April 18, 2015

Essential Oils and Feeding Bees

Not too long ago I was reading Kaat's post at Robin Hill Gardens about making candy boards for her honeybees. I saw she mentioned adding Honey-B-Healthy to the mix. I had no clue as to what that was and had to do some research.

Honey-B-Healthy (HBH) is a feeding stimulant which is added to bee feed as a supplement. It was developed at West Virginia University from research done by J. W. Amrine and R. Noel, Jr., on the use of essential oils (EOs) for controlling honeybee mites. It has been developed into a product for sale, but also(!) I happened across a recipe for it at The Wasatch Beekeepers Association website. The recipe would enable me to customize it a bit, so I decided to buy the essential oils and make my own.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of water, 1 cup of honey or 1:1 sugar
syrup, I capful of liquid lecithin, 1/2 ounce each of spearmint,
lemongrass, & lavender essential oils, plus 1 drop hand dish liquid.

The key ingredients to HBH are spearmint or wintergreen essential oil and lemon grass essential oil. Researchers found the spearmint and wintergreen EOs to be especially helpful in treatment of mites, however, the bees themselves didn't care for it. The lemon grass was especially appealing to them, so it became the other standard ingredient for HBH. The lavender essential oil is also offensive to Varroa mites, so it was an easy addition. Because water (in the sugar syrup) and oil don't naturally mix, lecithin and drop of liquid dish detergent are added as emulsifiers.

Dosage is 1 - 2 teaspoons HBH to 1 quart of syrup. In one of his videos, Chris Harvey at The Warré Store recommends 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, with 1 tablespoon HBH per quart for the initial feedings after installation. That brings us to my new feeder (made by Chris) which is said hold up to a gallon of sugar syrup.

Warré hive top feeder. It is placed on top of the top hive box (more here).
The bees come up beeways on the sides. Mesh keeps them in the bee area.

If you read the claims for Honey-B-Healthy, you'd think it's really the bee's knees: helps control Varroa mites, helps prevent absconding (which is where the bees, for whatever reason, decide they don't like their new hive and simply leave), faster drawing out of comb, helps prevent rejection of a new queen, helps calm the bees, and helps prevent stinging because the lemongrass essential oil contains some of the same natural pheromones that bees use to attract workers. The only negative is that it promotes robbing because the bees love it so much. The only precaution I could find is that EOs evaporate fairly quickly and so keep them and the HBH tightly covered until time to use.

Bee pickup is today if it isn't rained out, so I will know shortly whether or not HBH lives up to its claims. I'm hoping I won't need to feed for long because things are blooming around here. My honeybees will have missed all the early spring blooming, such as the fruit trees, but things like clover, honeysuckle, and the roses have yet to bloom. Then there will be the gardens. I'm also working on lists of new things to plant because I definitely want happy honeybees.

Results of Research: Using Essential Oils for Honey Bee Mite Control
Essential oils used to control mites in honeybees (list of) WVU
Honey-B-Healthy at West Virginia University
Honey Bee Healthy Recipe at The Wasatch Beekeepers Association
Organic Treatments at Wolf Creek Apiaries
Benefits of HBH and where to buy

And one more, a video using honey as an emulsifier for the EOs.

Next - Hiving Success! (But I Wish I'd Gotten Those Bee Gloves)


Michelle said...

I have no desire to get bees, but love reading about your research and preparation! And I KNOW I will love reading about this new addition to your homestead.

Unknown said...

I'm following your bee posts closely, because I get mine at the end of the month, it's a bit cool here in WNY still! I'm using Langstroth hives though. I'm going to make some HBH for sure. The link to the candy boards doesn't work, and I was hoping to read about that too!

Leigh said...

Michelle, I appreciate that!

3 Roosters and a Chick, thank you for the heads-up about the link. I fixed it. She uses Lang hives as well, so I think you'll find her bee posts especially interesting.

Harry Flashman said...

You've invested time and money in the bee project. I hope it works out because it's a good idea. I wish we still had bee keepers up here. I used to buy honey in gallon jugs from one old man. But he died, and nobody took over. Now if I want honey I have to pay exorbitant prices for little plastic "bear shaped" jars at the grocery store.

Crg said...


Paul Stamets has some fascinating information and methods of using Red Reishi mushroom for feeding bees, if feeding them is truly necessary in Natural Beekeeping.

DebbieB said...

Many blessings on your Honeysuckle Hive, Leigh!

Melanie said...

We used HBH in our new hive, using the same formula from Wasatch Beek Assoc. (I live along the Wasatch Mtns., the western edge of the Rockies). My brother-in-law has been using HBH for about a year with great success, he hasn't had mite problems. Available food seems to be the problem. I look forward to reading about what you plant for the bees, mine seems to love the mint blossoms.

