Grease patties help control winter mites

Grease patties provide a way to help keep Varroa mite populations low during the winter, assuming they are low to start with. A hive that is already heavily infected with Varroa will not benefit from grease patties because the bees will not be healthy enough to consume it.

A grease patty with essential oils added—usually wintergreen or tea tree—helps to control mites in two ways. First, the grease tends to get all over the bees, and a slippery surface is difficult for the mites to hang onto. Some research has shown that mite drops may be two to three times greater in the presence of grease patties.

Secondly, the essential oils have a repellent effect on the mites. In addition, some research indicates that if mites come into direct contact with wintergreen or tea tree oil it can kill them outright or interfere with their breeding cycle. Although the EPA does not recognize these oils as being effective, there is much evidence in the beekeeping community that the oils work quite well. Many beekeepers keep grease patties on the hive year-round, but patties with essential oils incorporated into them should not be used when honey supers are on the hive.

Many recipes for grease patties can be found, but the one from the University of West Virginia is quite popular and appears below. The only problem I see with this recipe is the use of honey. If you do not have disease-free honey from your own apiary, do not use honey. I recommend substituting heavy syrup (2 parts sugar to one part water) for the honey unless you are absolutely certain you know the origin of the honey. This point cannot be stressed too much. Honey may contain spores of American foul brood and can easily transmit the disease to your hives. Although, harmless to humans, these spores can wreak havoc on your apiary.

The inclusion of salt provides the bees with essential minerals that they usually get from the environment when they collect water and other materials. Since these products are not collected in the winter, the salt helps to round out the honey bee diet. The sugar and/or honey simply make the patties more attractive to the bees.

The patties can be made in advance and kept in the freezer until you need them. Beekeepers usually place four or five small patties (about 2 ounces each) on the top bars and one just inside the front entrance.

Wintergreen oil can be toxic to humans when absorbed through the skin, so always wear protective gloves when mixing the patties.

Grease Patties

Yield:

One batch will treat 8-10 hives. You can easily increase or decrease the recipe size depending on your needs.

Ingredients:

4.4 pounds (2 kg) granulated sugar

3 ounces (90 ml) corn oil

1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) vegetable shortening (Crisco)

1 pound (454 g) honey

1/2 pound (227 g) mineral salt (pink color)

2.2 ounces (65 ml) wintergreen oil (or tea tree oil)

Directions:

Step 1: Pulverize the salt so that it mixes evenly throughout the patty. This also prevents water droplets from forming around salt crystals.

Step 2: Mix all the ingredients thoroughly using protective gloves.

Step 3: Make patties the size of small hamburgers.

Step 4: Store in freezer until ready to use.

By the way, if you can’t find a source of mineral salt—or you don’t want to buy a 50-pound bag—go to your pet store and buy a “bunny wheel.” A bunny wheel is nothing more than a mineral salt lick for rabbits and the bees don’t seem to object to this inclusion of rabbit food in their diet.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Kenneth Griffith
Reply

Kris this might be good for you to use for the bees—-check it out—–DAD

Kenneth Griffith
Reply

I do not understand the necessity of another note.

mickey ester
Reply

I have used this for two years. Hardly any hive beetles and very strong bees in spring. Really good stuff.

Bruce
Reply

Your grease patties look great but have you ever or heard of someone mixing a protein (yeast or soy flour) into the grease patty?

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

You could easily mix a protein supplement into the grease patty. I don’t because I use protein supplements just prior to spring build-up only, whereas I use grease patties all winter.

Sarah
Reply

I am a bit confused by the differing ideas so help me out here. At the beekeeping meeting I was informed not to feed grease-based pollen patties before you were sure the bees would consume them because the grease attracts mites; they put the larva in the patties then you are overrun with mites. But this says grease with wintergreen is good for controlling them. So if I put wintergreen in the pollen patty the mites won’t be a problem, yes?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

Female Varroa mites lay their eggs in brood cells with developing larvae, just before the cell is capped. They will never lay their eggs in a grease patty.

However, small hive beetles–both larvae and adults–are attracted to grease patties and pollen patties as a food source. I think maybe they were talking about small hive beetles, not Varroa mites.

Sarah
Reply

It’s wonderful the way you answer my questions. Alrighty, so let us conclude it is small hive beetles. I do confuse the two pests. Will the wintergreen work for them as well if put into a pollen patty? I don’t see a category about hive beetles, have you written anything about them?

Rusty
Reply

Well, Sarah, you do keep me busy. As far as I know, wintergreen oil has no affect on hive beetles.

You caught me on the subject of hive beetles. I haven’t written about them and I was wondering when someone would ask. I do have a pile of notes, though, so I’ll try to get to it. When, I don’t know.

