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Managing pests in the beehive.

THERE IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE the sights and sounds of bees buzzing around, gathering pollen and nectar on a warm summer day. Summer and bees just seem to go together; unfortunately, so do summer and pests. And beehives are the target of pests such as varroa mites, ants, wax moths, and mice.

By practicing integrated pest management you can do quite a bit to help your bee colonies stay healthy and strong. The idea behind integrated pest management is that you use a variety of tools to prevent and treat pests, instead of using chemicals.

Integrated pest management for bee colonies starts with deciding what race of bees to purchase. Some bee races are more resistant to certain pests than other races. For instance, if varroa mites are a concern for you, consider purchasing Russian bees, which tend to fair well against varroa mites.

Another part of integrated pest management is using physical deterrents to keep pests out of the hive in the first place. It also includes using traps to kill and remove the pests once they do get in.

Botanicals can be used to repel pests from your apiary. Planting herbs such as thyme and mint around the hives can help repel other insects such as wax moths and varroa mites. You will need to plant quite a bit; this is one time where mint's invasiveness is a positive thing. Also, try planting close to the hive opening if possible.

Chemicals should only be used a last resort, or not at all. Most chemicals will weaken a hive over time, which is not what we want. We want to do everything we can to help our hives be healthy and strong since healthy and strong hives have a wonderful ability to deal with pests on their own.


Ants are often found loitering around trying to get into beehives. And who can blame them? The hive is full of wonderful sweetness. A few ants here and there aren't a problem and a healthy hive can easily defend itself against them. But if a hive gets overrun with ants, the bees may abscond by filling up with honey and leaving the hive.

Just like learning how to get rid of rodents naturally, learning how to get rid of ants is pretty simple and you want to start with the least invasive methods first.

The best way to keep ants out of your hives is to put your hives on a platform and create a moat of oil around the legs. Plus, when you're working in the hives, it's nice to have them taller and up off the ground.

To create an oil moat, you will need to put each leg of your platform in a can or bucket. The size of the can or bucket will depend on the size of the legs. You don't need the can or bucket to be deep; you just need it wide enough to get the legs in. Once you have the legs in the can or bucket, put a few inches of oil in the can. Many beekeepers use old motor oil, however, I prefer to use food grade oils such as vegetable oil. When it rains, the oil will probably overflow the bucket and get into your soil, which is why I don't use motor oil. You will need to refill the oil periodically. When the ants climb up the side of the can and try to cross the moat, they will fall into the oil and die.

While mint can be used as a wax moth treatment, cinnamon can be used as an ant deterrent. Cinnamon can be used inside and outside of the hive. To use it outside the hive, sprinkle it liberally on the ground around the hive. To use cinnamon inside the hive, sprinkle it on the inner cover. The bees don't mind it, but the ants don't like it and will stay away

These two non-invasive practices should keep the ants out of the hives, which will mean there's one less pest the colony needs to worry about and can focus their attention on other pests. Some pests are harder to keep under control even with good integrated pest management, including varroa mite treatment.


Varroa mites have been in the United States since the late 1980s, and are considered a universal problem. If you are bee farming you most likely have varroa mites in your beehives. Like ants, healthy bee colonies can take care of a few mites. The problem comes when the hive is weak, and the mites are allowed to multiply and eventually take over.

Varroa mites are about the size of a pinhead and are visible to the naked eye. They attach themselves to a foraging bee, and like a tick will feed on the bees "blood" (hemolymph fluid). When the foraging bee returns the hive, if the mite gets past the guards, she will hop off the bee and start looking for the drone brood. This is where she does her damage.

The varroa mite will enter an uncapped brood cell, drone cells are her preference, and hide until the cell is capped. Then she will begin feeding on the fluid in the larva and lay eggs. The first to hatch is a male who then mates with his sisters that hatch later. When the bee emerges from its cell, the varroa mites also emerge and go on the hunt for a new uncapped cell to repeat the reproductive process. Varroa mites reproduce at an alarmingly fast rate. They can quickly weaken the hive enough that the hive becomes susceptible to other pests and viruses.

Russian bees are considered to be resistant to varroa mites. This doesn't mean that varroa mites won't come into a Russian bee colony; it just means that Russian bees have certain characteristics that help them better manage varroa mites than other bees. The same is true of "survivor bees" or resistant bees, which are bees that have been living without chemical assistance for years. These bees are fighters and will aggressively defend their hive against any invader; even if it means seeking out mites already in capped brood, uncapping and removing the pupa, and destroying the mites.

