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Mites and Merging Colonies - when, how, should I even?


Phew…my first ever mite count is complete! It was far easier to do than I had been anticipating, too. And now…I have questions. First, my observations:

The Strong South Hive:

  • Robust bee activity, in the brood boxes, in the Flow Hive, Lots and Lots of busy bees
  1. Still no capped honey in the flow frames, and while they continue to put nectar there, they haven’t filled as much as I would have expected since my last inspection 3 weeks ago. It’s been pretty dry here, so it shouldn’t be a humidity issue - plus the honey frames in the box below are all well capped.
  • While I didn’t spot the queen, the brood pattern still looks good, though clearly the bees are shrinking the brood nest a bit - frames that had once been packed with brood was now packed with pollen. Good stores!

  • The top box was HEAVY with capped honey. I mean HEAVY. These girls have been busy socking it away for winter!

  • Sugar roll for mites yielded 13 mites in a half cup sample…so roughly 4 mites per hundred bees - if I did everything correctly. (And yes, while I didn’t spot the queen during this inspection, I was extra careful to look for her on the frame I used for mite rolling. No guarantees that I didn’t get her, but I did my best!)

Weaker North Hive

  • A much, much quieter hive all around. Guestimate about half the population of the south hive. I supposed they could have swarmed, but I don’t see any emergency queen cells, and this colony population has always been low.

  • Top honey box was Heavy with honey. Admittedly, the comb in this box is a bit tough to inspect - not as straight as I would like, and pulling sometimes causes a honey spill. I didn’t inspect each frame because we have been having a horrid yellow jacket problem, and I didn’t want to attract them to the hives. But the box was very heavy…so likely pretty full!

  • Again, I didn’t spot the queen in this hive, but the brood pattern wasn’t nearly as robust as the strong hive. Still saw clusters of capped brood and larvae, but these frames were generally spottier, and not as filled with pollen and nectar as the week hive.

  • MITES - so many more mites! Sugar roll count was 34 in a half cup sample, or ~11 mites per hundred. What a difference!

Clearly mite treatment is in my future - I have a varrocleaner and oxalic acid on order from Brushy Mountain that should arrive later in the week

Mite count aside, I am seriously considering whether I should try to combine the two colonies…the North Hive just doesn’t seem to have the population or the stores to get it through a winter. If I decide to join the colonies, here are the questions I have:

  1. Should I Treat for mites before joining (seems an obvious yes, but…)?
  2. Do I just move the box of honey from the weak hive to the strong, along with their bees or should I move some brood frames too? (And yes…I will remember to put a layer of newspaper between boxes from the different colonies) Moving the brood frames seems to carry the most risk of inadvertently moving a queen…if there is still one in the weak hive.
  3. If I don’t move brood frame, then 1) what do I do with the bees that are left behind in the weaker hives? and 2) can I use those frames next year for a new colony?

So many questions…time to pull out my books and start googling, but the advice I have received here has always been thoughtful and quick, so I throw these questions out to you first!




Well now, what an interesting set of questions. Thank you for the detailed information, it really helps. I presume your North hive has 2 deep brood boxes? You say that the top box is heavy with honey, so why do you think they may not overwinter? It is not just population size that matters, but stores too. Do you see any other signs (other than varroa) of pests, which might indicate that they will not get through winter? I understand that the brood pattern was spotty, but if your bees are a hygienic strain, that pattern could be from throwing out varroa-infested larvae. Do you see wax moth damage or a lot of small hive beetles (not sure that they are up in CO yet)? If not, I would consider not combining the hives, partly because I wouldn’t want to put that much varroa into a strong hive.

I would treat first, and consider not combining, as I mentioned above. I think your south hive doesn’t need treatment with that kind of mite load. If you treat at this time of year, with brood still in the hive, you are going to need to do 3 treatments at 5 day intervals, and even then, you won’t get all of the mites. You should still do it. I would consider a further treatment when the colony goes brood-less in late Fall.

I am sure that others will have different ideas, and I look forward to reading them.


Thanks, Dawn.

You assume correctly that North hive has 2 deep brood boxes - both hives do.

I guess I hadn’t considered the possibility that I should just leave them be. The North hive will go into winter with almost as much for stores as the South hive, but half the population. Could give them almost better chances! I didn’t see any evidence of any other disease or pests, so maybe all will be good to go. If I get an opportunity, I’ll have my mentor come take a look with me to be sure.

All great stuff to think about. Thanks!




Just a thought okay !? I totally agree about NOT Merging … But up here … We are treating all hives in each apiary. The reason being because bees do n will at this time of year co-mingle or do a bit of honey stealing, correct ?! (At least possible)…

Of course I n our research group have chosen to treat with “Mite Away Strips” per labeled directions. We do not want another untreated hive in our apiary to reinfect the treated colony. If we do find on a recheck near end of September a hive still has above level amounts … We will retreat with the oxide vapor method. Per directions with Mite Away there has to be at least 6 good active frames of bees to use this method n our temps are within specs.