Best of luck hiving your new bees, I hope you have a great time!

Leigh said...

Harry, I know what you mean. I used to buy from Haw Creek Honey in Asheville. They had a nice little self-serve stand on their place. I would get it by the gallon for a really good price. I don't suppose that's real close to you though.

Crg, fascinating indeed. Mushrooms is not something we have even considered, but hopefully, feeding bees will only be necessary with packages. Or at least until the bees can orient themselves to food sources.

Debbie, thanks!

Melanie, that's great about the HBH. I used it this afternoon when I installed the bees in their new hive. So far so good! I'll post about that on Monday.

PioneerPreppy said...

I have never fed any oils or other treatments but I don't seem to have much of a mite problem either. That and my whole tactic with bees has been from an angle of only using what I can produce locally too. Not that I am against oil treatments or what not but I entered into bee keeping as a survival off the grid thing only. I did go with plastic frames and foundation though figuring they would last forever pretty much anyway.

I began substituting crushed Bee balm for Lemon grass oil in my swarm traps last year trying to keep to the local only theme.

That all being said if it works use it!!! Has always been my motto with bee keeping!!!

Julene said...

Bee keeping is very interesting and like any other species requires learning about. It sounds to me like you are prepared and will be successful!

Chris said...

I hope it all works out for you, so you become a dab hand at beekeeping.

Leigh said...

PP, our foray into beekeeping is for pretty much the same reason, although I tend to use the term self-sufficiency instead of prepping or survival. Anyway, I'm keenly interested in your experience and comments. One of the reasons i chose the Warré hive is that it is said to require the least amount of equipment and management. Theoretically the only time the bees need to be fed is when they are first installed, until they get the lay of the land and can forage for themselves.

I planted bee balm last year and am adding lemon balm this year. But I also researched lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and hope to grow that as well. It seems like a wonderful medicinal and culinary herb to add to my herb garden!

Also found a link for making one's own essential oils (very interesting although it requires a bit of equipment). That link here.

Anyway, reading through your bee posts is on my to-do list, 'cuz you're one of my beekeeping heros. :)

Julene, thank you! The honeybee is extremely fascinating and the first truly welcome insect on the homestead, LOL.

Chris, I hope so! I know my honeybee posts sound like I know what I'm doing and I hope by next year I'll have the experience to back that up. LOL Still, I'm grateful for all the websites and vidoes out there. What a blessing for new beekeepers.

Kaat said...

Good luck with the bees! I hived mine on Monday and had the best of weather. Just checked them: both queens are out and about, but only one started laying. Mmm. Having bees is always guess work and puzzling.

I love the smell of HBH, and the bees love it too, so I am so glad you found a home-made recipe and that I found you! There is some discussion about the sodium lauryl sulfate in the product (as an emulsifier), and I think they were talking about taking that out - don't know if they have. But in this recipe, we can avoid it altogether!

Leigh said...

Kaat, I think it's the lemongrass that makes it smell so heavenly. :) Good point about the sodium lauryl sulfate. One thing that came to mind was that dish washing liquid also contains a number of other things like perfumes, anti-bacterials, and bleaches. None of that can be good for bees. I did add the one drop this time (call it my control batch) but will have to try the next batch without. I'm assuming I'll need more than one batch.

So glad your hiving went well and I hope that 2nd queen starts laying soon. I'm anxiously awaiting another nice day so I can check on mine.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

I need to remember and give information to my brother and Dad; they both keep bees. Daddy for almost 80 years, brother for 45+.

Mark said...

Another great post! I'm also going to be interested in your list of plants. Bees are on our list, and I've been thinking about getting a start on plants a couple of years before so when the bees do come I've got one less thing to worry about.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Hi! Although it would be so nice to have our own honey I can't seem to keep up to the things I have! LOL I think I would be afraid to work with them anyway. Lucky I can buy just around the corner locally for my honey. Nancy

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

I want a hive! Come set one up for me! I am certain they would love the mountain-side and high altitude. :)

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Have you seen the Documentary about Burt on Netflix? (Burt's Bees)

Leigh said...

Sandra, I'd be glad if it could be useful to someone else.

Mark, thanks. Those fruit trees you're putting in will be great bee plants!

Nancy, it's wonderful to have a local source like that. Hopefully the bees will be fairly low maintenance once I get them going. :)

Cloud, does anyone raise bees in the Rockies? And no, I haven'at seen that documentary but it sounds like something I'd really like. Thanks for mentioning it!

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

I'll raise bees in the Rockies if you come set one up. :) (see what i did there)