Organic Varroa Management - Beekeeper Education in Hawaii

Final Report for FW10-011

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Richard Spiegel
Volcano Island Honey Co.
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Project Information


The purpose of the grant was to:

  • Evaluate various IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methodologies to combat the varroa mite, and to evaluate which treatments were cost effective, practical and effective for an organic commercial apiary.
  • Share the practical varroa management experience with other commercial, backyard and agriculturalist beekeepers.
  • Train more beekeepers and encourage the placement of organically managed hives in agricultural operations and backyards, and to teach beekeepers how to organically manage hives with varroa.

At the time the grant was submitted, Volcano Island Honey Company (VIHC) did not have the varroa mite in its hives. At the beginning of the grant period the apiary was afflicted with the varroa mite, which created a crisis condition for the apiary. VIHC proceeded with testing IPM strategies on a smaller scale than originally proposed, while simultaneously fighting not to lose too many hives.


The experiments were useful as they dispelled a lot of ideas about what organic methods of varroa management were possible in a commercial setting. The public appetite for knowledge about beekeeping was huge. In offering the course it became very clear that many small farmers with orchards and backyard gardeners were experiencing significant losses due to a lack of pollination. Most people in the class were interested in pollination, as opposed to beekeeping for honey production.

Project Objectives:

1) Field test varroa management strategies (note: the hive numbers were adjusted down to five for each treatment at the beginning of the grant period in consultation with the grant administrator.)

  • Drone comb management: 65 hives with farm made organic drone foundation/65 hives with plastic foundation
  • Powdered Sugar Dusting: delivery of organic powdered sugar with backpack sprayer and hand sprayer
  • Mite Away Quick Strips: 60 hives to learn how to use it, observe how it impacts bees and test honey for formic acid residue
  • Screened bottom boards and sticky boards: how to manage and use

April, 2010: Purchase drone comb roller, plastic foundation, backpack sprayer, hand sprayer, organic sugar, Miteaway quick strips, screened bottom boards, sticky boards. Hire research and teaching assistant.

April/May, 2010: Make drone comb foundation. Place organic wax foundation in 65 hives and plastic drone foundation in 65 hives. Monitor hives. Test and Remove every 20 - 23 days. Install sticky boards in all hives. Ongoing monitoring.

April- Sept, 2010: Ongoing monitoring/management of drone comb every 20 - 23 days.

April - Oct, 2010: Powdered Sugar treatments.

Nov, 2010: Treat 30 hives with Mite Away Quick Strips. Monitor hives.

Jan, 2011: Treat 30 hives with Mite Away Quick Strips. Monitor hives.

2) Educate commercial, backyard and agriculturalist beekeepers about organic beekeeping and organic varroa management in Hawaii and increase number of managed hives, through:

  • Beginning and intermediate beekeeping workshops.
  • Sharing of information learned through: PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos, Blog and Twitter posts.

Aug 2010: Class curriculum and teaching tools: PowerPoint, handouts. Order class equipment.

Oct - Nov 2010: Beginning & Intermediate Beekeeping Classes.

Jan 2011: Post videos to YouTube. Create and boost informational webpage(s). Blog & Twitter posts.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info


Materials and methods:

Testing of IPM for Varroa Management

Unfortunately, by the time the experiment began we had a serious varroa problem, which affected what we had originally planned. In preparation to test different methodologies of varroa control we first did a preliminary varroa mite survey of all 130 of our hives. Sticky boards were placed in a specially designed bottom board under all of the hives and were read by counting the mite drop on the boards one week later. Testing with the sticky boards was crucial as we did not understand the level of infestation in the hives or how wide spread the problem was. We then chose the 25 hives that had the highest number of mites to conduct the experiments on as follows:

  • 5 control hives (no treatment)
  • 5 drone comb management hives
  • 5 sugar treatment
  • 5 formic acid
  • 5 VSH queens with no additional treatment

Sharing Varroa Management Experience and Training New Commercial, Backyard and Agriculturalist Beekeepers

Volcano Island Honey Company partnered with Jenny Bach from Bee Love Apiaries to teach the Beginning Organic Beekeeping class. Beginning Organic Beekeeping filled up immediately with a maximum of 18 students and 35 people on the waiting list. Jenny Bach of Bee Love Apiaries has a list of hundreds of people collected from movie screenings and talks who are interested in classes. Interest and demand for the class was high, especially as the cost of the class and equipment was subsidized through the grant. There is a high degree of interest, but during tough economic times, most people can not afford to attend a class and purchase equipment without a subsidy.

