Essential Oils


Varroa the modern Black Plague of bee hives, a guaranteed killer if left untreated for any length of time. The devastation wreaked by this mite is now known worldwide and a number of hives destroyed are incalculable, add the lost crops due to poor pollination and the loss will run into billions.
I do not intend, in these pages to deal with the Varroa life cycle, that is well documented in other areas of the web. This page will deal with our findings on alternative treatments against Varroa without our resorting to Apistan or Formic Acid, because of our dislike and distrust of chemicals.

We discovered Varroa in our mid-Oct 98 just before winter wrap up. Desperation. visions of lost hives and income! We added Apistan knowing full well it would have to remain in the hives till spring, against all the rules, as we cannot open hives in late November. Now it is early spring 99, the Apistan is coming out, and in spite of it, we are still losing hives.

Our aim, to work up a control method to bypass the use of Apistan, but to control Varroa, especially in our mating yards, using the information from James Amrine and the oil treatment of Dr. Pedro Rodriguez Late in the year, maybe August we will do a drop test with Apistan to check our findings.

Varroa feces in emerged cells
Varroa Feces

The first treatment was made late March. Using our spring stimulation feeding we fed wintergreen essential oil to every hive in sugar syrup. It seems that feeding close to the entrance, in our case the top of the hive, it persuades the bees that nectar is coming in. The first rule of the hive, incoming nectar is fed to the brood, second, the house bees, then finally the excess is then stored. If the incoming volume is kept low, then little will be stored. It is believed that this treatment interferes with the chemical sensors of the Varroa, in which case they cannot find the brood where they breed and reproduce.

Our first job was to adjust the information available to us and to scale up the measurements to useable amounts, we settled on 1 gallon as a useful figure. James reported that oil is difficult to mix into the sugar syrup, but that honey has a natural emulsifier. We used approximately ½ lbs of honey, added 100 drops of wintergreen, stirring till mixed thoroughly and fully incorporated. To this we added equal amounts of warm water, then finally added this mixture to our 1-1 sugar syrup. At all points where we were dealing with the essential oil, we kept the temperature to a minimum to prevent loss of essence. We found that the oil was totally absorbed and fully integrated with the above method.

To date, we have had two treatments alternating with regular 1-1 syrup with apple cider vinegar, a normal treatment of ours.

We intend to keep this treatment method going until there is a natural nectar flow, at that point, we intend to use FGMO ( food grade mineral oil) and tobacco smoke during our normal hive manipulations.

It is now early May. Yesterday we started Spring management. In our case it involves a total hive strip, each frame is removed and examined for problems, and an assessment of hive and queen viability. We are pleasantly surprised at the overall quality. Apart from one hive that was very small, mainly because the stores were below the cluster, all hives were in good condition. Good sized clusters and little sign of Varroa. No small and damaged bees. One big plus, it appears that the FGMO we used last fall helps to prevent any burr comb forming on the frame top bars, ours were remarkably clean.

We are still feeding wintergreen as needed, but we have now started with tobacco in the smoker and a thin line of FGMO on the top bars every time we open the hive or every week at least. Just out of interest, the amount of tobacco in the smoker is quite small, about ½ oz. We make a pocket of a facial tissue, sprinkle dry tobacco on it then roll it into our corrugated cardboard, like a giant cigar. Lit from the bottom it burns a long time. Now I know why the old members of our guild used to smoke a cigar while working bees, the effect on them is quite remarkable. Calm, quiet, no aggression and no threats from the bees.

Varroa test tray

It is now Sept and there is more to report.
Mid-Aug we performed an Apistan drop test on two hives. A regular 3 box hive, also a drone mother hive, having been told that excess drones tend to breed extra Varroa mites. We recorded a 24-hour drop on hive one of 100 mites and the latter hive in 24 hours of over 200, so breeding extra drones does produce more mites.

To be totally frank, at the time I was extremely disappointed with the results, all that work only to find Varroa in what I considered to be high numbers, but then I had no experience in Varroa numbers just before the normal time for Apistan, ie. Fall.
Cont’d on next page