Whether you aspire to go treatment free or you want to pursue various treatment methods for Varroa Mites this season you MUST plan! Many beekeepers whom I admire, have a treatment free plan for addressing their Varroa Mite populations. The operative word there is "PLAN". Regarding varroa mites, being treatment free involves a lot of knowledge of both the bee's reproductive cycle and that of the varroa's. Any new beekeeper who wants to be "treatment free" yet , doesn't understand the important concepts of what makes this work, needs to find a mentor who has successfully raised bees with this approach. Simply letting your honeybees fight it out with the varroa mites with a "survival of the fittest" approach is just irresponsible. I believe the old adage, "Failure to plan is planning to fail" applies here.
Varroa are simply a part of the equation for beekeepers in this century. Until we discover a way to overcome the issue, we as beekeepers need to understand that we need to identify, manage and appropriately address our varroa counts. One thing I hear new beekeepers state is that they haven't seen varroa mites in their hive, so they assume that they don't have them. New beekeepers should realize that it is quite rare to actually spot a mite on a honeybee in your colony. Don't assume that because you don't spot them that they are varroa free. They can however be readily spotted on capped drone pupae similar to what is pictured above.
Learn about how to test correctly for them. The two industry standards are either the "Sugar Roll" method or the "Alcohol Wash" method.
Oxallic Acid vapor has proven to work well for managing the mite counts in my colonies. I plan to do one Oxallic Acid application in the spring to address the phoretic mites. Those are the ones found on the bee's bodies. There will be very few mites under capped brood at this time so one treatment will clean up the hive pretty well as they begin their season. I will then continue to monitor regularly and treat as needed to keep my mite counts at safe, manageable levels; about 2 mites per 100 bees. Mite Away Quick Strips also play a role in my mite management plan later in the season.
My treatment free beekeeping friends and I use breaks in the brood cycle which enable the colonies to not only take a break from raising and feeding their young and very demanding brood, but it disrupts the lifecycle of the Varroa Mites. This brood cycle break occurs when the beekeeper intentionally makes the colony queenless for a set number of days. It mimics what happens in nature when a colony sends their queen off in a swarm to repopulate.
If all this sounds overwhelming please don't despair! There are many people in the beekeeping community who are happy to help you along the way. This is where being part of that community really is beneficial. Reach out to a club in your area. Now is the time to get connected with a mentorship program so that you are not stumbling along. And, if you're a seasoned veteran beekeeper with a ton of expertise and a plan that works for you, share it!