The Girls Get Powdered

Just finished the final sugar powdering of my bees for this spring.

Powdered Sugar, Bees, & Brush on Hive Top Bars

Before I go any further, let me say that what I talk about is how I keep bees.  Each beekeeper has to make her/his own determination of how s/he wants to keep bees.  There are a lot of opinions out there on how to do everything from avoiding swarms to breeding queens.  Most have been tried; some have succeeded.  You need to try out the ideas that suit you, your sensibilities, and your time.  Some will work, some will fail.  Beekeeping is not only local, it is also personal.

With that disclaimer, off we go again.  Sugar powder dusting (aka the Dowda Method) is one of the methods used to control varroa mites, parasites which kill bees.  I do this once a week for three weeks in the spring and the fall.  The powdering is never done when honey for humans is on the hive.  I do it before the honey “supers” are put on, and in the fall after the “supers” are removed.  It’s a “bees-only” endeavor.

How it’s done: You dust powdered sugar over the top bars of a hive, then brush the sugar in between the frames.  (Look closely at the top photo and you’ll see bees peaking between the top bars.)  The powdered sugar lands on the bees.

sugared bees mingle with their sisters at lower hive entrance

How does this fight mites? Well, I like the idea that it inspires the bees to clean themselves and each other, and in the process a bee notices that she or her neighbor has a mite, they pick that off as well.  There are other thoughts about why mites fall off when the bees are powdered, including the sugar makes it hard for them to hold on to the bee.  I’ll stay with the cleaning idea.

Does it work?  At best, dusting with powdered sugar can only help.  The sugar reaches the mites that are riding on the bees. But mites breed and thrive in the sealed cells of larvae.  No amount of powdered sugar will reach there.  So, powder sugar dusting might help, but at least it doesn’t hurt, and the bees don’t seem to mind the process.

My best solution for bee-mite coexistence is to breed bees that 1) have resistance to mites and 2) clean out the cells if they detect mites in them…but bee-breeding musings are for another day.

The powdering is a nice time to look at all the step-sister types in the hive (a queen can mate with more than 10 drones).  It’s calm, and because one needs to do this on a somewhat sunny day, it’s a pleasant occupation.

It never ceases to amuse me that one of my primary tools I use in dusting the girls is my mother’s old flour sifter.

Mom's Flour Sifter in its new role

My mother hailed from Texas, and her mother cooked.  My mother was a VP in a think-tank, we dined out.  But mom had a flour sifter, although I can’t remember her using it, ever.  I inherited this – I only cook stir-fry, so it was never much use to me; until now.

Thus each spring and summer, on nice, clear, calm days I think of my mother and how amused she would have been to see me using that flour sifter that she always meant to use.  The buzzing of bees and good memories: they go well together.

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