Beekeeping/Guide to Essential Oils
Essential oils are strongly scented oils that are created through the distillation of plant materials. Most commonly derived from the flowers, leaves or stems of a plant, they may also be derived from fruit or the skin of a fruit. Many of these oils have common uses in aroma theory and alternative medicine. Beekeepers however, also may have a used for a select few of these common oils
Essential oils can often be found in health food stores or aromatherapy shops, the price may be high, but keep in mind that a little oil will go a long way.
Commonly Used Oils
There exist a wider variety of essential oils. In general, beekeepers are only interested in a few of them. The following is a list of some of the more common oils that may concern a beekeeper.
- Though it has been unconfirmed, reports state that banana oil seems to closely mimic the alarm pheromone of honeybees. Because of this it is advised against using banana oil, or other strong banana scented products near or around hives. It is unclear whether bananas can be safely eaten near honey bees, but it is likely that no adverse result would be seen.
- Lemon Grass
- Lemongrass works conveniently as well as the pheromone created by the honeybee's nasonov gland, also known as attractant pheromone. Because of this lemon grass oil can be used as a lure when trapping swarms or attempting to draw the attention of hived bees. Be warned, however, that lemon grass oil can cause a robbing behavior if it is used within or on a weak hive.
- Peppermint oil is used as a general-purpose pheromone masking scent. It does not apparently mimic any known bee pheromones and is simply used to mask others. In theory any other strong scented essential oil would work the same.
- Spearmint oil is often used in conjunction with lemon grass oil during feeding to improve hive health and work as a recruiting scent.
- Spearmint and Lemon Grass
- Spearmint oil and lemon grass oil are two essential oils that are commonly used in conjunction to complete many tasks with bees. A simple general purpose essential oil mixture can be used for many things, including avoiding the reliance on smoke when opening hives.
- Tea Tree
- Tea Tree oil is often used in grease patties for control of mites. It seems as if Tea Tree oil can be interchanged with wintergreen oil with no loss of effectiveness.
- Wintergreen oil is often used in grease patties for control of mites. It seems as if Tea Tree oil can be interchanged with wintergreen oil with no loss of effectiveness.
Essential Oil Therapy Versus Mites
Essential oils, in regards to mite control, have two apparent modes of operation, primarily, direct toxicity. In the case of varroa mites, once a mite comes in to direct contact with an essential oils such as wintergreen or tea tree oil mixed into a grease patty they are usually killed within a few minutes. This however, requires that the infected bee actually contact the grease patty. Due to this contact requirement, direct toxicity cannot eliminate mites, only aid in the control of mite levels. Secondly, it appears mite reproduction can be impaired when bees are fed a syrup containing essential oils. Essential oils are passed from feeding bees to other bees and larva through trophallaxis. Essential oils thereby pass to the brood and poison any female Varroa that attempt to parasitically feed on the larva.
Similarly, essential oils appear to have an impact on the breeding and control of tracheal mites, however the effects of tracheal mites are difficult to observe and the mechanism that causes the control is in debate. It appears that the best therapy, in regards to tracheal mites and essential oils, is the usage of grease patties.
It is recommended that that grease patties containing essential oils, and other medicaments as desired, are kept on the hives throughout the winter and any season when honey collection for human consumption is not taking place. Grease patties not containing any essential oils or medication should be kept on hives throughout the rest of the year. During times of the year that temperatures allow for flight, and honey is not to being collected for human consumption, colonies should be treated with syrup containing essential oils.