Using extender patties is a criminal act

At least, it should be. For those of you who don’t know what an extender patty is, it is a grease patty that is laced with either Terramycin or Tylosin. Both of these antibiotics are designed to control outbreaks of a deadly bacterial bee disease called American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae). AFB is a disease which rots the developing brood. There is no cure. Hives with AFB must be burned or treated with radiation. It is a serious and disgusting disease.

People (I cannot refer to them as beekeepers—they are bee annihilaters) routinely mix these antibiotics with grease patties in the mistaken belief they will get long-term protection against American foulbrood. Instead, the bees get doses of the antibiotic that are below the lethal dose necessary to kill all of the disease organisms. As a result, bacteria which show some natural resistance to the disease thrive and reproduce. Before long (estimates run about 5-7 years) the drugs become useless against the disease.

This is the same principal that has produced drug-resistant disease organisms in humans, such as MRSA. Antibiotic abuse, over-use, and lower-than-lethal-dosage use will always produce resistant strains of organisms. In addition, residues of the drug become part of the “chemical soup” that today’s bees are forced to live in.

Terramycin is already ineffective in many parts of the United States, and its quick demise is blamed on the use of extender patties. Back in 2002, Thomas Deeby of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center put it like this:

There has been recent evidence in this country for bacterial resistance to Terramycin. One of the suspected causes for this development is the sharp increase in use by beekeepers of the medicated vegetable oil extender patty. Bees do not always consume the patties rapidly which leads to a situation in which antibiotic lingers in the hive for weeks or even months. Resistance was not a problem in this country prior to the widespread use of extender patties in the 1990s.

Tylosin was developed to substitute for Terramycin, but it is being abused as well. For the moment, there is no antibiotic available to replace Tylosin. The solution to the problem is simple—if you have evidence of American foulbrood in your apiary, follow the manufacturer’s directions which are clearly printed on the label. Otherwise, you should have nothing to do with these products.

So far, everything I’ve said is nothing more than common sense. But go to any of the online bee forums and you will find “beekeepers” who freely admit to using extender patties as a matter of course. In fact, you can find “beekeepers” admitting to all kinds of off-label use of all types of regulated medications and pesticides. These people seem to think they know more about these products than the companies that produce them or the agencies that regulate them.

And we wonder why honey bees are in trouble?



  • What do you think of this beekeeper’s treatment for AFB? I don’t have AFB, in fact I don’t have any bees right now. I’m just trying to be prepared for any eventuality.

    About AFB. When you find that there is a problem with this disease (smell, not very good brood), you take a clean (disinfected) beehive and you put 10 frames with new foundation. After that you put all the population inside the new hive and give them for 10 days syrup 1:1. You open a hole on the ground and put the frames inside and burn them all. The old hive you must disinfect it and you can use it again. After 10 days you make a new second transfusion (10 frames with new foundation and you burn the previous frames). With one transfusion the results is almost 100%, with second transfusion is 100%.

    About Nosema. You disinfect all the frames with acetic acid 85% (100 ml /10 frames /8 days). Put 1 gr Thymol Crystals (organic medicine)+1-2 ml pure alcohol 95 degrees. Put the mixture to 15 litres syrup 1:1, duration 2 -3 weeks.

    • Julie,

      The first one (AFB) sounds like hocus-pocus. If you find AFB, burn the whole hive. In all my years of beekeeping, I’ve never seen AFB, but that’s what I would do.

      Your Nosema treatment doesn’t specify which one. Regardless, I wouldn’t touch 85% acetic acid with a ten-foot pole. Of course, that’s your call. But read the MSDS before you mess with that stuff.

  • Rusty,
    I read a lot of bee blogs, and the cure I commented on came from a Greek beekeeper at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He was criticizing a Canadian beekeeper for using Fumagilin and Tetracycline, said they were banned in Europe and suggested using a “safer technique”. In my personal opinion, the bees should be left to their own devices, without any chemical prophylactic interference, but I’m a newbie, so what do I know.

    Even worse, a newbie who didn’t successfully winter over her first hive. I just read a post that suggested the smooth interiors of hives compromise the bees’ health because with a smooth interior the bees do less sealing with propolis. I guess I got excited about the more “natural” technique because I’m reading Honey, Mud, Maggots, and other medical marvels : the science behind folk remedies and old wives’ tales by Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein. It suggests that we’ve abandoned health methods used through the ages before knowing whether they actually worked or not. The segment about honey even suggests that pharmaceutical companies may be the apiarists of the future. As I’m sure you know Monsanto bought BeeLogics, so it stops sounding so farfetched.

