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The Ultimate Guide for Using Essential Oils with Honeybees

Essential oils are concentrated hydrophobic liquids. They have different aromatic compounds and are extracted from plants. Using essential oils in beekeeping helps beekeepers avoid applying chemicals and contaminants in their beehives. Using essential oils with honeybees is safe. The oils easily evaporate at normal temperatures, leaving no traces behind in beehive products. Make sure to get your essential oils from reliable sources. You should also have the proper equipment for use with essential oils for honeybee colonies. The equipment must be kept clean at all times.

How are Essential Oils used in Beekeeping?

There are a wide range of uses for essential oils in beekeeping. Indeed, different essential oils have their unique uses in honeybee colony maintenance. The major essential oils used in beekeeping are for attracting bees to a new beehive, controlling Varroa mites and to discourage mold formation. Beekeepers also use essential oils to repel bees from them when carrying out beehive inspections and maintenance activities. When you want to calm bees after major honeybee colony structure changes, lemongrass essential oil helps you get the job done fast and easily.

What Essential Oils Attract Bees?

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Lemongrass Oil

Getting a new colony to occupy a freshly installed beehive can be sped up by using essential oils. Lemongrass essential oil gives the best results with this. The oil mimics the pheromone given off by the queen bee in a honeybee colony. A few drops of lemongrass in a trap box or beehive are all you need. Swarm catchers make a lot of use of this essential oil in their activities. Lemongrass essential oil initially attracts worker bees that then bring along the entire honeybee colony to the beehive.

Using Lemongrass Oil as a Bee Lure

When bees are on the move, they send out scout bees. You can use lemongrass in a swarm lure or trap box to attract the scout bees. A proper lemongrass oil bee lure is made by making use of a nuc box or deep beehive box. It must be covered well and have an entrance at the bottom. Smear 3 drops of lemongrass oil on the sides of the box for best results. If you place some honeycomb in the lure, you may add a single drop of lemongrass oil on the comb.

The lemongrass oil bee lure must be suitable for bees. A poorly constructed box will only attract many scout bees but they will not bring the swarm to it. Do not use too much lemongrass oil in your lure. If you do, bees will not enter the lure. When bees do not enter the lemongrass oil bee lure immediately and the oil gets depleted, you may top up the hive with a drop of more lemongrass oil.

To keep the lemongrass lure well scented for a longer time, put a few lemongrass oil drops on some absorbent paper. It slowly releases the oil into the hive for extended periods of time. Using lemongrass oil in your lure is very effective and cheaper than other methods of attracting swarming bees.

Lemongrass oil is a handy oil used by beekeepers. It has antiviral and antifungal properties. The oil also has acids that have an effect on honeybee mites. Lemongrass should be used with caution on weak colonies. It may attract robber bees that may cause a lot of damage to the already weak honeybee colony.

How to make a Lemongrass Oil Honeybee Lure

When looking to add a new honeybee colony to your apiary, a lemongrass honeybee lure is a great way to go about it. It is inexpensive and easy to make. A number of plywood boards and some lemongrass essential oil are all you need. Beekeepers with some woodwork skills can easily put together the lure. Those without these skills may use a regular beehive box or buy a swarm trap box.

The qualities of an effective lemongrass honeybee lure to consider are its weight and size. The lure should not be too heavy by itself. Weight is a critical factor since you will be moving the lure around while it is full of bees. As a way around any weight problems you may have, do not set your lure too high off the ground. Ten feet off the ground is enough for catching migrating honeybee swarms.

To make a lemongrass honeybee lure:

  • Cut plywood to appropriate sizes. Make sure to cut all the pieces for the sides, the top and the bottom. Swarm lures are best suited by a closed bottom. You may have a telescoping cover lid for the honeybee lure.
  • Nail or glue together your swarm trap into a box. You may use small strips of 1 x 1 inch wood to add strength to the plywood box.
  • Drill a 1-inch hole at the bottom of your lure. This serves as the single entrance for bees into the lure.
  • Add attachment points using screws or nails. These are useful for hanging the honeybee lure off the ground. A tree is a great location to hang your lure.
  • Before you set out to hang your honeybee lure, rub some beeswax onto the sides or place honeycomb in it. You should also smear some 2-3 drops of lemongrass around the entrance of the lure.
  • You may paint your honeybee lure to protect it from the elements.
  • Check the box not less than twice a week for a swarm occupying it.

