September 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


September, NOT April, is the month that determines the success of your honey bee colony next spring!!! I say that for all the colonies within 100 miles of Washington, DC.

I surely AM NOT KNOWN FOR BREVITY, but this “edition” of PINK PAGES will be BRIEF, as I, and many other scientists, have written about the importance of fall preparation ad nauseum. Everybody knows that summer is over and winter is coming, and yet there is always some procrastinator who forgets to put antifreeze in his tractor, boat engine, or even his old car until the weather forecast for December 15th is well below freezing! But that procrastinator just had to drive to Skyline Drive to view the beauty of the autumn leaves, and he just HAD TO spend Saturdays watching Waryland, Virginia Tech, or Notre Dame football games, and every Sunday watching either the Washington REDSKINS or the Baltimore RAVENS. Meanwhile, his bees were FORGOTTEN; and next spring, we successful beekeepers have to listen to this man’s “tales” of why his bees are dead, usually beginning with an “unseasonable cold winter”, or those purchased queens were NO GOOD, or Apistan or CheckMite are NO GOOD because they did not kill the mites, or any of another 100 “lame excuses”. Of course, 99% of the time, the cause of colony death or spring weakness is IMPROPER FALL PREPARATION of the bees, which is nothing more that beekeeper FAULT or NEGLECT!

Let’s start with the date of AUGUST 15th, during the Montgomery County FAIR, did you treat your colonies with MENTHOL to kill the tracheal mite, or do you believe that they have disappeared? If you OPEN your colony on Sunday, January 30, 2005 and find essentially NO bees (or just a handful), but there is still LOTS of honey in the hive, the TRACHEAL MITE has defeated you.

Did you REqueen about September 1st to provide lots of new winter bees to warm the winter cluster, so the queen could lay well in late January and all of February? By the way, HOW OLD is your queen? After all, winter is hard on we “old folks”, and a 2 year old queen is “ancient”. Further, is your queen MARKED? If not, you don’t know whether she is. 24 months old, 12 months old, or 6 months old; or whether she is a Wilbanks Italian, a half Carniolan, or a “red-hot mama” that had 5 minute “stands” with every local drone in the area.

Bee scientists and researchers have PROVED (I said PROVED!) that plain granulated SUGAR (5 lb. bag for $1.59) is the BEST winter feed that a bee can have – FAR BETTER than honey! Yet beekeepers are now paying $2.00/gallon for gasoline to dash off for a weekend at Ocean City for $150/night; but BITCH and RESIST buying sugar to feed their bees. FORGET the fall nectar flow from goldenrod and/or aster because it has become VERY UNdependable in this area; and also is LOUSY honey for bees because it crystallizes so quick. Bees start to CLUSTER at temperatures of 45°-50°, and they can’t feed or store sugar syrup then, but September is still warm enough that bees can readily accept sugar syrup, RIPEN IT into honey, and then STORE it away in capped cells. In our Washington – Baltimore area, bees should have 70 pounds of honey to get through the winter. 70 lbs. is about 12 CAPPED deep frames or 18 CAPPED medium frames; or a two story colony of 20 deep frames would weigh about 120 lbs, or a three story colony of 30 medium frames should weigh about 130 lbs. on December 1st. FEED YOUR BEES SUGAR SYRUP (10 lbs. sugar dissolved in 5 pints of water) in SEPTEMBER, not October or November. They need TIME and temperatures over 50° to accept and process this syrup. And for all you “penny pinchers” (who spend $200 to go to a Redskin game), suppose you have to buy 50 pounds of sugar for each colony; you can buy 50 lbs for about $16, and a new 3 lb. package of bees next April will cost you about $50. Even a dying man before he is electrocuted gets fed a meal of his choice before death – Can’t you FEED your bees to prevent their death. NOW, you know why I created the terms beeHAVER and beeKEEPER. Any jerk can HAVE bees, but it takes just a little bit of WORK and some UNDERSTANDING to be a beeKEEPER, and that work must be done on BEE-TIME, not on the TIME most convenient for you.

How much work can YOU do when you have the “runs”? Bees can’t either. The disease of NOSEMA causes diarrhea to the bees, and researchers have estimated that as much as SIXTY percent of all surviving spring bees have some NOSEMA disease. The queen can’t lay eggs very well, and the workers can’t build comb or nurse larva very well, much less the simplistic needs of drawing foundation or foraging. For an average cost of $2, you can feed FUMIDIL-B to a colony, preferably in October and November, that will destroy NOSEMA for the entire next 12 months. Read pages 1097-1104 of the 1992 Edition of The Hive and Honey Bee. I call that EXTENSIVELY REVISED Edition, the beekeeper’s BIBLE, its 1300+ pages written by 35 of our TOP American bee RESEARCH scientists. Come on – if you can afford to pay $2 for a gallon of gas, you can surely afford $2 to keep a colony of bees healthy for a year from NOSEMA disease that historically attacks 60% of all bee colonies in the nation.

Lastly, and MOST important, killing the dreaded VARROA mite. DON’T use Apistan or CheckMite or any other Varroa pesticide in September, because September is TOO EARLY to get a decent kill of Varroa mites! WHY? The female Tracheal mite only lays eggs for new mites in just ONE PLACE – with a honey bee LARVA just the day before the cell is capped. When there are NO honey bee larvae in the colony, the tracheal mite has NO place to lay eggs. In the Washington, DC area, honey bee queens are laying very little about October 1st, and maybe almost zero by October 15th, and ZERO by November. Hence, apply any VARROA mite pesticide between October 1st – 15th, leave it in place for SIX weeks (covering 2 brood cycles), and POSITIVELY REMOVE IT by December 1st. FORGET doing things that are at a CONVENIENT time for YOU, and perform tasks when they get the BEST results. You will NOT have to treat again until NEXT October. Since Varroa mites arrived almost 20 years ago in 1987, I have never lost any of my 100+ colonies to Varroa mites, and neither do the prominent queen and bee suppliers like Wilbanks, or they would be “out of business”. There is ALWAYS some warm afternoon above 50° in late November or early December that you can whiz home at noon, pull out your Varroa pesticide strips, and dash back to work. You have choice: follow my directions and be successful, or ignore directions and have DEAD, or sick, bees.