Lindy
Reply

Hello all readers,

About two weeks ago I made my first batch of the grease patties according to the recipe on Rusty’s site. I used tea tree oil in one batch and lemon grass oil in the other batch. My bees are eating the stuff with joy and I have caught some mites on the varroa board which I smeared with thick vaseline so they could not escape if they were still alive!!. My question now is, Rusty says leave the patties on all winter… Okay does this mean I have to make more. Should I re-supply the bees all the time with new grease patties when I think that the old ones are nearly gone? Or is there a limit to the amount of essential oils that they may consume over the whole of winter? thank you Lindy

Rusty
Reply

Lindy,

In my experience, the bees slow down on consuming the grease patties once it gets really cold and the bees stay in a cluster. Usually, by early spring, the remaining patties have begun to dry up and at that time, I toss those and make new. Other folks may have had a different result. Anyone?

Joslin
Reply

Hello. My husband and I presently have only one hive, and it’s been doing very well for years. We want to begin incorporating all-natural supplements and such to ensure their continued health, so I’ve been looking into recipes to supplement their food source when necessary, plus we robbed their honey stores recently and it’s looking like it may be a harsh winter for us. I will try your detailed recipe above (thank you very much for that) but have two questions…
1. Why shortening when its loaded with hydrogenated oils and triglycerides?
2. Why corn oil, as opposed to any other oil options?

Rusty
Reply

Joslin,

Hmm. Excellent questions. I posted this recipe because it got favorable reviews for effectiveness. I have used it with good results as well. But you bring up a valid argument. In my opinion, these fats and oils were chosen because they are cheap and readily available.

I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute other products. I would keep the ratio of solid-at-room-temperature to liquid-at-room-temperature oils the same for consistency’s sake. So coconut oil, as an example, could be used in place of the shortening and just about any liquid vegetable oil could be used instead of corn.

However, I don’t know how the melting point of Crisco compares to, say, coconut oil. If the coconut (or whatever) melts at a relatively low temperature, it might melt in the hive on a hot day and create a big mess. You should probably research the melting point of whatever you use as a substitute.

I would be interested in hearing what you decide on.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty – what about lard? I have a source that is pasture raised & ASH-free, and costs no more than crisco. Is there any reason bees shouldn’t have animal fat? Grease isn’t a normal part of bees’ diet anyway, is it? Just asking.

And where do you set the patty – on top of the frames with the candy boards?
Thanks!
Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

The grease is to make the bees slippery, but they ingest some of it. Hence the addition of sugar and salt. Since bees are vegetarians, it didn’t occur to me to give them fat from an animal source. But I honestly don’t know if it would hurt them or not. Never really thought about it.

I put all that stuff in an eke above the top brood box, but under the quilt. I often have pollen patties, sugar cakes, grease patties . . . an entire smorgasbord of bee delectables. I don’t use candy boards because of this arrangement. I just have to lift one end of the quilt to get a good look at the pantry and see what they need.

Joslin
Reply

Hi, Rusty.
Thanks for your response and honest answers. I also appreciate the application suggestions.

I agree coconut oil does melt very low, so if that turns out to be a problem, what about adding a bit of their own wax to it? It certainly wouldn’t take much if I have trouble with solidity in the hive.

Rusty
Reply

Joslin,

I think it sounds like a good idea. You could melt them together.

Charlie
Reply

Grease patties are not intended for varroa , but tracheal Mites… Totaly different problem. they may help a small bit with Varro, BUT that is not the intent. The hydrocarbons in the grease wreack havoc on trachel mites. As for SHB, yes they will breed in the patties. Like crazy if the bees are ignoring the patties. But SHB do not breed much in winter, so the Plus is much greater than the minus….

Rusty
Reply

Charlie,

Originally grease patties with menthol were used to control tracheal mites. When Varroa came on the scene, experiments were done using similar techniques—after all, a mite is a mite. It was discovered that grease patties with wintergreen or tea tree oils were most effective for controlling Varroa mites. The grease is merely a vehicle for the essential oil which is the active ingredient.

The following is a quote from a paper I wrote:

“Essential oils have two modes of action in the control of Varroa mites. Oils such as wintergreen, patchouli, and tea tree kill mites on contact (Armine et al. 1996) They can be mixed into patties made of vegetable oil and sugar, and placed on the top bars of the hive. As the bees move about the hive, they rub against these patties—or try to remove them—and thus distribute the essential oil throughout. Alternatively, if the oils are mixed into liquid syrup and fed to the bees, the nurse bees then feed them to the larvae. When the mites feed on larvae that have consumed essential oils, their reproduction is interrupted, probably due to interference with the enzymes vital to gestation (Amrine et al. 1996) Depending on the concentration, the mites may be unable to lay eggs or mite development may be delayed. If mites do not reach maturity by the time the honey bee larvae emerge from their cocoons, the immature mites will die.”

