March 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

In Maryland, MARCH is a VERY IMPORTANT Month
for the Beekeeper’s PREPARATION for APRIL NECTAR

Some of the things I am going to mention are: Starvation, Testing for mites, Super preparation, REVERSING and REVERSING, Feeding to get the queen laying, Disease cleanup, Colony equalization, Splitting colonies, Buying queens, nucs or packages, Colony Inspection, Temperature and Wind.

Sure, I am going to “preach” a little “fire and brimstone”, ’cause people just seem to pay NOT much attention to “being nice”; so, I have to irritate you just a bit to force you to THINK, and hopefully RE-ACT.

STARVATION: No brood was being raised in November or December, so the bees ate very little of their stored honey. However, in -spite of what you thought about the cold and chill of January and February, brood rearing STARTED in January and intensified in February. Bees had to eat a lot of honey to raise the duster temperature to 91°-96° for the queen to lay eggs, and then the bees had to really use a lot of stored honey to FEED all of this newly laid brood. More colonies of bees DIE of starvation in MARCH than any other month of the year, because the brood rearing is just exhausting their stores. What a NASTY way to die, and it is the FAULT of the BEEKEEPER because he did not provide enough winter stores for the bees; and/or TOO LAZY to check their stores in January and February on “those one, two, or three” days that the temperature went over 50° between 1 PM – 3 PM, when the beekeeper could have left work early to check on his bees.

TESTING FOR MITES: I doubt that you take an aspirin or Tylenol to reduce a fever unless you have “taken your temperature with a fever thermometer”. You don’t put oil in your car crankcase until you have checked the dip stick, I hope. The gas gauge in your car “tests” the gas tank to determine how much gasoline is left in the tank. Rather than just putting some Apistan strips or CheckMite strips in your hive in the spring, WHY DON’T YOU TEST and see how bad your mite infection is? Don’t treat your bees if the mite infection is very low! To test, just make a STICKY BOARD test for mites on April 1st (April’s Fool Day) for no longer than 24 hours using ONE Apistan or CheckMite strip hanging in the brood chamber. I hate to name a mite count figure for whether to treat or not treat, because colony size, previous treatment TIME, bee health, location are all important factors. But if find a sticky board on April 1st, holding over 200 mites after a 24 hour (not 36 or 48) treatment with one miticide strip, then I am going to treat that colony to save it and forget honey production for that year. Haven’t you ever had to cancel your night out, a football game, or a weekend vacation, because you came down with a fever indicating that you had some “germ” that you better rid yourself of? TEST FOR MITES WITH A STICKY BOARD TEST OR A SUGAR DUST TEST BEFORE YOU GO OFF HALF-COCKED and use a miticide. NOTE HERE, THAT I AM ONLY TALKING ABOUT THE VARROA MITE, NOT THE INVISIBLE TRACHEAL MITE THAT IS STILL HERE IN MARYLAND AND ELSEWHERE.

SUPER PREPARATION: Commercial beekeepers who make their living off of honey production “guard their frames of DRAWN COMB like Brinks guard banks” In Central Maryland (Baltimore-Washington, DC area), dandelions appear in late March or early April and this “sets the stage” for the up-coming nectar crop of black locust, tulip poplar, and of course, myriads of “wildflowers”. Unfortunately, in comparison to other states, this April, May, and maybe early June is OUR ONLY SURPLUS HONEY CROP. Hence, if you are going to be successful, you have to ANTICIPATE and BE AHEAD OF YOUR BEES, it never BEHIND. Assuming that you have healthy, STRONG population of bees, and have been REVERSING brood chambers starting in February to prevent swarming as well as increase brood production, install ONE super of DRAWN Comb on April 1st and NO queen excluder. Just 2 weeks later, April 15th (income tax day), make sure that the queen is NOT in that single super or move her down to the brood chamber area, put on a queen excluder UNDER that single super (which is now a “bait” super to entice other bees to come through the queen excluder), and add FOUR (4) more supers of DRAWN Comb on top of that first super. Of course, I recommend that you install two IMIRIE SHIMS, one over the Number 2 super and the other over the Number 4 super. Now, you are all set to make a wonderful honey crop and normally without swarms unless your queen is over one year old. NONE OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN APPLIES TO USING FOUNDATION! Foundation MUST be made into DRAWN comb, and that is a whole different scenario from that what is described above. See my previous PINK PAGES for how to use FOUNDATION. By the way, Dr. Tom Rinderer, as well as other scientists, have proven (found) that bees produce higher yields of honey when they have MANY EMPTY SUPERS OF DRAWN COMB INSTALLED ALL AT ONE TIME rather than the former “antique” method of installing a new super over a already half filled super, etc., etc.; and more important, at least for me, is lots of super space materially diminishes SWARMING.. In Maryland, without any nectar producing blooms that will produce SURPLUS honey after about June 15th, it is VERY important to avoid swarms, because a new colony has an EXTREMELY DIFFICULT time to make it through the coming winter. In Maryland, the chances of survival through the coming winter of any new colony whether natural in nature in a bee-tree or in a beekeeper’s hive is very REMOTE, unless cared for by a SKILLED beekeeper. Hence,do what you can to avoid swarming and loss of bees!

