February 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Are Your Bees Alive?

I have lived in Montgomery County over 80 years and kept bees here for 71 of those years; and I am an “old retiree scientist” that “notes” things that perhaps many people ignore. I have seen much colder weather than any we have experienced these past two months of December and January. However, there has ALWAYS been 2-5 days during each of these 2 months when the temperature went over 50° or even 60° so one could inspect bees, remove Apistan strips that were installed during October, and let the bees fly to empty themselves; but the c-o-n-t-i-n-u-o-u-s downright chilly or even COLD weather during the last half of December and ALL of January is MOST UNUSUAL and totally upsets my plans, and I am sure that I am not alone.

Today, Monday February 2nd, temperature is below freezing, snow, predicted for tonight and again on Thursday and the coming weekend. I can’t INSPECT my bees, nor can I get to my apiary on my electric scooter or golf cart because of the snow, and the damned five strokes I have suffered have ended my WALKING forever, I guess. However, I am not “throwing in the sponge” and quitting yet; because there are still T00 MANY beeHAVERS out there that need my help to become respectable beeKEEPERS!

Food isn’t produced in the grocery store or a laboratory, but out in NATURE as God ordained it when he created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve. Mention of Adam and Eve denote SEX to some people; so let me talk about the SEX of flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees that terminate in the term POLLINATION; and why our honey bee is SO IMPORTANT to our human food supply!

Every FLOWER, irrespective of whether it is on a tree, bush, shrub, or vegetable has either male organs or female organs, which like we humans produce either sperm or ovales (eggs); and if these sperm and ovales are brought together, FRUIT or offpring is produced. The flowers produce sweet tasting, wonderful smellng NECTAR that attracts bees to gather, and make into their winter survival food HONEY. In gathering this delightful nectar, the bee brushes its hairy body against stamens of pollen that are the sperm of the male flower and it brushes off onto the hairs of the bee. The bee then visits another sweet smelling flower to collect its nectar, but this is a female flower and some of the pollen held on the hair of the bee is trapped by the pistil that contains the ovary of t-he flower, and THIS IS POLLINATION that produces the offspring (fruit) of this flower. The offpring might be an ALMOND nut, a berry, a root like a beet, or a fruit like an orange. That is your SEX education about the the vital importance of honey bee pollination of HUMAN FOOD like carrots squash onions, Halloween pumpkins, Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, Christmas apple pie, spring salads of cucumbers, pickles, lettuce broccoli, strawberries, blueberry muffins for breakfast treats and who can do without orange juice or grapefruit for breakfast or lemonade on a hot summer outing?

Lastly, everybody likes ICE CREAM. My 85th birthday is not too far off, and I want ICE CREAM, lots of it! It requires a well-fed cow to make lots of rich milk and cream. A wellfed cow HAS TO HAVE HIGH PROTEIN ALFALFA HAY, and our honey bee pollinates about 98% of all the alfafa seed in this country that the seed companies produce. We have so many brilliant horticulturists, entomologists, biologists, “out there”, who may want to “add to my description” of a sex education about flowers and pollination, but I, for the most part, talk to just WONDERFUL AMERICAN beeHAVERS who may not be as skilled in all the sciences as some are.

If you want to know exactly how to build an atomic bomb or debate the accuracy of Avogadro’s number, come see me sometime and we will discuss. Believing STRONGLY that one who stops LEARNING might as well be dead, my newest interest, BUT NEVER EQUALLING MY INTEREST in apis mellifera, is nannotechnology, making “things”, engines, parts, instruments from items smaller than one thousandth of the width of one human hair, AND IT IS BEING DONE! Science is WONDERFUL.