For best results using a lemongrass honeybee lure, place the lure out some 3-4 weeks before the onset of spring’s nectar flow. Use a large-enough lure to accommodate an entire bee swarm. When the swarm moves into the lemongrass honeybee lure, be quick to relocate the colony into a permanent beehive.

A swarm of honeybees caught in your lemongrass lure is a great addition to your apiary. If you catch some wild feral honeybees, they have the potential to improve the genetic pool of your apiary. It is great to share them with beekeepers around you by splitting the colony periodically. You should also not curtail their colony expansion to prevent swarming.

Lavender Oil for Bees

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Lavender Oil

Bees love lavender flowers during nectar flow. The flowers have large amounts of nectar and pollen for bees. They also benefit from the pollination activities of bees. Essential oil from lavender is great for use in beehives. It helps you to get a healthier colony. Lavender oil is effective against American Foulbrood Disease. It controls growth of the bacteria and its spores in the hive.

Cumin and Winter savory oils are also great for controlling American Foulbrood. If you detect the disease having infected your beehive, be sure to tell other beekeepers around you. You should also report it to relevant authorities who will alert beekeepers to be on the lookout for the disease. American Foulbrood causes massive losses to beekeepers every year.

Wintergreen Oil for Bees

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Wintergreen Oil

Beekeepers across the globe treasure wintergreen oil. The oil is an effective deterrent for mites and insects. Wintergreen oil for bees is also great for keeping predatory insects away from your honeybee colony. Administer the oil by mixing it with sugar syrup, via a soft patty or by spraying it in a light mist on your bees.

The effectiveness of wintergreen oil for bees and other essential oils depends on a number of factors. These include but are not limited to: quantity, degree of infestation by insects and concentration of the oil.

To administer wintergreen oil for bees via feeding, prepare sugar syrup in the ratio of 1:1 with wintergreen oil. Put the combination of syrup and oil in your hive feeders. If using soft patties, drop a few drops of the oil on waxed paper and leave the bees to consume it. The antifungal properties of wintergreen essential oil help you keep a generally healthy colony free of microbe populations.

Tea Tree Oil for Bees

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil in your beehive is great for discouraging mold formation and other fungal growth. It is interchangeable with wintergreen oil to prevent American Foulbrood disease. Tea tree oil can be administered in grease patties to also control thoracic mites in honeybee colonies.

Thyme Oil for Bees

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Thyme Oil

Thyme plants give beekeepers one of the best and most used essential oil in beekeeping. This oil works very well in controlling Varroa mites. It is quick acting, very effective and is not expensive to use. Thyme oil for honeybees is so good it is used in some commercial Varroa mite control products.

Thyme oil for honeybees works by blocking pores on Varroa mites and causing improper working of their nervous system. The mites fall off bees and to the bottom of the hive. Using a screened bottom board is recommended when you apply thyme oil to your beehive. It allows mites to fall to the ground. This translates into less hive cleaning work for honeybees.

In controlling Varroa mites using thyme oil, you may use a spray. The thyme oil spray causes bees to increase grooming activity in the hive. This results in the bees removing mites mechanically from their backs. The mites may then get into contact with thyme oil on the beehive’s interior surfaces as they crawl around the hive.

The antifungal properties of thyme oil are also useful in the beehive. It helps you in preventing and controlling and preventing Chalkbrood disease.

Note well however that thyme oil when used in high concentrations can harm honeybees. Be sure not to overdo it.

Mineral Oil for Bees

Using Essential Oils for Honeybees - Bluewater Chemgroup Food Grade Mineral Oil
The Bluewater Chemgroup Food Grade Mineral Oil

Is Mineral Oil Safe for Bees?