REVERSING, REVERSING: a very controversial subject, NOT because it doesn’t work, but because of the LAZINESS of the average beeKEEPER and particularly the average beeHAVER. If you don’t like “old George’s” thoughts about REVERSING, read page 618 in the extensively revised 1992 edition of THE HIVE AND HONEY BEE, where Dr. John Ambrose, a bee researcher, writes “Reversing is the most effective swarm control processes that beekeepers can perform”. Back to “old George”: In the late winter or early spring, bees don’t like to move downward, but always move UPWARDS in the colony, filling the upper brood chamber with brood and immediately think about SWARMING rather than simply go down to the empty brood chamber below. If you REVERSE these bodies, suddenly the bees find a new place ABOVE THEM to go to that is EMPTY and just “begging” to be filled with brood, pollen, and nectar. One, two, or three weeks later depending on the weather, strength of the colony, and the fecundity of the queen, you may find the upper body well filled and the lower body beginning to empty, so it is time to REVERSE AGAIN. You might have to do this 2, 3, or even 4 times until the nectar flow becomes strong in late April or early May to prevent SWARMING. There is NO SET TIME to do this! When the upper brood chamber is pretty well filled with eggs, larvae, and a few capped cells, and the bottom brood chamber has no eggs, larvae, but lots of capped cells and maybe even some empty cells, REVERSE, REVERSE, REVERSE!

FEEDING TO GET THE QUEEN LAYING: Think about it: There is no reason for a queen to lay eggs to produce brood in the cold months when there is no nectar to gather, so the queen relaxes and does not lay eggs. However, the first pollen: skunk cabbage, alders, maples, that the worker bees find on a Warm flying day in January or early February alerts the colony that spring is just around the corner. Then the first NECTAR that the bees find really gets the colony in “high-gear” thinking about intense brood rearing. PLEASE NOTE: The QUEEN does NOT make this decision Her WORKER BEE DAUGHTERS make that decision and they start feeding the queen lavishly to stimulate egg laying! FEEDING the queen forces her to lay eggs to produce enough bees to gather the coming nectar crop, that is going to provide the stores for “next” winter that ensures the continuance of apis mellifera in this area. What is NECTAR? From your point of view, nectar is the beginning of honey; but from the bees point of view, it is their FAVORITE food for everyday eating plus feeding the brood larvae, and it is the material that they make into winter survival food called HONEY. Nectar is the starting point for major egg laying by the queen. Since Maryland’s ONLY surplus nectar flow is so early, April and May, it is very important to get the queen laying as early as possible to build a large contingent of forager age bees. By mixing 1 pound of sugar in 1 pint of water (1:1 mixture), this is artificial nectar, so we fool the bees by feeding them 1:1 sugar syrup in February and March to make them think spring is about to arrive and hence they get their queen laying rapidly. I start feeding in Late January to really get my colonies strong by April. It is very important that you must realize that it is FORTY (40) days between the time the queen lays a worker egg and the worker bee it produces goes out of the hive foraging. because the bee does inside hive work, primarily feeding the brood larvae for about 18-19 days before it becomes a foraging bee! Hence, if a nectar flow starts on April 15th, the egg that becomes a worker bee had to be laid by the queen BEFORE MARCH 6th!

