Imirie December Notes

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES
December 2003


Isn’t it great to see this COLD winter weather arrive! While my bees are all snuggled in their winter cluster just keeping warm and eating very little, because the queen is not laying any brood, it is time for OLD GEORGE to relax and have some FUN for myself before I again have honey bee “responsibilities” in late January.

Some might say, “WHAT responsibilities in late January when it is SO cold, maybe even snow covering the hives?” Maybe you are content with a colony production of only 40-50 pounds of honey made in April and May; but for years, my colonies average over 125 pounds/colony and my sons sell it at the Montgomery County Fair for an average of $3.50/pound, and this puts “extra ‘change’ in their pocket”. WHAT do I do in late January, and WHY do I do it?

In Montgomery County, our nectar flow normally begins when dandelions appear about April 15th, and ENDS in 6-8 weeks which is June 15th. Most people, seeing all the blooming flowers and trees just DO NOT UNDERSTAND why honey is not made in late June, July, or August. Honey bees only gather nectar from particular blooms, and none of these particular blooms occur after about June 15th in our county. Hence, all of our honey has to be made in the very short 6-8 weeks between April 15th and June 15th. Knowledgeable beekeepers recognize the fact that a bee does not become a foraging bee until FORTY DAYS after the queen lays the worker egg! FORTY DAYS! FORTY DAYS! Hence, if a bee is old enough to forage on April 15th, the egg that produced that bee had to be laid by the queen before MARCH 6th (3/6 to 4/15 = 40 days).

It requires a lot of cluster heating bees to raise the cluster temperature to 91°-96° for the queen to lay eggs. Also, there MUST be LOTS of stored food in the colony to feed all this newly laid brood. Camiolan queens will start laying eggs shortly after January 1st, and Italian queens will start laying 2-3 weeks later, or near February 1st IN OUR COUNTY (Cumberland, MD, St. Marys, MD, or Richmond, VA are all going to be earlier or later than Montgomery County because of their location or altitude). You can FOOL the bees into thinking early spring has arrived by FEEDING them 1:1 or even 1:2 THIN sugar syrup, and they will get the queen laying. I hope you remember that the worker bees have total control over the queen’s action by controlling how much they feed her. Knowing that most of the worker bees produced from eggs laid in late January or early February will NOT be foraging bees, but they are VITALLY necessary to keep many frames of brood warm enough so that the brood is not killed by CHILLING, and hence I start sugar feeding of very thin syrup in late January to get my queens laying brood. By doing this, I have a STRONG force of foraging bees in late April and all of May. Of course, when doing this, you are promoting swarming, so you have to use all the swarm control techniques that science has taught us; and of course the Number ONE swarm control technique is to have a VERY YOUNG QUEEN (less than 6-8 months old, and that is why like FALL requeening instead of spring requeening).

AD NAUSEUM, I have preached that you cannot determine whether a colony is alive or dead by looking at the front entrance to see if they are flying on a warm day in January. The colony might be dead, and the bees you see flying in and out are robber bees from some other colony. Select some warm day, over 55° and no wind, take off the inner cover and inspect for BROOD. If brood is present, close the hive, give thanks, and relax. You can do that in 10 minutes.

More bees STARVE TO DEATH in MARCH than any other month, because brood rearing is intense and brood rearing requires a lot of food for the bee larvae, and a lot of food for the bees to maintain colony warmth so the brood will not chill. Don’t let your bees STARVE – How would like to starve to death? That is why you should buy sugar every time it is on sale CHEAP, so you have it ready if your bees need feed. Further, when the temperature is below 50°, bees WON’T or CAN’T move 2 inches away from their warming cluster to get feed, so FORGET that “super-like hive top feeder”, that stupid DIVISION BOARD feeder, and that ridiculous Boardman front entrance feeder. You MUST get your feeder almost touching the bees, like an upside jar of syrup on the inner cover hole or right on top the frames after the inner cover is removed. Can’t you spend $1.50 to buy a 5 pound sack of sugar to keep your bees alive? Shucks, if the bees don’t need it, you make lots of cookies or cakes for your family or the church auction. DON’T LET YOUR BEES STARVE TO DEATH!

December 2001 PINK PAGES – What will be Important in 2002?
George Imirie’s PINK PAGES
December 2001

What will be Important in 2002?

As a scientist, I was taught to deal in cold hard facts, using no assumptions, no guesses, ignore anecdotes, and avoid “gray” areas. As a result, I go to Las Vegas only to see the shows, ignore the football point spread, don’t play any lotteries, and don’t allow any “strange” queens in my hives. Then, WHY do I dare PROGNOSTICATE what I think might be important in 2002? Based on what bee scientists have found in very recent years, then I dare predict there will be more good news about the control of mites without the use of many chemicals, less bee death caused by mites, more beeHAVERS upgrading to beeKEEPERS, and a generally improved beekeeping in the U. S.

Since the queen bee is the most important “critter” in a colony, let me briefly, (being ‘brief’ is tough for me) tell you about TWO noteworthy types of queens. These queen “types” have nothing to do with the race of bees, like Italian, Carniolan or Russian hybrids, but rather a different genetic factor that can be present in any race. I am speaking about HYGIENIC queens, and SMR queens.

Almost 40 years ago, the famous Dr. W. C.. Rothenbuhler of Ohio State University found that certain bees would remove dead larvae from cells, and another group of bees would remove dead pupae from capped cells, and ANOTHER
GROUP would perform BOTH “cleanup” functions. Rothenbuhler’s research showed that bees who possessed BOTH
of hese cleanup functions were quite resistant to American Foul Brood disease. About the same time, Steve Taber and Martha Gilliam, working independently of each other  found the same thing. Why wasn’t this discovery pursued at that time? LACK OF MONEY FOR RESEARCH! Terramycin had just been found a few years before Rothenbuhler’s work and the use of this seemed to have the problems of AFB temporarily solved, so this  research concerning bees “cleaning” their nest site (hence, HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR)  was “put on the back shelf” to collect dust.

