The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Treating bees with rhubarb

Chemical-free honey

After the rain-barrel workshop on Saturday, I dropped by the St. Paul Farmer's Market on my way home.  I was thrilled to stumble across a  local beekeeper who keeps 28 hives without any chemical use at all, resulting in only 10% losses per year.  For non-beekeepers, those are very good stats --- even if you use chemicals, 30% to 50% losses are normal in our area.

I asked the beekeeper what he did about varroa mites, and he shared his home remedy --- rhubarb leaves.  He told me to make a tea out of rhubarb leaves, then to dip in a sheet of plain paper.  After letting the paper dry, you put it in your hive the way you would use mite strips in the fall. 

The internet suggests that the purpose of the rhubarb tea is to extract oxalic acid, which is a proven treatment for mites.  Rhubarb leaves contain 0.2 to 1.3% oxalic acid, and spraying oxalic acid into bee hives does seem to kill varroa mites with only some damage to the bees.  The less-intrusive strips seem much better than spraying if they work, though.  I may have to try that this fall if our mite counts are high.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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This is really interesting. I've been wondering how to deal with varroa without using those strips. If the rhubarb leaf tea works, then why not just lay whole rhubarb leaves atop the frames in the hive? What happened when he tried that?
Comment by Robin Sun Jun 1 08:00:08 2014
Robin --- I read a European beekeeper on a forum does just that. However, you'd think that an unbroken leaf wouldn't give off much oxalic acid compared to extracting the acid, so the tea might be more effective. Possibly even more effective would be putting the leaf in a food processor and painting that goop onto something to put in the hive.
Comment by anna Sun Jun 1 08:34:48 2014

Thanks for the follow-up. Goop would be easy. Or just shredding the leaves quickly by hand and placing on sheets of paper on top of the frames. Definitely worth a try.

I generally don't have problems with varroa the first year I have a queen, but by the second autumn I need to do something about varroa. Since I have rhubarb, it would be an easy and much cheaper treatment option.

Comment by Robin Sun Jun 1 08:50:35 2014
Thanks again for interesting and useful information.
Comment by Eva Mon Jun 2 11:39:38 2014

Doing the same thing with hops might also work. A few years back I learned about a product called HopGuard, and wondered if I might be able to make a homemade version with the hops I grow for other purposes. :-)

This patent has a lot of good information; it sounds like the extraction process you mention for the rhubarb is something the patent authors think would work with the hops, too.

Comment by Jake Wed Jun 4 02:33:40 2014
THis sounds great... or very dangerous. How do we measure the strength of the mix? Too little and the mites will grow strong, too strong and the bees will die... really strong and it could adulterate the honey or hurt the beekeeper. Natural treatment good, but whats the ratio?
Comment by CharBee Fri Jun 27 22:30:29 2014
This sounds very interesting to me & I'd love to give it a try, but I have a couple questions. Is it necessary to dry the leaves before making the tea? Should I continually add the tea soaked paper towels, or just for a time? Thank you for any tips you can give me. Great idea!
Comment by Ann G Sat May 13 10:27:19 2017
I have used whole ruhbarb leaves and the bees chew them into little pieces to remove them.They must get some of the acid on them and spread it through the hive.I do not think its strong enough to kill the mites but think it would make it a hard environment for them to thrive. I have not done any controlled mite counts but believe it helps.Would be worth doing an experiment.
Comment by Rainer Tritt Tue Nov 21 23:22:56 2017

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