How Taking Notes Can Help Manage Varroa Mites

By now we should all be keenly aware that the Varroa Destructor mite is one threat you can’t ignore as a beekeeper. A mite infestation can decimate a healthy honeybee colony quickly and bring viruses and diseases along with it that further weaken the bees over time.  

For this reason, we’ve focused our recent series of PerfectBee Snippets on understanding, preventing, and combating varroa mite numbers within your hives. Check out the Learn More section below for our full series of Varroa Mite related Snippets.  

In addition to planning and proper management of timing mite testing and treatments, there is one more integral part to any Integrated Pest Management plan and system, taking notes and keeping records.  

Being able to later reflect on what was happening in and around your colonies and their beehives, as well as what tasks you completed as their beekeeper, can help to make management of many tasks, especially managing mites, much easier.  

How to Take Beekeeping Notes

There are various ways to take beekeeping notes, from the classic pen and notebook to high-tech apps and devices. The important thing to keep in mind when thinking of how you’ll take notes about your colonies and what’s happening in your bee yard is to make sure you’re taking notes, in a way that works for you.  

The best way to help combat Varroa mites is to keep an eye on the details and records surrounding mite prevention, mite counts, and treatment plans. Incorporating note-taking and recordkeeping can be integral to that plan being successful.  

Below are a few great options that are popular with many beekeepers:  

  • A pen/pencil and notebook – It may be “old fashioned”, but the simple pen and notebook method is perfect for many beekeepers. Many have a calendar to write on, too, to make note of important dates and timelines.  
  • Beekeeping Logbooks – There are many pre-printed notebooks available specific to beekeeping. They usually include designated spaces to write in information about commonly used beekeeping practices and things to be on the lookout for in the future. Check out one great option here
  • Printable Resources – In addition to notebooks that can help you log beekeeping info, there are resources online that can be printed and used to make note of important information about your hives. Our experienced collaborator, Marta, has created a wonderful inspection checklist and calendar that can help you keep better beekeeping records. Her included notes are specific to the Northeast, so keep in mind that timelines may vary based on your location. 
  • Beekeeping Apps and Websites – There are some awesome ways to use technology to better help in your beekeeping record-taking and notes. Check out websites and apps like HiveTracks to make use of your cell phone to help in your bee yard. Make use of the apps already on your phone, too, by adding beekeeping notes to your personal calendar.  
  • Take Videos and Photos – Taking videos and photos of what you see during inspections can make it easy to find things you may have missed while physically in the hive. You might notice drone brood in a photo or video that has been uncapped and shows signs of varroa mites that you didn’t notice while in the hive. Plus, photos and videos are usually time-stamped and dated to make it easy to figure out when certain tasks were completed or things were seen.  
  • Note Cards on the Hive – Some beekeepers keep it simple and use a piece of plastic or laminated notecard pinned to the outside, with a sharpie to write shorthand notes. These notes could contain mite counts and dates completed, when feed was added, or when mite treatments were completed. It could help to keep a key for yourself to remember what your shorthand abbreviations mean, though!  

What to Take Note of Concerning Varroa Mites

Now that you know the options for taking notes and keeping records, we’ll focus on the importance of using those records to help you prevent and combat varroa mite infestations.  

When it comes to taking note of Varroa mite-related considerations, there are a few things to make note of.  

Brood Rearing Activity and Types of Brood Cells – During your inspections, make note of the colony’s brood rearing activity, especially the types of brood inside the brood nest. Is it mostly capped brood? Do you see eggs and all stages of larvae? Once colonies have begun rearing brood, mite populations can also increase so it’s important to know and make note of that correlation. Since the presence of brood can limit the use of some mite treatments and their efficacy, paying close attention to the stages of brood can help you to make good treatment choices.  

Pay attention to the amount of capped brood, especially drone cells (the larger, bumpier cells typically along the bottom or corners of the frames). If any drone brood along the bottom or inside burr comb has been ripped open when boxes or frames were pulled apart, check to see if varroa mites can be seen in the now uncapped cells. 

If taking photos/videos during your inspection, focus as much as possible on the brood frames. Review the footage/photos later to see if there are mites on nurse bees, if any mites can be seen in cells, and zoom in closely see if there are perforations in cells. Some bees can detect the presence of mites under cappings and might create a perforation in the cell cap, this causes the mite to die but allows the bee to continue to develop. Perforations, especially, are hard to spot during the inspection itself, but photos and video records can greatly help.  

