First off, what's a sugar shake?
A sugar shake is a simple and "easy" test beekeepers use to monitor the number of Varroa mites your colony has.
Varroa mites are parasites that live on, feed off and weaken adult honey bees as well as larvae. Small numbers are manageable for hives but going unmonitored the number of mites can grow and become detrimental.
They are very common throughout the world and the only country heard to not have any mites is Australia.
For the rest of us, the question isn't "Do I have mites?" but "How many mites do I have?".
There are many ways to get an idea of how many mites are in your hive. Some tests are lengthy and some result in killing the honey bees selected to test. One of the more humane ways that we read was the easiest is the sugar shake.
The sugar shake test essentially consists of scooping up about a 1/2 cup of bees, placing them in a jar with powdered sugar in it and cap with a mesh lid. You then roll the jar to make sure the bees are coated and leave the jar for a few minutes. Leaving the jar lets the bees heat up which makes the mites fall off and the sugar prevents them from climbing back on.
You then vigorously shake all the sugar (along with the mites) out of the mesh top into a container with the bees still in the jar. Then the bees go back into the hive where their sisters will clean off all the sugar and they are good as new! With the sugar/mite bucket, water is added to dissolve the sugar and then you can easily identify how many mites are there. The mite count involves some math to determine an estimated amount of mites in your hive.
The equation is: Every 3 mites within the 1/2 cup (or 100) bees tested equals 1% of the hive infested.
That means if you saw 9 mites you would have a 3% infestation and so on. The red flag starts to go up around the 5% and higher infestation level and would be time to look at treatments.
After researching this method, we got to work and planned our own tests.
The idea is simple and videos proved it to look easy and straightforward, but once we got in there we found it to be a bit trickier.
Now I don't know if any of you have ever tried to collect bees in a jar, but it is much easier said than done. We didn't want to squish or kill anyone so it took quite a while and a few different methods to get those girls in there. Once the bees were in we waited and shook out the sugar/mites easy peasy and got those ladies back home a little worse for wear.
The troubling part we had, and how we think we messed up somehow, was that the tests for both hives had no mites at all. Even though that would normally be exciting, we are skeptical of our skills and probably did something to compromise our testing. A theory we have is that we might have used too small of mesh and the mites couldn't get through, or maybe too much sugar.
Either way, we have decided to try a different method next week and see how those results compare. Who knows, maybe we will be the special case and have no mites in sight! (very unlikely)