What do you think. I really don’t know she n her hives are.
Just my 2 cents again ! :wink::+1:

. Nitie nite n have a great rest of the weekend my friend …


Here’s part of the brochure for our local Mite Control program:

next Spring we’ll see how well it worked. The program is based on locate data collect from 100 plus system similar to your data system last autumn, winter n spring. Gerald


Well, I guess you have a point, but I think it is all about exposure. If you have co-mingling or robbing in a hive, you will usually not be merging 15,000 bees with 30,000 bees. If you put a hugely infested small hive into a larger minimally-infested hive, who knows what you are doing to the workload and health of the bees?

I would rather treat only hives which really need it, so for me that is 10% mite load or more. I really don’t want to treat if the bees can deal with it, because I think I am creating superbugs, just like our medical profession (points at self) have done for the last 40 years. If nature can find a way, and we are not losing human lives, let nature teach us how to do it right. :blush:

Just one humble opinion.

Making some Phat Thai tonight (not Pad Thai!), so I am thinking of my south-east asian-friendly Jerry friend. :smile:


I have generally treated all colonies at the same time. I haven’t ever had a “safe” mite load going into winter. Bees will drift but the greatest danger in the autumn is invasion by collapsing colonies from elsewhere. That is why it’s important to do a mite assay a couple of weeks after you have treated.


Just looked back through my hive notes…and considering your suggestion of not treating the stronger hive with the lower (4%) mite load. That is also the hive where I noticed a whole bunch of weird looking dead bees out front earlier in the summer. Folks here had speculated that they could be drone that the colony was purging…maybe they ARE a good breed of hygienic bees, and are naturally controlling the mite population.

So I guess I could take a flier and let mother nature know best (any other metaphors I could mix here??) and only treat the hive with the higher mite count. Of course I recognize that my sample size could be off, I should have sampled from more places, etc… But at some point I need to make a decision and stick with it. I am a bit like you in that I prefer not to treat if I don’t have to - treatment-resistance is something that scares the heck out of me, whether it comes to humans or bees!


Also good words of wisdom…I love how there are so many approaches to this bee life…


Interesting approach. Sort of like mass vaccination?


I’m not inclined to go treatment free. I would lose all my bees. I am too old to be repeating that every year until i happen upon bees that survive. And what of my neighbours bees? They would have to be doing the same thing.


I am and will continue to be treatment free, but even if you aren’t I would not give the strong hive the problems of the weak one. There is no reason to combine them. Let nature take her course. If you want to treat the weak one (which I would not) then do that, but don’t combine a failing hive with a thriving one.



That sounds yummy ! I cooked this stuffed pork chop to share with my Sweetheart.

I bought the sweet corn at a local farmers market n the greens n basil I harvested from our garden. They are Vera’s favorite :+1:

Now … Talk to me… I’m way new to this Varroa Mite thingy … What makes 10% or above that the good/safe level… Are there studies n stats that 10% is bes (just wondering very curious)…I totally agree about the medical resistances. My mom got one of those super bugs In the hospital several months before she passed. Vera n I took care of mom in a hospice program at her house … We had to wear special clothing, gloves, n etc. Not fun or great !

I hear the bees will somehow form genes or resistance to these mites. Maybe that’s true n something to look forward to. All I know is I really HATE these little critter n I’ve not lost a hive yet ! Hmmm, I’m using SBB’s, brood breaks, not used drone frames yet (some think that’s a bad thing), etc … What’s your game plan ?? Does powder sugar dusting n herbs work ?? Or are these all a waist ? I sure don’t want to gamble my five hives health …

Honestly looking for your mentoring n thots. Please don’t give up on me ! I know we are in different boats n tacks :sailboat:️ In life as I learn…

I valve our friendship a lot,
Jerry :honeybee:


The University of Minnesota (UMN) has done a lot of good work on mite counts, so I base my treatment on their recommendations. If you look at page 18 of the following document, they say August and September counts of 4-5 mites per 100 bees in a sugar roll test should be treated:

The 10% infestation rate refers to the total colony (brood plus adults) and is recommended by UMN as a treatment threshold in Fall. As half of the mites are hiding inside capped brood, your sugar roll test will only give you half of the total number of mites. So the 10% comes from doubling your sugar roll count. You will actually have a count of 5%, but you are not finding the other half as they are hiding from your sugar roll test. :wink:



Thankz for the quick answer !! :+1:.

. Basicly we are on same beekeeping/nautical course. Up here: We try to get our brood sample off nurse bees that are working with the highest infected bees in a hive normally (knowing there are infected brood inside the cells)…, So your 10% n my 5% are basicly the same levels but viewing it differently, correct ? My sugar shake is getting approx half of the infection rate. That must be why our local Green River Communty College (GRCC) local “Mite Busters” program is at 5% cut-off level to treat or not. The Oregon n Washington State Beekeeper Association are advising the 5% level " treatment of the mites program up here in our local region. Mite Away Strips, Oxide Vapor method two treatments that are given on the method lists. I know there are others that advise no treatment too… That’s a little too far out for my taste. But different strokes for different folks. I just hope their choice doesn’t keep infecting my bees. I’m off to read that article you posted now Dawn. Thankz !



I do that too, and if you are doing a sugar roll test correctly, that is exactly what you should be doing. You will still miss half (the half in the brood) of the mites though! :wink:

Looks that way. :smile: