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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Natural Pest Control for Beekeepers

Bees on Brood Comb

I've had a terrible time with mites in my beehives this year and not just varroa but tracheal mites as well. I do not use medications or chemicals in my beehives at all so I searched far and wide for a more natural way to help them out.

I know many beekeepers who use and swear by grease patties so that seemed like a good place to start but I’ve always been turned off by the use of hydrogenated oils in these. I won’t consume hydrogenated oils nor will I let my kids, so why would I give it to my bees? True, it’s probably a lot less harmful than some of the dangerous chemicals I’ve heard of being used but I still just can’t get on board with it. I Googled every phrase I could think of about grease patties without hydrogenated oils but came back with nothing. I had finally stumped Google … amazing.

So after thinking about it and looking at tons of different grease patty recipes this is what I came up with:

Natural Grease Patty Recipe (Without Hydrogenated Oils)

4.4 lbs. sugar
1.5 lbs. coconut or palm oil
1 lb. raw honey (from your bees or a trusted source)
½ lb. real sea salt
2 oz. tea tree oil or wintergreen oil

You just mix all these ingredients together and use it in your beehives as you would a regular grease patty. You should NOT use these in the spring or summer as the melting point of coconut oil is about 76 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason you’ll do a few things differently:

1. Use these only in the cool autumn and winter months

2. Instead of using just a patty, put it in some type of shallow dish or container. I used plastic tops from take-out containers. This way if it gets warm it won’t melt in the hive causing what I can only imagine would be a huge mess.

3. Wear gloves when making the patties.

I also put a roll of grease patty at the entrance of the hive so that bees coming and going have to crawl through it making themselves too slippery for those nasty varroa to hang on.

This is the first year I’ve tried this but have seen encouraging results. When I went to check back a few days later, I found a good number of dead mites on the sticky board and overall, I'm seeing less mites on the bees coming and going from the entrance. 

Happy mite hunting and please share any other natural methods of bee pest control you have in the comments section!

1/24/2014 3:52:54 PM

Betty and Louise, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences! Betty, I'm curious to know more about how long it took for you to see definite mite resistance in your hives and also what, on average, your success rate has been with splitting your hives to make new ones. I'm always so curious to know more about what works for other beekeepers who prefer a natural approach.

1/22/2014 7:06:19 AM

Hello Lindsay, I experimented with peppermint and also wintergreen oils in my first year of beekeeping and things seemed to go OK but then I became concerned about the strong odor and the fact that bees communicate with one another by pheromones. Was also worried about their effect on the health of the bees--the old trying to kill a "bug on a bug" thing. I was worried about interfering with that. In the end, I went cold turkey and just did not treat. Did sugar rolls to check for varroa and even did autopsies under the microscope for tracheal mites. Now after 9 years I have mite-resistent bees and use these to make new hives each year. It takes a while, but is well worth the effort--and is our only hope really--mites just become more resistant and bees more stressed with each new chemical. Best wishes to you and your bees!

louise hodges
1/21/2014 1:18:08 PM

A friend of mine is a beekeeper and she used Greenbug for Outdoors to control mites. It uses an active ingredient of cedar that kills mites but is harmless to the bees. Thought I'd share her success story.