The formic acid didn’t work

February 14, 2009 | By | Comments (3)

All is gloom in the bee yard these days.

We had been so hopeful. Remember in my last post how I bragged we’d found only 4 mites in Betty? We thought surely the formic acid pad on Veronica knocked down her mites as well. After all, we treated Veronica with formic acid twice; Betty only once, and then only for a few hours a day.

Poor Veronica! Twice she lived with formic acid day and night for three weeks—once in mid December, then in late January. And yet, a week after removing the formic acid from Veronica, what do we find? 102 mites stuck to the sticky board after a 24-hour natural mite drop. And worse, a powdered-sugar dusting that same day yielded 132 mites in 10 minutes! Aye, Veronica!

But weak little Betty, the hive who had such trouble building up last summer, seems to be holding her own against the mites, with only 5 mites dropping 10 minutes after a powdered-sugar dusting.

We’re confounded. We don’t know what to do.

We have been advised: Tear apart Veronica’s boxes immediately, kill any brood we find (the idea being that there shouldn’t be much egg laying going on this time of year), shake the bees into one box with some honey and treat them again with formic acid. Sterilize the empty brood box.

hate this idea. I’ve been doing some reading about beekeeping alternatives, and I tend to agree with the biodynamic beekeepers who try to preserve the unity, or the “bien” of the colony. Since the first time I went into a hive, I’ve thought of the hive—the girls, the queen, even the much maligned drones—as a single, complete organism. You know, like an animal. I often describe the hive to my friends as a tiger in a box. To cut poor Veronica apart and invade her “body” seems horrific to me.

Still, I suppose radical surgery is often necessary. We’re discussing it—really, we’re having a dispirited argument. Treat? Or don’t treat? It’s a huge controversy. But we’re going to have to make up our minds, as time is drawing short. Queen Veronica will soon be laying frames of eggs, if she isn’t already.

We’re discussing other ways of raising bees, and are thinking about getting a top bar hive in addition to our two Langstroth hives. This is controversial in itself. And we’re researching small cell retrogression. Readers, do any of you have personal experience with top bar hives or alternative beekeeping? Comments, please!


  1. bee_friendly

    One reason for the TBH in Africa is that African bees are much more aggressive and using a TBH is much less disruptive to the bees

    May 2, 2010 at 6:51 am
  2. Bill Rawleigh

    What a load of baloney, Lois! It is obvious where the ego-centered argument is – it’s in your reply. Margaret is to be encouraged to explore “unconventional” ways of keeping bees. And really! The biodymanics movement is a “cult”? The promotion of a simply constructed top bar design is “racist” because it assumed that Africans could not easily hand carve as many Langstroth hives as they needed? Please!
    Margaret, it’s obvious you care for your bees and want them to succeed. By all means be open to new ways of caring for your bees. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. The conventional belief that only a Langstroth hive is good for bees has certainly taken a hit from Colony Collapse Disorder, hasn’t it? I would think that you could have great success with a top bar inasmuch as you are giving them lots of attention. Go for it!

    February 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm
  3. Lois

    I have decades of experience with both, and I have a riddle for you.
    What do you call “alternative beekeeping” that actually works?
    You call it CONVENTIONAL beekeeping!
    Your bees are in danger because you are listening to all the wrong advice.

    1) Take a novice course at your local beekeeping association, where you will be introduced to real science with data and statistical significance. There’s a reason why actual science is published in peer-reviewed journals, and why the writing of well-meaning beekeepers like Oliver does not survive peer-review.

    2) Read up on “biodynamics”, Rudolph Steiner, and his Anthroposophy cult. Realize that he was a very bad self-proclaimed clairvoyant who failed to attract a following in every other field where he offered his mumbo-jumbo, and only tried agriculture as a last resort when he was an old and very desperate man. For a good debunking, one need look no further than here:

    3) Read here why the Kenyan Top Bar Hive isn’t considered a good idea in Kenya any more. It was racist to think that Africans could only make primitive Top-Bar hives, an stupid given the workmanship they express in their making of hand-carved wooden art.

    4) Speak to researchers at both U-GA and UF about their studies on “small cell”, and look at their data proving that “small cell” actually had higher mite levels than conventional cell hives.

    5) Formic acid is far to temperature-dependent to yield reliable results. Speak to Marion Ellis of U-NE about Oxalic Acid. It works best when used on broodless hives, but it will do the job for you that Formic is not doing. Yes, it can kill brood, but you are already doing that.

    6) BeeSource is mostly a place were massive and fragile egos compete to be the most “helpful” in getting you to accept dogma you don’t need. Again, a real beekeeping association, some real textbooks on beekeeping, and a mentor with experience are required here. You can e-mail me if you need more help.

    February 21, 2009 at 4:42 am

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