July 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Where is the Honey?

About 20-25 years ago, Wendy’s Hamburgers electrified the world with its TV and radio advertisement with a grouchy old woman disgustingly saying: Where is the BEEF? Today is July 1st, and the nectar flow and honey crop for central Maryland is O-V-E-R. True, there might be some very tiny, isolated areas in western Maryland that might make some basswood honey in early July, but in 98% of the central Maryland area, there is NO honey produced after about June 15th, and you must wait until NEXT year.

Don’t argue with my 72 years of beekeeping in Montgomery County, St, Mary’s County, Calvert County, Howard County, or Rappahanock County, VA, where I have always kept a scale hive in each apiary for many years.

Best that you, too, find and buy a hardware store platform scale if you want to know WHEN a nectar flow starts, when it peaks, and when it ends; and, by golly, you too, will discover that essentially NO honey is produced after about June 15th in central Maryland; and SURELY NONE in July or August.

Some of you can tell tales and stories of superb honey crops being made in July, August and even September; and you are absolutely correct, but this honey was NOT produced in either central Maryland or Northern Virginia. The bygone days of crop land featuring clover, alfalfa, or buckwheat, those crops that produce nectar during the summer months are now replaced by houses, towns, and blacktop roads.

Those large honey producing areas like upper New York state, midwest states like IL, MI, MN, ND, SD are very agricultural areas featuring thousands of acres of clover and alfalfa, who bear nectar for many weeks from June through August; but they don’t have our wonderful very light, slow crystallizing BLACK LOCUST or our REGAL tasting TULIP POPLAR honeys!

Now to the POINT of my LESSON to you: Whatever honey your bees have made is now in your supers; but unless you HARVEST it almost immediately, is not going to be there very long! Your bees are going to move that honey OUT of the supers and take it down below into the brood chamber area! WHY? (You better learn the intricacies of bee BEHAVIOR) Didn’t your sexual desire for reproduction diminish as you aged from youth?

Genetically bred into the queen by GOD is the desire to reproduce, and hence she feverishly lays eggs in the late winter months and very early spring bent on the idea of SWARMING to cover a greater area of foraging. When the nectar flow really gets going, thoughts of swarming are replaced by nectar collecting, and the queen laying is somewhat reduced. When the nectar flow stops or becomes minuscule, the workers dramatically reduce the queen laying by reducing her daily food intake.

This is much more prominent with Carniolans than Italians, but both races slow their brood production. The lack of brood production leaves a lot of EMPTY CELL space in the brood chamber area; and the worker bees remove honey from the supers and take it down into the brood area; obviously preparing for the coming drought months and the coming winter where they want food supplies within the “cluster” area.

Some are going to say “My bees did not produce much honey for me”; but the smart beekeeper is going to remove all the capped honey in late June for himself, leaving the UNcapped (hence, UNripened) honey for the bees and then begin feeding 2:1 thick sugar syrup for winter stores of 60-70 pounds. Why can’t the bee scientists and research people convince you that 2:1 sugar syrup feed for wintering is FAR SUPERIOR bee feed than honey?

Old timers not only thought honey was best because it is “natural”, but they did NOT want to spend money for sugar. However, the past 20-30 years of bee research has definitely proven that just plain sugar (sucrose) that you use in your coffee and tea is the absolute BEST winter feed for bees, because it contains none of those things sometimes found in natural honey that causes bee sickness, notably diarrhea.

I forgot to mention that you can sell your honey for about $3.50-$4.00 per pound and buy sugar at any grocery store for about $1.59-$1.99 per 5 pounds .

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know the difference between $3.50-$4.00/ pound. Start that feeding of 2:1 sugar syrup in late September and DON’T wait until the cold weather of November. However, put your Fumadil-B, treatment for NOSEMA, in your 2:1 sugar syrup in the November feeding, so it stays in the feed all winter long thereby eliminating nosema disease.

Upon my return this week from 4 weeks of traveling in VA, NC, TN, GA, and MD, I found over 800 e-mail notes on my computer, and MANY of them had to do with getting foundation drawn into DRAWN COMB. Over the last 20 years, I have addressed this question in PINK PAGES and TALKS ad infinitum. All the books have written about it, the monthly magazines have addressed the same question. Doesn’t anyone “listen” anymore? I’ll do it one more time! Bees, like some humans, do NOT plan A-H-E-A-D, but only do things as the “need” presents itself. Hence, there is absolutely NO NEED for drawn comb except for TWO reasons: brood production and food storage.

Queens cannot lay eggs and bees can’t store nectar on UNDRAWN foundation, so bees MUST build comb on foundation for queen laying and nectar storage. When a nectar flow quits, bees stop drawing foundation, because there is no longer any need. We can “fool” the bees by feeding a manmade, artificial nectar of 1:1 sugar syrup, so they will continue to build comb out on foundation.

