Do Natural Treatments Work (on my hives)?

Do you ever wonder if the things we do to help the bees survive our climates and manipulations really work?  I certainly do.

Weighing out Apiguard at a Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey bee yard

Weighing out Apiguard








I learn things from other beekeepers and through reading, then try out the ideas – sometimes they turn out to be “seemed a good idea at the time” failures, and other times they seem to work – but I don’t have any science behind the successes just observations.

This year I had the opportunity to have a laboratory analyze the state of my hives before and after fall treatments.


I run naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives.

My bees are of mixed breeds, but all dark bees.

Overwintering Honeybees

A Strong Hive








  • I raise my own queens and purchase queens from select breeders.
  • The bees I use are a mix of Russian, New World Carniolan, Ferals, and descendents of Queens from a brilliant local breeder : Northwest Queens
  • I believe in hybrid vigor.  It works with dogs and goats, seems to work with bees.

I feed essential oils twice a year.  I use varroa and nosema “natural treatments” in the fall.

In short, in the fall I use:

  • Essential oils for three weeks in the fall (and three weeks in the spring).
  • Nozevit – put into the bees feed, along with the essential oils.
  • Apiguard (thymol) or Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid).                                           Each one is used on alternate years.

There’s a whole world of things I also do from screened bottom boards to winter hive top insulation, but what that entails is way too long to recap here, but can be found in two previous blog post I sited earlier: Part 1 and Part 2)

I did one trail treatment for Varroa on four of the tested hives in July.  I placed mites that eat mites in four of the hives : Stratiolaelaps scimitus (aka Hypoaspis).  They seemed to do little.  But I’ll cover the test and the results on the next post.

My winter loses over the last few years tend to be between 5% and 14%


Early this year I was asked to participate in a bee health survey being conducted by BeeInformed.Org

Honeybees in alcohol to be tested for disease

One hive’s bee sample








All of the beekeepers who participated, were able to choose 8 hives from our apiaries, take monthly alcohol samples, and have those samples analyzed for Varroa and Nosema.  The tests were conducted from June to November – I stopped in October because I don’t open my hives in November.

My hives usually remain closed from October first until into the next year, but I really wanted to see the results of the tests before and after my treatments and fall manipulation, from pulling honey to gathering all the brood into a group.


First I want to emphasize that these tests showed the results for 8 out of about 80 hives in a wet Northwest corner of Washington state.    Every hive is different, and the differences increase by the type of bees in the hives (say Russians or Italians) to the location of the hives (believe me sunny Southern California is a universe away from Whatcom County, Washington).

Colorful bee hives below dark and stormy skies, northwest Washington

It was a dark and stormy day










My bees are overachievers – they all scored quite high in Varroa and Nosema. Not quite where one wants one’s bees to score high.  But they produced lots of good-looking bees, brood and honey… go figure.


I’ll write about this one first.  I live in Nosema central.  This area of Washington is nosema central.  If wet and cold can exacerbate a problem, you can bet that problem will turn up here (can you tell it’s raining out?)

I’ll just highlight the highs and lows.

The results were given in millions spores/bee.

Month Most Infected
Hive Had
Least Infected
Hive Had
Hives Below “.1” Average
June (Kick Off) 4.3 0 (zero) 5 below .10 .99
August 3.6 (same hive) 0 (zero) 5 below .10 .83


0 (zero) 0 (zero) All : 0 (zero) 0 (zero)

(2 weeks post treatment)

(not the same hive)
0 (zero) 7 below .10 .014


NOSEMA : my conclusion:

  • It sure looks like the hives get rid of the nosema without my help.
  • Will I use Nozevit again – sure, I have a second bottle (an oops in the ordering).
  • It seems to neither help nor hurt, so after that bottle, I will ponder its use.
  • My bee conclusion: love those queens that are producing these bees.


This is the one everyone wants to know about, eh?

A Little Background

I raised a lot of drones this year (not on purpose) :

  • I tried Foundationless frames and half-Foundationless frames this year.
  • Mites love drone larvae.

The numbers below are in mites/100 bees.

Month Most Infected
Hive Had
Least Infected
Hive Had
Hives Below “2.5” Average
June (Kick Off) 10.3 0.88 3 below 2.5 3.84
July 14.02 2.77 0 below 2.5 7.76
August 12.15 4.2 0 below 2.5 8.30


31.09 5.34 0 below 2.5 18.17

(2 weeks post treatment)

7.79 1.53 3 below 2.5 4.13



Test Result Notes:

  • No one hive stayed high or low.  The hives fluctuated throughout the year.
  • The one noticeable thing is the weather and season: Late August to Mid September the varroa numbers climbed high.
  • This is the warmest time of year here and it usually doesn’t rain
  • Bee forage starts to become scarce in my area in early September
  • Amusing note: looking back on my notes, I see where when I saw varroa during the test, the counts on those hives were low!  Go figure.

VARROA, my conclusions:

  • This year treatments certainly worked : that was Mite Away Quick Strips
  • I am going to believe (back to that old “belief system” again) that the Thymol works too.
  • The essential oils?  Maybe they help.  I’ll keep on doing them.
  • My bee conclusion: The ladies produced good brood and lots of honey, even with high numbers.  So something is going right with their genetics – perhaps they can coexist with some varroa, or perhaps the workers just tidy up and the queen relay with rapidity.


The eight hives tested, last seen in mid-October, and my other hives, which were last seen in mid-September, were doing fine.  But winter and spring can be deadly, as we all know.  If the weather permits, I will once again open these hives when it warms up a bit in February or March.

I’ll let you know how they look then.

Did you spot any interesting trends in the very abbreviated numbers I posted?  Any thoughts on how bees can live and seemingly thrive with those high numbers of varroa?   If so, write and share.