DISEASE CLEANUP: CAN YOU IDENTIFY A BEE DISEASE? If not, you better get off your butt, and learn how. Our Maryland Bee Inspectors, Jerry Fischer, Greg Gochnauer, and Bill Troup (just to name 3) are NOT educated entomologists, but highly skilled beekeepers who became successful because they studied and understood bee diseases. I REALLY ADMIRE them, because all three of them did it, NOT FOR A JOB, but because of their personal interest in aiding apiculture. YOU can do it too. I am not going to talk about chalkbrood, sacbrood, dysentery, mites or lesser diseases, but confine my remarks to just two diseases; American Foul Brood, the ABSOLUTE KILLER of bees, and Nosema, the disease that effects about 60% of all the bees in the U. S. that rarely kills a colony, but badly weakens it so it has great difficulty in honey production or pollination. There is absolutely NO cure or treatment to destroy the infection of a colony that has AFB, and this includes Terramycin. Like giving INSULIN to a human diabetic EVERY DAY, the diabetic can stay alive; but still has diabetes which is finally going to kill the patient. Terramycin treatment for AFB is almost identical, in that the bees are going to stay alive and productive as long as they are constantly treated with Terramycin. However, every piece of equipment owned by the bee keeper is contaminated with AFB spores, and hence, every colony in his apiaries will become infected with AFB, even including all the honey his bees make. Hence, tell ALL beekeepers in your area, your county, and your state, that you believe in QUICKLY DESTROYING ANY COLONY INFECTED WITH AFB! You might lose a colony worth $100, but you will gain a lot of friends; and conversely, if they don’t destroy those infected bees, OLD GEORGE will lead the parade of beekeepers on his electric scooter to run them out of town. The Government is spending millions of dollars to find a cure for cancer, and AFB of a colony of bees is much like cancer and has defied a cure, but we beekeepers don’t have a million dollars to spend; so you will get vigilante justice. NOSEMA rarely kills a colony, but it weakens it so bad, that the colony is a poor honey producer. If you had fed $2 of Fumadil-B to the colony each November, there would be no NOSEMA. However, if the front of your hives are all covered with nasty looking brown spots, your bees had diarrhea from NOSEMA disease. Look inside and see if the inside of the hive and frames are also stain marked with bee feces. If so, put some new clean frames in the colony, destroy the wax in the old frames, and clean the wood frame with hot soapy water, add some bees and brood from another colony, and maybe requeen. Clean the hive body the same way. Although, NOSEMA rarely kills bees, you don’t want your bees walking around in bee feces from diarrhea. At least I HOPE not. Don’t depend on the bee inspector to diagnose a bee disease in YOUR colony. That is YOUR job. You don’t call the doctor or hospital when your child has a small fever and a runny nose, but give them aspirin for the fever, maybe rub their chest with Vicks Vaporub, feed soup, and keep in bed for a day or so. YOU LEARN about bee diseases and treat them yourself. That is part of being a beeKEEPER rather than a beeHAVER.

COLONY EQUALIZATION: It doesn’t make much sense to have one WEAK, but healthy, colony in the same yard with 3 or 4 strong, healthy colonies. Give some help to that weak colony by transferring some capped brood to it and maybe even some of the adhering adult bees. I don’t like transferring OPEN brood of larvae and eggs because a weak colony may not be in a position to maintain WARMTH to that brood on a chilly night. Of course, if a colony is WEAK because of some DISEASE, don’t equalize but determine WHAT DISEASE and treat.

SPLITTING COLONIES: There are TWO reasons to make spring splits: 1.) to increase the number of colonies, and 2.) as a SWARM preventive effort, and you can always re-unite the two colonies at the end of the nectar flow. How do you make a split? First, order a new MARKED queen to arrive on a given date. Seven to ten days prior to that date, separate the brood boxes with queen excluders, when the new queen arrives, give her drop of water to drink and put the cage in a dark, cool place in your house. Go to the colony to be split, and the queen is in which ever brood box you find eggs or larva. Find that queen, and move that frame to a separate hive box so she is CONFINED while you split the parent colony. Select about 4 frames of brood including the adhering bees, plus 2 frames of honey, and put these 6 frames PLUS 3 new frames of foundation or drawn comb in a new brood box, and place this new colony on a bottom board in its new location, and allow it to “settle down” for 24 hours with 1:1 sugar syrup feed over the inner cover hole. Replace the old queen back in her parent colony with 6 new frames to replace those that you removed. 24 hours later, get your new queen from your house, remove the cork from the candy end of the cage and install the cage near the center of the cluster of bees in the new split. The cage should be empty and the new queen laying in 3-5 days, so remove the cage, and add the 10th frame to the box.

