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The Classroom

The Classroom – December 2021

- December 1, 2021 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Q  Using Api Life Var

 How much brood do you expect to see this time of year (September)? I know the bees detest the smell of Api Life Var and that causes some irritability and brood disruption. That said, I only saw a couple of spotty frames of brood in the hives, less than I usually see but consistent with prior years during Api Life Var treatments so I always get a wee bit concerned and am wondering what actions I should take, if any?

What is the proper amount of Api Life Var to apply per treatment? I try to follow directions literally, but the notion that one pack is two wafers, each of which need to be split into four pieces (or eight pieces per pack) confuses me. Hence, I have always split each pack into four pieces and placed them in the top corners of the brood box. Please clarify the instructions for me.

Anita Tilley
Tennessee, September


The amount of brood I would expect to see in a colony would vary based on location and the weather conditions leading up to my hive inspection. In Florida, we still have 6-10 frames of brood in September. My guess is that it would be somewhat lower where you are in Tennessee, likely 4-8 frames. I certainly appreciate the link you think there could be between your use of Api Life Var and lowered amounts of brood during treatment. However, quite a few conditions can lead to less brood and spotty brood patterns in September.

First, Varroa can be a cause for this. In fact, I would argue that Varroa are a significant cause of spotty brood patterns. I know you were treating at the time you wrote the question, but perhaps the Varroa populations were naturally high immediately prior to treatment (the timing would be right for them to be high naturally), leading to some lingering effects that are manifesting while you treat. Poor nutrition can lead to this, especially during dearths that can occur in late summer/early fall. Diseases, other pests, queen failure, pesticide exposure, etc. all can cause this as well. Therefore, it is a little hard for me to know, with certainty, if the treatment or something else could be leading to the brood pattern you see.

That said, I can make a few comments about the application of Api Life Var. First-things-first (and I bet you can guess what I am going to say here), the label is the law; so, the label has to be followed. The problem, as you note, is that not all labels are clear and may, in fact, be difficult to interpret. This, of course, was not the intent of the individual(s) developing the label, but it can happen anyway given the nature of the beast. I did not have access to a newly purchased Api Life Var packet when writing this answer. Thus, I could not refer to a printed label in person. Remember, you are bound by the label of the product you have in hand. I am going to tell you what I found on the internet. However, if what I tell you in any way contradicts what the label says, make sure and follow the label.

Ok, what did I find? First, I found what appears to be the most recent product label online. A single packet of Api Life Var contains two (2) tablets. A colony treatment involves three (3) tablets (one and a half packets), with each tablet being used one at a time. Per the label, you would remove one of the two tablets from the packet. You take that tablet and split it into fourths (i.e., break the tablet into four equal pieces). Each fourth (each equal piece of the tablet) should be placed on top of the frames in the four corners of a hive (assuming a 10-frame brood chamber), with each corner of the hive getting one fourth of one tablet. The label I see says to avoid placing the tablet directly above the brood nest. After 7-10 days, you add a second tablet exactly the same way. After another 7-10 days, you do the same thing with a third tablet. You leave this last tablet 12 days, removing any tablet residues still present. There are temperature restrictions and information about personal protective equipment that must be worn while applying the product. Be sure to follow all of that information as well.

Second, I found two videos about how to apply this product. The Mann Lake webpage for this product actually contains one of those videos (Google “Mann Lake Api Life Var” and you will find the video). Veto-pharma, the manufacturer of this product, produced this video. What I wrote above corresponds to what is in the video. The Honey Bee Health Coalition also produced a video on how to apply it. This video, too, corresponds with what I noted above. (Google “Honey Bee Health Coalition Varroa” and once on the page, click “essential oils” under “Varroa videos” to find it.) Remember, if anything I said contradicts the label, you have to follow the label because the label is the law. I really hope this information helps. I know that labels can be difficult to interpret!

Q  Laying workers

 I started a nuc a few weeks ago for a friend even though I knew it was not the best time of year. Last week, I went in to check to see if the queen was back from mating and she was not. This week, I checked again and there were multiple queen cells on a brood frame that I gave them last week to build them up while waiting for the queen. Then I looked in some cells and started seeing eggs, however some cells had two eggs! The queen cells were bunched together, which was also a little unusual and there were maybe three side-by-side somewhat connected, another two side-by-side and then one really nice one by itself. Will this hive become queenright when a queen emerges? What should I do?

Robin Kemp


I will go through a couple of scenarios to consider this more closely.

