Short Course 2004

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

It has long been known that successful beekeeping is a combination of an ART and SCIENCE. There was precious little scientific knowledge about a honey bee until the last 100 years, and more particularly the past 20 years when bee science was FORCED into finding management techniques, equipment changes, better bred queens, and more studious beekeepers than the field had ever had. The great majority of successful beekeepers of the past were ARTISTS in their handling of bees and honey production, but badly lacking in the understanding of the SCIENCE of beekeeping.

Now, in this new 21st century, many of these men are dead, retired, quit beekeeping, still fighting the losing battle against all the new problems beginning with the arrival of the tracheal mite in 1984, the more deadly bee pest, the Varroa mite in 1987, and the Small Hive Beetle in 1998. Finally, a few of us, who “saw the light” back in 1984, changed with the times, and paid intense attention to the findings of bee scientists and bee research. Of course, some say that I had an advantage in that I was a highly trained scientist. That is a bunch of “bull”!

You don’t have to be a scientist yourself to be a fine beekeeper; but you have to LISTEN to what the findings of scientists are, ignore what the “good old guys” tell you, and be willing to change your management to fit. I want to mention some things that you will NOT find in a book, or from the lips of most speakers, but of great importance.

NOT in order of importance, but in order as I think of them:

1) You are going to be STUNG

If that bothers you, get out now. You can’t work in a vegetable garden without getting your hands dirty and a broken fingernail. If you go skiing, you might break a leg. Honey bees DIE when they sting, leaving the stinger in YOU. Hence, honey bees are NOT aggressive, but only sting in protection of their hive, exactly as you protect YOUR home. Honey bees are only DEFENSIVE! A sting in the face, particularly around the eyes, ears, and nose is not only painful, but normally your entire face will badly swell, if you do not normally get very many stings than tend to immunize ,you against bad swelling. I encourage you to wear a nice veil to protect your face, irregardless of seeing me without a veil. I am my own worst enemy. However, I STRONGLY encourage you to FORGET WEARING GLOVES. You can’t thread a sewing needle or squeeze a blackhead off your nose while wearing gloves; nor can you handle frames of bees or pick up the queen while wearing gloves.

2) What do you do about stings?

When the bee suddenly stings your finger, DON”T DROP THAT FRAME!, stand there, cuss a bit, and replace the frame to.its proper place. THEN, remove the stinger from your finger, and blow smoke on your finger to destroy the scent of bee venom. Pain, swelling, and subsequent itching is NORMAL reaction to a sting lasting from a few minutes to a couple of days, depending on how often you get stung.

Beekeepers, who are often stung several times each week, rarely swell and the pain lasts just a few minutes. In this LEARNING PROCESS, just make sure that you do not REPEAT whatever you did that made the bee sting you and caused her to DIE.


From Day One, bees have lived in a hollow tree in the woods. Often a lightning strike sets a woods on fire. Bees smell the smoke and not wanting to be burned to death, they prepare to fly away to some new home if necessary. However, there are no restaurants along the way for them to get lunch “on the road”, so they carry their own provisions to their new home; and hence they go to the honey stored in their own hive and GORGE themselves with honey. Now I ask you, “How do you feel after a big Thanksgiving Day dinner?” You don’t want to “run any races”, but you would rather snooze in a big chair while watching a football game on TV. This is the case with a bee that has their honey stomach filled with honey – They are not very active and are much more placid.

A SMART man uses this to his advantage when working bees. You approach the colony that you want to inspect, and blow several whiffs of smoke directly into every entrance that the bees may have into the hive. NOW, YOU DO SOMETHING EXTREMELY DIFFICULT FOR MOST BEEKEEPERS – YOU GO AWAY, HAVE A COKE, WATCH THE BIRDS, OR LOOK FOR 4 LEAF CLOVERS FOR AT LEAST 60 SECONDS, BUT 2 MINUTES IS BETTER. When you return to the hive, you carefully blow a tiny whiff of smoke in the entrance, remove the inner cover, allow a whiff of smoke to drift across the bees on top of the frames and began frame removal for inspection. T00 MUCH SMOKE FORCES BEES TO FLY INTO THE AIR, AND THEY ARE MAD, SO THEY MIGHT STING YOU.

Use just a little smoke often to keep them quiet and placid; and use nice, COOL, white, smoke, not hot, blue smoke with flames that BURN the bees and MAKE THEM STING.

