Here at Healthy Bees, we strive to make products that are good for honey bees but also good for the environment (which is in turn is good for us!).
Our main protein source, spirulina, is the embodiment of that ideal. With a complete amino acid profile and teaming with nutrients, it is one of the earth's most perfect foods. Environmentally, it holds the same accolade. It needs no pesticides, nor arable land, and requires few nutrients. It is sustainable agriculture and nutrition all in one. In science circles, we consider micro-algae cultivation to be the best route towards a better future.
Thanks to Dr. Ricigliano and his work on spirulina's effects on bee health, we also know that spirulina has another function - it feeds gut microbes. His research has shown its effects are on par (and sometimes possibly better) with a naturally foraged pollen diet. It is a powerful prebiotic.
However, another aspect to our formula I have dwelled on for some time may be at odds with it: essential oils.
Essential oils provide wonderful functions. They can stimulate immune systems, suppress pathogens, and keep small hive beetles at bay. However, what we do not know is that if they interfere with the prebiotic effect of our spirulina patty. They are natural antibiotics. This can be a great thing, however, most things in nature end up as tradeoffs.
Can essential oils suppress Nosema better than a robust gut microbiome can?
Does a robust microbiome also stimulate the immune system in bees as it does in humans?
The research is still being done, so (at least in the literature) that answer remains unclear and will take some time. Personally, I firmly believe in the power of the microbiome. Microbes power the world around us.
Field testing of our product without essential oils began around a year ago with commercial beekeepers. So far, the feedback has been great: higher royal jelly production than the original, better consumption, and "fluffier bees". All of which I normally correlate to good individual physiology due to nutrition.
Given that field research, we are now proud to offer a strictly nutritional version of our product, formulated to provide superior gut health along with nutrition.
In the words of Hippocrates:
“Let the food be thy medicine and the medicine be thy food*.”
For our original formula, research and customer feedback has shown excellent results with the essential oil patty over the years. Now the question is posed: which one do I get?
HERE IS THE UPDATED OPTIMAL GUIDANCE on knowing which formula to feed (to be used in conjunction with my post on when to feed pollen subs).
If it is a cold dearth (i.e. winter), feed our Spirulina Patties without essential oils (as needed).
If you have hive beetles severe enough that they infect pollen substitutes, feed the Spirulina Patties with essential oils (as needed).
For diseases, I honestly don't think any one product can help. Yes, it may in the long term, but first you need to identify all the conditions surrounding and influencing the disease (I’m currently working on a document to understand that and will update you all accordingly).
For the rest of the year, if your goal is a strong gut microbiome and excellent nutrition (and you do not have hoards of SHB) either of our Spirulina Patties will work just fine, but I give the edge to our patties that have no essential oils.
FINAL NOTE ON THE PATTIES WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
The only time we have received negative feedback (bees unwilling to consume) on the essential oil patty is when fed during a cold dearth or when mixed with many other essential oils. My thoughts behind this are that it's simply just too much medicine. In a cold dearth with minimal-to-no pollen coming and the only protein source has essential oils, it may be a little too strong for our bees. The main time this would be an issue is pre-almond pollination build up. Most non-commercial beekeepers do not feed during this time.
But what about summer dearths? One of our largest queen breeding customers has been using our product for two years and always reports an increase in royal jelly production when using it. I have fed it in my research hives for four years (from March until October) with wonderful results. I generally double my hives yearly, with a roughly 10% overwinter mortality rate.
Essential oils are expensive, so with the new simplified formula, we are able to pass the savings on to you. Feel free to visit our shop to see for yourselves.
*Author note: Hippocrates may or may not have actually said this, though it is often attributed to him.