1) First, let us say the colony DOES NOT have laying workers. Then it is possible a new queen has emerged, mated, and is laying. She would need about two weeks to emerge from her cell and two weeks to mate/start laying eggs (4-5 weeks total: That is the max time; it can take as few as 2-3 weeks). New queens can lay multiple eggs per cell, but this usually clears up on its own within the first month. If you have a mated queen, she should be biting holes in the sides of the queen cells and killing her developing sisters by stinging them. I would check again for her, look at the laying pattern, and see if the developing brood is worker brood (which would mean it is from a mated queen). In addition, I would look at the remaining queen cells to determine if they are being destroyed. If they are, you likely have a new queen and everything should be ok. That said, I am a bit anxious about the fact that they are building queen cells on the brood frame you gave them. They may have started to do this before a new queen emerged. This is normal (and would be OK). However, they also start to do this when a new queen was not being produced or died after emerging. You just need to determine which of the two happened.

2) Second, let us say the colony DOES have laying workers. Usually, it takes about three or more weeks for colonies to consider themselves hopelessly queenless and develop laying workers. Often, the development of laying workers can coincide with the advanced development of queen cells in a hive. Usually, though, workers begin to lay when colonies are hopelessly queenless. In this case, you see multiple eggs per cell in most cells that have eggs (i.e., one egg/cell would be the exception rather than the rule). You also would not see a solid pattern. There would be many missed cells, and sometimes the workers will lay on stored pollen.

If option 1 is what happened, you should be ok assuming the nuc is strong and can survive the coming winter. Does it have enough food? Is there enough brood?

If option 2 is what happened, I would dump the bees/brood/frames back into another full-size hive and not worry about the colony. A nuc headed by a laying worker is difficult to address. I would just combine them and move on to something else.

Q  Umbrella and Bees

I volunteer at a bee farm every week. During the hot Virginia summers, I use an umbrella, like a beach umbrella but with a stand, to cover me and the hive I am inspecting. It decreases the temperature by a few degrees and stops the blazing hot sun on you. It really makes it tolerable when inspecting multiple hives. I believe it has no impact on the daily activities of the bees. In your opinion is inspecting a hive using the umbrella harmful and detrimental to the bees? Also, please comment on how cloudy days affect the bees’ activity and levels of tolerance.

Michele Tippett
Virginia, September


I cannot think of any reason that working a colony under an umbrella would be bad for your bees. We work them here (at UF) under canopies quite a bit, especially during robbing season. Therefore, I am completely fine with what you are doing. Even if it disorients bees temporarily, it would self-correct the moment you move on to the next hive, assuming you take the umbrella with you.

Cloudy days do not really bother bees either. Bees work just fine on cloudy days. Rain and cold affect them, as do strong winds. Clouds, though, are usually OK.

 Q  How to Prevent a “Mite Bomb”

I have one of my four hives that about six weeks ago had a mite count of 3/300 bees. I did the two-course treatment of Apiguard, thinking it might help keep the count at a low level. At the conclusion of the treatment, I tested again and was dumbfounded to see the count in excess of 33/300 bees. (I could not bear to count any higher.) I quickly applied Formic Pro, but now am not certain what to do. I think I remember reading that anything in excess of 10 mites per 100 bees indicates a hive that is dead, but they just do not know it yet. If they are indeed on their way out, I do not want them to become a “mite bomb” to other hives in the area when they are in their last throes. Would the best practice be to seal up the hive and euthanize them before they can cause problems for other hives? While it would be heartbreaking to put a hive down, if this is the responsible course of action, I am willing to do it.

Illinois, October


First, I want to commend you for sampling your colonies. Not all beekeepers do this. This demonstrates that you are trying hard to stay on top of your Varroa populations, which is a good thing, especially for your bees. You likely know that many beekeepers and scientists recognize a 3% infestation rate to be the rate that triggers treatment. To determine this, you conduct a sugar roll or alcohol wash to count the number of mites and bees in the jar. (For more on both methods, Google “UF EDIS Varroa sampling” and you will get to a document my team and I wrote on this topic.) You noted that your first mite count produced a number of mites = 3 mites/300 bees. This is a 1% infestation rate. Now comes the scary part!

You treated with Apiguard to push down that level. At the end of treatment, you found 11 mites/100 bees (33 mites/300 bees). That, of course, seems a lot worse than what you saw before you treated. Unfortunately, this is a tale told too often. Dr. Cameron Jack (University of Florida) and I have an ongoing research project on … .