Essential Oils For Honeybees at Brookfield Farm

I use essential oils in a 2:1 sugar syrup to feed my bees after fall harvest and in the spring before honey supers go on.  As I’ve written before some people do this, others don’t. It works for me.  Recently I received an email from someone asking for more information on what I use and the amounts I use.  Ah, ha! A perfect blog subject, so what follows is an edited version of my response to the email, which is part of that correspondent’s quest to find some other method that Fumidil-B

I’ve not used Fumidil since my second year of beekeeping.  That’s when I discovered it was an antibiotic.  I come from the world of 4-legged livestock breeding and my policy has always been to administer antibiotics only when necessitated by an injury.

First a bit of background, which I think is as important as the essential oils.

1) I don’t use a solid bottom board.  Instead, where the bottom board was, there is a screen made of 1/8 inch hardware “cloth” – screen.  This makes it so feces do not build up on the hive “floor”, and allows for any water to drain away.  Hives make a lot of feces and water, plus water leaks in from outside.  It is said that when bees clean themselves the mites will fall though a 1/8 inch screen.  I don’t know, but I don’t have many mites.  The bottom screens sit on concrete blocks, which puts them over 2 inches from the ground.  I have read that mites will not crawl back up into a hive if they drop 2 inches or more.

2) I have a year-round upper entrance.  It’s a 7/16 inch hole – any larger and mice can get in, the sneaky buggers.

3) In the fall I replace frames number 1 and number 10 with follower boards.  These are planks of wood cut to the same size as a frame (some folks put a laminate on the “outside” side, but I don’t like plastics in a hive…a personal thing).  This makes another ventilation area on each side of the hive.

1, 2, and 3 all contribute to good ventilation – which I think is really important to stopping both nosemas (no studies, just personal opinion and successful over-wintering).

Now to the essential oil recipe I use:

I put the oils in sugar syrup – you could probably do it in a honey syrup, but I don’t have a recipe.

I use Spearmint Oil, Lemongrass Oil , and Thyme Oil.  Dry Lecithin, is essential (I’ve never gotten liquid lecithin to work) – you can get that at a coop, it’s used in baking.  Lecithin allows oils to combine with water – kind of – that’s the hard part in this. In fact, if anyone knows a better way to dissolve lecithin, please let me know.

My syrup pot holds 3.5 gallons.  I do a 2:1 syrup by weight (2 sugar : 1 water)

I put 2 ¼ teaspoons of dry lecithin in a cup.
Add about ½ cup of boiling water.
Stir like crazy.  I sing an old French song I know, but it must be about 4-5 minutes. Until the lecithin clumps are dissolved.
Add: 1 ¾ teaspoons Spearmint Oil;  1 ¾ teaspoons Lemon Grass Oil;  ¾ teaspoon Thyme Oil (note that the Thyme Oil  is one-teaspoon LESS than the others)
Stir like crazy. Casey Jones by the Dead usually does it for me.  2-3 minutes perhaps.  It will turn opaque.
Set aside.

By this time my water WITH NO SUGAR IN IT is boiling.
I remove the water from the stove.
Add sugar.
Stir until dissolved.

Back to your cup of oils.
Stir again for about 1 minute (this is all about getting the lecithin to dissolve)
Add to sugar syrup – Stirring like crazy until all the chunks stop forming.

Set aside to cool –  I pour it into a large bucket, which mixes it even more and it cools there.

When I feed:

I stop feeding when the days drop to 45 degrees.  At that temperature, the bees cannot generate enough heat to process the syrup.  Or so I’ve read.  The feeders are replaced with a piece of insulation sitting on top of burlap – my one concession to plastic-like things in the hive.  Then I wrap the hives in tar paper, make a tar paper hat for them, put a piece of roofing “felt” on top of all that, and stick a rock on top.  Dry hives, as I keep overstating seem to be vital to a healthy hive.  When temperatures reach above 45 degrees in the spring, off come the “rain coats”, out comes the insulation, and feeders go back in until I see nectar coming into the hives or I put a honey super on.

I took my original essential oil recipe from  Wikipedia. It’s still posted there.I added the Thyme Oil after reading an article.
Thyme Oil has mixed results in studies – maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.
In fact, I don’t know of any studies on “home brew” essential oil use.  They just work for me.
I know someone who uses Tea Tree Oil, but I don’t know how much.

Brief aside – you can make a oil based patty with essential oils (I don’t have a recipe), Lynn Haitt – the beekeeper who supplies our Market Table at Seattle’s Sunday Fremont Market and the Georgetown Market  with his fabulous Alfalfa, Yellow Star Thistle, and Buckwheat honeys uses an oil based patty – it’s put between the brood boxes after the last honey harvest.  He has about a 10% loss – which is really, really good.  This is a faster, simpler delivery system.