Are Your Bees Alive? No one else gives a damn but you – Or do YOU? Place your ear tightly against the hive body and wrap on the outside of the hive body with a small hammer, a screw driver handle, or your knucles. If you hear a buzz, they are ALIVE, but HOW MANY, and FOR HOW LONG? ARE THEY HUNGRY? IS THE QUEEN ALIVE? IS THE QUEEN LAYING? Have they got MITES? Do they have DIARRHEA? And finally, do they have the dreaded American Foul Brood? Are you skilled enough to properly indentify and understand all these things? Are you still one of those jerks that are trying to keep bees “like Daddy did before MITES” and really thought that beekeeping was just getting all protected by a bee suit, throw some supers in place in May, HOPE THE BEES DON”T SWARM, wait until the cool evening in September, put on your protective clothing, dash out, throw the supers in your wheelbarrow and HEAD FOR THE BARN? Then you would spend the rest of the winter telling all listeners what an expert beekeeper you are, not afraid of bee stings, and your bees made umpteen pounds of honey, when the truth was that you were lucky to get a full super of 50 pounds.

I watched the Super Bowl last night, my first night home after my 6 weeks vacation in five Southern states. Those players did NOT kid anybody – they played their guts out, and win or lose, came away PROUD OF THEMSELVES. I, too, am PROUD of my beekeeping expertise, and you SHOULD BE; and all YOU have to do is listen to “my great” contingent of ten CERTIFIED MASTER BEEKEEPERS, and you, too, will learn the real JOYS OF BEEKEEPING. NOW, LET’S GET DOWN TO THE REAL “NITTY GRITTY”!.

If your bees need FOOD, feed them tonight, tomorrow even if it is snowing. DON”T WAIT FOR THE WEEKEND BECAUSE THEY MIGHT BE DEAD BY THEN! How? Mix 1 pound of sugar in 1 pint of warm water (This is 1:1 ratio to provide INSTANT feed, but getting the queen to start laying.) Put that feed in gallon glass jugs or mason jars, all with 4-6 holes in the cap with a diameter NO BIGGER THAN 1/8th inch – better l/16th – BEST 5/64ths or 3/32nds. Take off the inner cover, and put these jars right on top of the brood frames right over the bees, and protect those jars by surrounding them with an empty hive body. DO IT AGAIN AS SOON AS THE JARS ARE EMPTY, and keep feeding until dandelions bloom.

If you find a “dead-out”, EXAMINE ALL CONDITIONS to find out WHY! INVESTIGATE, ASK EXPERTS FOR HELP, DO AN AUTOPSY! Don’t be a jerk, and say “Cold weather killed my bees”. COLD, even -40° for a month will NOT kill healthy bees, Dr. Southwick did heavy research on cold weather and proved that temperatures as low as -80° for a month did NOT KILL BEES. If you find just a FEW bees in your colony, including the queen, but still numerous frames of honey, 99% of the time your bees died of TRACHEAL mites, usually in January.

I will bet that you did NOT treat with menthol at all, or you waited until after AUGUST (September is too late), or you did NOT keep grease patties in your colony CONTINUOUSLY from July until Christmas. I hope you don’t doctor your children with the same disregard!

If you find lots of bees HEADFIRST down in their cells, your bees STARVED TO DEATH. If you find all kinds of nasty brown stains all over the front entrance of your colony, but your bees are still alive, they are sick with NOSEMA, because you were TOO CHEAP to spend $2 on FUMIDIL B and feed it to them in November.

I am not even going to talk about American Foul Brood, because I doubt if you would believe anything I say. It is insidious, it is NOT TREATABLE with anything known by science yet here in 2004. Like using insulin to keep a diabetic patient alive, but the patient STILL HAS THE DISEASE OF DIABETES, you can keep the HIGHLY CONTAGEOUS disease of AFB under control by feeding TERRAMYCIN to your bees at least twice yearly, but you MUST understand that Terramycin WILL NOT KILL AFB and, because AFB is so highly contageous, you are extremely foolish NOT TO DESTROY THOSE BEES AND WOODENWARE PARTS as quick as possible.

Old Timers, experimentalists, know-it-alls, and fools have tried every concoction known to the the Devil himself to cure or treat AFB for over 100 years, and NOTHING HAS YET BEEN FOUND that will kill the AFB spore without also killing the bees! Maryland has a vaporizing chamber that uses ethylene oxide that kills the AFB spore and sterilize the wooden components of a hive, but almost ALL states BURN THE ENTIRE HIVE, BEES, HONEY, AND associated hive products. AFB is not something to play with. I have personally seen apiaries of 100+ colonies wiped out by AFB in just one year who were owned by irresponsible beekeepers.

