Reduce the Use of Pesticides in Your Apiary


Honey bee with varroa miteThis honey bee has a varroa mite on her thorax (photo by Derek Allnutt). Varroa mites can carry viruses that enter the bee's body  through puncture wounds. There are more than 20  honey bee viruses of which  deformed wing virus is the most common.  Untreated colonies will die within two years. It is really important to keep varroa mite levels under control. Here is a good strategy to reduce the use of pesticides in your apiary.


Integrated Pest Management Strategy
(recommendations from CAPA Honey Bee Diseases and Pests book Version 3, Chapter 12 IPM by Heather Clay)
Colony management has become more complicated since the arrival of new diseases and pests. Fifty years ago, there was little need for chemical intervention. Today the top four diseases and pests (Varroa mites, Tracheal mites, American foulbrood (AFB) and Nosema) require a different course of control for each species. Over time, it has become clear that synthetic chemical control is the least desirable option. Concern about disease and pest resistance to the chemical treatment, potential for chemical residues in honey, the likelihood of environmental damage and growing consumer awareness of health issues related to pesticides and antibiotics, are good reasons to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in apiary management. Beekeepers are seeking new ways of managing colonies using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy.


What is Integrated Pest Management
IPM is not a new concept. It was developed in the 1950's in response to escalating disease and pest resistance to chemical control products. As chemical resistance increased, the quantity of chemicals needed for control increased, resulting in higher costs and greater environmental damage. 

An IPM plan helps reduce the problem of disease and pest resistance to control chemicals by
using non chemical measures such as cultural (beekeeper activity), physical (mechanical), or biological (biopesticide) controls, limiting the frequency and dosage of control chemicals,
alternating synthetic chemical control products that have a different mode of action.


Here is a suggested IPM plan for controlling varroa mite


    • Monitor colonies in spring using alcohol wash, ether roll, sugar shake or natural mite drop method

    • Use screened bottom boards from spring to fall season

    • Requeen early with mite resistant stock

    • Begin spring treatment if economic threshold for your area is exceeded (typically 10% of bees infested for tracheal mites and 5-10 Varroa mites in 24 hours on a sticky board)

    • Monitor after treatment to ensure the method was effective

    • Make splits in summer of 2-3 frames of bees using queen cells from resistant bee stocks in preparation for replacing any colonies that do not survive winter

    • Maintain strong healthy colonies through the seasons by controlling swarms, reducing environmental stress (temperature extremes, high humidity, wind), providing adequate nutrition and controlling honey bee diseases

    • Monitor Varroa mite population in late summer to fall. If the mite population reaches 50 mites/ sticky board/24 h, test for chemical treatment resistance before selecting one of the following chemical controls, either formic acid (MiteAway Quick Strips TM), Apistan®, CheckMite +TM  or ApivarTM

    • Monitor after treatment to ensure the control selected was effective

    • If Varroa mite levels are low, do not treat in late summer or early fall. Delay until the colony is broodless and then treat with oxalic acid

    • Feed and winterize colony in fall. Ensure colony has sufficient stores of honey and pollen. A two brood chamber colony ready for winter should weigh 120-180 lb.

      The great advantage of  an IPM strategy is the economic benefit of  only using chemical control when necessary. Reducing dependency on synthetic chemical controls not only lowers treatment costs but it has an overall positive effect by reducing the risk of resistance, prolonging the useful life of a chemical and reducing the impact of residues on the colony, the product, the consumer and the environment.

      Click here to view an IPM poster, Seasonal Management of Honey Bees prepared by Heather Clay, Canadian Honey Council, 2010.