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Thyme essential oil in a glass bottle

My Thyme Oil Brings all the Bees to the Yard

We’ve been keeping Dick Rogers up to date over email (he’s not really a Slack kind of guy) on developments in our research and our product concept, but we hadn’t been able to really sit down with him and talk it all out until today.

It was an incredibly productive meeting. Dick is a deceptively mellow guy — super personable and easy to talk to, but the man knows his bees. And we knew if we were on the wrong path entirely, he’d tell us.

This was the first real discussion of how Everbee will actually attract honey bees. Our first idea, we’re almost embarrassed to admit, was to make a big, flower-shaped feeder. Bees like flowers, right? Yeah...no. Dick very kindly (but with obvious amusement) told us you cannot fool bees.

Lesson 1: Don’t underestimate the bees. Got it.

So then we looked at what smells attract nearby foraging bees, like thyme oil and mint. But attracting bees to our device is tricky because even with sugar syrup readily available, they’ll only be attracted to it when nearby flowers are in their dearth period.

The dearth period is when nectar is at its lowest ebb, and bees struggle to get enough nutrition. It’s then that our device could be doubly beneficial, not only supplying varroa treatment but also providing food. Of course, bee friendly flowers provide micronutrients a simple sugar syrup cannot, but any food source is welcome when nectar runs dry.

Next we started discussing options to kill the mites themselves. Everything we do has to meet three criteria:

Safe for bees
Safe for honey
Deadly to mites

We talked about thymol (which is an extract of thyme) and formic acid, but both pose dangers. Formic acid, for instance, can result in queen rejection or vastly increased mortality) for the bees.

But Dick confirmed the promise of a third option we’ve been talking about — essential oils. There’s been a lot of research around their efficacy in killing tracheal mites while proving relatively safe for the bees themselves. Joe had already read an interesting paper by entomologist Peter Kevan, and we’ve been inspired by it.

If it kills tracheal mites, might it also kill varroa?

And now, with Dick’s confirmation, we think this is the way to go. But there’s a lot of research still ahead. Essential oils are safe for bees, safe for honey, and deadly to varroa — but only if the concentrations are right. And we don’t know what those are yet.

Hm...maybe we should see if Peter Kevan is available for a meeting?