Every two weeks, the Fargo attorney opens the hives to check the bees and search for varroa mites, pests that suck the bees’ blood and can transmit disease. If he sees too many of the pinhead-sized parasites, he applies a chemical treatment.
Garaas has lost hives in his first two years as a novice beekeeper. But with nine hives now established near his home and a couple of University of Minnesota bee classes under his belt, he feels like he’s got the hang of it, although it’s still a challenge.
“You can get the book learning. You can see the YouTubes. You can be told by others,” he says, but “you have to have hands-on experience. When you start putting it all together, it starts making sense.”
Scientists wish every beginner beekeeper were as diligent as Garaas.
While experts welcome the rising national interest in beekeeping as a hobby, they warn that novices may be inadvertently putting their hives — and other hives for miles around — in danger by not keeping the bee mite population in check.
Many hobbyists avoid mite treatments, preferring a natural approach, says Marla Spivak, a bee expert at the University of Minnesota. But that’s often a deadly decision for the bees, she says.
National surveys by the Bee Informed Partnership show backyard beekeepers are taking the greatest losses nationally, and those losses are often the result of an out-of-control infestation of the varroa mite, says Spivak.
Varroa mites arrived in the United States nearly 30 years ago, and they’ve become a big problem in recent years.
Untreated hives can spread mites and viruses to other hives within several miles, Spivak says. Healthy bees will invade a dying hive to steal its honey. When they do, they carry the mites with them back to their hives.
“The combination of the mite and the …