Janet
Reply

The volume of Tea Tree oil is very expensive. I bought a 2.2 ml bottle for $7.50 at the health food store. Is there a cheaper source or is the 65ml quanity a typo?

Rusty
Reply

Janet,

I checked the recipe at the source and it is correct. I always buy essential oils from an online store called 100 Percent Pure Essential Oils. Their prices are good, service is quick, and quality is excellent.

My 4-ounce bottle of tea tree oil was $17.04. A similar bottle of wintergreen oil was $15.17. A four-ounce bottle of tea tree oil at the rate your health food store charges would be $387.27. Whoa.

Joslin
Reply

Suggestions regarding essential oils suppliers… I’ve been purchasing from CamdenGrey.com for years and they have good quality products as well as decent pricing on products and shipping. Also, I’ve found a decent supplier in the past couple years who sells via Amazon – search for seller Greenals or Green Health. I’ve been able to buy bigger quantities of what I use the most, such as tea tree, lavender, rosemary, & citronella for incredibly reasonable prices and the quality is very good, though some of the harder to acquire oils are not quite as good as CamdenGrey. I don’t know about 100PercentPure, so I can’t advise.

Always, always be sure to read all advertised information, especially whether or not it’s a pure essential oil, one that has been diluted in alcohol or carrier oils, or even an aromatherapy oil. If ever this information is not readily provided, don’t even think about it! It’s not worth the aggravation to find out it’s not what you needed anyway.

HB (@Hello_Kitty_)
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Aside from mite treatment, could grease patties be used as winter feed, as opposed to candy? Or is candy, given the sugar is inverted, a better food for emergency feeding? I’m trying to work smarter, not harder, and the process involved in making grease patties is SO much easier than a cooked product. What do you think?

Rusty
Reply

HB,

I don’t know the answer for sure. But it seems to me that grease patties alone as a supplementary feed may be too high in fat for a healthy bee diet. It’s fine for them to eat some amount of fat but, in my opinion, they are not designed to eat lots of fat. If you don’t want to cook sugar, why not use the mountain camp method or the slurry method?

Mountain camp feeder for winter
Ten questions about mountain camp feeding
Sugar slurry feeding

HB (@Hello_Kitty_)
Reply

I ended up making fondant but am still considering making some grease patties. I’m seeing varroa mites on the tray under my Warré hive.

BTW, the corn oil in the WVU recipe is seemingly for application purposes. My guess is it either lubricates the grease gun with a food grade oil, or it makes the “patty” soft enough to push through the grease gun. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/varroa/2010/Grease%20Patties%202010.pdf

Nancy
Reply

Just another source for essential oils: San Francisco Herb. 8 oz oil of wintergreen, $22.36, Tea tree oil 8 oz 21.20. (plus shipping, but even in KY, still a good deal for me.)

For smaller quantities, a CVS, Drug Mart or Duane Reade will have Tea tree for around 7 bucks/1 oz (30 ml). Health food stores tend to have high markups.

One more tip: a 4-oz ice cream scoop with a spring release handle makes neat balls on wax paper. You squush with another sheet of wax paper, slip into ziploc. Lots less messy than using hands or tablespoon.

Nan

Ken
Reply

What about using eucalyptus oil in the treatment of varroa mites? Say, like in with the grease patties in stead of wintergreen or tea tree oil? Will this work? It is certainly less expensive.

Willow Creek Honey Producers

Rusty
Reply

Ken,

I don’t know about eucalyptus oil. The only oils I mentioned were those where I found papers where controlled experiments showed that the oils made statistically significant impacts on Varroa mites. That is not to say it wouldn’t work, only that I found no papers saying it did. Each oil is composed of entirely different chemical components. Some oils have components that are detrimental to mites and some don’t, so each one has to be evaluated separately.

papa jim
Reply

I am a first year beekeeper and wanted to try the grease patties so I mixed up a small batch for my five hives. I must have did something wrong as the bees will not touch the patties. I mixed it up according to the directions that was given to me. I do have other food source for them, is this the problem?

Rusty
Reply

Some bees eat the patties and some don’t, so I wouldn’t worry about. If they needed the nutrition, they would eat them.

Cassie Pen
Reply

Would it be acceptable to do a 1/2 tea tree 1/2 wintergreen patty?

Rusty
Reply

Cassie,

It certainly would not hurt the bees but it might not hurt the mites either. It is the wintergreen oil that is harmful to mites.

Ken
Reply

There is a ton of research around essential oils; this is one abstract

Abstract

This research was conducted to evaluate acaricidal effects of some plant essences on Varroa mites and the possibility of their usage for Varroa control. First, live Varroa mites were obtained from adult honeybees with CO2 in a newly designed apparatus. Thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram, dillsun and lavender essences at concentrations of 2 and 1 g/100 g (w/w), caused a mite mortality rate of more than 97% and 95%, respectively. Also spearmint at 2 g/100 g was able to kill more than 97% of Varroa mites. When sprayed on worker honeybees infected with mites, thyme, savory, spearmint and dillsun essences at 2 g/100 g (w/w) caused 43-58% Varroa mortality. Toxicity of thyme, savory and spearmint essences for worker honeybees was not significantly different from that of controls (acetone and water), but dillsun essence caused 12% honeybee mortality. These results showed that essences of thyme, savory and spearmint have acaricidal properties that could be used for controlling Varroa in honeybee colonies.