I refuse to say GOOD LUCK, because successful beekeeping is NOT luck, but knowledge of WHAT to do and most important, WHEN to do it.

George’s BLUE pages – that should make you curious
September 2004

My “AFFAIR” with beeHAVERS resulting in Many Fine beeKEEPERS!

As I “just fade away” as General Douglas MacArthur said, as a one-eye blind person who has had to “fight and scrap” during my 80+ years of life just to be recognized, there is no way that I am going to CHANGE my attitude because of my departure. I will still be BLUNT and demanding that you “get off your ass” and LEARN. WHY?

Seventy Two years ago, Dr. James I. Hambleton, Chief Apiarist of the US Department of Agriculture “took me under his wing” and mentored me into a successful beeKEEPER. This was BEFORE mites, BEFORE Terramycin, BEFORE advice on the BEE-LINE, BEFORE much knowledge of bee RACE, BEFORE Africanized Bees, and BEFORE honey cost more than 25¢/lb, or a 3 lb pound package with queen cost more than $5, Twenty Five years later, and successful with 30 colonies in Bethesda, in 1948, the “famous” Steve Tabor enticed me to switch my Italians to Carniolans to take advantage of their EXPLOSIVE early spring buildup in order to secure high yields of our Maryland Locust, Tulip Poplar, and Blackberry nectar flows starting in mid April and OVER by May 31st. Although “experimenting” on my own from 1933-1948, this switch to the “swarm inclined, black Carniolan” excited my now well-developed scientific interest. In 1944, I was “chosen” to be part of the Manhattan Project and sent to Oak Ridge, TN to help purify Plutonium; followed by being sent to Los Alamos in April 1945 to design and build ionization chamber gamma ray recorders for Dr. Robt Oppenheimer’s health physics group in building our first atomic bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From that point on, my interest in beekeeping became one of management improvement, queen improvement, disease control, swarm control, improving beekeeper KNOWLEDGE, and LESS interest in honey production. Now 60 years later, I still have not altered my thinking. I am so reminded of Dr. Hambleton’s teaching where he said: “FORGET THE SUPERS, examine only the brood chamber where all the good and the bad are created, and if your skill and knowledge of bees can properly MANAGE your brood chamber, the SUPERS and honey production will ‘take care of themselves'”. Now 60 years later, my bees exceed almost any Maryland honey production figures year after year, rarely any disease, almost no winter death, and very little swarming even with my Carniolans.

With the advent of tracheal mites in 1984, Master Beekeeper Ann Harman and I founded the MCBA to impart our knowledge to all members who would listen. You know the rest of the story: An educational meeting EVERY month, no parties, no dinners, no door prizes, but JUST a bee educational meeting of explaining SUCCESSFUL beeKEEPING; and ALL for only $10/year including my PINK PAGES. Was my idea successful? We have over 150 PAID members, we have TEN Master Beekeeper members and no other bee association in the ENTIRE USA has more than Two, during the past 14 years, 4 MC members have been STATE Presidents, and TWO have been EAS Presidents. What other bee association has a SHORT COURSE of 5 two hour lectures by MASTER BEEKEEPERS + 2 April weekends of HANDS-ON instruction of students supervised by MASTER BEEKEEPERS, and almost nobody wears gloves? YES, I DEMAND! And I have gotten fabulous results, and I am so PROUD of my “students”. The days of keeping bees like “Daddy kept bees” are GONE. The days of keeping bees without some formal Short Course or recent book instruction are GONE. 2/3 of all the Maryland beekeepers of 1980 are GONE, not because of death, but because they resisted LEARNING. However, those of us who CONTINUE TO LEARN yearly produce more honey that sells at a higher price than ever before, and most of us still go to meetings everywhere to LEARN MORE.

However, my age, my stroke disabilities of no walking and poor talking, plus the excitement of an impending marriage to a new “young” widow who I first met 49 years ago when I was a lead scientist testing atomic bombs in Nevada, “force” (Ha Ha) me to turn the leadership of Montgomery County Beekeepers over to a person of MY choice, Master Beekeeper David Bernard. David, a research biologist coupled with a wife of equal biology interest in research is not only 40 years younger than me, but enjoys a proven record of melding together beekeepers interests in LEARNING. He, with the always “present” help from Master Beekeeper, Dr. Barry Thompson, should make MCBA mature beyond my expectations. GET OFF YOUR BUTT, JOIN IN, & LEARN! For my own PERSONAL reasons, I did not want this “edition” of my PINK PAGES to accompany the HONEY POT. However, in discussion with David, I feel sure that the October HONEY POT will arrive ON TIME, and with a format of additional writers. If I am asked to submit my monthly PINK PAGES, of course I will, NO CHARGE. Further, ANY member of Montgomery County can always seek my advice without obligation, because my interest is singular: LEARN TO BE A BETTER BEEKEEPER. However, I am NOT a pioneer like Langstroth, an author like Roger Morse, a teacher like Dewey Caron or Mark Winston, a bee researcher like Laidlaw or Page, a queen breeder like Reg Wilbanks, or a bee race DEVELOPER like Sue Cobey and her NEW WORLD CARNIOLANS. Rather, I am just a simple OLD atomic scientist who wants to know MORE about apis mellifera, because they fascinate me; and GIVE my findings to you.


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