By Jodie Kieliszewski
When we began beekeeping we read all the basic books and ordered the recommended treatments: fumagillan, apistan, and terramycin. Our first year we treated our hives by the book. The following year the bees were working and had built up a beautiful frame of honey in the top deep. Eager for a taste test, I pressed my finger through the warm wax and was bringing it to my mouth when I remembered the warnings from the treatments we had administered last fall, and that some of the medicine could be stored in the wax. From that point on, we moved to a natural approach to treat our hives including the use of essential oils for bees. We discovered treating hives naturally can be more time and labor intensive, but when it comes to the food we feed our family, we feel it’s time well invested.
Essential Oils for Bees
The biggest health risks that bees encounter, from our experience, is nosema and varroa mites. Nosema is a fungal infection that causes dysentery. This is an especially fatal disease during the winter months when bees can’t leave the hive. We have successfully treated nosema with a combination of thyme essential oil, tea tree essential oil, spearmint essential oil, and lemongrass essential oil in sugar syrup. Lemongrass is very appealing to bees and increases consumption of the sugar syrup. New research is revealing that thymolated sugar syrup is as effective as fumagillin in treating nosema. Another important aspect of hive health is proper ventilation. A screened bottom board and a ventilated inner cover increase air flow, which decreases spore count.
Essential Oils for Honey Bee Mite Control
Varroa mites are the disgusting, blood sucking, infection-spreading leeches of the bee world. The female varroa mite enters the cell of a new bee before it’s capped and multiplies. The mites feed off of the hemolymph (bee blood) of the baby bee, introducing viruses and bacteria. This weakens the hive’s overall “immune system” and opens the door for more opportunistic infections. Thyme, eucalyptus, and peppermint essential oils irritate the bees and cause increased grooming behavior, knocking the mites off. This treatment needs to be done for three weeks in a row, as it is only effective for adult mites, not the mites still in the cells.
Other Natural Bee Treatments
A screened bottom is essential in allowing the mites to fall out of the hive. A simple “treatment-free” way to protect hives from varroa is to break the brood cycle by making a split. By removing the queen and letting the hive make a new queen, the hive goes without larva and there is nowhere for the female to reproduce. Another natural way to decrease mite counts is to introduce one frame per deep box of drone comb. The mites find these guys especially “tasty” because of their long incubation period. While the cells are still sealed, putting the frames in the freezer for at least 24 hours kills the pupae and the mites. Once the caps are scratched off the frames can be returned to the hive and the bees will clean them up.
As with most things in life, shortcuts in beekeeping can save time, money, and energy, but could have potentially hazardous side effects. Each beekeeper needs to decide what risks and treatments they are comfortable with and move forward from there. Natural treatments and integrated pest management techniques may take some experience to get a handle on, but with diligence they can produce successful, wholesome results!
Jodie Kieliszewski and her husband, Josh, live in Michigan, where they raise three boys, and bees. They were blessed with a swarm of bees, which flourished into their business, Bee Lovely Botanticals, LLC. They are grateful for God’s provision in such rewarding ways and look forward to sharing their passion for honeybees and the bounty of the hives at www.beelovelybotanicals.com.