So many people have told me that they have watched their bee inspectors look at their bees, or observed commercial honey producers working colonies and they DON’T do any WAITING. There is a difference: These people are paid by the hour to do a job and they get enough stings every year that stings don’t bother them as much as a hobbyist, so they work in a hurry and get a few stings. The choice of methods is up to you. I work my bees to have FUN, enjoy myself, and commune with nature.

When we have our FIELD days in April, I will show you how to “light a smoker and PACK it tightly with a lot of fuel so it will not go out”, WHICH IS VERY IMPORTANT. The PROPER use of a smoker and the choice of smoker fuel are vital to good beekeeping, and unfortunately, too many people are not well skilled in the use of smoke. BTW, rather than matches, I use a propane fireplace lighter to light my smoker, and that is so much easier than fooling around with matches that might be wet from sweat or forgotten

4) What is the best SMOKER FUEL?

Many of us think pine needles are the NUMBER ONE smoker fuel of all fuels. It is very easy to light, stays lit, and makes dense COOL, white smoke. Never work bees without a lit smoker. A lit smoker does not mean you have to use smoke, but it does mean that you have smoke instantly IF smoke is needed. Frankly, I prefer to use little or no smoke when working bees, and too much smoke can make bees very nasty. Smoking bees is an ART, and can’t be taught by writing about it; but the choice of fuel is important.


Everybody is talking about sampling some of THEIR BEES HONEY, and can hardly wait. Young boys want to drive a car, but have to wait until they are 16-18 years old.

FORGET HONEY! YOUR job with your bees during the entire FIRST year is to AID them to “build their house tight and strong, filled with winter stores (honey) to get them into next spring, and protect them from being killed by mites or disease!”

6) Feeding your new bees:

Ask one of the “good old boys” or even one of the socalled “beekeepers” that are everywhere today, and you will get a bad assortment of answers, ranging from 1 pint, or feed up to the real nectar flow, or feed up to hot weather, or feeding is not necessary after April 15th. WHAT A BUNCH OF CRAP!

You are building a brand new colony, and trying to get 30 or 40 frames of foundation drawn into DRAWN COMB. There is NO WAY that bees are going to accomplish your desires unless they get a lot of CONTINUOUS feeding of 1:1 sugar syrup. which is artificial nectar. You feed continuously until about LABOR DAY, and then switch the feed to HEAVY syrup, 2 pounds of sugar dissolved into just 1 pint of water.

The grocery stores often have sugar on sale for $1.59 for 5 pounds. Between April and September, you might have to feed 40-50 pounds of sugar to one colony, which is only $12-$15 sugar cost; BUT this makes the difference between a weak colony and a big strong colony.

If you can’t spend $12-$15 and the time to do this for 4 months, you will just be a beeHAVER, and not a beeKEEPER.

During a real nectar flow (in April and May), bees won’t take too much sugar syrup as the prefer the real nectar; but they will take the syrup at NIGHT or when it rains in the daytime. When it gets hot, like July and August, the sugar syrup might get black mold in it which will NOT hurt the bees, but nasty to think about. Just add a teaspoon of CREAM OF TARTER to a gallon of sugar syrup and that prevents the mold.

7) Almost nobody understands the presence of a NECTAR FLOW

…which is the “stuff’ that is made into honey. The nectar flow in central Maryland and Northern Virginia occurs in mid April to maybe June 15th, and might re-occur in September. However, in spite of all the flowers you see in bloom late June, July, August, and early September, generally there is NO NECTAR during these months, and the bees can even starve during that time if the beekeeper has harvested too much of the spring honey: How do you feel on a hot July day with high humidity and you are hungry?

Now you know why it is usually not advisable to do much bee work in July or August, because those bees are uncomfortable, bored, and mad; and they prefer that you just stay away from them or they might sting. In contrast, during a strong nectar flow, the bees are so busy and happy, that nothing seems to make them defensive, and you can do all kinds of things with them. Who was it that said ‘Food calms the savage beast.”

8) WHAT is honey?

A beekeeper should be able to explain this in great detail to all listeners, in spite of the science involved.

