Treating Hives for Varroa Mites Naturally

Anyone who is a beekeeper here is very familiar with 2 common pests: hive beetles and varroa mites.  I’m going to focus on varroa mites for this post.

Varroa mites are very tiny external mites on bees – about 1.5 mm in size.  They suck the hemolymph (“blood”) of the bees and causes them to become weak and prone to infection and illness.

There are many chemicals available to treat them, but we prefer to keep our hives chemical free, so we resort to natural methods.  One way to do that is to use drone comb to capture the mites.  Varroa mites prefer drone brood over worker brood.  The drone cells are larger and the drone larvae live longer.  Place a frame of drone comb into the hive and allow the bees to draw out the drone comb and cap it.  Then you remove the frame and freeze it for at least 24 hours to kill off the mites.  You also kill the drone brood, but it is a small sacrifice compared to being infested with varroa mites.  After the comb is frozen, uncap the brood and place the frame back into the hive.  The bees will clean out the dead mites and dead brood and repeat the process.

Here are some close up pictures I took of larvae we pulled out of the drone comb to show you what varroa mites look like.

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What’s the Queen Doing There?

We recently moved our nucs into regular sized hives.  We opened up one hive and found the queen on top of the inner cover. What is the queen doing there?  Since it was a relatively new hive to her we assumed maybe she got a little confused, so we gently guided her back to the opening of the inner cover and back down into the hive.

Comb Honey by Mistake

Yum! Fresh comb honey.  We were blessed with all this great comb, but it wasn’t something we  had planned.

Here is what happened:

When we caught our fall swarm we needed to give them a few frames with food and brood.  So we took 2 frames from an existing hive, but didn’t have any empty frames on hand at the moment. We actually had an order with new frames on the way.  So we left 2 frame slots empty and said we would add in 2 frames when they arrived. Fast forward a week and we totally forgot about the empty slots.  We went to open the hive and could not get the cover off, it was stuck.  Once we finally pried it open we realized what had happened.

The bees had filled up the empty space with new comb that was full of honey!  Our first thought was what a big mess, but we decided to take advantage of the situation and carefully gather the comb.

So we turned a sticky mess into a sweet deal.

Fall Swarm

Prior to the Brazilian Pepper honey flow this fall we made a few splits to try and prevent our strong hives from swarming.  That did help us save our old queens, and they are doing just fine.  What we forgot to check on after a week was how many queen cells had been made in the hives we left queenless.  The strongest hive had several queen cells and after the first queen emerged they swarmed. Darn it!

Not to worry, we were prepared and we caught them.  We are not sure if we will leave them as a new hive yet.  We might combine them with another hive after the honey flow so they won’t be weak going into winter.

How to Clean Beeswax

Imagine you just finished harvesting your honey and you are left with a bucket full of uncapping wax.  What do you do with it?  How do you clean it?  I’m going to tell you how, and it is easy.

Dirty wax Clean wax

Before you do anything, some safety tips:

  • Never leave wax unattended while heating it. Wax can easily catch on fire.
  • Melt wax at a low to medium-low heat setting.  It takes some time, but is much safer.

Ok, now on to how you do it.  You will want to use a pot for wax melting only. After this you will never be able to clean it good. Wax is very hard to remove.

1. Fill a pot halfway with water. Add in the dirty wax.  (I use an 8-quart stock pot I got at Walmart for $6.94.)
2. Turn the burner on to medium-low heat and allow the water to come to a slow boil and melt the wax in the water.  Once it reaches a slow boil, remove the pot from the heat.
3. Let the pot sit overnight to cool.  The wax will float to the top of the water and harden.  
4. Remove the wax and set it on a paper towel. Drain the dirty water.  I suggest doing this outside because the remaining particles can easily clog your drain.
5. The wax will have a lot of dirty particles on the bottom, you can cut or scrap this off with a knife and toss out.
6. Now you will melt the wax without water. This is done using a double boiler. (Never put a pot with wax directly on the burner.) You can do this by putting a smaller pot into a larger pot that has water in it. Put your wax in the pot and turn the burner on to medium-low heat.
7. While the wax melts in your double boiler, you can prepare the container the melted wax will go in.  I use milk/orange juice cartons (not plastic).  I take a piece of cheesecloth, fold it over a few times and put it across my container.  This serves as a final filter to trap any remaining particles in your wax.
8. When the wax is melted, remove from heat.
9. Pour the melted wax into your container and allow to cool for several hours or overnight.

That’s it!  It does take some time to do, especially with having to allow the wax to cool completely, but in the end you are left with a gorgeous block of clean wax.