May 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


(I strongly suggest you read my remarks) SWARMING Disaster, Disgusting, Depleted honey yield, DAMN!

It amazes me that we have highly intelligent beginners, beeHAVERS, and even some crusty old beeKEEPERS that are doctors, teachers, executives, computer guru’s, bankers, salesmen, lawyers, and ad infinitum; and they let their bees swarm, but CANNOT EXPLAIN WHY THEY SWARMED!

Remember your youth and the stories about the birds and bees in trying to explain SEX? Just tike you, you like sex and want to REPRODUCE as directed by your GOD (whoever that might be). So do cats, dogs, horses, tigers, fish, germs, and BEES.

However, honey bees are just a bit different. Unlike we mammals who are SEX driven to reproduce, honey bees vacate their home primarily because of CONGESTION in their NURSERY (brood chamber), toss of contact with mother QUEEN bee because her age prevents the dissemination of QUEEN PHEROMONE throughout her 40.000-60,000 “children”. and lack of brood rearing space.

All of these 3 causes occur in our Montgomery County, MD area in April, and maybe early May. This is called SWARM SEASON, which occurs BEFORE a major nectar flow, and when the queen is laying eggs at a feverish rate so that there will be multitudes of “nectar collecting” bees when the nectar flow finally occurs.

Let me STOP YOU HERE, to make sure that you understand that a swarm during swarm season (which is prior to a major nectar flow) happens for a TOTALLY DIFFERENT reason than a swarm during a nectar flow. I plead with you to try to understand this difference! As stated above, a swarm that occurs during swarm season (before a nectar flow) occurs because of problems in the BROOD AREA, and has absolutely NOTHING to do with SUPER space; and these bees are mentally programmed to find a new home because of the CROWDED conditions in the BROOD AREA.

They plan to leave behind a virgin queen to take over their “old homestead”. They go off to parts unknown like a hollow tree in the woods that has no “furniture” (comb for queen laying aid nectar storage), so they have to QUICKLY build comb, and HOPE for enough nectar collection to store up 40-70 pounds of honey to get them through the coming winter. By the way, many honey bee scientists have indicated that less than 10% of these swarms survive the winter which will come in about 8 months.

So many non-thinking beekeepers really think a swarm is a spontaneous event that just happens. BALONEY! The workers start planning the swarm 10-20 days in advance of swarming.

WHY? There is not enough empty comb in the BROOD area for the queen to lay eggs, the BROOD area is badly congested with too many bees (like the Washington Beltway), and the workers can’t seem to find the queen mother because her AGE precludes her ability to produce adequate QUEEN PHEROMONE throughout the entire colony. ENTER THE SMART, INTELLIGENT, WILLING-TO-WORK BEEKEEPER: He requeens his colony EVERY 12 MONTHS, preferably in the late summer, so his queen is a well mated, young, vigorous queen who can lay eggs STRONGLY starting in January and hitting her peak in March in preparation for the spring nectar flow.

REQUEENING every year was UNHEARD of just 20 years ago, but as the bee scientists proved that year old queens could not produce adequate queen PHEROMONE to “control” a large worker bee population, the great majority of commercial honey producing beekeepers requeen EVERY 12 MONTHS, and some twice/year.

Even more important is to provide DRAWN COMB laying space for the queen. Bees and/or queen like to move UPWARDS in their colony and RESIST traveling DOWN. Hence, with the TOP brood chamber is well layed with OPEN brood (eggs and larvae), the BOTTOM brood chamber is either empty of brood or filled with ready to emerge CAPPED brood. REVERSING those two brood boxes, so the queen has the opportunity to go UPWARDS into the emptying brood chamber as she runs out of laying space in the lower brood box, is well recognized by bee scientists as the major prevention of swarming during swarm season.

You might have to do this 2-3 times during February, March and early April. Repeating, reversing only involves the BROOD boxes, and has NOTHING to do with super space. What I have written above is the story of swarming during Swarm Season, which is BEFORE the major nectar flow, and it TOTALLY different that swarming during a nectar flow.

