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.
Apivar uses a synthetic chemical called amitraz to kill the varroa mite. These strips really destroy the mite population and are very effective. 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.
The downside to using Apivar is that amitraz is toxic to humans. You must use caution when working with it. You are also exposing your bees and honeycomb to this harsh chemical. You can remove and dispose of the wax and honey and use safety gear to protect yourself, but there are organic mite treatments as well that are also pretty effective. Whether or not you want to use Apivar in your hive is more so a personal question about how you feel about exposing your bees and yourself to this chemical.
Will Apivar Work in Your Beehive?
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. If you want to learn more about the varroa mite, check out our podcast episode about it.
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. See the section below about what to do if you have honey supers on your hive and nowhere to store the honey.
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. Keep that in mind when deciding which treatment is best for you. If you're not sure it's warm enough to use apivar for 6 weeks after your honey harvest, then use oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is a great Fall treatment option.
What happens if you leave honey supers on during an Apivar treatment?
On the Apivar package it says to remove honey supers from your hive before inserting the strips. From my understanding this is primarily because the chemical used in Apivar is Amitraz and it is a toxic chemical. You do not want to ingest this chemical nor do you want to sell honey to people that was in the hive when you also had Apivar strips in the hive. This is also the case for the beeswax. Beeswax is porous and will absorb the chemical. You do not want to ingest or use this wax for body products (I'm not sure if there's any issue with using the wax in candles). Having no supers on your hive ensures that you're not going to accidentally consume or sell tainted honey or wax.
Will the Apivar still be effective and kill mites if you have supers on your hive? Yes, it should. Apivar works because the bees walk on the frames, brush by the strips and the Amitraz gets on the bee and is distributed around the hive.
Will the Apivar be less effective if you have honey supers on your hive? I can't give you a definite answer because it would require testing this theory on numerous hives. As far as I'm aware, there have been no studies done to answer this question. However, I did once put Apivar strips into a hive with a honey super on and it did not explode. Mite levels still went down to almost 0. In the end, I did regret it. I hated that I had to throw away all of that drawn out comb and honey. I did harvest some of the honey and kept it as feed honey. It ended up causing more problems than it was worth because I didn't want to use a good honey bucket for this honey since plastic is also very porous and then I had "poison" in marker on some frames. I also wasn't sure if I needed to wear gloves when harvesting the honey so I didn't absorb any of the chemicals through my skin. In short, I started to become a little paranoid and I wished I just used another treatment.
If you leave the honey super on the hive, keep in mind that this honey can only be used for consumption by the bees, and not humans. It's easy to forget come Spring of next year and reuse these frames or harvest the wax. Although I don't condone doing this, if you are to leave a honey super on the hive, I strongly recommend taking a marker and marking every frame noticeably with a letter or symbol to remind you that these frames have poison honey in them. Do not use these frames in a honey super during or before a honey flow. It's best to remove the entire plastic foundation with honeycomb and throw it all away.
If you have a flow hive, I would definitely not use Apivar with a flow hive honey super on. This is because the flow frames are all plastic and you cannot remove the foundation inside these frames. Plastic is porous and can absorb the chemicals from the Apivar. You must remove these frames to prevent tainting the honey later on.
What to do if you have honey supers on your hive and need to treat?
If it is late Summer or Fall and you have honey on your hive for Winter feed, it is normal to want to leave your honey supers on the hive. If you have a large freezer or frig you can store the honey temporarily. I use a broken chest freezer. I freeze the frames for 24hrs and then store them in the broken freezer and they're safe for the 8 weeks. This is the recommended way to go. It will also save you hassle later on.
If it is early Spring or before a honey flow has started, and you have a honey super on your hive, and you need to treat, it's best to take the honey super off before adding the Apivar strips. There should be no reason to have these supers on the hive anyway. The bees will not be swarming and their priority at this time is building brood, which is happening in the brood boxes. Once the treatment is out, wait 2 weeks and then add the honey supers on. If you have 1 or 2 frames with drawn out comb or honey in them, put them in the frig or freezer while the Apivar is in the hive to keep them safe from wax moth and other insects.
If it's Summer or a honey flow is going on and you have to treat, formic acid may be a better option for you than Apivar, just check the temperature restrictions first on the formic acid packaging. An alternative is to use oxalic acid vaporization but to use 4-5 treatments of it one week apart.
If it's late Summer and you have to treat, and don't want to take the honey supers off, I recommend using Apiguard to kill mites. It is not a synthetic chemical like Apivar. The only catch is that you shouldn't use it if it's still above 80F in the daytime.
If it's Fall and you need to treat, but don't want to or can't remove honey supers, the best way to get rid of mites is with oxalic acid. It is organic and you can take the supers off temporarily while you add the vapor and then put the supers back on later. It works very well when there is no brood present.
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.
If you're looking to become a treatment free beekeeper, a good place to start is with our podcast with Michael Bush, author of Beekeeping Naturally, and a treatment free beekeeper. A big part of his treatment free beekeeping is not using foundation. If you'd like help on how you can go foundationless in your beehive, I explain more about that in our article about beehive frames and foundation.
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