The Great Varroa Hunt of 2012

As fall rolls around and the hive starts getting ready for winter, it's time to monitor the growth of a nasty little parasitic mite called Varroa destructor.

 I had hopes my hive would be able to keep them at bay, but recent counts show that the mite is gaining a toe-hold in the hive, so it was time to start the treatments. One of the first-line defenses is a non-chemical one that's kinda cool. If you coat your bees in powdered sugar, they will groom one another, knocking off a lot of the mites. The powdered sugar is the right size to fit in the foot cups of the mite, so they get clogged up and the mite can't hold onto anything. They then fall out the bottom of the hive to be eaten by other predatory insects.

So, off we go, opening the hive to dust the bees.



This results in a lot of "ghost bees", which are of great interest to others in the food chain.

       

Fortunately, the girls are tough little buggers and have no problem letting stray yellow jackets know who's boss. :)

We have to do the treatment 3 times to get the mites. The first time in, we tried to be as fast as we could, since it was the first time I'd opened the hive all year and I didn't know how the girls would react. They were mellow. So, the second time, we decided to steal a bit of honey from them, just to perform a little quality control. I'd hate for them to go through winter with bad honey....

So, we cut free and pulled a bar of comb out.



The girls were a bit reluctant to leave their prize with us, and were busy trying to steal back all they could. So, Kiera had to help convince them to leave with the bee brush. Eventually they did, and we could cut the comb off the bar, leaving us with a nice slab 'o honey comb. Note how dark that honey is. Not like you see at the store.



Now, we just have to get the honey out of the comb. For those who do not have framed-in combs (I can't do that on my hive design) and centrifugal extractors, it's quite the low-tech process. It's called "crush and strain". Tools of the trade? Potato masher, paint strainer and patience. It's pretty messy, but at least it's a tasty mess!

   

A couple hours later, you end up with a pile of wax bits, and this:



It's pretty amazing how much more flavor it has than supermarket honey. Who knew?

We actually got about 1/3 more than this, but gave it to a friend who came to watch/help that day. Christy really came to watch, but when things started getting a bit chaotic in the middle of the operation, she jumped right in. No gloves or suit (just a mosquito netting veil), but a lot of gusto. Thanks for the help, Christy!

I must say, in retrospect, our bees are quite mellow. We completely tore their hive apart, broke more comb than I wanted to, stole a bar of honey, and not one of us received a single sting. There weren't even any warning shots or head-butts. I was kinda shocked.

After letting the bees clean the honey residue off the wax scraps, it was time to reclaim the wax. So, I put together an improvised solar wax extractor, which was basically a cooler with an old window laid on top. The wax scraps get laid on a paper towel suspended over a tupperware of water. The wax melts and runs through, any bee parts, debris, and propolis stay in the paper towel. Residual honey runs through and dissolves in the water, and the wax floats on top, solidifying when shade comes.

The scraps:      The leftover gook:   The purified wax:

Overall, a successful weekend. 2.5# of honey, a bit of wax, and a lot fewer mites.