Spring management and protecting against Varroa

by Flow Hive 4 min read

As beekeepers, we can all do our part in the effort to keep Australia varroa-free! Spring is always the most exciting time of year for beekeeping, and as part of your regular spring maintenance there are some important steps you can take in the fight against the varroa mite.  

In June 2022, Varroa destructor mites were detected in beehives linked to Newcastle port. Since then, NSW DPI has been leading a campaign to try to eradicate this pest before it becomes established in Australia. Because of this, certain restrictions on beekeeping have been enacted. These regulations are changing frequently and vary from state to state, so make sure to keep up to date with news and regulations from your state’s official agricultural body.

IMPORTANT: At present in NSW, it’s forbidden to move bees without a permit.

 


 

What is Varroa?

Varroa destructor is a pinhead-sized mite that parasitises honey bees and their brood. They can severely weaken the bees, and also carry damaging viruses.

The mites live on adult bees’ abdomens and feed on tissue called the “fat body”. The mite reproduces inside brood cells, with the young mites parasitising the developing bees.

 

Adult Varroa mite on a nurse bee

Adult Varroa mite on a nurse bee

Varroa mites on a developing bee larva

Varroa mites on a developing bee larva

Adult varroa mite closeup

Adult varroa mite closeup

 

Adult females are a rusty red-brown and measure 1-1.8 mm (around 1/16 inch) in length. They are round and flat, and can be seen with the naked eye, especially when against a light-coloured background.

Varroa mite numbers build up in a hive of European honey bees over time, eventually killing the colony if chemical treatments or other management strategies are not applied. This can have a significant effect on large-scale honey production and pollination of certain food crops.

 


 

How Beekeepers Can Help

While the current incursion is being responded to, there are some simple steps beekeepers can take to support their bees and the wider effort to keep Australia varroa-free. The good news is these practices are all part and parcel of your standard spring beekeeping activities!


Register your hive

All beekeepers in Australia should make sure their hive registration is current, and monitor updates from their state's official agricultural body.



Check your hive for Varroa mites

There are a few different methods you can use to monitor your colonies for Varroa. These can be incorporated into your regular brood inspections.

 


 

If you suspect you have found varroa mite in your hives, notify your state’s agricultural body immediately.

 


 

Take action to prevent your hives from swarming

Swarm prevention is an important part of managing honeybee colonies, especially in the springtime. The varroa outbreak has made this all more vital than ever. The mites can spread through swarms, so it’s that as beekeepers, we do everything we can to control swarming this coming season.

Swarming takes place most frequently in springtime when there is a lot of nectar and pollen available and colonies are expanding rapidly. There are some telltale signs you can use to determine whether a hive may be preparing to swarm.

Swarm management

A lack of space for the queen to lay eggs in is the primary trigger for a colony to swarm. There are several ways to alleviate this:
  • Split the hive - start a new hive by taking half the frames from the brood box and putting them in a new box. - For beekeepers in NSW it’s important to note that although bees cannot be moved without a permit, the DPI have advised us that splitting for swarm prevention is allowed outside the red emergency zones as long as the original hive and new split are not moved from the original hive location.
  • Add an extra brood box or super - this gives the queen more space to lay in.
  • Remove some frames from the brood box to give the bees more space.
  • If you find queen cells during an inspection, destroy them. This is on its own is unlikely to stop a colony from swarming, but it can delay the swarm and be effective when combined with alleviating crowding in the hive.
  • Swarming usually occurs in spring. During winter, prepare your equipment so that you are ready to make splits and add boxes to your hives.
  • If you don’t want to expand your apiary, find another beekeeper who does and can take a split from you if necessary. - N.B. Be aware of any restrictions on moving hives in your area.
Tip: If you’re worried that a hive is getting ready to swarm but don’t have time to do swarm prevention, you can attach a queen excluder to the hive entrance. This can temporarily delay the swarm until you have time to take action.

Further Resources:


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