I will grant you that they will not perform as well as if a real, true nectar flow was on, but a 1:1 sugar syrup enhanced with a dissolved peppermint or a few drops of vanilla extract to give the syrup an sweet odor will make the bees willingly draw comb to store that 1:1 sugar syrup, which to your surprise, THEY WILL CONVERT THAT INTO HONEY, and it will NOT be stored as sugar syrup. Perhaps I should have mentioned the conversion of sugar syrup into honey first, but YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT if you are going to be a beeKEEPER instead of a beeHAVER! Your own body does the same thing: When you put sugar (sucrose) in your coffee, your pancreas gland makes the enzyme, invertase, which breaks down that disaccharide sucrose into two mono-saccharide sugars, FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE, and these “blood sugars” is what your doctor finds on examination of your blood.

In finality, HONEY is made from sugar (sucrose), the natural sugar found in all NECTAR, and the bees CONVERT sucrose into the two sugars named FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE by injecting the enzyme INVERTASE into the nectar as they fly home.

Likewise, bees do NOT store 1:1 sugar syrup, but evaporate the water from it, add invertase, which converts it into FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE, hence HONEY, exactly the same thing they do with locust nectar, tulip poplar nectar, clover nectar, or any other nectar! How about THAT for a LESSON?


Are you going to PROTECT your extracted frames from being destroyed by wax moths? It is estimated that bees can produce 160 pounds of honey stored in drawn comb frames, but only 100 pounds if they have to build foundation into comb; hence, PROTECT YOUR DRAWN FRAMES! Extract, put an EMPTY super on top of the inner cover, and your wet frame super on top of that, and tightly cover with your hive cover. Leave it there for 2-3 days, and the bees will meticulously clean the frames almost totally dry.

Then, place the supers out in the sun light with lots of air circulation for another 2-3 days. Then, stack them in your garage or basement, add 1-2 tablespoons of PDB, para-dichloro-benzene, to each super and seal them up. Repeat in 30-45 days, but not necessary after November 1st.

Your frames will be roaring to go in April for a full crop of next years honey! Procedures to be done prior to December Why do I mention this in July?

I plan a-h-e-a-d, plus some don’t follow my suggestions about the TIME to do things, resulting in FAILURES.

This my last chance to HELP YOU!

  1. Remove all frames of capped honey RIGHT NOW!
  2. Install Menthol to kill tracheal mites on August 15th – September is TOO LATE
  3. REQUEEN colonies in late August before September Labor Day
  4. COMBINE a weak colony with a strong colony during September. Not only is a weak colony a lot of work attempting to get it through the winter, but it will not be able to build up to capture our April-May nectar flow. Strong colonies in October will be strong colonies in April, whereas a weak colony in October even if it gets through the winter, lacks bees, hence preventing brood rearing in February and March because of lack of cluster heat to prevent brood chill.
  5. Start feeding 2:1 sugar syrup in September with the aim of having 14 DEEP frames filled by December 1st, or 20 MEDIUM frames.
  6. Feed Fumadil-B in late October and November dissolved in your 2:1 sugar syrup to prevent NOSEMA infection in the coming spring.

The TIME that you install either Apistan or CheckMite to kill Varroa mites is CRITICAL if you expect to get a good treatment! I cannot OVER-EMPHASIZE that fact! WHY? The 0NLY place that a female varroa mite lays eggs to produce more varroa mites is in a honeybee LARVAL cell lust a few hours before that cell is capped by the bees for that bee larva to become a pupae and emerge as a worker bee 12 days later.

THAT last sentence is the most important sentence in this letter. If the queen bee has dramatically reduced her laying, or STOPPED laying, there are very few bee larvae or NO bee larvae present, and hence the female Varroa mite has NO place to lay Varroa eggs!

In our Central Maryland area, most queen bee egg laying is either dramatically diminished or over before November 1st. Hence, if you install Apistan or CheckMite on October 1 st – October 15th, follow the written directions of leaving the strips in place for 6 weeks, but NEVER longer than 8 weeks (which will create RESISTANT mites), your colonies will enter December with essentially zero mite population, and generally you will not have to treat again until NEXT October.

This means that you MUST remove those strips after 6-8 weeks which will be sometime between November 15th and December 15th. There is ALWAYS some day during that time that the temperature is 50° or higher, and you can whiz home from work and snap those strips out of the hives.

So many people pay no attention to proper TIMING, and install mite strips at their convenience in September, and then wonder why they find Varroa mites on their bees next spring or next July, and treat them again. To be successful, you must learn to do things at the PROPER time, not at a time that is CONVENIENT TO YOU.


I have never said the following before, but maybe now is the time: Being blind in one eye and hence unskilled in sports and unpleasant in appearance, I was highly encouraged from grade school on to aspire to be a straight A student and spend every waking hour to gain additional education, which I did, and that effort resulted in my work on the Manhattan Project of producing the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, and my fortune of being mentored by perhaps America’s greatest bee expert, Dr. James I.Hambleton, Chief Apiculturist of the U.S. from 1922-1966, who “put me under his wing” in May of 1933. During those days of the Great Depression from 1929-1938, I learned to be educated, responsible, attentive, inquiring, always seeking, accepting scientists reports and rejecting layman’s “old wive’s tales”, and generally “being DIFFERENT than most other people”.

