How to Use Apivar Strips to Treat for Varroa Mites
I'm always baffled by beekeepers who don't know what to do about varroa mites. It's as if some people think it's a mysterious plague with no cure. There are quite a few ways to get rid of a varroa mite infestation! It really is quite simple. If you don't want to use chemicals in your hive, that is where things get tricky, but for the beginner beekeeper, I recommend using mite treatments while you get the hang of things and down the road, as you get to know local beekeepers and split hives, you can work on becoming treatment free.
About Apivar Strips
This blog post is about Apivar strips. Apivar strips are quite possibly the easiest mite treatment you can get. They require no tools and there's only two things you have to do - put them in and take them out.
They use a synthetic chemical called amitraz and this really zeroes out your mite levels in the hive. However, in some areas this chemical has been overused and varroa mites have developed a resistance to amitraz. In these areas, Apivar is not very effective.
Amitraz is a synthetic chemical and quite toxic to humans, so use caution when working with it. I tis not the ideal treatment to use in a hive because of this. You are exposing the bees, your honeycomb and honey and yourself to a harsh chemical. You can remove and dispose of this wax and honey and use safety gear to protect yourself, but there are organic mite treatments as well.
Will it work in your hives?
There's only 1 way to know for sure, use them and see what happens. Do a mite test, first, to see what your hive's mite level is. Then, put in the treatment and leave it in for 6 weeks. After the treatment is out, do another mite test. If your mite level is below 2, the strips are still effective. If you do not know how to do a mite test, see this video in scientificbeekeeping.com. Some people use powdered sugar instead of alcohol because it does not kill the bees, but please please please do not do this. After multiple tests were done, it has been proven that testing for mites using powdered sugar does not give you correct results. You will get results, of course, but your mite levels will be lower than what they actually are.
How to Use Apivar Strips
- Remove all honey supers from your hive that do not have brood in them and merge brood boxes if possible.
Even if the honey supers are full of honey for the Winter, and not honey you will be consuming, it's best to remove these supers anyway. Although not mandatory, you want as many bees as possible to come in contact with the strips. Having extra boxes with bees walking around the frames may make the strips less effective. It will also contaminate the honey and wax on these frames. Even if you don't plan on eating the honey on these frames now, if you leave them in the hive through Winter and Spring, it's easy to forget they're still in the hive come Summer.
The refrigerator is a great place to store frames. The honey super frame fits well on the middle shelf or you can stash some in the freezer. If temperatures are above 50F, don't leave them out say in the garage or your basement because there's a good chance beetles and wax moth will take over.
If you don't have anywhere you can put your frames of honey, you can leave the honey super on the hive. The strips will still work, but they may be less effective. This is very important! Make sure you mark the frames of honey in your hive when you treated, so you know come Spring of next year that you cannot use them in your honey super or harvest the wax from them.
- Next, inspect your hives to see how many frames of brood you have and where they are. I mark every frame in the hive with a "P" so I know not to harvest from them (P stands for poison in my beekeeping notes). I also put a dot on the brood frames so I know how many there are and where they are in the hive. You can write down in a notebook where your brood frames are in the hive and how many you have instead. I write directly on the frames so that when I'm ready to put the apivar strips in, I can get it done fast and not have to check notes first.
- Get your gear ready. You will need chemical resistant gloves and apivar strips. Scissors are nice to have but not necessary. There is a perforation on the strips, but sometimes I can separate the strips easily and sometimes I can't. Wearing thick gloves makes separating the strips even more difficult. The instructions do not specify whether a mask is necessary. This is up to your discretion. If you are nursing or pregnant I would strongly suggest wearing a mask or even better would be to have someone else put the strips in for you. Just put a dot on the frames where you want them to go!
- Place 1 strip in each brood box for every 5 frames of brood. Do not put more than 4 strips in the beehive. The strips are wedged between brood frames. Do not put the strips on 2 frames that are next to each other.
See the video above on how I do this. I bend the flag on the strip so that it sits between the frames. If it looks like the strip is touching the comb, and it doesn't look like bees can walk on either side of the strip, you can hang the strips between frames using a toothpick or nail. There's a hole at the top of the strip for this.
- Leave treatment in for 4 weeks. Wash your hands thoroughly and all equipment after using. You can open the hive during these 4 weeks if needed, but keep it to a minimum. Make sure you wear your chemical resistant gloves when checking the hive. After 4 weeks, check to make sure the brood is still on the frames by the strips. If it has moved away from the strips, move the strips to the frames with brood on them. If the brood is still on the frames by the strips, do not do anything.
- After 6 weeks, remove the strips. If you had to move the strips at week 4 to be closer to the brood, leave the strips in for another 2 weeks, so the strips are in for a total of 8 weeks.
- Once the strips have been out of the hive for at least 2 weeks, you can put the honey supers back on the hive.
- This is not a requirement, but if you want to see how effective the apivar was, do another mite test after you remove the strips. Some people put a sticky board under the hive. I really hate these things and haven't found that they give an accurate count. I don't recommend using them to gauge how well the strips worked.
Preventing Mite Resistance to Apivar
- Make sure you take the strips out after 6-8 weeks
- Do not use apivar strips every time you need to treat for mites. Use a rotation of other treatments such as apiguard (thymol based), oxalic acid or formic acid.
- Unless a hive has a mite level of 0-1 and is dealing with mites, naturally, without the help of a beekeeper, a treatment should be put into every hive. Otherwise, the mites from the hive with treatment in them will move to the hives without treatment in them.
When to treat
Apivar strips work best in the early Spring (2 months before the start of the honey season) and Fall. Since you have to take the honey supers off of the hive, using the strips in the Fall can be difficult. For those of you who live somewhere with a long, cold winter, it might not be possible to have the strips in for 6 weeks after the harvest and it still be warm enough out to remove before it's getting below 65F. Keep that in mind when deciding which treatment is best for you.
Here at our farm, our goal is to not HAVE to treat. This means, we test our hives' mite levels monthly. When a hive has the genetics to deal with mites all on their own, we split these hives. The hives that have the worst mite levels are hives we never split. This encourages the bees with genetics we like to prosper and the genetics that don't deal with mites well to fade. We believe breeding healthy bees is an important part of beekeeping.
However, when a hive has an infestation, we put a treatment in the hive so they do not suffer. It's not the bees' fault that they can't deal with mites nor do we want the hive to become a breeding ground for mites. That is my position on treating. There are different opinions on this topic and I always encourage students to learn about the variety of ways beekeepers do things and do what works best for them and their bees.
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