One last story, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  Now, I don’t like Italian Bees.  In my opinion they don’t do well in the Pacific Northwest – warm and sunny are words seldom used in this area.  However, the strongest, healthiest hive of Italian Bees I’ve ever seen were at a friend’s house about 10 miles from my farm.  She had one hive with a bottom screen (no solid bottom).  The hive had a dry, open, ventilated environment.  Her method was to harvest the honey in the SPRING when the bees began to bring in nectar.  That way her bees had all the honey and pollen stores they had put aside for themselves.  Makes sense to me.  I’m going to experiment with 2 hives next fall and see how they do here – and how it affects my “take” – the down side to being in business is you do always worry about how things will affect your profits – which are then fed back into the apiary.


About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. We sell honey from our bees, whose chemical-free, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Handcrafted wooden furniture. Handcrafted wooden furniture based on designs that have been proven over centuries. Award-winning DVDs that take the viewer up the Pacific Crest Trail and through Mount Baker’s wonderful wilderness. Handcrafted wooden furniture based on designs that have been proven over centuries. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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49 Responses to Essential Oils For Honeybees at Brookfield Farm

  1. Rita McCartt-Kordon says: has a recipe using essential oils that has worked for me some 5 years. I’ve only lost 2 hives in all that time. You bring the water to a near boil, add the lecithin (which doesn’t take long to disolve this way) stir. Remove from heat, add sugar stir to disolve sugar. Add essential oil or a mix of oils such as lemon grass & wintergreen, (which the bees seem to like better than spearment). Stir until well mixed…add a little 5-10% apple cider vinegar. You can also add black strap mollasses, to restore some of the minerals lost in refined sugar.

    5 qts. water, 10 lbs sugar, 1/2 tsp. lecithin (I use granules)
    1 tsp. Wintergreen, (or 1/2 WG & 1/2 Lemon grass EO’s)
    1/2 cup Black Strap Molasses, opt.



    small batch: 1/4 recipe: 1 1 /4 qts water, 2 1/2 lbs. or 5 cups sugar,
    1/8 tsp lecithin, 1/4 tsp Wintergeen EO..or Mix of oils, Follow same procedure.

    • Hi Rita – that looks good too. I think the wintergreen and spearmint are probably interchangeable – mint would seem to be the important part. I think the lemongrass (in mine)is an attractant. I also use a bit of thyme oil. I know another beekeeper who uses tea tree oil… I think as long as an essential works, go with it….

  2. Pingback: Winter Stores, Feed & Mites : Preparing Bees for Winter at Brookfield Farm Part One | Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

  3. Pingback: Winter Stores, Feed & Mites : Preparing Bees for Winter at Brookfield Farm Part One | Pacific Northwest Honey

  4. I comment when I especially enjoy a article on a website or if I have something to add to
    the conversation. It’s a result of the passion communicated in the post I looked at. And on this post Essential Oils For Honeybees at Brookfield Farm | Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog. I was actually moved enough to write a commenta response :) I actually do have some questions for you if you don’t mind.
    Could it be just me or does it look like a few of
    these remarks come across like coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing on other online social sites, I would like
    to follow you. Could you make a list all of all your
    public sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    • Thank you. However, I think that everyone’s comments are fair and valid. I can never remember my facebook and twitter sites, but if you go to there are link to them there. As for Linked In, just put in my name – I’m the only Karen Bean in Maple Falls, Washington (I’ve no idea how to get there).

  5. I would love to hear how spring harvesting worked out for you! I wondered if the honey would be crystallizing by then, but your idea makes perfect sense.

  6. Rachelle Roper says:

    Where do you get your essential oils from? Do you have a favorite place to order them from?

    • I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’ll try to remember to write it down and get back to you on that. The place I order from tells you the country from which the oils were sourced – I like that.

  7. says:

    I get my essential oil from doterra.

  8. I mix the oil with the dry sugar and mix it till the oil disappears (read this somewhere on the internet). Have not needed lecithin. Seems to work well, last year I only saw two varoa mites. Have never seen a hive beetle. I do have mint and hops plants (hopguard is made from hops) growing near my hives. Also, my hives are on stands with sheet metal under them. My understanding is that part of the beetle life-cycle requires dirt.

    • Oh, hive beetles, they make me cringe. So far it’s still too cold here for them to get this far north. I was just in Kauai and some beekeepers there were showing me what they go though to fight the beetles — the traps and the oil under the bottom screen — What a challenge. I’m a bit cautious about dry sugar on bees – I read – like you, somewhere on the internet – that eating straight sugar can affect the Hypopharyngeal glands in the bees in a negative way…but perhaps the addition of oils help that issue. Interesting.

      • Magnetic Mechanic says:

        I was not clear. I mix the oil with the dry sugar and mix it till the oil disappears, and then add the boiled water to make syrup. You get syrup with no oil slick.

  9. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding
    more. Thanks for fantastic info I was looking for this info for my mission.

    • I cull stuff from the web, from beekeeper meetings, from other beekeepers who don’t go to meetings, from herbalists….again no science, but a lot of people trying different things that seem to help….sharing, it’s the only way we’ll learn. thank you for your kind words.

