Don’t lose your beehives to American Foulbrood

With the new honey bee vaccine blowing around in the news lately, and scientists Barking up the wrong Bee, I feel that I should share with you how I treat my beehives to prevent American Foulbrood. If you haven’t read my reaction to the honey bee vaccine, please do so. I would love to know your thoughts about it.

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I have to admit something to you up front here- I have very little experience with AFB. In fact, in the last 17 years I have only seen it two or three times. I can tell you roughly what the sunken cells look like on the capped brood or the ‘foul’ stink that emanates from the hive entrance.

But I think it’s a very good thing that I have little experience encountering it because it means that prevention methods work.

I am going to briefly describe AFB and what it is before I share with you how I treat to prevent it and why. It really is heartbreaking to a beekeeper when an inspector finds AFB in a hive and make you burn it, bees and all.

This is the traditional test for detecting brood that has been infected with american foulbrood.
This is the ever popular brood test for AFB. That stringy yuck that sticks to the, umm, stick is what AFB infected brood turns into. Grody!

American Foulbrood To describe this to you, I’m going to quote a very helpful website with a link directly to the article by

American foulbrood (AFB) is a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee brood caused by the spore forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae. It is not a stress related disease and can infect the strongest to the weakest colony in an apiary. Infected brood usually die at the pre-pupal or pupal stage. Heavy infections can affect most of the brood, severely weakening the colony and eventually killing it. The disease is not able to be cured, meaning that destruction of infected colonies and hives or irradiation of infected material is the only way to manage AFB.

Traditional Treatments There have pretty much been two different antibiotic treatments for AFB: Terramycin and Tylan. One of the challenges is that AFB can build up a resistance to these treatments. Also, they cannot be used during a honey flow because they leave residuals behind in the hive. Lately there’s been talk about what I mentioned earlier, a honey bee vaccine against AFB. Anymore, you have to get a prescription to even get the stuff. You can read one of the recent articles about the vaccine here.

Now before I share with you how I go about treating my own beehives for AFB, we have to go over some sciency-science.

Nerd Knowledge Time AFB is a bacterial spore that does NOT harm adult honey bees but the adults are carriers of the spore. As adult honey bees clean in-hive surfaces, the spore is spread throughout the colony. The only point at which honey bees are susceptible to the spore is when they are in their larval and pupal developmental stages. Nurse bees, carrying the spores, feed larvae that are only a few days old. It is then that the brood becomes infected. More here.

When I first discovered this, my analytical brain went to work. I surmised that if the young larvae are the ones susceptible to the killer spore and it happens during feeding time, what would be an effective solution?

Whatever the solution needs to be, it must be better than what commercial antibiotics were offering. When I was researching these commercial products, I discovered that they are only effective against two out of eighteen strains! So what if your bees were infected with one of the other sixteen? The marketed antibiotics had too narrow a spectrum for effecting a solution and the spores could build up a resistance to it anyways.

What is needed is a Healthy, Broad-Spectrum Antibiotic that the spores could not build a resistance to. Then I came up with something. Something that I had been using myself for my own personal health and wellness. It’s called Olive Leaf Powder. At the time I was taking olive leaf powder in a capsule form for an alternative way to battle Lyme’s. As a broad-spectrum antibiotic, nothing could build an immunity to it. I was having tremendous success taking it. So I immediately began thinking of ways to administer it to my honey bees.

Now a little disclaimer– To the best of my knowledge, it is not written nor prescribed anywhere by anyone to consider olive leaf as any type of cure for honey bee ailments. Nor has it been tested. But there’s also nothing saying I couldn’t try it. So after a few trials and errors, I am now going to share with you the final way I figured how to administer it.

Olive Leaf Powder for treating AFB Taking a loose olive leaf powder, that you can find here, Organic Olive Leaf Powder, mix it with a quality pollen substitute like Ultra Bee made by Mann Lake, that you can find here,Mann Lake Ultra Bee Dry Feed Pail. These are both a dry powder mix. My mixing ratio is 3:1; that is three parts Ultra Bee to one part olive leaf powder. Check out the benefits of olive leaf powder for yourself here.

To begin, start by mixing 3 cups of Ultra Bee with 1 cup of olive leaf. Mix thoroughly. This is your starter. Then follow these steps:

  1. Measure out 3.5 ounces/100 grams of your starter and mix it with 7 ounces/200 grams of bakers sugar. That’s the same thing as powdered sugar but really really fine.
  2. Now pour in 7 tablespoons/105 mL of water and knead thoroughly until the mixture is silky smooth. Take your time here. This makes one Pollen Patty. To make greater quantities you’ll have to do the math. But now you know the basics.
  3. After you have your pollen patties ready then it’s time to put them on. For this step, I’m referring you to my second favorite beekeeping blog, HoneyBeeSuite by Rusty Berlew. She knows what she’s talking about. As you will see, timing is extremely crucial for feeding pollen patties. Read this now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Olive leaf powder that I use for treating my beehives for american foulbrood.
This is a sample of my own Olive Leaf Powder that I use for myself and for my honey bees. It’s quite bitter to the taste. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

Welcome back! I hope you read that. Let’s move on. Here’s what I have observed in feeding this to my honey bees- They slowly tear away at the pollen patty and store it in the cells surrounding the open brood cells. As it’s needed, the nurse bees then begin to feed this AFB treatment directly to the young larvae in their homemade royal jelly.

The concept is simple: To help prevent AFB, we’re using a broad-spectrum antibiotic in the form of Olive Leaf Powder. Using a high quality carrier in the form of Mann Lake Ultra Bee Dry Feed Pail, we’re making pollen patties to give our honey bees at the right time in order to prevent the infection and spreading of AFB.

My bucket of Ultra Bee that I use to treat by beehives for american foulbrood.
This is my second bucket of Ultra Bee since treating my beehives with the method described here today for AFB. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

To date, I have not had any AFB infectious hives. The fact that I have not had AFB in my hives does not necessarily mean that my Nerdy concoction works but it also could indicate that it is working. If you generally do not treat for AFB, then this pollen patty certainly will not hurt your beehives just as it has not harmed mine. Sometimes doing something is better than doing nothing.

I would like to hear your experiences and maybe some of your own experiments. Share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Until then remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

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