The beginning of August signifies the end of the spring nectar flow here in Maine. At this point in the season there is a nectar dearth, meaning we experience a period of time when there is a scarcity of available nectar. In my neck of the woods the dearth usually lasts 2-3 weeks on average. Beekeepers in Maine take advantage of this break in the honey-flow to perform mite-tests and treatments, which is crucial to successful overwintering of hives.
In the Runamuk Apiary we prefer to use screened bottom boards (SBB) rather than the more traditional bottom boards. There is some contention regarding the topic of screened bottom boards─scientists have performed studies that indicate little benefit from their use (see references in the links below)─while many beekeepers tout their advantages.
Generally it is said that using a SBB allows approximately 20% of mites to fall out of the hive. When used in tandem with a sticky board, SBB offers the ability not only trap those fallen mites so that they cannot climb back up inside the hive, and allows the beekeeper to monitor mite-levels in the hive without disrupting the colony. SBB allow for increased ventilation too, though personally I have rarely employed this feature, fearing Maine’s fluctuating temperatures.
DIY “Sticky Stuff” to Use on Screened-Bottom Boards
Most beekeepers recommend using vaseline or crisco to coat the sticky board for mite-control. However I have made a commitment to abstain from using petroleum products in the Runamuk hives─that includes plastic foundation and vaseline, which is simply a brand name for petroleum jelly─a biproduct of oil refining (see reference below). I refuse to buy vaseline; I won’t use it on my body, and I’m not going to put it on a sticky board either. Crisco can be expensive and according to Randy Oliver the Scientific Beekeeper, can get gummy. Instead I’ve opted a do-it-yourself recipe for use on my sticky boards.
I really don’t have a specific recipe for my “Sticky Stuff”. It’s more of an equation. I use a little less than 3 parts of any inexpensive oil that I already have on hand in my kitchen─this usually ends up being Hannford-brand vegetable oil or canola oil─to 1 part beeswax. The reason I use “a little less than” 3-parts is because I’ve found using a thinner and softer salve makes for easier application of the sticky-stuff. You can make yours to whatever consistency you prefer.
I put the ingredients into a large glass measuring cup and heat the oil and beeswax mixture in a double-boiler on the stove until the wax melts.
When the oil and wax is combined I add essential oils to the mixture. Some studies have shown the oils effective when used to combat varroa in the hive. I already have them on hand because I use them in the salves that I make and sell so I figure it’s not hurting anything to add them to the recipe. I have used eucalyptus and spearmint essential oils in my sticky-board stuff.
Finally I pour the hot oil and wax into whatever storage-receptacle I can find that has a matching lid (I prefer plastic so as to reduce the risk of breaking a glass jar on the way to and from the apiary, but you could use anything from tupperware to a coffee can.) and then leave it to cool.
How to Use Your Sticky-Stuff
To apply my sticky-stuff to the tray in my SBB I have a 2-inch paint brush I picked up for 69-cents at Reny’s in Madison. I keep the paint brush along with the tub of sticky-stuff in my tool-box with everything else so that I always have it when I go to the apiary. Some beekeepers use a paint roller to coat their sticky-boards─you can use whatever works best for you.
In my own experience sticky-boards are most effective when maintained fairly frequently, as debris from the hive in the form of pollen, wax scales and other refuse can pile up on the board, creating a layer that the mites are not going to stick to. I like to scrape the boards every 1-2 weeks and re-apply the sticky-stuff by simply painting it onto the tray or board in the SBB. I use my hive tool, but recently came across the suggestion of using an ice scraper, which would work great too.
Using Screened Bottom Boards to Monitor Mite Populations
Here in Maine when the nectar dearth arrives beekeepers take the harvestable spring honey and then they test for mites. Testing now allows time for treatment while the bees are not making honey, as some treatments cannot be used while honey for consumption is on the hive. Treating in early August leaves plenty of time for the colony to raise a generation of healthy bees in a reduced-mite-level environment and makes for better success in overwintering.
*Read more about how and why to do mite tests in your apiary.
To assess the mite levels using a screened bottom board you first need to scrape the bottom board clean and re-apply your sticky-stuff. Then leave it for 2-3 days before coming back to pull the tray and count the mites that have been caught there.
According to Randy Oliver, if you see more than 50+ mites you should treat the colony. He also states that this method of mite-assessment is best when done frequently, as results can very depending on hive and weather conditions. My partner and I have decided to make scraping and mite-counting a weekly task for mite-monitoring.
The benefit is that you don’t have to disrupt the colony to do the mite-testing; however according to my research and the veteran beekeepers I’ve spoken with, the alcohol-wash still seems to be the most accurate method of discerning the level of the mite population in your hive.
Just do it!
Whatever method you choose, I can’t stress enough the importance of the mite-testing. Timing is crucially important in ensuring successful overwintering of northern honeybee colonies; if you realize too late that there’s a problem you may not be able to correct it before colder weather settles in and the bees are done for the season.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, definitely go and do your research, check out the references and resources cited below, try the different methods for yourself and find a way that works for you.
Feel free to leave comments, suggestions for beekeepers, questions and stories─in the comments section below!
References & Resources
There’s Always Something New To Learn – by Ross Conrad @ Beeculture.com.
Fighting Varroa: Reconnaissance – by Randy Oliver @ Scientific Beekeeping.
Managing Varroa: IPM Realities @ Scientific Beekeeping.
Screened Bottom Boards – by Dewey Caron @ PNW Honey Bee Survey.
Petroleum Jelly may not be as Harmless as you Think @ the Huffington Post.
Results of Research: Using Essential Oils for Honey Bee Mite Control – by Jim Amrine @ West Virginia University.