Mineral oil is a clear product of petroleum. It is colorless and has no odor. While mineral oil is not an essential oil, we felt it necessary to include it here as it is used in beekeeping to control Varroa mites. Mineral oil is heated and applied in the beehive using special foggers. Food grade mineral oil is the best for this use. Treatment with small amounts of mineral oil is safe for bees. The oil does not harm them. It coats their body and the inner beehive surfaces. Fogging with mineral oil vapor is fast when a good fogger is used. It is also effective and allows beekeepers to have Varroa-free honeybee colonies.

Varroa mites thrive in beehives by attaching to the back of bees’ thoraxes. They get off to lay eggs in uncapped brood cells. Varroa mites coming into contact with mineral oil on bees or beehive inner surfaces get affected. It is absorbed into the mites and affects their nervous system. The Varroa mites lose their attachment to bees and fall to the bottom of the hive. Eventually, the mites die from the effect of mineral oil.

Honey does not absorb mineral oil. The oil does not pass through beeswax into capped cells. Honey from a beehive that you have treated with mineral oil is safe for consumption. When controlling Varroa mites with mineral oil, be sure to repeat treatments to get the mites that were in honeybee larva cells. Mineral oil should not be added to sugar syrup or other feeds that will be eaten by bees.

Effectiveness of Mineral Oil for Varroa Mite Treatment

Mites have no chance of developing resistance to mineral oil treatment. The gear you need for fogging using mineral oil includes: nitrile gloves, propane tank, face mask, goggles and a fogger. You may use a mix of mineral oil and wintergreen oil for fogging.

To effectively apply mineral oil for Varroa mite control in honeybees, make sure to seal up all holes except one. This prevents the mineral oil fog from escaping the beehive. Prepare an adequate fogging solution so you can go through many hives in succession. The fogger should be given time to heat up sufficiently. It should not squirt out water; only hot fog. Beekeepers who do not want to introduce hot mineral oil fog in their beehives add an extension rod to their mineral oil fogger. The rod cools the fog before it enters your beehive.

Using Essential Oils as a Bee Repellent

Using Essential Oils with Honeybees - Peppermint Oil

Some essential oils are unpleasant to bees. They have the effect of making bees flee from where they are. These essential oils are used in bee repellents by beekeepers and in homes too. They include peppermint, eucalyptus, citronella and some cultivars of cedar wood. Applying some of these essential oils on a visit to the beehive makes bees less likely to approach and sting you. In homes, they are great for keeping honeybees out of your house.

Using essential oils as a bee repellent is done by applying a drop of the essential oil in the armpit area of your beekeeping suit for beekeepers. It masks your sweat and perspiration from bees.

For home use, prepare a mixture of a repellent essential oil and use a spray bottle to spray on bees entering the house. A cup of distilled water is used alongside 20 drops of peppermint and any other repellent essential oil. Crystals of lecithin may be added to make the oil and water mix better. Store the preparation in a cool and dry place. When using the spray, do not spray over food or directly onto your eyes. You should also avid essential oils from coming into contact with your skin.

What Factors Affect Essential Oils Effectiveness?

The ambient temperature and relative humidity in your beehive affect the effectiveness of essential oils for Varroa mite control. They have a direct effect on how fast or slowly essential oils evaporate. Treatment during warm months gives you great evaporation while requiring repeat treatments. Using essential oils to control Varroa mites in the cold months has less evaporation rate and may not require you to repeat treatments too close to each other.

How to Administer Essential Oils to Bees

Administering essential oils to bees is done via a number of methods. They range from making your honeybees ingest essential oils to using various devices to spread the essential oil into the beehive. There are 6 main ways to use essential oils for their different benefits in honeybee colonies. Individual beekeepers choose the method they will use depending on their preference and the purpose for which they are administering the essential oil. Some essential oils may be mixed with others without losing their effectiveness.

The main methods of administering essential oils are:

1. Through a sugar syrup made with the essential oil

The correct mixing ratio for sugar and water is 1:1. You may add the essential oil of your choice generously to the syrup. However, do not put in too much of the oil. The syrup is then placed in your regular hive feeder. Bees eat the syrup infused with essential oil. This method is often used with lemongrass essential oil. It also works with tea tree oil for control of tracheal mites. Be sure to add just the right amount of essential oils when using ingestion methods to administer it to honeybees. At high concentrations, essential oils can cause more injury than help in your beehive.

