Using Essential Oils to Help Your Hives
During the 17th century, using herbs as medicine was considered witchcraft. In fact, the use of herbs was a factor used to identify witches during this time. It was believed that they used these herbs and oils to mix potions, a common stereotype related to witches. I, Matthew Davies, am glad we have moved past these thoughts and ideas. Essential oils have several uses, and today, I am going to discuss how they can help you tend to your beehives. Utilizing essential oils can help fight some of the most common ailments that affect bees.
Since these pests are the number one killer of honeybees, we are going to start with them. I recently wrote an article explaining all about varroa mites. In case you missed it, I will give you a quick recap. These pesky little things attack not only honeybees but the entire brood. They will suck the blood out of your bees until you have lost the whole hive. They will move from hive to hive until all your swarm is dead. Not only are all your bees dead, but your honey is now compromised as well. You will have to spend hours cleaning each hive to ensure there are no mites left before starting all over again with a queen and a few workers. However, there are things you can do to prevent this from happening.
One solution is chemical-based (Apistan, Checkmite+, Might-Away II, etc.). However, I have always been a little skittish when it comes to chemicals. I feel that any chemical I use will make its way to the honey somehow. I am not the kind of person that likes a lot of chemicals in my food. So, I tend to steer clear of using them when growing fruits or vegetables and when tending to my beehives.
The other solution uses essential oils. If I were forced to use only one oil to prevent varroa mites from taking over, it would have to be thyme. The main ingredient in thyme is thymol, and it works b confusing the bugs. In the interest of full disclosure, it makes them feel intoxicated to the point they don’t know what they are doing. Using thyme in combination with a screen will make them fall through and be unable to climb back to the bees. Then you can quickly and easily dispose of the pests daily.
If you are looking for other oils that can help you combat varroa mites, check the list below.
- Garlic Oil
- Neem Oil
- Rosemary Oil
- Cinnamon Oil
- Oregano Oil
- Wintergreen Oil
- Sage Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Spearmint Oil
If you are suffering from a mite infestation, or want to get the upper hand, use any of the oils from the above list. Don’t forget to start with thyme. It is by far the best.
Naturally, we all want our bees to be as healthy as they can be. It is for this reason that I like to use essential oils to help maintain their health. So that you know, I am strictly an organic beekeeper. As I said above, this is a personal choice. I don’t like to think of chemicals making their way to my food. So, when it comes to my brood’s health, I use what is available to me – essential oils. They are not that expensive and, in my experience, do a sufficient job in protecting the overall health of my hives.
I would have to say that my favorite oil for overall bee health would have to be lemongrass oil. A lot of times, bees that are on their own, do not fare too well. When they are in a hive, they have access to food and protection from predators. I found that my bees thrived when I introduced lemongrass oil to my colonies. Additionally, I use lemongrass in my traps to lure more bees.
So, what does lemongrass oil do? Essentially, it mimics the honeybee pheromones. This gets them to work at their optimal level, but it also attracts other bees. As I said, I use them in my trap boxes. I put a drop on a Q-tip and either set it in the hive or the trap box.
I will issue a word of caution when using lemongrass oil – do not use it on a weaker hive. The reason is that it does put off a scent that attracts other bees. This includes robber bees. Robber bees are scout bees. They are there to get honey. They are not interested in pollen or killing your brood. They will, however, fight the guard bees and gain entry. Should they be successful, they will return to their hive with honey and recruit more robbers for the next trip. If they have to fight again, they will. They will do this until either the resistance is all dead or the beekeeper intervenes.
If I have sold you on using essential oils, you may ask yourself, “How do I give the oils to bees?” It is straightforward. All you need to do is provide a 1:1 mixture of syrup to the oil of your choice. It can then be placed in a regular hive feeder. It is as simple as that.
In the winter, you will have to add the oil to a sugar patty. In this case, you will want to get a spray bottle and spritz the above mixture on the patty. Do not over apply or it could result in the patty breaking down.
On a final note, you can use that same spray bottle when working on your hives. While some people are fond of the smoker method, I am fond of the distraction method. I spray my bees with the sugary mixture, and they respond the same way as if I used a smoker. Either way you choose is excellent, I find this is a unique way to keep the bees in the hive instead of evacuating.
I, Matthew Davies, enjoy using essential oils on my hives. I think that using this instead of harsh chemicals results in an overall better experience for my bees. With any luck, you have found this blog helpful and will start using essential oils in your hives. I wish you the best of luck this bee season and hope you don’t have any brood killers in your colonies.