Here goes: If you are a NON scientist, the word SUGAR means that white stuff in the bowl that you put in your coffee. Table sugar is the polysaccharide, SUCROSE. When you eat sugar, your body has the enzyme, INVERTASE, which chemically breaks down SUCROSE into two simple saccharides (sugars), named FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE, which your doctor calls “blood sugars” when you get your blood examination. Now let us go back to the bee:

The black locust is in bloom, and the odor of its NECTAR attracts the bee to the flower. She gathers this nectar (about 80% water and 20% SUCROSE) into her honey stomach and flies back to her hive. On the way back home, the bee injects the enzyme INVERTASE into the nectar, which begins the ripening process of the nectar into honey.

The SUCROSE is broken down into two simple sugars, FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE, the relative percentage of the two is dependent on the tree that made the original nectar. At room temperature, FRUCTOSE is a liquid and GLUCOSE is a solid, so if the nectar source was heavily oriented towards FRUCTOSE (like black locust) the resulting honey will be slow to crystallize in the jar “to sugar”.

In contrast, suppose the original nectar came from the goldenrod bush and its nectar is oriented towards GLUCOSE, the resulting honey will rapidly crystallize in the jar “to sugar”.

All one has to do to restore this crystallized honey to liquid honey is just gently, slowly, warm it to a temperature of about 100°, and you are back to pure wonderful honey again. The difference in honey flavors and colors are due to the microscopic amounts of other chemicals secreted by each nectar source when the bees gathered the nectar.

Hence, honey made from buckwheat is of STRONG FLAVOR (like molasses) and is almost black in color whereas locust honey is very mild, very sweet, and almost water white in color. Yet both of these might share the same relative percentage of FRUCTOSE and GLUCOSE which are the sugars that control the speed of crystallization. You know how just a few grains of salt can totally change the taste of steak.

It just takes a minuscule amount of these “other chemicals in nectar” to make the resulting honey mild or strong, colorless or dark. Contrary to what you may have heard, dark honey is not “old” honey, or “bad” honey.

In fact the great majority of real honey eaters much prefer dark honeys to the mild, light colored honeys. Now, you can expertly inform people HOW honey is made!

9) There are 3500 bees to the pound

So there are about 219 bees in an ounce. Pretty small, isn’t she!

A worker bee weighs about 130 milligrams, but can carry a load of nectar back to the hive that weighs an additional 80 milligrams. If you are a woman that weighs about130 pounds, can you carry home a weight of 80 pounds and FLY? Bees are REMARKABLE!

It requires 12 bees their ENTIRE life to gather just one teaspoon of honey! Since a bee only lives about 42 days in flying weather, and only goes out searching for nectar about the last 23 days of its life, it take an awful lot of bees for them to make a honey yield for you of 100 pounds of honey!

Now do you understand why success in beekeeping is for YOU to provide the AIDS to help the bees build a huge population of foraging bees ready at the start of a nectar flow!


Select the queen and provide the late winter stimulus for her to lay the eggs which will produce about 40,000-60,0000 worker bees “chafing at the bit” to gather nectar!

Why MARK your queen?

Nobody, can really tell one queen bee from another, unless they are of different races. They all look alike.

Hence, is the queen you saw in your colony on July 4th the queen that you bought for $14 in April? Or is the queen that you see on October 15th the same queen that was in that big swarm that you caught in May?

If you can’t tell, are they new queens? Did they mate with Italian drones, Carniolan drones, “mongrel” drones, healthy or sick drones, or just one drone or 15?

If your valuable queen has been superseded by another queen, did she come from a three day old larva or an 18 hour old larva, and hence is she any good?

You can’t tell and DON’T KNOW what kind of bees an unmarked queen is going to produce in your hive!

During the past 20 years, bee scientists have done a lot of research on the supersedure or death of queens because of the mites and chemicals in use, and the shortage of drones for mating. Even they were surprised to find that in some instances, over half of ail new queens are being superseded during their first year in a colony!

Use only MARKED queens, so you know what is going on in your colony; and mark them with Testor’s model paint that lasts a LIFETIME.


Surely, you have heard about the “dreaded” disease of AMERICAN FOUL BROOD. What can you do about it? Thousands of people will tell you to treat with TERRAMYCIN, and I am going to tell you they are WRONG!

Let me explain. DOES TERRAMYCIN KILL AFB? It has always been a mystery to me, that bee inspectors, and particularly commercial honey producers will never come right out and say N0; but they “beat around the bush” and say, it controls the spread of AFB so the bees stay alive, can produce honey, and many beekeepers use Terramycin.

