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Varroa mite on the bee

Rewards, risks, and space stations

January 22, 2019

We haven’t written about BeeKeep in a while because we’ve been incredibly busy with the mobile app work that keeps the lights on and the salaries paid. The same work, as it happens, that pays for our research into the lives (and hopefully deaths) of varroa mites.

But behind the scenes, and on nights and weekends, we continue to progress.

This week Joe compiled everything into a slide deck — an overview of the most important research, questions, risks, and of course the initial sketches for BeeKeep itself.

Hard to believe we’ve been at this for almost a year.

Our initial research about the efficacy of essential oils has turned into a full strategy. When varroa mites come into contact with essential oils like wintergreen, patchouli, or tea tree oil mixed into oil or grease, they are killed on contact.

Even more important for the long-term health of honey bees, when varroa feed on larvae that have eaten food containing essential oils, their reproduction is interrupted. So we’re not just working on a solution to ectoparasitic mites on bees, but a way to exert downward pressure on the overall population of varroa in a colony. 

Currently, we’re trying to determine how to see if the bees reliably deliver the oils to the hive and transfer them, through trophallaxis, to the nursing bees and then on to the larvae. 

Critical to the success of any solution is the concentration of essential oils. From Peter Kevan’s research we learned the mite lethal concentration of our top contenders — cinnamon, clove, pinene, thymol, and wintergreen. While mites are much less likely to develop resistance to essential oils than they are to pesticides, Dick and our research show it is best to continually change up your approach. Nature is tough to beat.

To combat this, we’ve come up with a solution: The “reward” formulations with essential oils and the topical essential oils inoculations themselves will be mailed to customers on a regular basis. By mailing fresh EOs and by rotating the effective oils we can ensure EO potency and stave off resistance. 

But this does another cool thing. Rather than people setting it up in their yard and forgetting about it, they become part of an ongoing solution to save the bees that improves and adapts over time. So as our research evolves or a new pest takes hold we can quickly change our formulations and send them directly to each BeeKeep customer. They become active “BeeKeepers,” continuously and directly helping a struggling honey bee population. 

We love it. We hope consumers love it, too.

By the way, remember the prototype idea Joe called the “1970s, sci-fi space station”? Well. Feast your eyes.

beekeep sketch

We can dig it.