Does Hop Guard Work?

Fans of the blog might remember that we treated our colony for mites back in August with Hop Guard, a newly legal concoction derived from the hops plant that’s supposed to kill varroa mites while going easy on the bees.

Fans of natural mite treatment might be hoping for good news.

Well…

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After the designated 30 days it takes for Hop Guard to work its magic, I opened up the hive to take a sample for testing. You test samples because mites are so small and dispersed, it’s almost impossible to tell at a glance if you have an infestation.

Bearing that in mind, check this out. The brown dots the blue arrows are pointing to are varroa mites, clinging to the backs of their host bees. Being able to spot two of them so easily is a bad sign.

The red arrow is pointing to a worse sign, though. This bee almost certainly has deformed wing virus, a disease that’s almost always connected with a heavy mite infestation.

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Here’s another shot of the deformed wing bee. She probably won’t live longer than 48 hours, and she’ll likely be driven from the hive before then. Bees don’t offer much in the way of healthcare, and will evict sick members of the colony to try to prevent outbreaks.

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With lowering hopes, I scooped a half cup sample of bees into a jar. My assistants for the day were my boyfriend Ben and his brother Matt, who was visiting from New York. I like to think this was just as exciting as anything the big city has to offer.

We dumped some powdered sugar on the bees and shook them up. Then we inverted the jar so the sugar and the mites would slip through the mesh lid onto a piece of paper. Before treating with Hop Guard, we counted 4 mites in our sample. So by now we ought to have fewer…

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Oh.

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Oh boy. I counted up to 38 and got lost.

So did the Hop Guard work? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Has the mite population literally grown ten times? …Maybe. When taking a sample for a mite test, it’s important to select bees from a frame of uncapped brood. (The mites grow primarily on the bee larvae, so their population is always densest in brood comb). When I took my pre-treatment sample, I used a capped brood frame, which means most of the mites were sealed away under wax. (In other words, I screwed up). This time I used an uncapped frame, meaning I got the technique right, but the numbers were bound to be artificially higher.

But ten times higher is a lot. Particularly after treatment. If the hop guard knocked the mite population down at all, it wasn’t much.

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So what do we do now? We treat again. But not with Hop Guard. Hop Guard had its chance. We’ve already installed some strips of Apivar, a tried and true chemical application that by all accounts should do the job.

In a few weeks we’ll check again and see if it has.

Bug Soup, or Wax Collection Gone Wrong

I had big plans.

I was going to harvest pounds of extra wax from our beehive. I was going to have candles for days.

But it wasn’t to be.

Basically, what I did was make bug soup and then throw it away very carefully.

This is my tale of woe.

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A while ago our poor spare frames were overrun with wax moth. It’s just what happens when you leave used frames unprotected. I’ve heard that a strong colony will clean up infested frames without a problem, but I didn’t quite have the faith to put it to the test. Instead, I brought them home to salvage the wax.

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I pulled all the wax from the frames and got a pretty impressive pile.

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My main concern was with filtering the bugs. Because yes, this wax was riddled with wax moth larvae. I decided to melt it down in a pot of water, bugs and all, and filter it in its liquid state.

Beeswax burns extremely easily, so rather than melting it directly on the bottom of the pan, I thought I’d let it dissolve into the water, strain it, and let it separate back out as it cooled.

Simple, right?

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As the wax melted, I managed to fit all ten frames’ worth into the pot. After letting it stew for a while, it was time to strain it into molds.

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I rubber banded a few layers of cheesecloth over the tops of some plastic containers. In this tiny sample, we can see three gently simmered wax moth larvae.

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This was a horrible job. Beeswax sticks to everything it touches and is famously hard to clean up. I was forever setting down cardboard and running out of space and sacrificing utensils.

To make matters worse, it was extremely hot. The pot was hard to handle, and I learned the hard way that some plastic is less heat-tolerant than others.

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I finally managed to get four containers full of strained wax water. I set them outside to cool off. The cat went out to investigate and came back wax-dipped.

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I left the containers out overnight while I googled how to remove wax from a cat. (If you don’t word your search carefully, you get very different results).

In the morning I went out to investigate.

Oh boy.

One was knocked over. They were all full of rainwater.

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And while my hopes of the wax separating and rising to the top did technically play out, it wasn’t all I’d dreamed it would be.

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This is it. My entire harvest. It weighs 0.65 ounces.

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So what went wrong? I think it was the filtering. While I managed to keep the bugs out of the final product, I kept most of the wax out with them. It all clung together on top of the cheese cloth, and the wax molecules that snuck through with the water were purely coincidental.

A decent amount also wound up on the cat.

If I ever do this again (and to do so will take a tremendous amount of courage), I’m implementing a strict no-bug policy. Maybe there’s a good way to filter them out, but I sure don’t know it.

Stay tuned for a post about making a single votive candle.

I’ve also posted this on my personal blog. Go have a look!