As the weather warms and you start thinking of picnics and barbecues, your thoughts may also go to typical outdoor summer pests. The last thing anyone wants to see once the grill is fired up is bees and wasps buzzing around your guests. The problem is that commercial repellents and insecticides often contain toxic chemicals that you probably don’t want to use around your friends, family, or pets — or essential pollinators! But not to worry — you can keep bees from being a buzzkill by making your own natural bee repellent.
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But First, a Little About Bees
Pollinators, like bees, are essential to our very existence. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “cross-pollination helps at least 30% of the world’s crops and 90% of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants — including food crops — would die off.”
I live in the Central Valley of California, where we are probably more aware than most about the importance of bees for pollination. Every year, California almond growers import honey bees from other states to pollinate their $2.3-billion-a-year crop.
Look at Your Surroundings
If your backyard barbecues are always being attended by swarms of bees or wasps, take a look at your landscaping. If you have sweet-scented flowers and plants that are attracting the bees, you may want to rethink where and what you’re planting in your yard.
From the Experts
I was thrilled to speak with beekeeping experts Juli and Bob Morlock from Morlock Honey Farms in North Dakota. During almond pollination season, their honey bees travel to the Central Valley to pollinate almonds. They (the bees and the Morlocks) winter in Texas and then head back to North Dakota to spin out their honey. They help to make that state the number-one honey-producing state in the nation. In 2014, North Dakota bees produced more than 42 million pounds of honey, valued at over $84 million, according to the North Dakota State Government.
Juli shared an expert tip that works for her at keeping bees, yellow jackets, and wasps away from their outdoor dining experiences. First, she wanted to stress that bees and other pollinators usually aren’t attracted to human food unless their preferred source of food is done producing (flowering), typically in the fall. She suggests putting some ketchup on a plate near enough to your event that the pollinators are attracted to it. The ketchup, which is mostly corn syrup, becomes an easy source of food and distracts them from your meal.
What Not to Wear
Bob from Morlock Honey Farms also mentions that beekeepers wear protective veils and light-colored clothing when they are around bees. The reason is that bees are aggressive toward dark, fuzzy objects, so wearing light-colored clothing is helpful and something to think about when you’re trying to avoid attracting bees.
Also, skip wearing flowery scents or using strong-scented soap, hairspray, or deodorant. These sweet smells will attract all kinds of insects.
Make Your Own Bee-Away Spray
You can use this natural bee repellent safely indoors or outdoors.
Gather these materials
- Spray bottle
- Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap (peppermint or non-scented)
- Peppermint oil
- Cayenne pepper
- Combine 2 or 3 teaspoons of liquid soap with water in your spray bottle. This will create a soapy mixture that can be safely sprayed on most things. Add more or less soap, depending on where you’re spraying it. If you’re spraying it outside, it should be stronger so it won’t wash off if it rains. If you’re spraying it indoors, use more water so it won’t have such a strong smell (always test surfaces before spraying).
- Add a few drops of peppermint oil to your mixture. A lot of bugs, including hornets, dislike the smell of peppermint.
- Add 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to your mixture. This combination of scents will make your mixture strong enough to keep most pesky bees away.
- Spray this around your doors, windows, decks, patios, and so on to keep your outside events buzz-free. Also spray underneath lawn chairs, tables, and on walkways. If you’re using your spray indoors, as mentioned previously, make sure to only spray surfaces that will not be damaged by the mixture.
Your natural bee repellent works because the water will evaporate and leave behind the peppermint, cinnamon, and cayenne smells to deter the insects from hanging around.
NOTE: Use common sense when interacting with nature. Don’t spray directly at a bee or wasp because it may become agitated and come after you. Wasps are especially aggressive; if you have a problem that isn’t helped with these solutions, consult a professional.
Want more natural pest-control ideas? Read Bug Off (Naturally)! 7 Nontoxic Pest Control Remedies
Feature image courtesy of Myriams-Fotos, Pixabay. Originally published on June 20, 2017, this article was updated in June 2021.