Curse of the Vampire Mites!

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Book three completes my Bee Boy trilogy with: Bee Boy – Curse of the Vampire Mites published 7th February 2019.

The Bee Boy books are fiction for 7-11 year olds, based on the real life of bees. Sadly, the deadly varroa mite is not fiction. The tiny terrors are attacking beehives around the world and it is the varroa or, as I’ve named it, the ‘Vampire Mite’ that stars as the arch enemy in Curse of the Vampire Mites. I’ve included a spread with information about varroa at the back of the book.

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We treated our bees at the end of last summer with a chemical that keeps varroa numbers down and as far as we know, our bees are doing OK.

I have also been helping Margaret, my friend and bee-keeping neighbour, with her top bar hives (more about top bar hives below). The trays that sit under the hives were checked for varroa throughout the summer and we found no evidence of them.

checking tray for varroa

Mid-winter, however, we have been disappointed to find quite a few varroa in the trays. I’ve shot a couple of videos with my digital microscope. Most of the varroa were dead but a few were still wriggling! This is a magnification of x 20 . . .

and this is x 400

WE HAD A PROBLEM!

vampire mite

Top bar hives are a more natural form of bee-keeping and Margaret is keen to avoid using the chemical treatment we use in our traditional National hive. Oxalic acid occurs naturally in rhubarb and other green vegetables and, when vaporised, is a method for killing varroa without harming the bees. Half a teaspoon of acid powder is placed on the little hotplate of the vaporiser before it is connected to a battery.

vaporiser

The fumes drift up through the hive and kill the varroa. We didn’t get it quite right with this first attempt as we should have turned the power on after the vaporiser was in place — it heated up MUCH quicker than we’d anticipated! But never mind —  the best way to learn about something is to have a go and we think we know exactly what to do next time.

Here is the original top bar hive last summer.

It contained two colonies and was rather overcrowded so another hive was purchased and instead of sitting it on a table, we furnished it with legs!

top bar with new legs

The top bar bees did well last summer. In a traditional hive the bees build out from honeycomb foundation sheets in frames.

But in a top bar hive the bees build their own honeycomb just as they would in the wild. It hangs from a bar (in the wild this would be a branch) that sits on top of the hive, hence — top bar hive!

Some of the top bars contain honeycomb filled with honey, pollen and brood (baby bees) and other top bars are pure honey.

Here are some busy bees building new comb.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of our garden, the bees in our traditional National hive have been wrapped up for the winter. I’ve pinned a mouse guard across the front entrance. It has holes big enough for bees to come and go but too small to allow hungry rodents inside. When the wind is in the east, our hive is hit full on by the cold so I’ve wrapped insulation board around the hive to keep it warm and covered it in chicken wire to protect it from hungry woodpeckers.

winter hive

Throughout the winter, there is sugar syrup for our bees to feed on should their honey supplies run low. They’re not feeding right now but a couple of months ago they were slurping greedily. Watch the video and you’ll see a row of thirsty bees slurping up the syrup . . .

So that’s it for now. Let’s hope that:

1 The mouse guard stops greedy rodents from destroying our National hive.

2 The chicken wire continues to protect our hive from the wicked woodpeckers.

3 The oxalic acid fumes have reduced the varroa in Margaret’s top bar hives.

AND

4 Our varroa treatment has helped us to avoid The Curse of the Vampire Mites

 

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