the consistant trouble that you have been facing this year. Do you think it’s the crazy weather we have had this year? I’m not a bee grower and have not heard of this mite you speak of, but my heart goes out to you. Thank you for being so transparent about your troubles as well as your victories.

    My prayers are with you all and for the bees too.

  5. Monica says:

    I’m so sorry about your sweet bees. It’s so important for bees to flourish. My husband and I are tinkering with becoming urban-farmers and I must say, we look up to you. We are learning so much!

    While it’s discerning the bees are suffering, all of your actions or inactions will be educational and beneficial in the long run. In other words, something good will come out of something bad. That’s how our Lord works.

    Good luck and we wish you harvest blessings!

  6. Tessa says:

    Hello Anais,

    I wonder if Colloidal silver would work- I did a search and found this bee forum discussing just that http://www.beesource.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-188798.html

    I’ve used it for sooo many things- I belive ‘The Man’ has stopped the manufacturing and distribution of machines to make it- not sure about this, but I think this is the case as of a couple years ago.

    Hope all goes well with your hive-



  7. Jenn says:

    I have 4 hives in my city lot. I have been keeping them with organic methods. I have been regressing (making the bees smaller,this is their natural size BTW) by having them draw out their own comb (4.9mm rather than the commercial 5.4mm foundation) this causes disruption in the infestation of the brood by the mites. Size regression takes several generations to get to the 4.9mm.

    Also try vaporized food grade mineral oil in a fogger (fatbeeman.com). You may consider putting in a plastic drone comb foundation (cringe) but the bees will raise drones, the mites will infest those cells, and you should remove the frame right after capping and place in the freezer for 48 hours at a minimum (cringe again but it breaks the reproductive cycle of the mites). Check out anarchyapiaries.com.

    Regrettably, you may have to allow the bees to select themselves, as those colonies that succumb theoretically do not have the hygenic traits to combat the mites. Russian and Caucasian varieties are reputed to be better with regard to hygenic and grooming behavior.
    Good luck!

  8. Candace says:

    I hope your bees pull through, but with your experience you should have a good chance to get the upper hand. This year was our first attempt at keeping bees. Our first hive left after two days, and we lost the queen in our second hive and didn’t realize until too late. So we will start over next year. Our biggest obstacle was hive beetles. Do you have hive beetles? Any suggestions on how to handle them?

  9. Vegetable Garden Cook says:

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve added a link to my homesteading website.

  10. Margaret says:

    So sorry to hear about your bees. We’ve been fighting varroa for the 2 years (going on 3) we’ve had bees. We’re trying the essential oil treatment (in the form of a Honey-B-Healthy drench and LaFore patty) on one hive, but so far our counts are still high, and that particular hive might not make it through the winter. Formic acid on the other hives has helped reduce the mite numbers to acceptable levels, but we hate using it.

    Good luck!

  11. Ann Duncan says:

    My friend has become an expert on ridding hives of the varoa mite. I’ve included a link to her information.

    She says, “Screened Bottom Boards are the most important componet of Intergrated Pest Managment —IPM— Make them yourselves, buy them from us or buy them somewhere else, but get them on your hives!!!”


    Here’s to Healthy Hives!

  12. Laurie says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your bees. Farming is full of hardships. We had a similar type problem, although not as deadly, with our chickens. After years of a pest free flock, some mites and lice slipped in. We agonized who or what brought them in. Was it the hen that needed a home? Did the homing pigeons bring it from afar? Did the tiny wild birds that fly into the coop and eat the grain bring a few pests? Since we sell hens for backyard flocks, this is a big, big problem for us. Of course we’ve tried lots of natural methods but in the end, we always have a few survivor pests. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It will be what it will be. Since the pests are a mild infestation and not a problem if we weren’t selling the hens, I guess we just need to adapt. Prayers are with you and the bees.

  13. Stacy says:

    Most of the beekeepers I know are using Thymol (a thyme extract) in the form of Apiguard on their hives. It’s easier to handle than the formic acid (especially since the new easy-to-use MiteAway Quick Strips are still not approved in this state) and does help with control. It requires application every 10-14 days, so less often than dusting, but still sadly rather often in this cold weather.

    I’ve also had brood elimination recommended by beekeepers whose science background I trust highly. Since your “winter bees” have largely already emerged, it might be one of your best options for breaking the mite life cycle.

    My condolences – mites were a constant topic of frustrated discussion at the state meeting this past week, too.

  14. T says:

    How did your bees over-winter? What’s the verdict re: bees vs. mites?

    Here on the East Coast, I decided to treat with ApiGuard last Fall. My bees have come through a very tough NJ winter and I’m hoping they’ll have a strong start as we move toward Spring. I’ll be introducing another colony, as well, this year. Double the fun!

    Would love an update on your colony and more info re: your beekeeping practices!

    • Anais says:

      @T: Well, not too good. Something strange happened… one day there were just NO bees. Think it MAY have something to do with a new WIFI system that was installed in the school that surrounds our home on three sides. http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/2011/01/17/checking-the-bee-trap/ Right now we have THREE bee traps on the property and THREE in a wild area near our home. No luck so far. We’ll keep everyone posted… and our fingers crossed!

Post a comment