April 2005

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


Surely WHEN and HOW MANY are the most important considerations on this subject. Although I write this for my Montgomery County, MD beekeepers, the entire writing is apropos in every part of the country by just changing the starting date according to your local weather. For my home county, APRIL 1 is the very important date!

Hopefully, you have “digested” my March article about swarming; because if you have not, this April article regarding SUPERING might be a “waste of time”. Further, my remarks are concerned with the use of frames of DRAWN COMB, and NOT frames of foundation. The proper use of FOUNDATION is a “WHOLE NEW SUBJECT.”

What value is a snow shovel on July 4th? What value is a bikini bathing suit on Christmas Day? DON’T LAUGH! What value are supers of drawn comb sitting in your shed, garage, or basement during the month of APRIL? Perhaps the weather on April 1st is still chilly, your furnace is still running, Daylight Savings time is not yet here, beach parties at Rehobeth or Ocean City are a long way off; BUT YOUR BEES, if they were disease free and strong back in November, have been raising new BROOD all during cold February and March, and those colonies should be “busting” with young bees and more brood. Although these bees will be dead before June, they, as nature dictates, are trying to “put away” the spring nectar crop as honey winter stores for the future bees in 2006.

Don’t you do likewise fo your heirs? By April 1st, your bees should be getting very strong, and have collected LOTS of late winter pollen, packed it away in cells for future use, dandelion has bloomed and on warm days excited your bees with fresh nectar, and your bees should be “busting” with excitement and DOING THINGS such as swarming due to lack of open brood space and your queen is being lavishly fed so she is laying 1500-2000 eggs every day. TIME FOR YOU TO DO SOMETHING!

Go in your shed, dust off at least ONE super of drawn comb, get to your colony even if the afternoon temperature is only 45°-50°, forget the smoke, remove the inner cover, PUT THAT SUPER IN PLACE, replace the inner cover, put 1:1 syrup in place over the inner cover hole, and go inside for a cup of hot coffee. WHAT HAVE YOU ACCOMPLISHED?

You have provided new space for the queen to lay, you have provide new space for early nectar flows, you have provided new space for pollen, NEEDED FOR GOOD BROOD REARING – PROTEIN!, and you might have prevented an early swarm, and you have BAITED a super to continue to attract bees into additional supers! All of this was done on APRIL 1, not April 5th, or 10th, or some nice warm weekend.

During the next 15 days, April 1-15, you thoroughly clean a queen excluder, and find 4 more supers of DRAWN COMB FRAMES. On April 15th, MAIL YOUR INCOME TAX, and try to relax with just a whisp of smoke on your bees, your super of April 1st will surely have perhaps some eggs or larvae plus nectar in the cells, get that queen back down in the brood chamber, INSTALL THE QUEEN EXCLUDER, place that BAIT super on top, and then add ALL AT ONE TIME 4 more supers of DRAWN COMB; and all of this on April 15th in Montgomery County, MD.

WHAT HAVE YOU ACCOMPLISHED? Unless you have some 2 year “old Lady” for a queen, you have prevented swarming, you have provided extra laying space for the queen to provide more worker bees, and you have CHALLENGED the worker bees to FILL all those 4 supers of empty space above that first super.. Dr. Tom Rinderer of the Baton Rouge Bee Lab was first to PROVE this about 15-20 years ago, and now other honey bee researchers STRONGLY ENDORSE putting on multiple supers all at once rather than trying to install them one at a time. Why 5 supers in Montgomery County, where you might only get 2 or maybe 3 supers of honey?

Bees DON’T COLLECT HONEY, but collect THIN WATERY NECTAR that requires storage space until the bees can evaporate the water and ripen the nectar into honey.

I will end with “controversial” subjects, like are blondes better lovers than brunettes, or are all red-heads “hot mamas?” There is no question than bees prefer natural beeswax FOUNDATION to all other foundation. However, the wiring of frames, the fastening of sheets of beeswax to the wires, the placement of support studs in the the frame endbars to help prevent hot-weather SAGGING is a real “pain in the butt!”

MUCH TO MY DISTASTE, I did all that with about 3000 frames from 1933 – about 1980, when I “discovered” Dadant’s PLASTICELL Foundation. What a WONDERFUL find for me! It is absolutely indestructible, just SNAP it in to your wood frames with no wiring or support studs, just scrape away bad comb with your hive tool and bees will REBUILD beautiful worker comb, you can’t BREAK it by high speed extraction, and it lasts forever (at least 25 years that I have had it). Bees are more reluctant to build comb on it than natural bees wax foundation, but if you provide PLASTICELL foundation to your bees during a good nectar flow, they are anxious to build comb on anything available. On course for those of US (me included) who like to produce cut-comb or 4″x 4″ wooden section boxes (what nostalgia for me), there is no substitute for thin beeswax foundation in spite of its many problems.

Lastly, as an old scientist, and trying total PLASTIC frames, both black and white, I think they are the “pits” of successful beekeeping and just the “handyman” of the lazy beeHAVER.

I forgot to mention Dadant’s DURAGILT. So it is slightly cheaper and has metal ends to prevent sagging, but it is just plain JUNK. Once your bees remove the beewax from that thin plastic sheet, there is NO WAY that you can ever entice your bees to rebuild over that spot.

In finality, if I were again young (I am 84), had a helping wife (I am a widower), and just 5-10 colonies, I would still use ALL BEESWAX Foundation, and do the wiring, install the side support pins, and REPLACE the sheets if the bees ate holes through them, and probably CUSS some. However, in our lazy working 21st century, I would devote myself to LEARNING more about BEE BEHAVIOR and COMB BUILDING, and then use Dadant’s PLASTICELL foundation.

I left SIZE to last, because most people just follow history, assuming that is best, without thinking for themselves. ALL SUPERS (except comb honey specialty supers) are either the standard size DEEP hive body, the MEDIUM size Illinios 6 5/8″ body, or the now disappearing SHALLOW body.

A FULL deep weighs about 80 pounds, a full MEDIUM Illinois weighs about 50 pounds, and a SHALLOW weighs about 40+ pounds.

Perhaps those weights are important to old men (like me) or women beekeepers, or school age beginners. In spite of my elderly age, I can still lift an 80 pound full hive body over my head, but THAT is so UNIMPORTANT.

The great majority of you are using DEEP frames and bodies for your BROOD chambers, and using either MEDIUM supers or SHALLOW supers for honey, and hence you have MULTIPLE frame sizes that are NOT interchangeable from one body with another.

About 25 years ago, I became so FRUSTRATED about not having a quickly obtainable CORRECT size frame to replace a bad frame in a colony, I just said “the HELL with so called “normal” methods”, and threw away ALL of my DEEP bodies and DEEP frames, and converted my total 3 apiaries of over 60 colonies to a ONE SIZE BODY AND ONE SIZE FRAME, the Medium Illinois, 6-5/8.”

Now, ALL of my brood chambers are 3 Mediums instead of 2 Deeps, which gives me IDENTICAL comb space, but I have to inspect 30 frames rather than 20 frames. However, the handling of 30 lighter weight frames is easier than the handling of 20 heavy deep frames.

DO YOUR BEES CARE ABOUT FRAME SIZE OR WEIGHT? Of course not! Their only interest is supplying honey for their heirs in 2006. Hence, HAVE YOU GOT YOUR SUPERS IN PLACE for nectar storage, or are you going to FORCE a swarm?

George W. Imirie
Certified Master Beekeeper
Starting my 73rd year of successful beekeeping

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