Tracheal mite infestations are a problem to the bees in your hive, not a hopeless fate. You can take steps to use a number of techniques to prevent things from getting out of control. It isn’t a case of just one technique working well. Play it safe by using a combination of some or all of these methods.
Treating tracheal mites with menthol crystals
Menthol crystals are the same ingredient found in candies and cough drops. Menthol is derived from a plant, making it a natural alternative to chemical miticides. Prepackaged bags containing 1.8 ounces of menthol crystals are available from your beekeeping supplier.
Place a single packet on the top bars of the brood chamber toward the rear of the hive. Setting the packet on a small piece of aluminum foil prevents the bees from chewing holes in the bag and carrying away the menthol. Bees are tidy and try their best to remove anything they don’t think belongs in the hive. Leave the menthol in the hive for 14 consecutive days when the outdoor temperature is between 60–80 degrees Fahrenheit. The menthol vapors are effective only at these temperatures.
Honey for human consumption must be taken off the hive whenever any medications are used. You can safely apply honey supers three to four weeks after medication is removed from the hive.
Sugar and grease patty treatments for tracheal mites in a bee hive
Placing patties of sugar and grease in the hive is a holistic treatment for tracheal mites that you can (and should) use year-round. As the bees feed on the sugar, they become coated with grease. The grease impairs the mite’s ability to reproduce or latch onto the bees’ hairs. Whatever the scientific reason, the treatment works effectively and is your number-one natural defense against tracheal mites.
Place one patty on the top bars of the brood chamber, flattening out the patty as needed to provide clearance for the inner cover and replacing it as the bees consume it. One patty should last a month or more.
Here’s a recipe for grease patties:
1-1/2 pounds of solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)
4 pounds of granulated sugar
1/2 pound honey
Optional: Add 1/3 cup of mineral salt (the orange/brown salt available at farm supply stores). Pulverize the salt in a blender, breaking it into a fine consistency. The bees seem to like it.
Mix all these ingredients together until smooth. Form into about a dozen hamburger-size patties. Unused patties may be stored in a resealable plastic food bag and kept frozen until ready to use.
As an option, you may add 45 milliliters (1.5 ounces) of natural wintergreen oil to the mixture, provided that you’re not using this treatment while honey for human consumption is on the hive.
Essential oil treatments for tracheal mites
A number of interesting studies have tested the effectiveness of using essential oils as a means of controlling mite populations. Essential oils are those natural extracts derived from aromatic plants such as wintergreen, spearmint, lemon grass, and so on. These oils are available from health-food stores and companies that sell products for making soap.
Miteaway II (Formic acid)
Formic acid controls tracheal mites (especially when used in autumn). But formic acid is wickedly caustic, tricky to administer, and may not even be approved for use in your state. Gain some experience before you mess with it.
Apiguard is effective against the tracheal mite. Apiguard’s easy to use and much safer than formic acid or coumaphos. As always, follow directions precisely.