Organic Varroa treatment for bees

Last weekend we went to the Apiculture NZ Conference.

It was 3 days long and there were so many interesting speakers. They were just about all scientists, who all seem to be just starting on their various research projects. Now, as we all know, science takes a long time, there is no "well that seems about right, let's publish that", and definitely no 'anecdotal evidence'. Or at least the anecdotal evidence might create new areas to look into, but it doesn't form the published results. So it all takes years and years to get a good result. Great stuff that it's happening though.

And, apart from the speakers, we found the conference goers to be super interesting too.

And one great guy we bumped into was Dr Pablo German, who is a scientist who is working on an organic varroa treatment. Doesn't this sound a great idea?! His new (hot off the press) company is here . Pablo says:

"Beekeepers currently have three types of treatments at their disposal, synthetic chemicals, organic chemicals, and biotechnological methods. However, they all have limitations. Synthetic chemicals are the preferred method for commercial and many non-commercial beekeepers because of their convenience. This has led to the frequent use of these chemicals, often without the use of alternatives, which in turn led to the rise of chemical-resistant mites, in particular in the USA and Europe. "
"Organic chemicals and biotechnological methods are alternatives to synthetic chemicals. Their limitations are that they are very labour-intensive and the results are often inconsistent."
"Pheromite has developed a treatment against the Varroa mite which is organic, works consistently, is long-lasting and easy to set up."

And if you think this is a good idea, well scientists always are on the look out for funding too, so you can find that bit in his web site too.

We hope he gets adequate funding because if at least one of the chemical treatments for varroa has stopped working in the USA then it might here too any minute. And the traditional organic varroa treatments are very time consuming, so that's OK if you have a few hives, but no good for big commercial operations.

American Foulbrood in NZ

There has been a bit of a problem with an American Foulbrood outbreak lately, in Wellington, caused by the sale of infected boxes (without bees).

American foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial infection that affects and kills the brood, which is the new bees forming in the brood cells. It has a characteristic foul smell (hence 'foul brood').

Source: wikipedia

Source: wikipedia

Source: wikipedia

New Zealand has strict rules regarding the control and monitoring of AFB, which is part of why all beekeepers need to be registered under the Biosecurity Act, and all their hive locations registered with the Management Agency. All hives need to be inspected by a DECA qualified beekeeper.

Also, an Annual Disease Return needs to be completed by 1 June each year.

If AFB is found, all hives and bees need to be burnt (by NZ regulation), as the spores can last up to 40 years.


Jrmgkia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We take the health of our bees very seriously, and are always on the lookout for signs of ill health, including AFB. AFB is like any other bee problem, it can be avoided with good bee and hive management in most cases.

The official site of the AFB NZ organisation is


 if you are interested in all the ins and outs.

How to Kill Paper Wasps

Ha! Easy peasy.

The answer to 'how to kill paper wasps' would appear to be - ring the council.

They are super keen to get rid of anything that is a threat to people, small children, babies, old people etc. ah...not that small children are a threat to people....oh, you know what I mean!

Only thing is, it is helpful to find the nest first. And my wasps are suddenly absent. A bit like when you have toothache for weeks, finally book for the dentist, and the ache mysteriously disappears and you can't remember if it was the right side or the left.

Maybe it just hasn't been sunny enough.

Oh well, no wasps is good right?

Do paper wasps kill bees?

My garden has become infested with paper wasps. They come out in the sun, and love to hang around my clothes line and vegetable garden. On a sunny day I might have 100 or so in close proximity to my clothes hanging activities. Not cool!

paper wasps

paper wasps

There are 2 types of paper wasps, Asian and Australian. Check out this

Landcare article

for pictures of both.

I've spent ages outside trying to find their nest.


suggests that their nests are small, about the size of a pear. And that they fly no more than 200m. So they must be close.


AAA pest control Auckland

suggests looking at dusk, so you can see them flying in.

Well, I have looked. And looked and looked. I can't see them flying in or out of my place. So that would imply they live in my place. But I can't see them in my place either.

But we've got Vespex, right? That'll deal to them. Except, no.

"Vespex® is specifically designed for wide-area control of Vespula wasp species. In New Zealand, this includes both the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and German wasp (V. germanica). These wasps are also known as yellow jackets in some countries." and that "Paper wasps (Polistes sp.) get the protein they need by hunting for living insects, especially caterpillars, and are not attracted to Vespex®."


