Last year we got a few 3# packages from down south and installed them on frames from deadout hives. We anticipated that this approach (rather than starting them on foundation) would give the bees a head start on getting established. These packages unfortunately introduced us to small hive beetles as another apiary pest. The colonies didn't do anywhere near 'gangbusters', and I can't help but think that SHB may have kept them from doing as well as they should. We had a few more deadouts this winter and in shaking out the combs of the deadouts last weekend, there were small hive beetles that froze to death along with the dead bees. I’m uncertain whether or not the hives in our apiary that made it through the winter were able to eliminate small hive beetles…it’s been too cold to go into the hives and look for the little ‘buggers’.
We are planning on getting a few more packages this year, and I’m wondering about how we might be able to install them in a way that might enable us to minimize the chance of re-introducing small hive beetles.
Options I can potentially employ:
1) Install on foundation rather than on drawn comb—there will be fewer places for the beetles to hide (I understand they’re pretty good at that game).
2) Don’t shake the packages into the hives—place the queen cage into the hive and let the bees walk up into the hive, giving an opportunity to squish any hive beetles with a hive tool as the bees are walking up and in.
3) Replace one side of the package with screening of a size that would permit small hive beetles to fall or climb through, and lure them out with some pollen patty/yeast/vinegar/sugar slurry, where I could then again apply the hive tool test. An alternative would be to shake them out (gently, after safely removing the queen from the package). I think that if this is a promising approach, there might need to be a redesign of bee packages so that a larger screen on one side is incorporated (and then the small hive beetles can be lured out to food traps on the truck ride up to the frozen north).
I hope that there’s some wisdom that some of you in northern states can provide on how you have been avoiding re-colonizing your apiary with this pest, and whether any of the approaches I’ve outlined above might be of value. If it seems like they will be worthless effort, that's worth hearing about as well.
I think that is something that might be worth formally researching by some of the state beekeeping programs (or USDA). The inadvertent inclusion of small hive beetles in shaken packages is a real problem for many beekeepers.
Even if we can’t eradicate them from the south, can we minimize or eradicate their seasonal introduction to the north?