However, about 10-15 years ago, Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, desperate to find non chemical methods of Varroa mite reduction, started intensive research on Rothenbuhler’s findings. Armed with her findings that only the bees from certain queens exhibited this “nest cleaning” genetic difference, she bred breeder queens via artificial insemination of the drones produced by these certain queens to the point that the University of Minnesota’s apiary of Italian bees now has colonies that exhibit HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR. Dr. Spivak provides HYGIENIC breeder queens to Glenn Apiaries in California who will sell you new queens that they have been produced from these Minnesota HYGIENIC queens. At this time, these queens are rather expensive for hobbyist beekeepers, but who knows, if some respected commercial beekeepers or well known side-liners and/or hobbyist beekeepers enjoy success of having bees that can stay alive and produce without the use of chemicals to control mite population, this will be as important as finding Terramycin. Further, if it is found that these HYGIENIC bees are resistant to other diseases like American Foul Brood, Chalk Brood, Nosema, etc., this finding might equal Langstroth’s discovery of “bee space”.

In the past 5 years, Drs. Harbo and Harris of the Baton Rouge Bee Laboratory, have found that there are certain queen bees that posses a genetic difference that Suppresses Mite Reproduction, SMR. Many identical colonies, but headed by different queens, were examined and it was found that some colonies had many fewer mites than others. Therefore, the queens of the colonies with the fewest mites were used as breeder queens to try to isolate this genetic difference, and this was repeated over and over until colonies are now established that have very few mites present even under harsh conditions. Briefly (that word again), it was found that not every female mite that enters a bee larval cell produces any ADULT mite progeny. This fact can be divided into 5 categories: a) mites how don’t lay any eggs, b) mites who die before laying any eggs, c) mites who only produce a son and no daughters, d) mites whose progeny die beforereaching mite adulthood. and e) mites whose progeny has been laid too late to reach mite adulthood.

Science cannot yet explain this genetic difference in queens, but as long as a queen that possesses this genetic attribute can also produce gentle bees, high honey production, and other desired qualities, do we need an explanation of this difference now? If SMR queens, regardless of whether they are Italians, Carniolans, Russian or what-have-you can live and perform without the use of chemicals to control varroa mites, I think that is fine. SMR queens are available from Glenn Apiaries in California, and other sources found in the monthly bee magazines.  Do I have either HYGIENIC queens or SMR queens yet? No, but I surely will soon! Surely, you should realize that there are some queen breeders that are going to put a great deal of emphasis on producing your $12 queen from a HYGIENIC or SMR breeder queen; while there are others who say or even advertise that their queens are HYGIENIC or SMR queens,
but they have never bought a single breeder queen that fits these new genetic differences. The well storied “use car salesman” is not the only liar in this world.

This coming spring, one of my PINK PAGES will contain a detailed description of how YOU can test your own colonies to determine if your queen is HYGIENIC or not. You do not have to be a scientist to make the test, but just follow the directions of a scientist.

A NEW BOOK is out, and it costs only $15, cost of a restaurant dinner. Dr. Jim Tew, the Alabama “boy” who was smart enough to earn is Ph. D. at the University of Maryland before Dr. Dewey Caron “absconded” to Delaware, has written the “brief” (that word again) 225 page book entitled BEEKEEPING PRINCIPLES. It was partially designed to replace
Walter T. Kelly’s famous “Starting Right With Bees”, a book for beginners; but knowledgeable Jim Tew just had to do more than write for beginner’s and he did. The book is written totally different than my l-o-n-g way of writing, and is written in concise detail, but covering almost all subjects that a hobbyist beekeeper needs to know. I hardily recommend the book!

Although not my favorite President, I am constantly reminded of a statement in John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address which says ……Not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Good beekeeping is “Not what the bees can do for you, but what you can do for your bees”. It is a beeKEEPER’S job to HELP his bees.

Still, even in the year 2001, we find so many beeHAVERS and even some beeKEEPERS who are still trying to raise bees like “Daddy did”, don’t read any recent bee books, don’t attend bee meetings that have presentations by bee scientists and researchers, or don’t attend meetings at all. Their bees die, and they wonder why, or explain to all about the bad winter, the summer drought, the lousy queen they bought, or that they could only look at their bees on Saturdays. There is no excuse for beeHAVERS when there are some fine recent books for sale, and some Master Beekeepers around who want to help. Why do I keep using that word recent? So many MAJOR PROBLEMS have appeared in these past 17 years, beginning with the tracheal mite in 1984, the Varroa mite in 1987, the entrance of the Africanized Bee into the U. S. in 1990, the small hive beetle in 1998, resistant American Foul Brood in 2000, plus other new problems. Just as computers have made the typewriter almost obsolete, books and articles written before about 1992, regardless of how famous the author was, are essentially OBSOLETE because they do NOT cover these subjects that are causing mayhem today. I think all beekeepers except the real beginners should have The BEEKEEPERS HANDBOOK, 3rd Edition of April 1998 by Dr. Diana Sammataro, cost $30; the beekeeper’s “desk Bible”, THE HIVE AND HONEY BEE, 1992 Extensively Revised Edition, arranged by Dadant’s Joe Graham and its 1300+ pages written by the top 33 bee scientists and researchers of the U.S., cost $36; and finally Dr. Jim Tew’s new book, BEEKEEPING PRINCIPLES for $15. Surely somebody might want to give you a book for Christmas. All the bee equipment houses sell the first two books, and Jim Tew’s book is available from Walter T. Kelly Co in Clarkson, KY

George W. Imirie, Jr.
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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