Thunder Bay beekeepers start to take sting out of devastating Varroa mites
Chemical treatments and changes to hives seem to be slowing parasite which weaken bees immune system
Beekeepers in northwestern Ontario could be turning the corner in the battle against the devastating Varroa mite, according to the president of the Thunder Bay Beekeepers Association.
The parasites, which cause deformed wings in larvae and weaken bees, leaving them susceptible to other diseases, first appeared in the region about four years ago.
Many new beekeepers gave up beekeeping after struggling with the mites — but most of those who've stuck with it are now making progress, Chris Carolan said.
"They're treating on a regular basis," he said. "They're keeping records where they never did before. Even with those couple extra tasks that they're doing, it's night and day."
Some people who are still struggling with mites are reluctant to use recommended chemical treatments, preferring to seek out organic solutions, Carolan said.
"People like myself that's been treating, we're not really having an issue. Actually, we're thriving. I haven't seen the bees this good in years. It's crazy," he said.
In addition to treating, Carolan is increasing population density in his hives in an effort to control the mites.
"In 1870, the bees used to be in 4.9 millimetre cells, so they were smaller. And then they increased the size of the cell to 5.5 millimetres so the honey production and the pollen production would dramatically go up," Carolan said. "Now we know that the Varroa mite likes to lay eggs in big cells, so the bigger the cell, the more mites you get into your colony – which I personally believe. There's no science behind it; it's just my personal belief. If we put them back down to their natural state, I think we'll have this in check."
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The Ontario Beekeepers Association's technology transfer team was scheduled to travel to Thunder Bay from Guelph to offer a course in integrated pest management this month, but the course was cancelled due to low enrolment.
That lack of enrolment suggests that some of the beginner beekeepers who might have been drawn to the workshop have already given up the practice, Carolan said.
The price of the course might have also been too steep for beekeepers with small numbers of hives, he added.
The association puts on courses for beekeepers every spring now and loans equipment for treating mites. It has the necessary chemicals on hand, and it will even make house calls to train members in using the products, Carolan said.
With files from Heather Kitching. Edited/packaged by Casey Stranges