Do Natural Treatments Work (on my hives)?

Do you ever wonder if the things we do to help the bees survive our climates and manipulations really work?  I certainly do.

Weighing out Apiguard at a Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey bee yard

I learn things from other beekeepers and through reading, then try out the ideas – sometimes they turn out to be “seemed a good idea at the time” failures, and other times they seem to work – but I don’t have any science behind the successes just observations.

This year I had the opportunity to have a laboratory analyze the state of my hives before and after fall treatments.


I run naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives.

My bees are of mixed breeds, but all dark bees.

Overwintering Honeybees

  • I raise my own queens and purchase queens from select breeders.
  • The bees I use are a mix of Russian, New World Carniolan, Ferals, and descendents of Queens from a brilliant local breeder : Northwest Queens
  • I believe in hybrid vigor.  It works with dogs and goats, seems to work with bees.

I feed essential oils twice a year.  I use varroa and nosema “natural treatments” in the fall.

In short, in the fall I use:

  • Essential oils for three weeks in the fall (and three weeks in the spring).
  • Nozevit – put into the bees feed, along with the essential oils.
  • Apiguard (thymol) or Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid).                                           Each one is used on alternate years.

There’s a whole world of things I also do from screened bottom boards to winter hive top insulation, but what that entails is way too long to recap here, but can be found in two previous blog post I sited earlier: Part 1 and Part 2)

I did one trail treatment for Varroa on four of the tested hives in July.  I placed mites that eat mites in four of the hives : Stratiolaelaps scimitus (aka Hypoaspis).  They seemed to do little.  But I’ll cover the test and the results on the next post.

My winter loses over the last few years tend to be between 5% and 14%


Early this year I was asked to participate in a bee health survey being conducted by BeeInformed.Org

Honeybees in alcohol to be tested for disease

One hive’s bee sample

All of the beekeepers who participated, were able to choose 8 hives from our apiaries, take monthly alcohol samples, and have those samples analyzed for Varroa and Nosema.  The tests were conducted from June to November – I stopped in October because I don’t open my hives in November.

My hives usually remain closed from October first until into the next year, but I really wanted to see the results of the tests before and after my treatments and fall manipulation, from pulling honey to gathering all the brood into a group.


First I want to emphasize that these tests showed the results for 8 out of about 80 hives in a wet Northwest corner of Washington state.    Every hive is different, and the differences increase by the type of bees in the hives (say Russians or Italians) to the location of the hives (believe me sunny Southern California is a universe away from Whatcom County, Washington).

Colorful bee hives below dark and stormy skies, northwest Washington


My bees are overachievers – they all scored quite high in Varroa and Nosema. Not quite where one wants one’s bees to score high.  But they produced lots of good-looking bees, brood and honey… go figure.


I’ll write about this one first.  I live in Nosema central.  This area of Washington is nosema central.  If wet and cold can exacerbate a problem, you can bet that problem will turn up here (can you tell it’s raining out?)

I’ll just highlight the highs and lows.

The results were given in millions spores/bee.

Month Most Infected
Hive Had
Least Infected
Hive Had
Hives Below “.1” Average
June (Kick Off) 4.3 0 (zero) 5 below .10 .99
August 3.6 (same hive) 0 (zero) 5 below .10 .83
September(pre-treatment) 0 (zero) 0 (zero) All : 0 (zero) 0 (zero)
October(2 weeks post treatment) .65
(not the same hive)
0 (zero) 7 below .10 .014


NOSEMA : my conclusion:

  • It sure looks like the hives get rid of the nosema without my help.
  • Will I use Nozevit again – sure, I have a second bottle (an oops in the ordering).
  • It seems to neither help nor hurt, so after that bottle, I will ponder its use.
  • My bee conclusion: love those queens that are producing these bees.


This is the one everyone wants to know about, eh?

A Little Background

I raised a lot of drones this year (not on purpose) :

  • I tried Foundationless frames and half-Foundationless frames this year.
  • Mites love drone larvae.

The numbers below are in mites/100 bees.

Month Most Infected
Hive Had
Least Infected
Hive Had
Hives Below “2.5” Average
June (Kick Off) 10.3 0.88 3 below 2.5 3.84
July 14.02 2.77 0 below 2.5 7.76
August 12.15 4.2 0 below 2.5 8.30
September(pre-treatment) 31.09 5.34 0 below 2.5 18.17
October(2 weeks post treatment) 7.79 1.53 3 below 2.5 4.13dramatic!


Test Result Notes:

  • No one hive stayed high or low.  The hives fluctuated throughout the year.
  • The one noticeable thing is the weather and season: Late August to Mid September the varroa numbers climbed high.
  • This is the warmest time of year here and it usually doesn’t rain
  • Bee forage starts to become scarce in my area in early September
  • Amusing note: looking back on my notes, I see where when I saw varroa during the test, the counts on those hives were low!  Go figure.

VARROA, my conclusions:

  • This year treatments certainly worked : that was Mite Away Quick Strips
  • I am going to believe (back to that old “belief system” again) that the Thymol works too.
  • The essential oils?  Maybe they help.  I’ll keep on doing them.
  • My bee conclusion: The ladies produced good brood and lots of honey, even with high numbers.  So something is going right with their genetics – perhaps they can coexist with some varroa, or perhaps the workers just tidy up and the queen relay with rapidity.


The eight hives tested, last seen in mid-October, and my other hives, which were last seen in mid-September, were doing fine.  But winter and spring can be deadly, as we all know.  If the weather permits, I will once again open these hives when it warms up a bit in February or March.

I’ll let you know how they look then.

(my apologies if this post scanned oddly – suddenly I can’t preview!)

Did you spot any interesting trends in the very abbreviated numbers I posted?  Any thoughts on how bees can live and seemingly thrive with those high numbers of varroa?   If so, write and share.

About Bean

I am the beekeeper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, near Maple Falls, Washington. My bees fly from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives in the foothills of Mt. Baker (the second most glaciated volcano in Washington). I sell the raw honey my bees make, as well as honey produced by Washington beekeepers who are friends - the emphasis is on raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives. I also make and sell Beeswax Salves. You can find me at the Ballard Farmers' Market in Seattle on Sundays from 10-3. When not with the bees, you'll most likely meet me up some mountain trail, pinhole camera and digital camera slung over my shoulders, and my pack goats trailing behind me.
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