Mite Counts & Dates – Make note of each mite test you complete by recording the method of testing, the date you completed the test, and the number of mites found per 100 bees. Even if you don’t find mite counts that are above the treatment threshold, knowing what counts were the last time you tested can help determine how quickly populations may be increasing within the hive and when further intervention might be needed. Taking note of the date you completed your last test can help keep you in the routine of completing mite tests once per month.  

Mite Treatments Applied & Removal Timelines – Making a note of when you applied a mite treatment can help to ensure that you go back out to the hive to remove it when necessary but can also help you to know when it’s time to re-test your colony to determine if the treatment was effective. If you know that you applied a treatment that should remain on the hive for 2 weeks, you can set a reminder to remove it and another to test again two weeks after that.  

What’s Happening Outside the Hives – Though knowing what’s going on outside the hive may not seem like it matters that much in relation to fighting mites, it can actually make a huge difference. If you have notes from previous years, or even earlier in that season, that can tell you what the temperatures are in your area, you’ll be better prepared to choose a mite treatment that works best during that time of year and the temperatures experienced (according to the label).  

Make note of the nectar flow and which flowers are blooming in your area, too. Knowing that the nectar flow is on can mean an increase in robber bees, which can lead to more varroa mites gaining access to your hives. If you know when the nectar flow typically starts in your area, you can plan to add entrance reducers and test more often to do your part in keeping mite numbers low. You should also keep in mind that some mite treatments have label recommendations specific to honey supers, so if the nectar flow is on and you have supers present, some treatments may not work for you (but check the label to be sure you’re choosing a treatment that’s right for your hive setup).  

Planning Ahead – When it comes to managing mites, planning is just as important as record keeping. Use the notes that you take to determine what you should do next and when you should do it to manage mite levels most effectively.  

Just as you make plans for other important events in your life, planning for your colonies’ mite management should be incorporated in the same way. For instance, you might be invited to a friend’s party in a few months, so you add it to your calendar app on your phone so you don’t forget about it between now and then.  

You can do the same when you know what might be going on inside your hives during certain times and what mite-related tasks should be completed based on previous notes you’ve taken. Ensuring that you have mite testing equipment and treatments on hand before you need them can make a huge difference in helping your colonies. Taking notes and making a plan can help you do just that!  

Hive Monitors

Though beekeeping hive monitors can’t specifically tell you how many mites are present within a hive, they can tell you lots of other information about what’s happening inside that can be useful to managing mite levels. 

They can track data like weight, temperature, and humidity and can help you to gain an understanding of what could be happening and when you might need to intervene. For instance, if many bees are dying or developing bees aren’t surviving long enough to become active members of the colony, you may notice a drop in weight when using a monitor that can weigh your hive.  

Learn more about using technology to monitor lots of different data within your beehives in our article here.  

Learn More

We’ve compiled some of our free resources below, with articles, guides, lessons, and blog posts specific to the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mite.   

Record-Keeping Resources 

  • Beehive Inspection Checklist – An inspection checklist created by our knowledgeable and experienced collaborator, Marta. Marta’s checklist is based on where she and her bees live in CT, but timings can be adjusted to help guide your beekeeping tasks and inspections anywhere in the US and help you keep track of what’s going on with your bees.   
  • New England Beekeeping Calendar – Another amazing tool created by Marta, this calendar can be used to track what’s happening in and around your apiary throughout the year. You can refer to it later when determining what might be blooming and when, when bee and mite populations may typically spike, and when you completed tasks throughout the year.  

As is the case with most beekeeping tasks, there are special tools and pieces of equipment that can help with managing Varroa mites in your bee yard. Check out the PerfectBee Store to find all of your Varroa mite testing, management, and treatment needs. Here are a few of our favorite options: 

  • Varroa EasyCheck – For measuring a mite count using the alcohol wash method. 
  • Sugar Roll Testing Kit – For assessing mite count using the sugar roll method. 
  • Oxalic Acid Kit – A kit that gives you all you need to complete an oxalic acid dribble 
  • Drone Frame – Adding a drone frame to your hive can help manage varroa mite levels, but only if timed perfectly right before the drones inside emerge and a ton of mites emerge with them! 
  • The Langstroth Screened Bottom Board and Varroa Monitoring Tray – Use the screened bottom board with tray to take a 24-mite count by counting how many phoretic mites fall off of bees within that time period 
  • A Field Guide to Honeybee Maladies – An excellent guide to many honeybee viruses, diseases, and pests. Includes information and photos of Varroa Mites and the issues they cause. 

Colony Member Resources

Colony members, check out these member-only Academy lessons to learn even more about Varroa Mites: 

And head over to the Colony Forum to view some interesting discussions specific to Varroa Mites: