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Beekeeper’s Notes February 2017 – Dreaded Regulation In Beekeeping

Published on: 1 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 31 Jan, 2017

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon. In the latest of his monthly notes, he talks about regulations reaching all parts of beekeeping.

It is about the time of the winter solstice that there is the least brood present in the hive. It is the opportunity to ‘do a treatment’ on the varroa mite using oxalic acid solution.


Varroa mite, less than a millimetre across but a hardy little beast.

The word varroa comes from the Roman thinker, writer and soldier Marcus Terentius Varro. He, with 74 scholarly works to his name including a work on agriculture and beekeeping, is now best known for being a pest. Unlucky.

The treatment favoured at this time of year is oxalic acid which is naturally present in many plants such as the oxalis buttercup and rhubarb. A weak solution is dribbled between the frames. It doesn’t affect the bees but it kills about 90% of varroa present.

The treatment can’t penetrate into the capped brood where the tiny mite lurks and breeds. Hence the time to treat is when there is minimum brood and the varroa has no place to hide.

I went to buy my oxalic acid solution only to be told that they can’t sell it any more because it is unauthorised. “What?” I raged. “What is the world coming to?”

Even though it has been used successfully for many years, oxalic acid as a treatment needs formal testing and approving. What this means is that a company then gets it tested with its own secret additive included and it becomes the only legal way that the average beekeeper can access the highly effective oxalic acid treatment.

I am not aware of any historic case of honey contamination – there is generally a level of oxalic acid in honey naturally anyway. I even reluctantly bow to the logic of regulation when dealing with foodstuff. But I hate the idea that what was once done very nicely thank you by the amateur is now only possible through a commercial source.

There are so many important issues that I really should get worked up about and oxalic acid is not one of them. Affordable housing, the unrealistic funding of the NHS compared to other countries or even proportional representation is important. Having to change my method of varroa treatment is not. But it gets on my goat.

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Responses to Beekeeper’s Notes February 2017 – Dreaded Regulation In Beekeeping

  1. John Lomas Reply

    February 1, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I don’t think it would be illegal to crush some Rhubarb leaves, boil them up and apply the subsequent liquid. You might have to experiment for strength.

    Apparently this is also an old recipe for a pesticide on plants.

    I could do that but it needs to be at 4.5% strength. I understand that too strong, it kills the bees, too weak, it doesn’t kill the mites.

  2. Dave Middleton Reply

    February 1, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Oxalic acid is used for many puurposes, including the removal of staining on oak beams. Plenty for sale, entirely unrestricted, on the internet if you should need some to take the stains off your oak framed behives.

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