Clemson University

says that paper wasps are good for killing garden pests, like caterpillars, of which I have many. Many many. And that paper wasps will die out in the autumn, and the queen will hibernate on her own over winter. Not sure if this applies to our climate, as we don't have hard frosts in Auckland, but fingers crossed.

So maybe I just need to stop hanging my washing out on sunny days?

And keep looking, I think.

And as for 'Do paper wasps kill bees?'. I have no idea. There doesn't seem to be an answer on the interwebs about this. So I am assuming no. Vespula wasps kill bees for sure though.

Wasp Killing with Vespex

A new Insecticide targeting Wasps only

We've all had the experience of ants over-running the kitchen. So you get out the trusty ant bait, the ants carry it back to their nest, and the queen and all the others die.

Well, now there is a wasp bait that does the same -



Our surplus boxes are all coming back to the ranch to be cleaned up and re-dipped in oil and then stored for the winter. There is a huge pile stacked up waiting for attention. And boy, do the wasps just love that. All that wax and residue of honey!

So we put out some vespex traps.

And the wasps were immediately into it.

It looked like they were picking up more than their body weight to take back to their nest.

The next day the traps were not entirely empty, but definitely a bit light on the poison,

Note: to be able to get Vespex you need to complete special Vespex training and be registered as an approved user.

Weed killers and bees

How to tell if a weed killer is toxic to bees

Google is a great thing, but also those 2 hours you spend researching something, you never get back, right? I've done quite a bit of research into specific weed killers for our hosts, and thought I would share the better websites that I have found on the way.

Caveat: there isn't AN answer. You can believe what the manufacturers say, or the 'never ever use weedkillers' crowd, or the 'only true if it has been proven by science' crowd - the problem with this last one is that there hasn't to date been a lot of research around all this, bees just got on and did their thing and nobody worried. But now with big problems with Colony Collapse Disorder, especially in the states, more attention is being given to this issue. But any good science takes years, and even then might not produce a definitive answer.

That being said, here is what I came up with:

Say you are going to investigate



Its supplied by Nufarm, so if you google it you get

the Brochure

. Doesn't say what is in it though.

What you want is

the label

which lists the active ingredients

picloram and triclopyr in this case.

So let's take Triclopyr - as the butoxyethyl ester: (picloram, by the way, was used to make Agent White, and enhanced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War - just saying!)

So on Wikipedia, doesn't say much except that it is "chemically very similar to the herbicide which it generally replaces, 

2,4,5-T, which was phased out in the U.S. in the 1970s amid toxicity concerns".

Toxipedia doesn't say much about bees and triclopyr. Although Toxipedia can be quite useful for some chemicals, just not this one. (and Picloram doesn't even get a listing - depends what weed killer you are using as to what information is around).

And then Pesticideinfo which has a whole bunch of science-y information (which both my mother and brother, being chemists, would get all excited about, but the rest of us...not so much).

But down in the Terrestrial Ecotoxicity it does mention bees.

Which might be too tiny to read on this blog, but what it says is it is 'slightly toxic to bees'. And that "Population-level effects on honeybees may occur even if a pesticide has low acute toxicity. For example, certain pesticides interfere with honeybee reproduction, ability to navigate, or temperature regulation, any of which can have an effect on long-term survival of honeybee colonies. The neonicotinoids, pyrethroids and keto-enol pesticides are some types of pesticides causing one or more of these effects".

So all up, doesn't look dire. Not great either. And I think I would take the bees away before spraying this around. And wait at least the half-life time before bringing the bees back, probably twice the half-life time - which in this case is 39 days see here

So quite a while. (the half life is the time it takes for half the product to be gone, in the soil in this case).

Pesticides that kill bees

Neonicotinoids kill bees

There is a major class of pesticides  - Neonicotinoids - that is known to kill bees. This is a HUGE problem in the United States, where last year beekeepers lost 42% of honey bee colonies, and neonicotinoids are thought to play an important part in that loss.

One pest control company in the states Ortho, has just announced that they are going to "immediately transition away from the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides".

Read the whole Huffington post article here including some great links to further resources.

And Wikipedia states that "The neonicotinoid family includes acetamipridclothianidinimidaclopridnitenpyramnithiazinethiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world."

