The varroa mite was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1980s, and is likely responsible for the failure of many honeybee hives. They are an evil that every beekeeper must contend with one way or another. If left untreated for mites, seven out of every ten hives will likely not survive the winter (as the bees larva production decreases in preparation for winter, the mites reproduction continues to increase, resulting in the eventual collapse of the hive). Rather than asking why 70% of the hives were dying as most scientists did, Mel Disselkoen (diesel-cone) asked why the other 30% were surviving. From this question, as well as years of experimentation and research, Mel has created On-the-Spot (OTS) Queen Rearing, which is a method of splitting or re-queening a hive and getting rid of the mites at the same time! This past Saturday, Mel drove down to Moores Hill, Indiana to present at a workshop hosted by the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association.
In a nutshell: When a hive has 6 frames full of brood (eggs & larva) and live drones (lazy male bees) buzzing around, you may dispatch (Mel’s pleasant word for choice kill) the queen or move her, along with a few frames of brood and some nurse bees, to a different hive box. You then use your hive tool to break open the bottom 1/3 of a row of cells that contain three-day-old or younger larva (the nurse bees will not use older larva to create a queen). Within 3-4 days, the bees will have repaired the cells and built them into queen cells. Within 30-35 days (from removing the queen and notching the cells), your new queen should have already taken her mating flight (drones finally get to do the only job they were created for!) and begin laying eggs again. Success! Hopefully.
Because this whole process takes a minimum of 30 days, the mites cease to exist in the hive. The breeding cycle of the mite is 13 days, and they always lay their eggs in the cells of eight-day-old larva. Because there is no queen laying eggs for at least 30 days, the mites have nowhere to lay their eggs. They die off naturally, and the bees going into winter are much stronger because they’re not deformed or weakened by having been sucked on by mites or their larva. It’s really quite brilliant for those of us that aren’t keen on using chemicals on our hives!
Mel then took us out to a hive, where he demonstrated the process of finding the queen and notching the cells. It was a wonderful afternoon full of truly caring individuals, good food, and a lot of information sharing. Thank you to Mel Disselkoen for his willingness to share his wonderful work, to Garry Reeves for hosting the event in his workshop and yard, and to Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association for hosting such an important and useful workshop!
This gentleman was completely unaware that he was covered in bees. It took a lot of smoking to free him of his back beard!