2. Administration of essential oils to honeybees through patties of winter sugar

These patties are purchased as an assistance for your hive to survive winter. The patties are placed on your beehive frames and provide food when the bees cannot go out to forage. Sugar patties can also be used to feed bees during the other seasons if you note the colony is weak. A few drops of essential oils on the sugar patties are all you need. If you make the sugar patties at home, it is okay to add the essential oil in the patty mixture.

3. As an additive in sugar water used in place of smoke when working around bees

Some beekeepers forego the use of smoke to calm bees. In its place, they spray sugar water on the bees. It distracts the bees enough to not fly around or want to sting the beekeeper. Bees are very concerned with hive hygiene and their individual cleanliness. They interpret the sugar water on their bodies as a substance that should be cleaned off. Once sprayed with sugar water, they immediately begin cleaning themselves. Adding some essential oil to the sugar water makes bees ingest the oil as they clean themselves.

4. Using strips of absorbent cloth or paper to put the bees into contact with the essential oil

By adding a few drops of the essential oil you want to use to a few strips of paper or cloth, you can introduce essential oils into the hive. The cloth or strips of paper are placed in the hive, near the entrance and between frames where honeybees pass. The bees come into contact with the paper or strips of cloth and get the essential oil onto their body. They then spread the oil to the rest of the hive. Regularly inspect the beehive for presence of your strips of absorbent paper. Bees make fair attempts to remove the paper from the hive and may need replacement.

5. An oil bath used in the beehive is great for dispersing essential oils

Also called an oil trap, it does not cause much disturbance in the hive and gives you great distribution of essential oils in the beehive. A beehive can be wintered with an oil trap. There are different sizes of these oil traps for the various sizes of beehives. Popular Langstroth beehive sizes are the 8-frame and 10-frame beehives. The commercially produced essential oil baths are great for releasing essential oils in a constant amount into the beehive. All oil traps depend on bees to come into contact with them and get some essential oil on their bodies. You do not need to use a screened bottom board if you will be using an oil trap to administer essential oils to your honeybees.

6. Evaporators and vaporizers can be used to apply essential oils in the beehive

They give very even distribution of the essential oil you use. These devices run on electricity. Smoke cannons and electric evaporators heat the oil you have chosen and release its vapor or fog into the hive. If your beehives are outdoors and away from mains electricity supply, you should have a batter to power your evaporator. Oil foggers that run on propane fuel for heating do not require you to have an electric power source. Unfortunately, the use of essential oil smoke may cause stress in bees. There is also not much control over the amount of essential oil smoke that will enter the hive.

You should be keen with the temperature of the fogger you use to apply essential oils in a beehive. If the fogger gets too hot, it may ignite the mineral oil and cause a fire in the hive. This singes the wings of bees and causes the death of many of them. Colony collapse is a very likely outcome if you end up with a fire in the hive. Evaporators may also ignite beeswax and other hydrocarbons present in the hive.

Recipe

A recipe you can use to make sugar syrup with essential oils for honeybees uses spearmint and lemongrass. You add 15 drops of each essential oil to 5 cups of water and add 2.5 pounds of sugar. You may then use an eighth teaspoonful of lecithin granules. The water should be brought to a boil and the sugar stirred in. Once the sugar is all dissolved, the mixture is removed from the heat and that is when you add lecithin and the essential oils.

  • Make sure to stir the mixture vigorously to mix the ingredients well. Allow the essential oils mixture to cool before use.
  • If you find that lecithin does not dissolve in your mixture, you may reduce the amount you use. Lecithin is an emulsifier that helps your essential oils and water mix well.

Use essential oils and sugar mixtures in beekeeping in early spring and when there is no nectar. You can also use it to build up swarms and package bees. The mixture acts as a strong feeding stimulant.

Which Essential Oil Delivery Method is Best?