And it also provides this handy list of which products contain them (this is 2011 data)

NameCompanyProductsTurnover in million US$ (2009)
ImidaclopridBayer CropScienceConfidor, Admire, Gaucho, Advocate1,091
ThiamethoxamSyngentaActara, Platinum, Cruiser627
ClothianidinSumitomo Chemical/Bayer CropSciencePoncho, Dantosu, Dantop439
AcetamipridNippon SodaMospilan, Assail, ChipcoTristar276
ThiaclopridBayer CropScienceCalypso112
DinotefuranMitsui ChemicalsStarkle, Safari, Venom79
NitenpyramSumitomo ChemicalCapstar, Guardian8

We do have our own rules governing the use of neonicotinoids, from the EPA, read about them here. But they basically say you're not to spray near beehives or on flowering plants. So they haven't been banned at all.

Neonicotinoids are used to coat some seeds, and these are still sold in NZ.

Two products available in NZ that contain neonicotinoids are "Yates Confidor" and "Yates Rose Gun Advanced".

Also "They are sold here under the common trade names of Cruiser, Gaucho and Poncho, the active neonicotinoid ingredients of which are thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin respectively. Gaucho is also used on potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins."

And from Apicare NZ:

Why neonicotinoids are bad for bees

There has been much talk about this group of insecticides globally.  There are now bans and trial bans in place in many areas around the world.  This is not so in New Zealand, so we need to keep a particular eye out for the ingredients we spray in our gardens and on our farms.  Neonicotinoids work as an insecticide by blocking specific neural pathways in insects’ central nervous systems.  At ‘sub-lethal doses’ the chemicals impair bees’ communication, homing and foraging ability, flight activity, ability to discriminate by smell, learning, and immune systems – all of which have an impact on bees' ability to survive.  Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to the dramatic collapse in bee numbers over the last decade.
Domestic Sprays that contain neonicotinoids - Many domestic gardening products on sale in hardware stores and garden centers contain these chemicals.  If you're buying any kind of pest control check the ingredients – anything that contains acetamipridimidaclopridthiacloprid or thiamethoxam should be avoided to maximise bee health.
While the topic of bee safe sprays is relevant topic it is also one that can also be rather confusing. There are so many different garden sprays available in the market place and so many different chemical names, brand names and generic names that making a considered choice can seem impossible. We have tried to simply the issue below by providing some brand names commonly available in the New Zealand market place.
  • There is evidence overseas that the use of a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids cause bees to become disorientated when out foraging and may be a major contributor to the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations in Europe and North America. Neonicotinoids have also been shown to cause chronic bee mortality through reduced immunity.
  • Bees do not have to come in direct contact with the spray residue, they can absorb the neuro-toxins via the plants pollen and nectar.
  • The common names for neonicotinoid insecticides are Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam.
  • Neonicotinoids are often used for agricultural applications but can also be available to the home gardener. The two products that New Zealand gardeners are likely to come across (containing Imidacloprid) are Yates Confidor and Yates Rose Gun.
  • It is not just neonicotinords that can be harmful to bees. Other common pesticides that are toxic to them include insecticides containing Acephate, Carbaryl, Spectracide, Permethrin and the rapid flying insect killer Resmethrin, to name a few. Ther is an extensive list on Wikipedia under pesticide toxicity to bees.
  • Sprays that are safe to bees if sprayed at dusk when the bees won’t be foraging for a number of hours (i.e. they are safe to bees as long as they are dry and no longer wet): Spinosad (Yates Success Naturalyte Insect Control), Yates Guardall, Yates Mavrik Insect & Mite Spray, Pyrethrum (Yates Nature's Way Fruit & Vegie Gun, Yates Insect Gun Ready to Use, Yates Natures Way Pyrethrum, and Neem Oil.
  • Sprays that are safe to bees (though it would still be best to spray them at dawn or dusk when bees aren’t flying): Sulfur, Serenade, Insecticidal Soap Based Sprays (Yates Nature's Way Insect & Mite Spray and Yates Mite Killer), Petroleum based oils (Yares Conqueror Spraying Oil), B.T. (bacillus thuringiensis), Herbicides (like round-up).
So if you are at all interested in the survival of honey bees, please DO NOT USE any of these toxic chemicals.

Others are bad too, although not as dire, and in the next post I'll outline how I research these things properly and how you can find out what ingredients are suspect, rather than just relying on the supplier saying it is "not toxic to bees".

