Essential Oils For Honeybees at Brookfield Farm

I use essential oils in a 2:1 sugar syrup to feed my bees after fall harvest and in the spring before honey supers go on.  As I’ve written before some people do this, others don’t. It works for me.  Recently I received an email from someone asking for more information on what I use and the amounts I use.  Ah, ha! A perfect blog subject, so what follows is an edited version of my response to the email, which is part of that correspondent’s quest to find some other method that Fumidil-B

I’ve not used Fumidil since my second year of beekeeping.  That’s when I discovered it was an antibiotic.  I come from the world of 4-legged livestock breeding and my policy has always been to administer antibiotics only when necessitated by an injury.

First a bit of background, which I think is as important as the essential oils.

1) I don’t use a solid bottom board.  Instead, where the bottom board was, there is a screen made of 1/8 inch hardware “cloth” – screen.  This makes it so feces do not build up on the hive “floor”, and allows for any water to drain away.  Hives make a lot of feces and water, plus water leaks in from outside.  It is said that when bees clean themselves the mites will fall though a 1/8 inch screen.  I don’t know, but I don’t have many mites.  The bottom screens sit on concrete blocks, which puts them over 2 inches from the ground.  I have read that mites will not crawl back up into a hive if they drop 2 inches or more.

2) I have a year-round upper entrance.  It’s a 7/16 inch hole – any larger and mice can get in, the sneaky buggers.

3) In the fall I replace frames number 1 and number 10 with follower boards.  These are planks of wood cut to the same size as a frame (some folks put a laminate on the “outside” side, but I don’t like plastics in a hive…a personal thing).  This makes another ventilation area on each side of the hive.

1, 2, and 3 all contribute to good ventilation – which I think is really important to stopping both nosemas (no studies, just personal opinion and successful over-wintering).

Now to the essential oil recipe I use:

I put the oils in sugar syrup – you could probably do it in a honey syrup, but I don’t have a recipe.

I use Spearmint Oil, Lemongrass Oil , and Thyme Oil.  Dry Lecithin, is essential (I’ve never gotten liquid lecithin to work) – you can get that at a coop, it’s used in baking.  Lecithin allows oils to combine with water – kind of – that’s the hard part in this. In fact, if anyone knows a better way to dissolve lecithin, please let me know.

My syrup pot holds 3.5 gallons.  I do a 2:1 syrup by weight (2 sugar : 1 water)

I put 2 ¼ teaspoons of dry lecithin in a cup.
Add about ½ cup of boiling water.
Stir like crazy.  I sing an old French song I know, but it must be about 4-5 minutes. Until the lecithin clumps are dissolved.
Add: 1 ¾ teaspoons Spearmint Oil;  1 ¾ teaspoons Lemon Grass Oil;  ¾ teaspoon Thyme Oil (note that the Thyme Oil  is one-teaspoon LESS than the others)
Stir like crazy. Casey Jones by the Dead usually does it for me.  2-3 minutes perhaps.  It will turn opaque.
Set aside.

By this time my water WITH NO SUGAR IN IT is boiling.
I remove the water from the stove.
Add sugar.
Stir until dissolved.

Back to your cup of oils.
Stir again for about 1 minute (this is all about getting the lecithin to dissolve)
Add to sugar syrup – Stirring like crazy until all the chunks stop forming.

Set aside to cool –  I pour it into a large bucket, which mixes it even more and it cools there.

When I feed:

I stop feeding when the days drop to 45 degrees.  At that temperature, the bees cannot generate enough heat to process the syrup.  Or so I’ve read.  The feeders are replaced with a piece of insulation sitting on top of burlap – my one concession to plastic-like things in the hive.  Then I wrap the hives in tar paper, make a tar paper hat for them, put a piece of roofing “felt” on top of all that, and stick a rock on top.  Dry hives, as I keep overstating seem to be vital to a healthy hive.  When temperatures reach above 45 degrees in the spring, off come the “rain coats”, out comes the insulation, and feeders go back in until I see nectar coming into the hives or I put a honey super on.

I took my original essential oil recipe from  Wikipedia. It’s still posted there.I added the Thyme Oil after reading an article.
Thyme Oil has mixed results in studies – maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.
In fact, I don’t know of any studies on “home brew” essential oil use.  They just work for me.
I know someone who uses Tea Tree Oil, but I don’t know how much.

Brief aside – you can make a oil based patty with essential oils (I don’t have a recipe), Lynn Haitt – the beekeeper who supplies our Market Table at Seattle’s Sunday Fremont Market and the Georgetown Market  with his fabulous Alfalfa, Yellow Star Thistle, and Buckwheat honeys uses an oil based patty – it’s put between the brood boxes after the last honey harvest.  He has about a 10% loss – which is really, really good.  This is a faster, simpler delivery system.

One last story, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  Now, I don’t like Italian Bees.  In my opinion they don’t do well in the Pacific Northwest – warm and sunny are words seldom used in this area.  However, the strongest, healthiest hive of Italian Bees I’ve ever seen were at a friend’s house about 10 miles from my farm.  She had one hive with a bottom screen (no solid bottom).  The hive had a dry, open, ventilated environment.  Her method was to harvest the honey in the SPRING when the bees began to bring in nectar.  That way her bees had all the honey and pollen stores they had put aside for themselves.  Makes sense to me.  I’m going to experiment with 2 hives next fall and see how they do here – and how it affects my “take” – the down side to being in business is you do always worry about how things will affect your profits – which are then fed back into the apiary.


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