The 6 essential oil delivery methods available to beekeepers are suitable for different results. They vary by the means by which they reach bees. Some have honeybees take the essential oil into their digestive system and blood. The others aim to place the essential oil within the beehive and cause contact with bees. Administering essential oils via a spray when working in the hive aims at initiating grooming behavior. It is also great to help a freshly-installed queen bee gain acceptance in the hive. When you mix two colonies together, you should also try the spray method. It helps with making the bees work together.

The single biggest disadvantage of spray method when using essential oils with honeybees is its likelihood of encouraging microbial growth. Mold and bacteria may find rich grounds on the sugar if bees do not clean it all up. You should therefore only use this method of essential oil delivery when it is absolutely necessary.

To treat tracheal mites using essential oils in a honeybee colony, use the sugar syrup or sugar patties delivery method. Frequent inspection of the sugar syrup or sugar patties is important. It helps you identify fermented preparations and remove them from the hive. Fermented syrup could kill your bees in large numbers. Beekeepers use a number of tactics to keep sugar syrup from fermenting. Adding chlorine or other bleach solutions is not good for bees.

Cider vinegar is the safest additive you can add to sugar syrup to keep it from fermenting. A rate of 10 ml per 2 liters of sugar syrup is recommended. Thyme essential oil has an anti-fermentation effect in sugar syrup. Should you be administering thyme essential oil in sugar syrup, be sure to take that fact into consideration.

Consider Fogging for Varroa Mite Control

For Varroa mite control, consider fogging. It delivers even spread of the essential oil through the beehive. Consider using water in the essential oil mixture to reduce the chances of your oil vapor catching fire. Using strips of absorbent material soaked in essential oils is not effective in having each honeybee in the colony come into contact with the essential oil.

How to Get Essential Oils for Honeybees

Essential oils for honeybees can be bought in proprietary preparations such as sugar patties and ready-made strips. These have the advantage of being ready to use and have the essential oils in the right concentration. They may however not be composed of the unique mix of essential oils that would appeal to you. Food grade essential oils can be bought from various suppliers. They are suitable for beekeeping unlike aromatherapy essential oils. If you buy your own food grade essential oils, you can make your unique mixtures of essential oil preparations for honeybees.

The advantage of making your own mix of essential oils preparation for your honeybees is that you have greater control over the ingredients. You are able to choose what to put in your essential oils cocktail and in what proportions!

Many beekeepers that use essential oils in their beekeeping practice thus end up using homemade mixtures of essential oils as appropriate to the desired outcome. You may also alternate between the commercially prepared essential oil products and your own homemade ones.

Using Essential Oils in Honey

If you wish to, you could add some essential oil in your honey for medicinal and culinary purposes. Do not consume essential oil-infused honey. The essential oils you can add to honey are lavender, frankincense, tea tree, geranium, peppermint, lemon and chamomile. Bees are naturally attracted to plants from which we get most essential oils including spearmint, lemongrass, thyme and lavender among others.

Honey with essential oils in it is used to treat acne, reduce blemishes, reduce inflammation, and promote hair growth and to wash your face among other interesting uses.

Here is a recipe you could use to make honey infused with essential oils:

  1. Add 10 drops of an essential oil to ½ cup of raw honey and stir it vigorously. You may add up to 3 essential oils, thus a maximum total of 30 drops.
  2. Use a mason jar to hold your honey infused with essential oil and label it well.
  3. Allow 2-3 days for the honey to absorb the essential oil before you commence using it.
  4. Do not add water to the honey.

Store the honey infused with essential oils in a cool dry place. It rarely goes bad and remains useful for a long period of time. Under no circumstance should the honey infused with essential oil be eaten. This is why it is important to label the jar containing the honey.

A Final Word

There are plenty of ways in which essential oils can be used with honeybees. However, it is important to observe right dosages when using essential oils with honeybees. The dosages found in recipes for various uses are designed to be harmless to bees. Use of too much essential oils in beekeeping may result in undesired effects on bees.

Have you ever used essential oils in your beekeeping? Let us know what are your thoughts on them in the comments below.

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Debbie Comeau
Debbie Comeau

could someone give more details on how to fog mineral oil through an extension rod?