How to Kill a Wasp Nest

Oh the weekend we went and dealt to a wasp nest. It was up in the roof space of a shed on one of our host's properties. The wasps had crawled in through the gap between the roofing and the wall cladding. Looked like there were a whole heap of them too, they were quite busy coming and going.

Intrepid beeman put his head right up in the flight path and gave them a few good puffs (or maybe half a bottle?) of dust2dust, which is a permethrin based powder (note: this is not a sponsored post!).

We could hear the wasps starting to hit the tin roof next door in just a couple of minutes, as they conked out, so it worked pretty quickly.

Then we went inside and had a cuppa and a yarn - my favourite part of these bee visits.

After a bit, we could see that the steady flow out of wasps from the nest had slowed to possibly nothing, the ones coming in were still a steady stream.

The plan is to go back in a week or 2 to check if they are all dead, may be give them another puff or 2 to finish them off.

Its not great killing things, but it not-greater having wasps killing your bees.

Tutin levels are high this year

This year higher levels than normal of tutin are being detected, especially on the east coast of the North Island of NZ.

Watch this video from the Bee Products Standards Council for a good description of tutu.

The short answer is, DON'T EAT COMB HONEY unless you have had your honey tested, and be really careful eating extracted honey that has been blended. If you are selling honey you are legally required to get your honey tested for tutin.

I also wrote about this in this

blog post


Varroa Free Bees to save the world

Our world's food supplies rely heavily on bees for pollination. But they are increasingly under attack from various causes, creating colony collapse disorder. But here is good news of an amazing dude who has been working hard on bees in Niue since 1999. That's 16 years, so patience is often required when working with nature, as this guy must know.

Check out the article

Creating a Global Bee Sanctuary


And for more information see their 

fund raising page


Control of Varroa in beehives

To have healthy strong hives, the varroa mite needs to be treated. This is usually in spring before the honey flow, and again in autumn after the honey flow. We are getting ready to put varroa strips in our hives now that the honey harvest is nearly finished.

There are different types of varroa treatments, with different chemicals, and a few non-chemical methods too. Some varroa build up resistance to some chemicals, so each hive needs to be treated in a variety of ways over the course of a year.

Toxic Honey poisoning from Tutin

From January till late May we all need to be careful of eating comb honey from hives. Toxic honey can be created from this time of year on, for the rest of the season. And it is a Big Deal - causes stupors and violent convulsions, so the websites say. Not something you want, for sure.

Toxic honey is created when there is flowering tutu around. 

Photo credits of tutu: NZ Plant Conservation Network

The passion vine hopper feeds on the tutu, then exudes a sticky honey dew substance. The bees feed on the honey dew and take it back to the hives to create honey.

Passion vine hoppers start life as fluffy little insects (which my kids called fluffy bums when they were little), then become little moth type insects that flit and bounce around.

Photo Credit of Passion vine hopper: TER:RAIN

This is a serious problem, and there is an official 

MPI Food Safety Standard

 to control it. Part of this involves testing all harvested honey for tutin, and all our honey is tested before release and sale. 

The biggest danger is eating comb honey, because the toxin is likely to be concentrated in a small part of the comb, rather than mixed with various sources as happens with extracted honey. Also, times of drought make tutin poisoning more likely, as the bees run out of other food.

For really good pictures of tutu and more detailed information see the



And if you want to read the full standards check out the

NZ Food Safety document. 

If you think you have tutu around and you have beehives, the best thing to do is chop it all down.

Breeding Varroa resistant bees

There is scientific work going on to try and overcome varroa, that destructive mite that kills bees. Currently the only way is with chemicals. But check out this short (6 min) Ted talk on this.

There is also a very cool 60 sec video in it, of the first 21 days of a bees life, where you can watch the baby bees hatch.

Bees and Wasps

How to tell the difference between bees and wasps? Now I am no expert at all, but the beekeepers are. And it is important to tell the difference, you don't want to squash the wrong thing, or let the wrong thing prosper either. There are a few good summaries online including the

Te Ara Encyclopedia

This is a bee, pic from the Ministry of Health. Little furry yellow number, similar to the ones in the hive above.

This one is one type of wasp, pic from Landcare. Smooth and evil looking. Bit Darth Vader really. For more on NZ wasps, including alien pics, check out the

Landcare website.

And here are our wasp traps. Recycling in action. It would be better still, instead of trapping them and poisoning the wasps, to find the nests and deal to them that way, but in the bush it can be quite a mission to locate them.