Further, I am a real NATIVE of Montgomery County, being born on the same property that was granted to my maternal SCOTTISH ancestry in 1736 where Montgomery Mall stands today, and the house built in 1770,

LOCUST GROVE, still stands today at MAGRUDER’S DISCOVERY, my maternal name. My grandchildren are the 10th generation born on this property that began 268 years ago, and now gifted to Montgomery County Historical Trust for preservation.

But what about bees? Back in 1933, Dr. Hambleton recognized my intense interest in science, of course hoping I would pursue Entomology. Even though I chose Chemistry for my BS, Physics for my MS, and Nuclear Physics for my Ph.D., I remember Dr. Hambleton’s constant saying to me, “Forget the supers, and pay strong attention to the BROOD CHAMBER, because that is where the ‘action’ is, both good and bad; make sure you have a fine young queen, identify and treat any and all bee diseases, be conscious of swarm prevention, HELP the bees in their normal pursuit of nature’s calling, but never try to REORGANIZE their way of doing things; and, having done all this, your supers will spill over with success”

I have NEVER FORGOTTEN these words of wisdom from Dr. Hambleton. When I left home for Preparatory school in 1937, college in 1939, Manhattan Project in 1944, as often as each week, I would mail a letter, 31t then, to my father of what to do with my 20+ colonies.. He learned beekeeping on a “correspondence course” from me, and he kept bees for himself for the next 40 years and became a fine beekeeper, in spite of his lawyer’s training. Ha Ha! During the ensuing 40 years, with help from my wife, we kept up to 60 colonies on several local apiary sites, always producing lots of honey and almost sold before the bees produced it.

In 1984, the tracheal mite arrived, and I soon found bewildered, UNknowledgeable beeHAVERS in Montgomery County. Never a “joiner” of associations or clubs due to my blind eye, I FOUNDED the present MCBA, with no officers, no directors, no bylaws or constitution, no parties, no door prizes, BUT an instructional, learning meeting 11 months out of each year, no December meeting.

Now, 20 years later, MCBA has the largest membership of any of the other 12 Maryland Bee Associations, and the ONLY bee association in the ENTIRE United States with more than TWO Master Beekeepers, and MCBA has TEN Master Beekeepers! DAMN, I AM SO PROUD! All 10 of these people can speak, talk, or demonstrate about bees EQUALLY with the today’s best bee scientists!

Although not retired as I have been for many years, these 10 have the same up-to-date, scientific knowledge about bees that l have, and they have a VOICE that is not disabled, and they can walk and demonstrate without assistance. I am sure you will be in GOOD hands when I leave you.

Perhaps for the last time, I will be in my screen cage, with NO protective clothing and NO veil, opening one of my colonies, showing all viewers the insides of a hive including the brood, 20,000 worker bees, and, of course, her majesty, the QUEEN. As everything else I do, this is INSTRUCTIONAL to the public to dispel their fear of honey bee stings that they have been taught by Hollywood movies about Africanized bees. You are invited to help me in the cage, provided you do what I ask of you, or surely talk with the audience outside the cage about the importance of honey bees in the pollination of our human food supplies.

Next Meeting is September 8th. This is the meeting that I might step down as “benevolent DICTATOR” of MCBA, and name my appointee as replacement. The deceased Dr. Roger Morse, considered by many as one of America’s greatest apiculturists, surely the most well renowned professor of beekeeping in the world, and perhaps the most famous of all authors about bees and beekeeping defined the month of September as the start of the NEW YEAR for ensuing next spring, strongly emphasizing that the success of a colony was . greatly dependent on its condition in September.

Hence, I think that September is a good time for me to “pass the torch” to my successor. Then, my truly hard work begins in Williamsburg, VA of moving into a new home with a new, slightly younger wife, and giving her a crash course in installing new packages of Wilbanks Italian bees in April and requeening them with Sue Cobey’s New World Carniolans in late August; and “demanding” NO GLOVES, plus learn to TOUCH the bees without fear.

I am so reminded of what my great hero, General George Patton, said about war: “God, I love it” Likewise, I can say that about my 72 years of beeKEEPING, NEVER beeHAVING: “God, I love It.” Now, I BEG you, BEG you! After about 40 years of CONTINUOUS VOLUNTEER service to the Montgomery County FAIR (the largest agricultural fair on the entire east coast), Arthur Strang, due to age (slightly my senior) has resigned as HONEY SHOW SUPERINTENDANT.

No thinking person wants the honey show to vanish, but it surely WILL without some knowlegeable beekeeper to supervise it. Of course, I want to, but my age and disability prevent that. Master Beekeeper David Bernard , has volunteered to “step-in” as Strang’s replacement to give “new life” to the honey show. Dave will need a lot of help, and he (and me,too) want LOTS OF ENTRIES for the show to make it a FAIR SPECTACULAR of what we Montgomery County Beekeepers can do.

Isn’t it about time that YOU volunteered some of your time to assist DAVE? Nor should Master Beekeeper Barry Thompson be denied HELP in the MCBA booth in Old MacDonalds Barn that attracts ail the kids and parents to learn the importance of honey bees to our food supply, as well as prove to spectators that honey bees are not those “monsters” that attact thousands of people in cities as portrayed in many Hollywood movies.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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