Five classes were held through July - August 2011. The class included both classroom and field instruction. (See attached Syllabus and PowerPoint)

Richard Spiegel and Jenny Bach have divergent philosophies about varroa management and the management of hives for pollination only vs. commercial honey production. The class learned to build and maintain hives for both pollination and honey production. They were exposed to differing viewpoints about the realities of allowing the hives to naturally self-regulate for varroa (which results in the loss of hives, but leaves the strongest hives), an economically unsustainable proposition for a commercial beekeeper or orchard vs. treatment of hives through the methods mentioned above.

An intermediate beekeeping class was not conducted. The human and financial resources that were put into the varroa management experiment (during a time of the company’s first varroa ite infestation, which was not anticipated) and the beginning organic beekeeping class proved to be significant, and the company could not logistically or financially manage a second set of intermediate classes. At the time the grant was first submitted, the company did not have the varroa mite. There is a clear demand on Hawaii Island for more affordable beekeeping classes.

(See attached Course Survey Results.)

Research results and discussion:

As wild hives continue to decline in Hawaii, the goal is to teach agriculturalists how to keep and manage hives themselves, especially to help maintain some of Hawaii’s major commercial crops: coffee, macadamia nuts, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, citrus, avocado and guava. Additionally, it was hoped that the experiment with organic varroa management could be of benefit to Hawaii’s commercial organic beekeepers.

The Beginning Organic Beekeeping class was successful in helping to get commercial and backyard farmers started beekeeping. However, the positive contribution is just a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the problem and the high demand for education.

The experiments with organic varroa control yielded a sad, but realistic result: it is difficult for a commercial apiary that relies upon honey for its income to manage varroa without using chemicals —even if they are “soft” chemicals. The few methods that are allowed under organic standards — drone comb management, sticky boards and sugar dusting — are all somewhat effective on a small scale, but Volcano Island Honey Company found them impossible to implement (financially and logistically) in a even a small (<100 hives) commercial apiary. The only way to effectively manage for varroa is with a formic-acid product or a new product called HopGuard.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:
  • Beginning Organic Beekeeping Class: The class was announced through Press Releases and calendar listings in local newspapers (Big Island Weekly, Hawaii Tribune Herald, West Hawaii Today), Big Island Beekeeping Association blog, Hawaii Homegrown Food Network newsletter and calendar, Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers and Kona Coffee Farmers Association email lists. Five classes were attended by 18 people and there was a waiting list of 35 people.
    • See attached.
  • Beginning Organic Beekeeping Class Blog posts at
  • Documenting drone comb management, powdered sugar method and miteaway quick strips with video tape and pictures, to be shared in classes and online (YouTube, Blog, Website)
  • Blog posts on selected class topics and drone comb management, powdered sugar method and miteaway quick strips on
  • Posting of information on selected class segments and drone comb management, powdered sugar method and miteaway quick strips on web page(s) at

Links to all of the posts and articles are as follows. These posts were also amplified through social media- facebook and twitter.



Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Potential Contributions

Nearly all of the participants from the class adopted beekeeping as a practice and have set up hives and are in the process of learning more. A vigorous list serve discussion keeps the class members engaged with each other and the instructors. (see attached.)

Future Recommendations

We recommend that Western SARE fund more classes focused on beginning, intermediate and advanced beekeeper education which provides beginning beekeeper equipment to class attendees. There is a clear need and a proven demand on Hawaii Island for education coupled with equipment so people can immediately translate knowledge into action and maintain hives. The demand for education was beyond our ability to meet it.

Project organizers fielded dozens of calls from people who said that their backyard and commercial agricultural production had declined dramatically as a result of the die off of wild bees.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.