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The Classroom

The Classroom – June 2023

- June 1, 2023 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Honey bee feed additives

 Has any study been done that proves essential oil stimulants actually help a bee colony?

Paul Caplinger


The answer to this question is a bit tricky. The shortest, most direct answer is that there have been some studies on essential oil impacts on Varroa, Nosema, honey quality, toxicity to honey bees, etc. However, there have not been independent studies on essential oils/products the way that many beekeepers currently use them.

I know beekeepers who mix essential oil additives into grease patties, pollen patties, sugar syrup, sugar water spray that they spray onto bees, etc. They do this for a number of reasons, with a common reason cited to be “to stimulate the colonies.” Beekeepers use these products or homemade concoctions because of data from the manufacturers or word-of-mouth from other beekeepers who believe they are seeing an impact of these products. I will say that we do not add essential oils to sugar syrup or pollen patties we feed our colonies at the University of Florida. We have used labeled products that contain the essential oil thymol for treating Varroa. However, we do not use any type of feed additive. The hard skeptic in me thinks that they offer no benefit to bees at all. The soft skeptic in me thinks that more work needs to be done on these products/strategies before I am willing to recommend them to beekeepers. The more pragmatic part of me says that they likely do not hurt anything and that any benefit received is better than no benefit at all.

Let me tell you how to find some research related to essential oils and honey bees. Go to (or you can search for “Google Scholar”) and type “essential oil honey bee” into the search box. When you do that, you will see manuscripts of all sorts on this topic. I think this will be both useful to you (i.e., there has been research on essential oils products and honey bees) and frustrating (the products available today, and the way beekeepers use essential oils, are not represented in the studies). Honestly, I get so many questions about this topic that I have made myself a note to investigate it at UF. Thanks for your inspiration.


Feeding syrup to bees

 What are your recommendations on feeding sugar syrup to a new colony (from package) on new foundation? I live in southeast Georgia. I have read everything from do not feed at all, to feed the entire first year, and everything in between. The suggestion that made the most logical sense was feeding until the entire brood box was drawn out.

Rod Earnhardt
Georgia, March


I will begin by telling you what you are trying to achieve with your new package of bees so that you know what colony size is stable. My goal would be for the bees to construct all of the combs in a single deep brood box. I would want to see brood, stored pollen, and stored nectar/honey. Beyond that, the bees will need additional comb in which they can store honey. This can be either a medium super or a second deep brood box placed on top of the first.

My standard hive configuration is a single deep brood box with ten frames, a metal queen excluder, and a medium super with ten frames. I confine the queen to the bottom box, where the bees rear brood. The medium super is full of honey. The bees will need about that much honey to survive winter in your area. The premise is the same if you run double-deep brood boxes, triple-medium brood boxes, etc. In other words, bees need about one deep box to produce brood and one medium box to store surplus honey. Thus, you are going to need to feed the bees until they reach this state, or be in the middle of a nectar flow in which case the bees will get what they need themselves.

With that background, I would definitely feed the colony you create from a package of bees when you install the package onto new foundation. I feed packages even when I install them onto drawn comb. You will have to continue to feed the colony until there are resources available in the environment for them to use to complete the construction of their comb. In your area, that will likely be mid-to-late April. Essentially, bees cannot build wax unless they have an incoming source of sugar. Outside of a nectar flow, beekeepers have to provide that source of sugar by feeding the colony either sugar syrup or corn syrup. Thus, you will need to feed the new colonies all the sugar syrup they will take at least the next 3-4 weeks, given the timing of your question. At that point, Mother Nature will take over and provide the sugar your bees need to complete the development of the deep box (for brood production) and medium super (for food storage).

Once they have the comb in both boxes constructed, and about a medium super’s worth of honey stored, you will only feed the bees if they are running out of food, or if you are trying to get the colony to grow/pull comb outside of a nectar flow. When I was a hobbyist beekeeper in Georgia, I did not have to feed my bees too much, especially once the colonies were established. That said, you do need to feed them until they are established, or until the major nectar flow begins.


Combining a swarm and a laying worker colony

 I have read about combining weak hives. What would happen if a swarm was combined with a laying worker hive?

Neal Fisher
Virginia, March


I have never combined a swarm with a laying worker colony. However, I suspect that the outcome would be similar to combining two weak colonies, a weak colony with a stronger one, etc. My guess is that the laying workers would stop laying and that the queen from the swarm would become the sole queen in the entire colony.

What would I do if this situation arose? I would hive the swarm into a five-frame nuc. I would let the swarm establish in the nuc for 2-3 weeks. Following that, I would remove five empty combs, or combs containing only resources (honey/pollen) from the hive in which the laying workers reside. Next, I would push the five remaining combs to one side of the hive. Finally, I would move all five frames (bees, brood, comb, queen, honey, pollen and all) from the nuc into the space created in the hive housing the laying worker colony. It is simply requeening a laying worker colony using a nuc, something I have done many times. You can see more about requeening colonies with nucs here:

Drone brood trapping

I have a question about the use of the green frame when removing drone brood for Varroa control. My bees experience a long brood break in winter, and I take advantage of the spring brood buildup to trap drones using the green frames. In the training courses I have attended and the readings I have done, it is always recommended to remove the green frame towards the end of the brood cycle, rather than immediately after capping. It seems to me that removing the frame on the tenth day and replacing it with a drawn one immediately is twice as effective in trapping drones. How can I better understand why it is not taught this way? Also, if I recall correctly, you are not a fan of drone trapping. Why is that?

Canada, April


Honestly, I agree with you! I would freeze the frame immediately after the bees cap it. I see no reason that the frame would need to remain in the hive until closer to the end of the brood cycle. I will elaborate a bit for the benefit of the readers.

Varroa prefer to invade drone brood cells to invading worker brood cells. The most likely explanation for this is that drones take 24 days to develop while workers take 21 days to develop. The extra three days that drones take to develop give Varroa extra time to reproduce. It also gives them a bigger cell, larger food supply, etc. I also would not be surprised if they favor drones given that more Varroa can invade a single cell, thus reducing inbreeding that occurs when only one foundress mite invades a cell.

Beekeepers have learned to take advantage of Varroa attraction to drone brood. Many equipment supply companies now sell drone foundation/combs/frames. The idea is that one can dedicate a single frame to the production of drones. Queens will lay drone eggs into these frames. Varroa will be attracted to the developing drones and preferentially invade their cells over worker cells. Once all the drones are capped, the beekeeper can remove the frame, freeze it for 48 hours (killing all the developing drones and Varroa), and return the frame to the hive. The bees will clean out the dead drones/Varroa. Then, the process …