They never mention that Terramycin just HIDES the symptoms of AFB, and hence ALL of your wooden ware in your apiary, your hive tool, gloves, bee suit, honey house, and PARTICULARLY ALL YOUR HONEY is infected with AFB and the bees will die if you ever stop using Terramycin.

The only way that you can sterilize your wooden ware is by ETO fumigation in Maryland only, radiation, or boiling in lye.

TERRAMYCIN will control the vegetative state of bacillus larvae but will NOT kill the devilish spores that can stay alive as long as 80 years that we know. I don’t know why the officials are reluctant to tell you what 1 just said, but they are. ASK THEM!

I have never used Terramycin in 72 years of beekeeping, and I destroy a colony the instant I see any symptom of AFB, so that it does not contaminate any of my other colonies or equipment; or infect my NEIGHBOR’S bee colonies

11) Thinking Like A Bee

This is a TOUGH one! In my opinion, the most important chapter in the 1992 EXTENSIVELY REVISED edition of THE HIVE AND HONEY BEE is Chapter 8, by Dr. Norm Gary and it is all about BEE BEHAVIOR, or as I call it, “thinking like a bee”.

Most readers of the 1300+ pages of the H & HB pass by Chapter 8 as “boring” and precede to the part of the book about “making more honey”. Many of those readers are still beeHAVERS years later, because they ignored to learn about BEE BEHAVIOR.

I will touch on a few highlights about BB.

A bee “emerges into our world” without help, no boss to show her WHAT to do, HOW to do it, WHEN to do it, or WHY to do it.

God created a bee with this instinctive knowledge, and the bee of 2004 is identical to the bee found in the Garden of Eden and now surrounded by billions of human beings has not learned one single thing from we humans and still does the things she was taught to do by her Creator at the moment of her entrance into our world. BTW, this was very simply proved by scientists, who placed several frames of capped brood and NO LIVE BEES in an incubator, and observed their actions upon “emerging”.

They all did just what the bees in your colony do every day. In other words, God has provided all the intelligence that a bee needs, and there is nothing that you can do to change that. A bee does NOT have the ability to LEARN.

The “trick” to being a successful beekeeper is for YOU to LEARN those things that a bee will tolerate and, contrastingly. those things that a bee finds offensive.

YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO LEARN (I hope), and being intelligent, you use your gift of knowledge to manipulate and manage your bees so that they do MORE than make winter stores of honey for themselves, but make an extra 100-200 pounds for YOU.

We humans are highly dependent on the sense of SIGHT and HEARING and very little of our lives are concerned about the sense of SMELL, unless it is a rotten egg or a seductive woman’s perfume.

However, even though having 5 eyes (bet you did not know that), the honey bee has lousy eyesight and is blind to the color RED, and does not even have any EARS to hear with! Of course, bees work inside a totally DARK hive with those lousy eyes, so it becomes obvious that the SENSE of SIGHT in not important to a bee. What is important?

The OLFACTORY sense (SMELL) of the bee is by far it’s most important sense. It SMELLS nectar, and then pollinates crops by accident in the process of collecting that nectar, it knows its queen is alive and well by SMELLING the pheromone produced by the queen, the bee must have the CORRECT hive odor to pass by the guard bees as it enters a hive after flying, it is attracted to help other bees defend their colony if the alarm pheromone SMELL is in the air, and lastly, beekeepers who wear perfume, hair tonic, body lotion, or just stinking sweat INVITE stings because those odors are foreign to the nature of the bee.

Speaking of BEE BEHAVIOR, the great majority of people think of a bee by using ANTHROPOMORPHIC thinking which is wrong, wrong! Bees can NOT be viewed or dealt with as if they were humans, because they are NOT humans, don’t think like humans, and don’t understand how to adjust the things that humans try to “saddle” on them.

I have hope that you will pay $36 for a 1992 EXTENSIVELY REVISED Edition of THE HIVE and HONEY BEE and read the 105 pages of Dr. Norm Gary’s Chapter 8 regarding BEE BEHAVIOR. It is tough reading, no question about that, but aren’t most things of great value TOUGH?

12) Are all honey bees the same?

Is a bee just a bee? Is one bee as good as another bee?

Heavens, NO!