  10. Very fascinating article

  11. Evelyn Wood says:

    I seldom comment on these posts, but I assumed this on deserved a well done

  12. Michael Mcelroy says:

    you can mix it in blender also helps . I buy them at garage sales dirt cheap just for my bees

  13. When someone writes an paragraph he/she retains the thought of a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand it.
    Therefore that’s why this post is perfect. Thanks!

  14. I read somewhere that the essential oils dissolved quite well in honey as alternative to lecithin – just tried this – three teaspoons full with lemongrass, melissa and a little thyme essential oils – it works! Next to see if the bees agree…

  15. Dylan Harris says:

    Extremely interesting piece

  16. I mix up my syrup in my stand mixer…if it is left to run for 5 or 10 minutes that seems to work as far as keeping the oils emulsified in the syrup.

  17. No, it seems if you mix it in really well it takes weeks to disperse out again…and since the bees usually take it so quickly, no probs. That said, I have gone to using Honey B Healthy or Bee Pro, just because it is easier to slurp that into each batch.

  18. Beth says:

    Hi I am wondering where to purchase the essential oils–would the ones sold a whole foods (like now brand or aura acacia ) I have priced doterra and they are expensive. Thanks so much for the information :)

  19. Beth says:

    sorry for the typo–I meant to say would essential oils like the ones sold at whole foods work?

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  21. BeeMaiden says:

    Pardon my possible ignorance, but isn’t that a very large amount of essential oil? I am new to essential oils but my understanding is that the oils are measured by the drop because the oils are so very concentrated themselves. The amount here seems like a bit of overkill and could they possibly hurt the bees in such large amounts? From personal experience: I took one drop of Oregano for a cold and it gave me a Herxheimer reaction for a couple of days. From that I am convinced that essential oils are very effective in very small amounts :)

    • Questions are always good. Indeed, if one were making some syrup for a hive or two, you’d be using drops. When I made the syrup (I’m testing the idea of patties over syrup now) I was making 3.5 to 4.5 gallons at a time – the recipe is for a 3.5 gallon batch. To come up with the amounts, I used an eye dropper to measure how many drops equal a 1/2 teaspoon, then did a comparison to the small batch my “drop amounts” were for and did the math. So, in the end, the bees are getting a rather small amount – but remember there is no science behind any of this – just different beekeepers’ experiences. So if you’re off to do large batches, then by all means reduce the amounts and see if it works. And let us know what you’re using and how it works for you – we’re all in this together. Oh, and a herbalist friend points out 2 things: different herbs act differently in bodies, and, as you know, human reactions are different from bee reactions.

  22. I use a essential oil mix that does not call for lecithin it requires you to emulsify the oils with 0.25l water by blending with a stand blender on full power for five minutes then top in to 1l and blend for a additional 5 minutes

    • That’s interesting – I’ve never gotten water and oils to mix in a blender, but it must work if you’re doing it. Alternately, commenter mentioned that one can skip the lecithin if you just mix the essential oils with a little bit of the sugar before dissolving the sugar in the hot water. I was going to try that, but then went over to doing patties versus syrup to give the bees their essential oils. Thank you for the input.

  23. Matt says:

    I’ve been feeding essential oils for a couple of years… By FAR the easiest method is mixing the EO into sugar first. Measure your EO into a cup of sugar and mix really well. It will turn into a really smelly sugar paste. Then add another cup or 2 of sugar and mix that up. Keep adding sugar until you can’t really see the EO in it anymore (usually about 6-8 cups of sugar for 1-2 teaspoons of EO). I then add that sugar to the total sugar and dump it all into the hot water. VOILA! No blenders, no lethicin, and no seperation.

    • I’m so glad you posted this, because it’s so true. All the time I wasted with that darned lecithin…organic, but who cares, it’s a pain, when I could have just been mixing into the sugar. Thank you for posting.

      • Matt says:

        Oh my gosh, I know! My wife would watch me bent over the counter cramping my forearm trying to mix as fast as my little arm would go (I tried to use her blender but she threatened my life) with a bemused look on her face. One day she says… doesn’t the sugar dissolve into the water? Well of course it does, I replied. The she asks… wouldn’t the essential oil soak into the sugar? Well of course it would I replied again…. She just continued staring at me as I beat her wire whisk to death. Then it hit me… Hey! I could just soak the essential oil into the sugar, and then dissolve the sugar into the water! She rolled her eyes and walked out. And I’ve been cramp free ever since… the end. =)

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  25. Bronwen says:

    Add oils to only 1cup water and put in blender on low for 5 min, then add to the rest of the water. Makes no need for lecithin.

    • I’m off grid so blenders don’t really enter my life. But if I go back to oils in syrup (working a new idea this in 2014/2015) I’ll try hand mixing without mixing the lecithin in first…but another suggestion came in to mix oils into the dry sugar then put sugar in water, and that seemed to work too. Thanks though, most folks do have blenders (ah that new technology….)

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