Last Fall a Mennonite beekeeper from Pennsylvania brought down some hives to overwinter on a local farm. He called me on the phone to find out about what he needed to watch for with his bees here in Georgia. Naturally, Varroa mites were at the top of the list. When I mentioned Small Hive Beetles (SHB), he said he had never seen them before. I responded with a chuckle, “well, you will soon enough!”
Though normally credited with having come in through Florida, it is also thought that they may have first been introduced from the ports of Savannah, GA. or even Charleston, S.C.. No matter where their port of entry, SHB are now just a normal part of beekeeping here in the Deep South.
We’re now beginning our 4th season in beekeeping and I have to say that, so far, we have never lost a colony to SHB. For us the SHB have only been an opportunistic nuisance waiting in the wings for something else to go wrong so they can take make a mess.
In this post, I want to share some of my experiences on how we’re handling SHB. None of this will be ground breaking or revolutionary, but the point is, controlling SHB doesn’t have to be difficult or impossible.
This is your first line of defense! In order to keep SHB from getting the upper hand in your apiary, you need strong colonies. I have seen hives with literally hundreds of beetles on and under the inner cover of a hive and the colony doing just fine. With a robust population of bees, there’s plenty of bees available to corral the beetles and keep them in check.
From what I’ve seen, hives kept in full Sun have no where near the number of SHB as hives I have seen in shady areas. I know it’s tempting to place a hive in the shade because of how hot it gets here in the Summer, but this makes your colony more attractive to SHB. Rest assured, the bees know how to air condition their hives, but they won’t do well with putrefying frames filled with hive beetle larvae!
Traps and Hive Tools:
If I’m going to take any action at all against SHB, I do so normally by use of trapping them using a Beetle Jail and/or crushing them with my hive tool if I get half a chance. Whenever I acquire a hive with lots of SHB, I take a minute to crush all the SHB I can with my hive tool and then place one or two of my Beetle Jails in the hive and put the lid on. After a couple of weeks, the SHB population will end up drowning in the oil mixture and then I remove the jails. It’s easy as that. No need for Check-Mite or drenching the ground with the GuardStar pesticide, or using illegal treatments such as Combat roach baits.
Okay, so you’ll probably never read this in any book as being an ideal way to handle SHB, but we are blessed/cursed with an abundance of fire ants in this area and I have noted that the hives with ant beds under the stands have fewer SHB. It has lead me to conclude that the ants do help control any SHB larvae that finds its way out of the hive and onto the ground to burrow and pupate.
The natural question is don’t fire ants cause the bees problems? I’ve had some problems with fire ants in my queen nucs, but I’ve not had too many issues with ants in my strong 10 frame hives. I acquired a hive last year from someone that had been sitting in the midst of a huge ant bed and the bees were doing just fine: 9 frames of wall-to-wall brood in the deep hive body with 2 shallow supers full of honey on top!
Rethink Pollen Patties:
Okay, I’m not saying NOT to use pollen patties or substitutes, but in areas with a heavy SHB presence, just slapping on a patty and walking away can cause SHB to get the upper hand. I’m not big on using patties, but I have been told by local beekeepers that you must be watchful or the beetles will lay eggs in the patties and begin to make a mess. If you’re going to use patties, try cutting down the amount you put on at one time so the bees can consume it more quickly giving the beetles less time to set up shop.
Removing and Freezing Frames:
This is another thing you won’t see in any books, but in the worst SHB infestation I ever saw, the beetles had occupied and overtaken nearly half of a hive, taking refuge in a bunch of empty drawn comb. The bees were on one side in the top super and the SHB almost everywhere else. It was almost like trench warfare during WW1, each side waiting for the other to cross no-man’s land. The good thing was that the beetles hadn’t gotten into the honey stores. In that case, I went through the colony removing all the empty frames where the beetles were lurking and stuck them directly into my deep freezer. I maneuvered the other combs into a more suitable situation for the bees. What was previously a 3 medium box configuration was reduced to 2 mediums. Now the bees had less area to patrol and fewer beetles to deal with. The reason I put the frames in the freezer was because I knew all those beetles would find their way back into that and other hives unless they died. Frozen beetles = problem solved!
I forgot to include this when I first posted this article, but I have used Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.) under and around my hives to aid in controlling both the SHB larvae and fire ants. With the frequent and extended periods of rain we had last Summer, I am not sure how much it helped as it got washed away soon after application. I keep my hives mostly on pallets now, so it’s hard to get the D.E. under them now. I know one beekeeper who uses rock salt, but I’m not a Roman conqueror, so I think I’ll pass on this idea.
And there you have it! That’s the Kelley way of handling hive beetles. We now have 45 hives and I inspected all of them last weekend. I would guess I didn’t see any more than 5 beetles scurrying around in any one of our colonies.
Please feel free to leave comments on what you are doing or what has worked for you.