Last Updated on May 6, 2022
Varroa mites are horrible pests that can rapidly kill a hive. These small parasitic mites can be controlled with a number of different methods, some of these methods kill the mites (poisons) and some of these methods remove mites from the hive. The varroa mite powdered sugar treatment method is an example of a treatment that does not use poisonous substances in a hive. Let us take a look at how we can reduce mite counts using the Varroa mite powdered sugar treatment method.
A Quick Summary Of What Varroa Mites Are
Varroa mites are small parasitic mites that make holes in bees and suck their hemolymph. This is catastrophic for the bees as they need that stuff, and the little holes made in their bodies also introduce viruses and bacteria. Varroa mites primarily parasitize the brood in the hive – this is especially catastrophic as it means that young bees when they emerge are essentially useless to the hive. In this way, the hive begins to lose its young workforce. With fewer bees to collect pollen, the brood nest shrinks, and the increasing number of mites attacks a decreasing number of brood cells – this leads to a complete collapse of the hive.
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We have two main options:
Chemical means – where the mites are killed. These can be synthesized pesticide poisons or natural or semi-natural poisonous compounds such as thymol and oxalic acid fumigants.
Mechanical means – removing drone brood (mites love drone brood, so you can remove the brood and feed it to your chickens making the chickens fat on the delicious mite-infested brood), bottom screen boards (these allow the mites to fall through onto the ground, and then the topic of this article – sugar dusting. Sugar is technically a chemical, but in this case, we are using it to mechanically cause mites to fall off the bees.
What Is The Varroa Mite Powdered Sugar Treatment?
This is a very simple treatment. We dust bees with sugar. Varroa mites have sticky little feet that grip the waxy layer on the surface of a bee. The mites like to ride the bee much like we ride horses – they sit on top of the thorax where the bee cannot reach and dislodge the pesky mite. The bees groom themselves very well – but they cannot reach the back of their thorax. The mite is also very flat and difficult to grip and has sticky little feet. The only way that mite will be dislodged is if we encourage bees to groom each other and if the sticky little feet are disabled.
If you dust a bee with fine sugar, the varroa mites get their feet all gummed up and cannot grip as tightly. The bees do not like being covered in sugar and will groom each other. In the process of grooming, they dislodge varroa mites off the backs of the bees, and these will fall to the bottom of the hive. If you have a screen board, the mites will fall through the board and will starve to death.
Preparing Your Sugar
When I experimented with this method a decade and a half ago, we took fine white sugar and placed this in a small flour mill that I had. You can also use a coffee grinder or spice grinder. The important thing is to grind small quantities at a time. I tried castor sugar on its own but it was not fine enough. Grinding normal white sugar seemed to produce a better result.
A thirty-second or so pulse in the grinder made the sugar very fine and it worked very well at dislodging mites. If you grind for too long the sugar becomes a bit sticky on the grinder blades and you can end up with the magical blue smoke coming out of the grinder.
Dusting Your Bees
Dusting the bees is a little more complex than you may think. You don’t want to dust so much sugar on the bees that you end up knocking them off the combs and clogging cells with sugar. This is counterproductive. You need to dust just enough that it coats the workers.
In this regard, I used a spaghetti container much like this one. Drill holes in the bottom with a small 1,6 mm drill bit such as this. The lid of the container now becomes where you place the sugar, and you can use the setup much like a salt shaker to dispense sugar onto the bees.
If you have a standard mesh bottom board screen, or if you have a fancy unit like this, the sugar and mites fall down and cannot get back onto the bees. I actually just lifted my hives up on a stand, removed the bottom board, and dusted the bees – I put a tray under the hive and collected the sugar. I took it home and dissolved it and used it for making feed for the bees. In my area varroa is no longer a problem, so we do not have to do this anymore, but in the early days, we panicked and tried to control the varroa mites, delaying our bees from evolving immunity.
Here is a nice video of some beekeepers using the Varroa mite powdered sugar treatment method.
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I hope this has helped you understand how you can use the varroa mite powdered sugar treatment method to control varroa mites in your hive. In life, we get choices between simple quick chemical fixes (pesticides, anti-depressants, weed killers) and lifestyle changes (integrated pest management, lifestyle changes, clever planting) and the second option is always harder work, but safer healthier choices in the long term. For the future of our planet and bees, and us, we really need to think more carefully about how we medicate things. In this regard, the Varroa mite powdered sugar treatment method is high on my list of “sustainable ways” of treating a problem. Please share if you enjoyed this article.
Will powdered sugar kill bees?
No - powdered sugar just coats the bees and forces them to clean themselves. If you drown the bees in powdered sugar it will kill them. This is much like taking a shower for us, versus being underwater for ten minutes with no breathing gear. Using powdered sugar on bees requires a level of common sense.
How do you test for mites with powdered sugar?
The powdered sugar roll involves taking a sample of 400 (half a cup) or so of bees, and shaking them in a jar with two to three spoons of fine powdered sugar. After shaking the bees, the sugar is shaken through a sieve to remove the bees and then the collected sugar is spread out on a sheet of paper to allow the counting of mites. Divide the number of mites by 4 to get mites per 100 bees. Put the bees back in the hive, and remove the sugar.
How do you make powdered sugar for bees?
I use a small coffee grinder to convert normal white sugar to powdered sugar. A thirty minute pulse will pulverize the sugar. A small flour mill grinder also works.
How long can varroa mite live without a host?
The mites will die quite quickly (I found about two days) when removed from the hive. You can see them crawl around in the bottle and then after two days they just fall over and die. This depends on temperature. They are a pest - do not take chances. Kill them with fire!!