    • Julie,

      Now I’m really confused. If you believe that “bees should be left to their own devices without any chemical prophylactic interference,” then it’s hard for me to see the attraction of putting 85% acetic acid, alcohol, or thymol crystals into the hive. The bees wouldn’t run into any of those things on their own. The advantage of fire for destroying pathogenic organisms is that it really does do the job and it prevents the spread of disease without using prophylactic chemicals.

      • Rusty,

        I have not used any chemicals in my one year of beekeeping. I’ve talked to other beekeepers who started out chemical free and after a few years resorted to using mite strips in the fall. I didn’t really know what acetic acid was, but assumed it was less harmful since the writer was chastising a beekeeper for using chemicals banned in Europe. Since I’ve looked it up and now understand that acetic acid dissolves skin, I understand your response.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Great blog! I’m really enjoying reading the plethora of information here.

    I have been using essential oils to great success! In fact, I came across information on a “drench” using spearmint and lemongrass essential oils which cures nosema and also kills off mites. Makes sense to me, since viruses and bacteria cannot survive therapeutic-grade essential oils. Also, beekeeper Les Crowder says AFB is caused by old, dirty comb. According to him, if you remove old comb and move your brood onto healthy, clean comb, the AFB is cured in a very short period of time. I will definitely try this (were my hives to contract AFB) before I take the drastic step of burning any of my hives. 🙂

    • I didn’t really want to get into this discussion, but since Nick responded, I will add my 2 cents.

      First, AFB is not caused by old, dirty comb. AFB is caused by a bacterium, Paenibacillus larvae. Yes, the bacterium is frequently found in old and dirty comb (and because it is found there, it is a good idea to rotate old combs out of your hives) but it is important to understand the difference between causation and correlation.

      Likewise, I don’t believe it is accurate to say essential oils cure Nosema. The spores are generally present in a hive and the idea is to keep the count under control so disease symptoms do not manifest. I’m not saying essential oils have no effect, I’m saying “cure” is not the right concept.

      If Nosema, mites, and AFB were as easy to control as you suggest, the beekeeping industry would not be in the trouble it’s in. These are serious ongoing problems, and sometimes drastic steps (as Nick says) must be taken because our bees don’t stay where we put them. Always take a moment to put the shoe on the other foot: would you want your beekeeping neighbor to control his AFB or play with it?

      • All I mean to say is that by using essential oils and moving out old, dirty comb, AFB should be prevented from occurring in the first place. Were my hives to contract AFB despite my best efforts, then burning the hive is an obvious solution.

        • Sharon,

          You are right, of course. Using essential oils and removing old frames are both excellent management practices. And by any meassure, preventing AFB is far better than trying to deal with it afterwards.

  • Treatments control symptoms. Neither nosema nor AFB go away. Reading through the papers from UC Davis and Pennsylvania State will show that the best you can hope for from an afflicted hive is control. That is an ongoing regimen of drugs, which as Rusty rightfully noted and is noted in the following papers, limits the effectiveness of what proven tools are available to simply treat the symptoms, especially if mishandled.

    An outbreak of AFB is not a trifling matter. I feel for anyone facing it. The threat is not just to the one hive, nor to one apiary. I cannot keep my bees from raiding another hive, nor can they keep theirs from raiding mine. I can do what I can to prevent raiding on mine but I cannot guarantee that there will not be some raiding. Some may be enough.

    I hope other beeks in my area, within the nominal range of my foragers, are responsible. My end of that responsibility is that I protect their hives by keeping mine healthy.

    There isn’t anything about any one hive or all, of the six that I have, that I couldn’t replace. I wouldn’t like it. There’s nothing to be happy about should the need arise. However, in my mind there’s just no acceptable reason for me to NOT take drastic action.

    I really, really hope I never have to, but to me, AFB treatment equals a fast hive kill and a full burn. Boxes and all.

    Some links to USDA, UCDavis and one from Pennsylvania State for background on AFB:


    Kent, WA

  • ive heard of removing the infected frame and taking the comb off and returning frame les crowder removes the combs .. the bees build up new comb with no problem.. if u have plastic foundation scraping the wax off and applying some natural wash and both beeks had good results.. no burning needed

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