Using screened bottom boards is another way to help monitor and control mites. Some mites will naturally fall off the bees and to the bottom of the hive. When you use a screened bottom board, you can put a sticky trap on it to keep all the fallen mites from reentering the hive. This also allows you to count the mites and make sure the bees are able to keep the mite population under control. You should have no more than 50 mites on the sticky board over a one-or two-day period of time. If you have more, you will need to help the bees get rid of them.

Using a screened bottom board will also help with ventilation. This means not as many bees need to be fanning during the hot summer. This allows them to do something else, like defend the hive. The screened board will need to be replaced with a solid bottom board during the winter.

Dusting the hive with powdered sugar is a common way to get rid of some varroa mites. Just like dogs and chickens dust in the dirt to help with pests, bees can dust in powdered sugar. Most commercial powdered sugar has cornstarch added as an anti-caking agent. Bees should not consume cornstarch, and you should not feed commercial powdered sugar to bees. However, because the bees don't consume much of the powdered sugar while dusting, many beekeepers use commercial powdered sugar with cornstarch. Some beekeepers only use commercial powdered sugar without cornstarch. And some beekeepers make their own powdered sugar. To make your own powdered sugar, put half a cup granulated sugar into a blender or coffee mill and give it a whirl until it's a powder.

When starting beekeeping you'll often find opposing views or even opposing research studies. The best thing to do is to read in depth about each viewpoint and then decide what is right for your beehives.

Drone trapping is another nonchemical way of controlling varroa mites. The queen needs about 10-15 percent of the brood cells for drones, usually around the perimeter of the frame. However, you can coax her into making full frames of drone brood cells. You need to remove two full frames of worker brood and replace them with empty frames. This will signal the hive to get into drone production and they will (usually) cover both sides of each frame with drone cells. After the cells are full and capped, you can remove the frames from the hive and destroy the brood that has the varroa mites in them.

The downside of this is that drones are a sign of a healthy hive, so you certainly don't want a hive without drones. The upside is that you can destroy a lot of varroa mites at one time. This will get their population to an amount that the bees can naturally handle. This should only be done once the above measures have been taken.

Thyme is reported to be a varroa mite deterrent, so consider planting thyme around your apiary. Thymol, which is derived from thyme, is an ingredient in both Apilife Var and ApiGuard, two commercial products that are safe for use inside the hive. If you need to use a pesticide, these are ones you want to start with because they don't cause any harm to the bees and only small amounts are absorbed by the wax.

Another pesticide, formic acid, is used when there is a huge sudden influx of varroa mites into the hive. The commercial name is Mite-Away II. This is effective, doesn't harm the bees and isn't absorbed by the wax. However, it is irritating to the bees so it should only be used when you are sure there is a need for it.

There are also plastic strips that contain chemicals that do a great job of killing the varroa mites. However, the mites that survive become resistant to it. It's absorbed into the beeswax. The queen will begin to lay fewer eggs and will die young, and the drones reproductive organs become damaged by using these chemicals. So, while it is an inexpensive quick fix, it becomes a long-term disaster for the hive. Just like using moth balls for wax moth treatment, you kill the pest but you also kill the hive.

I recommend never using these plastic strips. If the hive cannot combat the varroa mites with the help of screened bottom boards, powdered sugar dusting, drone trapping and using botanicals, then the hive will not survive long term, even with using chemicals.

Managing beehive pests is a tricky balance. You want to give the bees enough help through integrated pest management that they stay strong and healthy. But you don't want to give them so much help that they become a weaker hive. Healthy hives can manage pests such as ants, varroa mites and wax moths on their own. The beekeeper's job is to make sure that the pest population does not overrun the hive.

Caption: ABOVE: Bucket moats and cinnamon can help control ants.

BELOW: Powdered sugar provides an ant dust bath.
Moth Trap

Empty 2-liter soda bottle (or
two smaller bottles, like a sports
drink bottle)

1 banana peel
1 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water

Cut a small hole in the empty soda
bottle right below the shoulder,
about the size of a quarter. Put hot
water and sugar in a glass bowl
or jar and mix together. Using a
funnel, pour the sugar water and
vinegar into the bottle. Then put
the banana peel into the bottle.
Put the lid back on the bottle. It will
ferment and draw the moths to it.

Hang it in your apiary but several
feet from your hives. The goal is to
lure them away from the hives.
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Author:Schneider, Angi
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 2017
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