(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12797407)

and another that talks about over a dozen oils and their benefit to varroa and AFB:

http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/naturaloils.html

The UofWV article has been updated as well as they noticed that patties alonw may not eradicate varroa and noticed that varroa would move away from treatment areas and suggested the addition of strips in areas been might congregate.

http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/varroa/

Pamela
Reply

I’m a new beekeepers and would like to get the “when” of feeding the grease patties with wintergreen to the bees. Is it ok to feed during the summer? I just put our two packages in at the end of May. We live on the GA-AL border, about 90 miles South of Atlanta. Thanks in advance!

Rusty
Reply

Pamela,

Grease patties are usually used in late fall and winter. In any case, you don’t want to put wintergreen in your hive during nectar collection because your honey might end up tasting like wintergreen. Also, the patty might melt in summer and drip down between the frames—not good.

shelly
Reply

This didn’t work for me. I found a bunch of dead bees attached to these grease patties. Also, UC-Davis said that is way too much salt to put into a hive, that it will kill brood. The bees got the grease on them, but then they couldn’t fly because they had clumps of it on their wings. UC-Davis said it’s too hard for the bees to fly with grease on their wings, that it would probably make them die sooner. My experience was the yellowjackets got the bees with grease on them. I went back and took these out and tossed them in the trash.

Rusty
Reply

Shelly,

It sounds like you made your recipe wet and soupy. It should be too dry to stick in clumps to the bees’ wings. If turns out too wet, add more sugar until it reaches a good consistency. If you are uncomfortable with the amount of salt, cut it down.

Joyce B.
Reply

I always use powdered sugar in order to control the mites .not sure why but a good dusting a few times a year seems to help them,, the grease patties sound okay but only if using vegetable oil; this is the first winter for my honeybees , we fed them honey after they arrived and as long as it is warm we still are feeding them so their stores are built up what about fondant

Rusty
Reply

Joyce,

Powdered sugar dusting is effective if you dust both sides of each frame one a week throughout the season. You should do a sugar shake to see how many mites you actually have.

Joyce B.
Reply

Some say sugar water is a good feed for the honeybees but my spoiled bees seem to prefer pasteurized honey and I was told pasteurized is best as ity reduces the risk of diseases that come from the honey. Can I just pasteurize it myself or not? Just wondered.

Rusty
Reply

Joyce,

The greatest risk to honey bees by way of honey is American Foulbrood. Although the vegetative stage of AFB can be killed by pasteurization, the spores cannot. That is why, under no circumstances, should honey from another apiary be fed to your bees, unless you know for a fact the honey came from uninfected hives. Some estimates say that as much as 80% of all honey samples are contaminated with it, in part because of the mixing done by large commercial honey packaging houses. AFB spores can remain viable for 40 years.

Pasteurization does little to honey except destroy some of the nutritional value, flavor, and aroma. For more on this process, see this post.

Chris
Reply

I’m new and I left all the honey in my hives this year. Would you recommend using raw honey from a farmer’s market or store? I have been told not to feed my bees honey from outside sources due to the danger of spreading disease.
Thanks, I’ve learned a lot from your site.

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

Just make sure you trust the source. Personally, I would rather feed sugar than honey I purchased. Even if a beekeeper swears he doesn’t have foulbrood, he may be suppressing it with drugs. Just my thinking on it.

Rich
Reply

Now I have a couple more email addresses to look for oil, but finding this site I’ve had trouble locating wintergreen oil and I have ordered some peppermint oil. Will peppermint oil work? Other information I’ve gathered made it sound like almost any essential oil would work.

Rusty
Reply

You can find just about any essential oil at 100pureessentialoils.com. Wintergreen oil has properties not found in peppermint oil. In fact, wintergreen oil is even toxic to humans, but peppermint oil is not.

Rich
Reply

Does that mean I would be wasting my time using peppermint oil, or only that it doesn’t work quite as well?

Rusty
Reply

Rich,

As far as I know, peppermint oil doesn’t work for this purpose. The active ingredient in wintergreen oil is methyl salicylate, which peppermint oil doesn’t have.

Rich
Reply

I’ve also seen some suggest 100% pure, which looks like it is therapeutic grade, and others say the oil must be food grade. Any thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Rich,

I believe the company I mentioned carries both grades. Since there is food inside your hive and the possibility of contamination exists, I would go with food grade.

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