The seriousness of AFB is the exact reason that my mentor of 70 years ago, Dr. James I. Hambleton, Chief Apiculturist of the U.S. Government started the state bee inspection program in 1922 when 1/3 of all bees in the country had AFB and it is now down to about 1%-2%.

It is my personal scientific opinion that annually only 10% of all U.S. bees die from bee diseases, while 90% die from beekeeper stupidity or lack of care. Much of these problems can be corrected by beekeepers getting off their lazy butt and learning something with the brain that God GAVE them and so many refuse to use it.


Our central Maryland nectar flow begins in mid April, lasts only a few short 6 weeks, ending about May 31st and surely by June 15th. There is no other nectar flow that bees can gather surplus, with the possible, never dependable, fall flow of goldenrod. But who wants that QUICKLY crystalizing nectar that is not very good for bees. Hence, our honey has to be made during April, all of May, and maybe early June. It requires a LOT of bees to make a good yield. It is 40 days (FORTY DAYS) between the time an egg is laid by the queen and the worker bee produced by that egg goes out as a foraging bee for nectar. A worker bee has a 21 day GESTATION period and remains a “nurse bee” working inside the hive for another 18-19 days before it ever goes out to nectar collect. Hence, if a serious nectar flow stars on April 15th, the egg that could produce a bee old enough to forage for nectar on April 15th has to be layed by the queen before March 6th!

How many of you beeHAVERS are going to have a queen bee laying heavily and for a lengthy period prior to March 6th? And suppose you do, can you control or stop SWARMING?

Start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to your bees in EARLY FEBRUARY to get your queen laying; and then start swarm control. You MUST UNDERSTAND that there is a very thin line between having a LOT OF BEES (50,000-60,000) and SWARMING. Swarming is the prime failure of beginners, beeHAVERS, some beeKEEPERS and even a few Master Beekeepers. We NOW have essentially proven that the major causes of swarming is Number 1, age of the queen, and Number 2, conjestion in the BROOD CHAMBER, and Number 3, not enough SUPER space; and IN THAT order. Why? A good queen can lay 1500, or even 2000, eggs every 24 hours; but more important, she produces a certain quantity of queen pheromone every day of her life. This pheromone INHIBITS bees from building swarm cells, but it DIMINISHES a little each day of her life. Hence, when she is VERY YOUNG, like just a month old, she can produce so much of her queen pheromone that it can be spread all over 50,000-60,000 bees that her progeny don’t even think about building swarm cells or swarming.

A one year old queen has lost the ability to make too much of this queen pheromone and hence, the worker bees think about swarming when there are only 30,000-40,000 bees in the colony; and you can FORGET the swarm control of a 2 year old queen, because they might swarm with only 1 pound of bees leaving just 2 pounds of bees and a virgin queen in the old colony. Hence, I STRONGLY believe in fall requeening (late August and early September) so that new queen has lots of pheromone in March, April, and May that greatly inhibits swarming during nectar collecting season. That is how I produce so much more honey/colony each year than most local bee keepers, and am able to sell so much at up to $4.00/pound or $6.00/pound for comb honey.

You will hear so many beekeepers say “to diminish swarming, give the bees MORE room”, but they don’t mention WHAT KIND OF ROOM or WHERE THAT ROOM IS SUPPOSED TO BE. What a bunch of poor informational baloney! First of all, queens can’t lay eggs and bees cannot deposit nectar on FOUNDATION – both functions require DRAWN COMB, a beekeeper’s MOST VALUABLE POSESSION.

Before the actual start of a nectar flow, the queen needs LAYING SPACE OF VACANT CELLS. After the nectar flow starts, bees lose interest in the laying of their queen and want nectar depositing space of DRAWN COMB. Note that I did not say space for HONEY! I said space for that THIN, WATERY nectar than bees will eventually evaporate about 80% of of the water and ripen this watery nectar into thick honey. If you expect to make about two supers of honey, you should have at least FOUR supers of drawn comb in place on you colony to give them to room to store all this thin watery nectar until they have time to convert it into two supers of honey. What is so damn hard about understanding this volume problem? It amazes me that so many smart people, even with multiple college degrees, can’t seem to get this simplistic fact through their heads.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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