Basically, YOUR job is:

  1. REVERSE the brood chambers as needed so the queen can ALWAYS go UP to empty laying space.
  2. Have a YOUNG QUEEN, just a few months old, but not 12 months old.
  3. Use DRAWN COMB and not foundation and have spare supplies ready to use if needed. WHAT happens when a STEADY nectar flow begins, which is normally black locust about April 15th to May 1 st in Montgomery County? Almost over-night, the worker bees “shift gears” and change their program from swarming to nectar collecting. Now the foraging bees are finding nectar, bringing it home to the colony, and the nurse bees receive it, begin the ripening process of converting nectar into honey, storing it in cells, and capping that cell when the ripening process is complete. All honeybee minds are now on honey, and swarming is almost forgotten, PROVIDED THAT YOU HAVE PROVIDED ENOUGH SUPER SPACE IN ADVANCE to store all than thin nectar which is about 80% water until the bees get time to evaporate the water percentage down to about 16% now known as HONEY.

Basically, 25 pounds of nectar makes only about 6 pounds of honey, and that ripening process may take only a few days, but if the humidity is high (always high in our area), ripening might take 10-20 days. !n each of my apiaries, I have always had a SCALE hive that can be weighed EVERY night to see how much weight increase there is for each day. On a good nectar flow, I strong colony can bring in 25 pounds of nectar in ONE day or 50 pounds in 2 days.

Ten 6 5/8″ medium frames will be totally filled to hold that much nectar; and after ripening yield only about 12 pounds of honey and that process might take several days. What is going to happen if you still have supers stored in your garage instead of where needed – on your hive? Or too cheap to buy adequate supers? Or too careless to protect last years DRAWN COMB from wax moth damage?

Your bees are going to SWARM during the nectar flow; and it is 100% YOUR FAULT, because you did not have enough supers on your colony during the nectar flow. As a rule of thumb, I have 5 supers of drawn comb on every colony before April 30th, and I expect to get 2-3 full supers of honey from each colony, BUT NO SWARMS. 1 can’t seem to emphasize the importance of having LOTS of supers, DRAWN COMB, not foundation, in place on a colony well in advance of the nectar flow, if one is to avoid swarming during the nectar flow.

Back in 1933, when I began beekeeping in Bethesda, it was THE GREAT DEPRESSION, and people could not afford to buy extra supers, replace queens every year, produced comb honey instead of extracted honey due to lack of an extractor, so most beekeepers did not get a honey yield of more than 1 super/year. THEN, beekeeping was 90% ART, and 10% science.

The advent of mites in 1984 and 1987 dramatically strengthened bee RESEARCH nationwide, and today’s INFORMED beekeeper who practices scientific beekeeping in addition to the ART of beekeeping is able to produce over 100 pounds of honey per colony here in Maryland; and double that in ;daces like Florida, California, Minnesota, the Dakota’s, etc.

TIME CHANGES THINGS (forget my wrinkled old skin). We now have fuel injected cars instead of carburetors; and everyone seems to have cell phone. Most people communicate via e-mail instead of a 37ยข stamp snail-mail. Iodine used for cuts is replaced by Neosporin. The Croakers (hardheads) have come back to Chesapeake Bay, but crabs have disappeared. Amoco gasoline is now BP. My GREAT grandchildren are fascinated with my bees, whereas my grandchildren were not interested.

THE POINT IS THAT YOU CANNOT KEEP BEES LIKE YOUR DADDY OR GRANDDADDY KEPT BEES, because we have LEARNED so much about better beekeeping techniques and procedures during these past 20 years. If you have FAILED TO KEEP UP with the positive thinking of scientist’s findings regarding beekeeping over the last 20 years, you are NOT a beeKEEPER, but just a beeHAVER. You will receive this note in early MAY which should be a nectar flow in progress.

Have you got enough supers of drawn comb on your colonies, or are they going to SWARM due to lack of storage space?

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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