About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. 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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16 Responses to Do Natural Treatments Work (on my hives)?

  1. Bruce says:

    I have no explanation for your bees liking mites but was wondering if the bee informed folks do any testing for hygienic behaviour?

    • they might in another survey, but this one was focused on varroa and nosema numbers.  Yea, the “we have tons of mites in here, but we’re fine” confuses me…but makes me happy. is great – you can sign up to be on other surveys. 

      On Fri, 20 Dec 2013 00:25:24 +0000, “Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog”

      • Bruce says:

        I agree the bee informed surveys are great but I don’t think I can participate in the bee informed survey as I live in an igloo with polar bears 50 miles north of you in that other country, eh.

        • That pesky border thing…but I bet somewhere in Canada a group is organizing around the same concept. As to those polar bears, 50 miles north – I think black bears must have hit the hair salons again – they are sooo fashion conscious

  2. willowcreekhoney says:

    Interesting findings. Where did you find Russian bees? I live in south-east Idaho and would like to get Russians.

    • there’s a Russian bee breeder group. Queen breeders : That’s where I did my initial discoveries. As I usually do splits then introduce a queen, the queen breeders were my source. Packages: these days you can find them in a few places – a google will get you there. If you go for a package,quite often you get a russian queen, with 3 pounds of non-Russian dark bees. I like the Russians, they’re more “runny” than others, and tend to swarm if you don’t stay on top of giving them space, but they area great for the climate here (often wet and cold, even in the summer)

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks for posting this. I am just getting started beekeeping in Bellingham and I love to hear about natural beekeeping in my area. There is so much to read about and learn, but I enjoy hearing about what the different natural approaches are and how it is working for everybody. Cheers

    • Thank you – I’m glad it was interesting. Just remember every beekeeper has the “right” way (or multiple right ways) to keep bees. And every hive is different. And every hive location is different. So we never stop learning – which is good (in my humble opinion). Happy beekeeping.

  4. Fascinating information, I really appreciated your considered thoughts.

  5. solarbeez says:

    I don’t have as much experience as you, so I might be hopelessly naive, but I’m of the opinion the bees should adapt to living with mites. Didn’t varroa come from the Asian Apis Ceranae bees? They seemed to be able to exist with them. If we keep trying to kill mites, won’t they build up a resistance to the poisons at the expense of the bees? I know I have Varroa, but my bees are surviving. I’m more into providing a place for them to live and growing as many bee-loving flowers as possible. The reward for me is getting many photo opportunities as well as the pollination services of course. It sounds like you are not using antibiotics. I applaud you for that. My mentor says “You’ve got to treat nosema!” He uses Fumigellin. I disagree, but I could be wrong. I’ll let him know in five or ten years. 🙂

    • Maybe not much experience, but I think you’ve good common sense. In my humble opinion, I totally agree with you: we need to breed bees that can coexist and deal with mites without the “help” of pharmacuticals. There are quite a number of breeder working towards this from large projects like the Minnisota Hygenics and the Russian Bee importations, to smaller breeders like Northwest Queesns (in WA), and, well, me.
      Apis Ceranae are open air dwellers, versus our cavity dwelling Apis millifera (ok my spelling is bad). So when A. ceranae clean themselves of mites, the mites fall a long way away. If A. millifera clean themselves (and it is “if”, depends on the type of bee – ie a russian vs an italian), they drop the mite down; then the mite lands on the floor of the hive and can catch a ride – or walk – back into the hive. My understanding is that a drop of over two inches is needed to keep a mite from crawling back up. I use 1/8th inch bottom screens (no solid floors) – so maybe a few mites fall between the screen’s holes, but I bet a lot don’t.
      Back to breeding: the russian honeybees (A.m.) lived next to A. c. for over a hundred years, picked up mites, and many russian bees survived – no chemicals. These begat the russians which are now here in the US — which I love.
      So, yes, I too think the only way out of this mess of introduced diseases and parasites is breeding. We get rid of the chemicals and breed the survivors. Easy for me to say – far harder with folks with 10,000 hives. If 50% of my hives crash it’s horrible, but rebuildable. 50% of a huge operation crashes, it’s bankruptcy – so those holdings have a problem. They’re hooked on the chemical cycle. Because, yes, you’re right, the mites (and other pathogens) build up a resistance to chemicals and antibiotics…so new ones are introduced…and we all know where that leads: beyond tears to superbugs.
      It has to be breeding, breeding, breeding….
      No, I don’t use Fumigellin, or any other antibiotic — and a lot of guys I know who have no objection to antibiotics have given them up because they don’t work. These guys are now using essential oils with a good deal of success. I shall now get off my soap box – Good luck with your bees.

  6. Emily Heath says:

    Interesting. Something else to record would be numbers of mites found in hives which swarm/don’t swarm. From what I’ve read Apis ceranae bees swarm more, which is excellent for keeping varroa numbers down due to the breaks in brood. Beekeepers can replicate this through doing artificial swarms.

    • Hi Emily – That would a great test to run. And your comment is interesting – our Russian bees (Primorsky to everyone else in the world, it seems) were brought in for their varroa resistance. The downside for many beekeepers is their tendency to swarm if you don’t stay right on top of giving them space…an aspect of their varroa resistance (I love Russian bees).

      • Emily Heath says:

        I didn’t know that about the Russian bees. Perhaps it would be better to work with their swarming instincts and do artificial swarms when they produce queen cells, so that you have the brood break.

        • That’s pretty much what I do. I just split “early and often”, most of the time it keeps them from swarming. It’s more work, but I really like their resistance to varroa, plus they’re very winter hardy.

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