Bees have genetic differences, having good points and bad points, just the same as you and I. Some things are obvious, while others are not. Surely if you were shown a room filled with people who were white caucasian, black negro, American Indian, oriental, Polynesian, and Eskimo, you could differentiate between them.

Likewise, there are different STRAINS of people from the same race, and they differ. Think of an English man, a German man, and an Italian man, all members of the white Caucasian race, but all quite different. The English man dresses in a 3 piece suit, drinks Scotch, smokes a pipe, and is generally quiet of speech. The German man is blonde, blue eyed, wears a sweater, drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and loves to sing and dance. The Italian man dressed in a golf shirt, stands on a corner waving a bottle of Chianti wine, shouting and talking to the whole block of people.

All three are white Caucasions, but have different STRAINS. Breeders intently study genetic differences and by using controlled matings, they can emphasize good points in the resulting progeny, as well as minimize undesirable points. What are the good and bad points of a honey bee that skilled queen breeders are always hunting for?

Good points include gentleness, wintering well, not prone to swarming, ripens its honey rapidly, makes white comb cappings, uses little burr comb, and is somewhat disease resistant. Bad points might include excessive use of propolis, excess swarming, prone to many diseases, poor population builders, poor comb builders, and just plain NASTY.

The hobbyist beekeeper in Florida is not interested in wintering ability, the professional honey producer cares more about disease resistance than excess burr comb production, out-apiary owners are more concerned about excess swarming than home apiary owners, and most hobbyists are more interested in gentleness than any other difference.

So much has changed in beekeeping the past 20 years, CONTROLLED BREEDING by using artificial insemination of queens has greatly enhanced the ability of queen breeders to select for desirable attributes in bees that couldn’t be done in the days of field breeding.

In the better queen breeder apiaries of today, the breeder buys some highly selected ARTIFICIALLY INSEMINATED queens as breeder queens and grafts their eggs into queen production nucs that produce the queens that are field bred by highly selected drones to produce the laying queen that you purchase.

Maybe the day will come that most queens that you buy will be artificially inseminated rather than field bred, and then each beekeeper might be able to select a queen that provides the most genetic good points that he wants from his bees and minimizes most of those things considered bad points. The FUTURE is so exciting!

13) Lastly, don’t be CHEAP about buying QUALITY bees.

Buy the best bees you can find, bred by a famous queen breeder, a man of highly respected ability and business principles. Sure, you can find queens out there for $11 instead of $15, or a package for $40 instead of $50, but you might be buying a proverbial “junkyard” dog. 1 strongly believe that all beginners are better off with a quality Italian bee than any other bee, and many, many people PRODUCE Italian bees.

But for a few bucks more, you can buy Italian bees that have a strong pedigree of good points and a minimum of bad points that was decided by the knowledgeable queen BREEDER when he chose to emphasize the desirable good points of a bee that people want, and selected the line of drones that he wanted to field breed your new queen.

I do know this: There are a lot of firms out here that are selling queens and bees that know little about honey bee genetics, and I refer to them as queen PRODUCERS, surely not queen BREEDERS.

Basically, we have only three RACES of bees in the U. S.: Italian, Carniolan, and Caucasian. Of course, there is the Africanized Honey Bee, apis mellifera scutellata, the “killer bee”, which you DON’T WANT!

The other bees that you have heard of are HYBRIDS, a man-made bee that cannot reproduce itself, but must be bred by a queen breeder,with names like Buckfast, Starlines, or Midnites. These are specialized bees, designed for special uses, and should not be considered by a hobbyist beginner.

Then of course, there is that great bulk of bees of unknown parentage that some of the old timers still revel about such as Aunt Mary’s, Uncle Tom’s, Honey Girls, and you name it. With few exceptions, most of these “mongrel” bees are disease prone, nasty, poor honey producers, and just the bottom of the barrel of bees.


I want to repeat: In spite of the fact that I personally prefer Carniolans for this area, I STRONGLY ADVISE every beginner or novice to ONLY have a HIGH QUALITY bred ITALIAN race until they become more knowledgeable about honey bees, bee behavior, and bee management before trying Carniolans, Russians, SMR, or any of the hybrids.

LEARN to walk WELL, before trying to run a marathon race!

I hope that 1 have helped you, because it is what I have dedicated myself to do.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

Scroll to Top