Bee Update — Good News, Bad News

Mary Beth:
Good news first. I found eggs and it looks like a good mix of brood with a few drone cells mixed in. Yeah!

Bad news. I saw a varroa mite on one of my bees! I’ve poured over my photos and I’ve only seen the one bee with a mite. What a sad find! Hopefully it will not be a problem for the rest of the Island bees.

This is not supposed to be the case out here on Block Island — we’re out in the middle of the ocean, thirteen miles from the mainland. As far as I know no varroa mites or diseases have ever been found in the hives on the Island.

Unfortunately this is no longer true and I’m still trying to figure out how it happened. I’ll have to keep an eye on the hive and talk to some beekeepers out here to see if they’ve noticed this pest in their hives.

I’m researching this problem and so far I’ve found that there are several things I could do that might help my bees. To start I’m going to increase the Honey B Healthy and hope that they can shake this off. I’ve also read that the mite doesn’t like the smaller cell size on the Top Bar Hive so maybe the problem will correct itself. If anyone out there has dealt with varroa mites, I’d love to hear what you did to help your bees.

12 thoughts on “Bee Update — Good News, Bad News

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  1. You have Michael Bush’s site on your links. He talks a lot about small-cell bees being more resistant to mites. Dee Lusby has the same approach: You could also check out Backwards Beekeepers
    the SoCal bee club I belong to. We use no foundation, just starter strips, and let the bees do their own thing. We try to rescue and re-house as many feral bees as possible. Our resulting small-cell hives are pretty mite-resistant.

    1. Thanks for the information Sue. That’s what I’m going to do, let them do their own thing. Hopefully the natural small cell foundation they’ve built will correct the situation.

  2. Hopefully that will work for you. I had a serious invasion of varroa mites and after talking to several experienced beekeepers decided to treat with Apiguard. I had hoped to avoid any sort of chemicals in the hive but would have lost that hive if I had not treated. Apiguard did work and the hive is thriving now. My new colonies come from VSH (varroa sensitive hygiene) queens so I am hopeful they will be able to cope without medication. Essentially all colonies in California have varroa mites (according to experienced beekeepers). Have you tried the powdered sugar method, sticky boards for your bottom boards or removing drone cells from the hive? There is a lot of information out there and various methods to deal with varroa. Good luck, I hope whatever you choose works.

    1. Doris- I’m interested In the VSH queens, Linda at suggested for me to get a VSH queen for the TBH, please keep me updated on how your queens do. I plan on getting hives with VSH queens when I get out to Colorado.

      I wish I could use the powdered sugar method but I don’t have a screen bottom on the Top Bar Hive and if I have time (leaving first week of May for Colorado) I might try removing drone cells.
      Thanks so much for helping out, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  3. Oh no! We’re kindred spirits. I have an organic garden, and I keep bees and chickens just south of San Francisco. Any way, such a bummer about your mite issue! I’ve had issues with that as well, but I have langstroth hives, so I’ve been able to pull drone comb and sugar dust as IPM measures. I was taught that varroa aren’t really a problem in top bar hives. Just wondering if you have run into others who have had varroa in their top bar hives? Have you seen bees around the hive with deformed wings? Would love to post this entry on my blog to introduce my readers to top bar hives and varroa issues. Any chance you would give me permission?

    1. Robin – I think that varroa mites are just less of a problem in the TBH. The thinking is that the smaller cell size that bees create in a TBH somehow limits the ability of the mite to do serious damage to the hive. MB hasn’t seen any bees with deformed wings and since she’s only seen the one mite, we’re hoping that it won’t be a serious problem for her hive. For now she’s going to let nature take its course and hope that the combination of healthy bees and the TBH will keep any damage to a minimum.

      We’d be happy to let you use our post in exchange for a link to our site. Oh, and please send us a link to your site as well.

      Thanks! Barbara

      1. Thanks so much for your response- and thanks for letting me re-print your blog entry. I just posted a link from my blog to your site. I wrote a blog entry last evening that you may find interesting. It’s on pulling drone comb as an IPM measure to deal with varroa. My blog is at

        Thanks so much! Robin

  4. I think the heart of the problem is foundation. Cell-imprinted foundation is basically one-size-fits-all. It’s standardised for the large drone size which means that cells with workers have room for mites. And because there are more workers than drones, you’ll have more mites in the hive. Using foundationless frames ( If you want to strengthen the comb for handling, string some horizontal wires.

  5. I’m a new TBH bee keeper as well & just want to say thank you for posting just great pictures of what to look for. I’m in Colorado & haven’t seen these on my bees but am curious to see how your situation plays out. I hope the problem works it self out.

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