October 09, 2008

Buttercream Icing (or Recipe for Grease Patties)

While we've only seen two mites, the reason we're concerned about them is that while the lone queen bee slows down egg-laying in the Fall, the many mite foundresses keep on reproducing. So as the bee population dwindles and the mite count increases, the mite-per-bee ratio could become too high for the colony to withstand. Especially a small one like ours.

Bees don't fly if it's much under 50°F, so in preparation for a cold weekend forecast, we replenished their syrup and gave them a Grease Patty. (Actually, I formed it into a quenelle the traditional way, using two spoons to achieve a very nice three-sided football shape.) Theoretically, the bees will walk all over it, and pick up grease as they try to get the sugar. The grease makes them slippery and the mites fall off, or the bees pick the mites off as they groom each other. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there for the mite.

Many beekeepers use a Screened Bottom Board, but our hive has a solid bottom. If we had a SBB, the mites would fall through the screen and that would be that. The mites would soon die without its host. With a solid bottom, if a bee walks by a loose mite, it can pick up a hitch hiker. We need to actually kill the mites, so we modified the grease patty recipe.

Mostly sugar with shortening, the basic recipe for grease patties is almost identical to Wilton's Buttercream Icing. Ours, though, has tea tree oil instead of vanilla, making it a miticide. Here is our recipe, in volume so it's easy for those of you that don't own a kitchen scale, and scaled down to a wallet-friendly size.

Combine and shape into a "slider":
3 tablespoons sugar (OR 2 T sugar + 1 T granulated fructose*)
1 tablespoon shortening
a drizzle of honey (a teaspoon-sized chunk of comb honey)
a pinch of mineral salt, crushed to a fine powder**
3 drops wintergeen or tea tree oil***

* Fructose's hydroscopic properties can help keep the patty from drying out.
** such as Real brand
*** Every Chinese person has White Flower Oil in their house, and I bet it works better.

In the future, we might make a larger batch so that we can include some anise oil, too. Our bees barely touched the Grease Patty and the anise, a bee favorite, would stimulate their appetite. The mixture freezes well, which is handy for beekeepers who keep grease patties in their hives year-round. Even without any essential oil, they are reportedly effective in combatting Tracheal Mites. But we're hoping to not keep anything in the hive, especially during the busy season, except bees.


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