How to make a Sugar Roll jar

Varroa mite on bees thorax.

Varroa mite on bees thorax.

A sugar roll test is a simple way to monitor your varroa mite loads without killing a lot of bees. It is easy and fast and only a few items are needed. To make a sugar roll jar you will need a few supplies. You can get these supplies at a home improvement store and the grocery store.

• Wide mouth quart canning jar with a two piece lid. You can use other sized jars as long as there is a two piece lid.
• Screening-#8 mesh (8 squares per square inch) is preferred but you can use other screening as long as it allows the mite to fall through but keeps the bees contained inside the jar.
• Tin snips-used to cut out screen for replacing lid, refer to image below.
• Plastic white tub 11 quarts or more
• ½ cup measuring cup
• Confectioners’ sugar or powdered sugar

Sugar Roll Jar with lid and screen.

Sugar Roll Jar with lid and screen.

The first step to making a sugar roll jar is to remove the lid and remove the circular insert. Trace this insert on the screening using a pencil or black marker. Next you can take the tin snips and cut out the circular screen. Once the screen circle is cut out, place it under the threaded part of the lid to see if it fits. If it does not fit, trim with the snips until it does. Make sure there is no space for the bees to escape. Now your sugar roll jar is finished and ready for use.

Lids and cut screen for sugar roll jars.

Lids and cut screen for sugar roll jars.

There are many ways to perform a sugar roll. I prefer to first go into the colony and select a frame with sealed and unsealed brood. Then double check the frame to insure that the queen is not on it. If she is, gently move her to another brood frame in the colony or pick a different frame. Take the frame and tap it into the white plastic tub to remove the bees. I then shake the bees into the corner of the tub and take a full scoop of bees using the ½ cup measuring cup. Dump the bees into the sugar roll jar and screw the lid with screen on.

Tapping a frame into a white plastic tub for a sugar roll.

Tapping a frame into a white plastic tub for a sugar roll.

Shaking bees in a sugar roll jar.

Shaking bees in a sugar roll jar.

Next I will put powdered sugar over the screen and use my hive tool to push it through the screen into the jar. The time of year is the deciding factor of how much powdered sugar to put in the jar. If there is a nectar flow during the time of testing you will need to add more sugar. More sugar is needed to cover bees when there is a nectar flow because when you tap the frame in the plastic tub lots of nectar will cover the bees making it harder to remove mites. When you look into the jar, the bees should be completely covered in sugar. Once the bees are covered, take the ½ cup and place it over the screen. This will keep the sugar and mites inside the jar when you are shaking it. I usually shake the jar for about a minute. Shake the powdered sugar and mites onto the surface of the bottom of the plastic tub. If you want you can add more sugar and repeat if you feel you haven’t removed all of the mites. From what I have learned if you see 7 or more mites in a sugar roll, you should do something to reduce the mite numbers. Note: If there is a heavy nectar flow, it is not the best time to inspect a hive or perform a sugar roll. Inspecting a hive causes stress in the colony so it’s best to not disturb them for maximum honey production.

A case of sugar roll jars I made this spring.

A case of sugar roll jars I made this spring.

  • don coats, DVM

    Rob, we are starting a native bee monitoring program with a nature education institution in N De. Do you have any tips on simplifying the ID of the more common small bees. We are using the the PA hand book.

  • Rob Snyder

    Unfortunatly it takes a lot practice to ID a lot of the smaller bees but there are few tips you could use if you had photographs. Here are some very general examples(PA species), Nomada sp are usually red to brown with yellow-opaque markings on the abdomen(sometimes markings may not be present)Nomada also have a unique body shape. Ceratina are very robust(unique body shape) and often metalic green/blue to black bodies often with white on the face(can be very small), hylaeus often has yellow to opaque white markings on the face with a slender abdomen(often found in grops on flowers)queen anns lace is a good one to find these, however Calliopsis andreniformis also has yellow markings similar but the body is much larger than most hylaeus, the male face is almost completely yellow….These are just a few examples hope they somewhat make sense.

    There are many different features in a lot of the groups to assist in ID but to most individuals its really hard to make field Identification down to genus without having experience with them. Not sure what your trying to ID them to?

    I would start with a species list from your area and then go through images on Discoverlife.org and see if you can come with some characteristics that stick out on those common species. The best thing to do would be to find someone with a collection and see the specimens first hand. If you can look at a good collection with a few series(male and female)you will start to see the body shape in the different genera which is an important characteristic for field ID. But I havent found an easy way to teach field ID of bees. The best thing is to mentor a few people and get them pretty familiar with the species and have them teach others. Spending a lot of time out in the field is how I got better and field ID, it also helped me avoid collecting species I already had in my collection.

    Hope that helps a little.

    Rob

  • Jim

    “From what I have learned if you see 7 or more mites in a sugar roll, you should do something to reduce the mite numbers. ”
    7 mites in August with maximum brood numbers is not that significant as it would be in early spring or winter when brood is minimal.

  • John T

    Hello Rob – early last year I found lots of varroa mites on the inspection pan of my 1 and only hive. I am very resistant to disturb my hive and I do not collect honey. I hive for the bees. I monitored and going into the winter I did not think they would make it due to the mites. I opened the hive (3 deep supers) Easter Sunday to check it out, seeing lots of activity on the warm days and was astounded to see all what was going on. Id say that 5 center frames were filling on all 3 levels, brood and all. Am I doing a disservice to the bees or to my neighbor beekeepers if I don’t treat for varroa? My inspection pan still shows lots of mites. How long does it take to destroy a colony or can the colony overcome? Thanks

  • Rob Snyder

    I think for your bees and your neighbor beekeeprs that you should do something to treat for the mites. Mites add to other things that may not normally be a problem. They also drift to other colonies from sick ones. From what I have seen it takes from 2-3 years till a colonly dwindles down and dies. It may live longer if they swarm and requeen a few times. I think of it this way… if your dog or cat has fleas are you going to let it go or try and take care of the problem?