BUYING NEW QUEENS, NUCS, or PACKAGES: Any JERK can go in business and raise queens and bees; but ARE THEY ANY GOOD? _ Will they be delivered on time?- Are they disease free? Flow well was the queen BRED? Was the drone population open to all types of honey bee races, Italian, Carnioian, Africanized, etc., etc.? Why not buy from one of those highly knowledgeable queen BREEDERS that has made a life long study of honey bee GENETICS, and his bees, his reputation AMONG OTHER QUEEN BREEDERS is well known, and his WRITINGS and elected position in national bee associations are all TESTIMONY of raising excellent bees? If you have a fault with his bees that was not caused by some STUPIDITY on your part, that breeder is going to re-supply you perhaps at no charge to protect his own reputation.

Buy a new queen EVERY YEAR to control swarming, and ALWAYS either buy a MARKED queen or mark her yourself with Testor’s paint so if you see an UNmarked queen in your colony, you know that SOMETHING happened to your purchased queen; and WHO is the new UNmarked queen bred to?

COLONY INSPECTION: Back in 1933, my mentor, Dr. James I. Hambleton, told me “don’t bother to look into the supers where the honey is, because that does not tell you a single thing “good or bad” about the colony. Always INSPECT where the “action is”. in the BROOD AREA.. If there is disease, it will be found in the brood area. If the bees are planning a SWARM, you will find that in the brood area. If the colony is queenless, you will find that in the brood area. If the bees have superseded the queen, you will find that in the brood area. Etc, etc. etc! Every time you open a colony, IGNORE the supers, and look at the brood area to find any GOOD things or BAD problems. Above all other considerations, check for perforated capped cells which could be AFB, or look for scattered brood cappings which indicates a failing queen, and, above all else, look at the COLOR of the bee larvae which should be PEARLY WHITE; and if it is the slightest bit yellow or brown, YOUR BEES ARE VERY SICK. Pull a frame, get the sun BEHIND you, and hold that frame up so you can peer own into each cell and INSPECT!

TEMPERATURE AND WIND: It is IMPORTANT that you know certain things about the weather effect on bees. First, the wing muscles of a bee are paralyzed at about 500 and she cannot fly. Many will deny that and say BALONEY, “I had a bee fly right up out of the hive and sting my face”. Of course, the bee was warmed by the cluster heat IN the hive and that body heat gave the wing muscles strength enough to fly right in to your face TO PROTECT THE COLONY. Let’s talk about temperature. Flowers bloom, pollen is produced, and NECTAR is produced at temperatures over 500-600, and when the temperatures get into the 70’s or 80’s, the bee think they are in heaven; and are so busy and calm as they work like crazy going from flower to flower hunting for NECTAR, their favorite food for themselves, not to mention a NEED for LARVAL brood. However, WIND is a “whole new ball game”. Bees top speed in flying is only 15 mph, so flying against a strong wind might prevent them from returning home to their hive; but more important, wind DRIES UP NECTAR and prevents the bee from finding the ODOR of nectar; and I guess, it frustrates the bee, “speaking as a human”, and working bees in the wind is a sure way of getting STUNG. Select a day with brilliant sunshine, temperature over 70°, and NO wind to work your bees; and they won’t even know you are near their hive.. You might even have to take off a few hours from work to do this, just as you would do to go to an important baseball game or Redskins football game..

If you did not attend the MSBA meeting on February 21st at Howard County Fair Grounds, SHAME ON YOU. I even offered to pay your 2004 dues to MSBA if you were not a member. You missed a WONDERFUL meeting attended by over 200 Maryland beekeepers PLUS a “bus” of about a dozen Virginia beekeepers from as far away as the Shenendoah Valley. Dr. Marla Spivac EXCITED the audience with her talks about QUEENS and HYGIENIC bees. DR. Rick Feld enthralled the audience with his talks about hive evaluation, queen quality, and PHEROMONES. Master Beekeeper Steve McDaniel SPELLBOUND the audience with his professional photography of bees with the color, magnification of things like the “toenails” of a bee, and the clarity of the pictures PLUS his superb comments.

WHAT AN EXCITING DAY OF LEARNING WAS FOUND AT THAT MSBA MEETING! I salute the new officers of MSBA for having such FANTASTIC speakers on such IMPORTANT subjects. There was not a person there that did not LEARN something new and exciting!

George W. Imirie, Jr.
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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