Controlling Varroa Mites with Walnut Leaf Smoke

2003 Annual Report for FNE03-485

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2003: $8,682.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
John O'Meara
O'Meara Family Farm

Controlling Varroa Mites with Walnut Leaf Smoke


2) Restate the goals of your project

This project aims to investigate walnut leaf smoke as a possible alternative to chemical treatment of varroa mites, a serious pest problem of honey bees worldwide.

3) Update the information on your farm

O’Meara Family Farm is still farming on seventeen acres in the hills of Phillipston. We have added pigs to our operation and are considering selling milk from our small herd of Dexter cattle in the Spring. The bee operation is expanding, demand for honey is steady at local farmers’ markets. We remain a highly diversified farm specializing in honey, eggs, vegetables and heritage breeds of poultry, sheep and cattle.

4)Describe your cooperators and their roles in the project

For the project, I am cooperating directly with several farmers who are interested in the use of honeybees as pollinators. These farmers are also potentially interested in keeping bees for honey production. Dave Briand owns a small orchard in New Salem, Massachusetts. John Mickola operates a diversified farm, including blueberries in Ashby, Massachusetts. Both locations offer good bee forage. Both farmers have assisted in observing the bees at various times during the year. Bob Pease, of Pease Orchard in Templeton, Massachusetts and Sterling Whiting of Whiting Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts, have made similar contributions and have helped in moving bees. Many beekeepers and potential beekeepers have expressed interest in the results of this project. Craig Hollingsworth, an entomologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has worked as the technical adviser for this project, helping with initial fine-tuning of procedures, data collection and analysis. As the project finishes up, Craig will continue to help, particularly with analysis of the results.

5)Tell us what you actually did on your project and what remains to be done.

This project involves fifteen hives started from packages in April of 2003. Russian hybrid stock was used. The hives were divided into five groups, each group consisting of one hive treated with apistan (a common chemical treatment), one untreated hive and one hive treated with walnut leaf smoke. Walnut leaf smoke was blown into five hives for one minute every three days for thirty days in the Spring and Fall. The hives treated with Apistan were treated for approximately fifty days in the Spring and fifty days in the Fall, as indicated on the product directions. Mites were collected from all hives on sticky tapes placed underneath screened bottom boards and counted every week from the end of April through the beginning of November. Results were recorded for later analysis.

6) Describe your results and accomplishments.

Collecting and counting mites from fifteen hives every week was a major accomplishment. Being able to follow mite populations in these hives in such detail for such a length of time will be a valuable tool in considering the mite control for the future. Mite populations started out extremely low, but data shows that they started to increase in general in late Fall. Although the analysis of data is still in progress, mite counts on the sticky tapes seem to be particularly high in the walnut leaf smoke treated hives during the thirty days of treatment in the Fall, indicating that the smoke knocks the mites off the bees. Further analysis is necessary to determine if this is a consistent result. Interestingly, the hives treated with the walnut leaf smoke produced twice as much honey as the untreated hives and three times as much honey as those treated with apistan. In general, honey production was low because of nearly incessant rain. On average, the walnut leaf treated hives produced twenty-one pounds of honey, the untreated hives produced ten, and the apistan treated hives produced seven. In March 2004 mite counts will be taken using sticky tapes one more time. The traps will remain on the hives for one week and counted. Hive strength will also be assessed, frames of bees will be counted and hives will be weighed. These final assessments, along with the analysis of last year’s data, will give a detailed picture of the mite populations of the hives in this project and the effectiveness or irrelevance of walnut leaf smoke as a control for varroa mites.

7) Describe any site conditions or conditions specific to your farm and this growing season that might be affecting your results.

One untreated hive absconded in the end of June. One apistan treated hive and one untreated hive did not get off to a good start or did not have good queens and dwindled and died before the onset of winter. One control hive, otherwise healthy, was destroyed by a bear in the end of November. Bears also disturbed three other hives buyt the hives have survived as of the beginning of February. All the hives in this project that survived into winter are overwintering well despite going int winter somewhat light of stores because of the rainy Spring, Summer and Fall.

8) Describe your economics findings, if any.

Honey prices and demand remain high ($5/pound at some farmers markets) having beekeeping a potentially profitable enterprise in the Northeast. On the other hand, many beekeepers claim that chemical treatments of varroa mites, which are not inexpensive, are ineffective. So far, the mite counts, survivability, and production seem to indicate that the walnut leaf smoke might work as well as or better than chemical treatments. If that is the case, the availability and low cost of walnut leaves would make their use the right choice for beekeepers. The cost of the project has gone as planned.

9) Say whether the results from your project generated new ideas.

This project has been inspiring in many ways. Beekeeping is a great way to spend time and can be profitable, as stated above. However, it can also be frustrating. This project has made me think that by combining various approaches to mite control, including screened bottom boards, varroa resistant queens and other methods, beekeeping can be quite successful in the Northeast.

Objectives/Performance Targets


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


Craig Hollingsworth

University of Massachusetts
Bob Pease

John Mickola

Sterling Whiting

Dave Briand