If you look at our mixing directions, you will notice that we suggest adding oil to your patties. But how much to add, what kind to use, and why use it? We’ve got the answers.
Why add oil?
Adding oil to your patties can help on a variety of levels, but let’s cover the easy ones first:
Oil helps keep your patties from drying out – Have you ever popped the lid of your bee hive only to see your homemade patty looking like a brick? This is because standard “table sugar” (aka sucrose) is very drying and products without high lipid contents can become susceptible. If you’re making the heavy syrup with sugar and water, try adding some oil to the mix and you’ll be shocked at the difference it can have. Interested in learning more about types of sugars? Check out our MegaBee U piece on sugar.
Oil makes the patties easier to work with – We’ve all been there…mixing patties can be a messy job. But next time try using a little oil. You will notice the patties start to take on a certain shine and become more workable. If you can pick up a piece and roll it in your hand like cookie dough then it’s ready to feed.
In addition to helping patties stay dry and workable, higher lipid levels in your hive’s supplemental nutrition also helps in a couple other areas:
Oil helps immature bees develop – That’s right. Research shows that lipids are essential for cell wall formation during growth phases, as well as stimulating hormone production.
Oil helps hive communication and productivity by stimulating pheromone production – Lipids are a major building block of pheromone production, and there’s been plenty of research to show that an increase in lipid levels in honeybees leads to an increase in pheromone production. In 2011, researchers at Oregon State used synthetic honeybee pheromones to see what effects they had on hive production. The result? OSU’s research showed that increased pheromone levels in the hive triggered higher pollen collection.
How much oil should I add?
MegaBee already contains about 4% natural lipids and research suggests levels shouldn’t exceed 10%, so we recommend adding 4% of the total weight in oil. If you’re making a single patty that works out to about 2-3 large tablespoons, for a 100LB batch you’re looking at adding 4 pounds.
What kind of oil should I use?
So we’ve convinced you to give it a try next time you make patties, but “adding oil” is a bit vague. Let’s clear this up:
Use a plant oil – Also known as edible oils or major oils, in order to maximize lipid content in your patties these are what we are talking about. Most commonly used oils on hives are corn, canola (rapeseed), and vegetable oil…with coconut oil becoming a more popular option as of late.
Avoid olive oil – Bees are picky eaters and tend to dislike the taste of olive oil, so mixing it into your patties might affect palatability.
So we now have some options but which one should you actually use? In designing MegaBee we asked the same question and ran a study in the early 2000’s to answer this. Our particular focus was to see if we could increase immediate consumption of a patty by adding either a commonly used oil or small amount of sugar. We placed eight different “mini-patties” on our research hives and recorded consumption over a 48-hour period. Check out the results below:
The results aren’t earth-shattering by any means, but they do give us an interesting window into the honeybee’s preferences. As you can see, bees are like kids and will choose the sugary options first, but 10% sugar alone did not record the highest levels of consumption…that went to 10% sugar + 4% corn oil. The conclusion: Bees actually do like the taste of a patty with higher lipid levels.
What does this mean for beekeepers?
Many beekeepers in different corners of the globe are looking for answers as to how to get more beneficial nutrition into their hives faster, especially as hive beetles are becoming a nuisance for more parts of the US. So next time you roll up those sleeves and make patties, reach for the oil.