October 1997

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


I have written about this many times, but people “forget”, “Daddy didn’t have it”, and some new beeHAVERS have not heard it before; so here it is again. Frankly, I am tired of hearing all this CRAP about a hard, cold winter killing bees. How do you think wild bees survive in a hollow tree, and there are many beekeepers in northern states that do not pack their bees in boxes, cellars, or tar paper wrap. If you are a keeper of your bees instead of a haver, your bees will survive 20° below and will have an UPPER ENTRANCE 365 days/year, particularly in the winter!

WHY an upper entrance? Surely you have seen people blow their hot breath on their glasses to moisten them in order to clean them. Your exhaled breath contains water vapor, and the same is true of a bee’s exhaled breath. YOUR HOUSE, the inside of a beehive is NOT HEATED and the wood walls and inner cover are cold. Everybody knows hot air goes UP (hot air balloons!). What happens to the exhaled WATER VAPOR breath of 20,000 warm clustered bees when it goes UP and hits that cold inner cover? It CONDENSES into water droplets on the inner cover surface; and when enough is condensed these droplets become drop size and this cold water “rains” down on the warm clustered bees? Wow, the thought makes me shiver! Let’s consider something else that has happened a few winters in my 65 years of beekeeping: It snows and that is followed by a sleet storm and all of this freezes the bottom board entrance closed, and this may last for several days until things warm up. Without an upper entrance, your bees might suffocate, or if the temperature suddenly shot up to 50° for an hour or so, your bees can fly out and cleanse themselves. So PLEASE provide your colonies with a 365 day UPPER ENTRANCE, just another upgrade from beeHAVER to beeKEEPER!

HOW TO DO IT? I HATE holes drilled in my hive bodies or supers (’cause I get stung putting my hand over the hole plus it is a great entrance for robbing bees). Putting sticks, twigs, or nails under the edge of the inner cover to lift it is sloppy, too much trouble, easily knocked apart, and just unprofessional! Here is the BEST system. An inner cover outside frame is 3/4″ thick and most have an 1/8th inch piece of Masonite in the frame. On the end that is 16-1/4″ wide, notch out a piece of the frame about 5/16″ high by 1-1/2″ wide in the center of the 16-1/4″ end. That is it! Leave that inner cover, notch DOWN, in place 365 days a year!

There is always some SMART ALEC, WISE GUY, or KNOW-IT-ALL beeHAVER who will say: “The bees will build burr comb between the frame top bars and the inner cover.” If they do, your bees are TOO CROWDED for comb space, or you are using foundation instead of drawn comb, or most of the time there is not enough super space. You can come to any of my apiaries in Maryland or Virginia, and every colony has this inner cover in place the year around, and never is there any gross amount of burr comb present; and I have done this over 50 years.



I wrote a little about this in the PINK PAGES earlier this year; but numerous EAS beekeepers directed numerous questions to me at the July meeting, plus several Montgomery County beekeepers have found numerous queenless colonies recently, plus the American Beekeeping Federation just announced a major discussion of this problem will be held in January at Colorado Springs, PLUS upon putting menthol in my 35 colonies in Rockville, I was SHOCKED to find FIVE QUEENLESS colonies!

Although there are still some uninformed, even a few NON believers about mite damage, MOST apians have upgraded themselves to competent beeKEEPERS and have mites under control. However the wild (feral) bees do NOT have this beekeeper medical care, and the wild bees are DEAD, DEAD, DEAD! Hence, there is a severe shortage of drones to breed our virgin queens. Without going into the complexities of successful queen breeding, let me just say that it is .”nature’s way”, that rarely do queens breed with their brothers (drones from their colony). Also, I remind you that recent experimentation has proven that a virgin queen mates with about 12-18 drones on her wedding flight. If most feral bees are dead and you have only one or two colonies, are there enough drones around for breeding. Further, since it is well established that mites prefer living with drone pupa rather that worker brood, have mites damaged the drones breeding ability? Most researchers have seen a queen with one or more mites embedded on her, hosting on her hemolymph (blood). Don’t you think that the workers will try to supersede this damaged or dead queen? What time of year, is it? Are there drones around to breed to a virgin queen? Further, we all know that most emergency queens (raised from an older larva) are usually not very good, but now SINCE THE MITES how available are competent drones for breeding?

Suppose your total income was derived from queen breeding. Wouldn’t you be very alarmed about the quality of your “product” and how to find the methods and funds to “guarantee” a certain product quality? I know some very reputable queen breeders who are pleading for scientific help!

Here I go again: Are you a beeHAVER or beeKEEPER? Now it October, and a colony is making preparations for a long winter. What is the AGE of your queen; and unless she is MARKED, you have NO IDEA. Is ‘your colony queenLESS? Maybe you have not looked since you removed the honey.

What do you do if you find a queenless colony? Combine it with a queenrite colony via the newspaper method.

While I am talking about Queens, although I like fall requeening, some still want to requeen or start splits in April. If you order in March, you are going to be MAD, if the supplier can’t ship until May 5th. You ordered too LATE. Order NOW or before Christmas and get MARKED queens (1998 is RED). I pay attention to year after year quality, not price. I suggest: Wilbanks or Rossman for Italians; Heitkam or Kona for New World Carniolans; and Binford Weaver for Buckfast.


As mentioned last month, I attended the annual meeting of the NATIONAL HONEY BOARD in Phoenix, Arizona (temperature over 100°) for 5 days, working my mind to a frazzle, wearing my voice to hoarseness (only one vocal chord), but came home feeling so satisfied with the NO-PAY VOLUNTEER dedication of the delegates from each state. (I represent Maryland and next year is my last year of 6 wonderful years.) It is our job to select candidates for the National Honey Board and submit these names to the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture for selection.

But the important thing is that we are allowed to attend the meetings of the Board, and become enthralled by what these chosen 14 selected people do to advance honey production, maintain the known purity of honey, find more uses for honey, and increase the demand for honey through advertising, promotion, and research; and they serve WITHOUT COMPENSATION!

Just as important is the small paid staff of the NHB. As a business employer, I wish I had the know-how to assemble such a wonderful group of dedicated (I imagine underpaid) workers. The NHB members simply gives them an outline of what they would like to accomplish, and this’staff gets it done!

Although, not a member, everyone knows Ann and her many beekeeping positions, so the NHB allowed Ann to “get me to and from” and procure all my meals from the buffets. I could not have “done it” without Ann.

I wish Ann could have pushed my wheel chair from the plane to Dulles Airport front door, because the SPEED I was given by the paid airline attendant gave me 10 new gray hairs! Wow!

I was allowed four “whole days to recover” before I departed 430 miles to Ripley, West Virginia to the semi annual meeting of the West Virginia State Beekeepers Assn. two day meeting. I drove the 75 miles to Ann’s house, and she drove the remaining 360 miles in 8-1/2 hours. They had dinner waiting for us, and the accommodations were super nice, and I quickly fell asleep watching TV. Ann and I were the keynote speakers. Ann had lots of slides and graphics about her trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America; all about swarming, and “what do DEAD BEES tell you?” I told them the JOYS OF BEEKEEPING, and of course there was no way that I could end without saying, “beeHAVERS don’t have near the enjoyment received by beeKEEPERS”. From that point on, they wanted to know more. That poor one vocal chord took a real beating, but I felt quite rewarded. The new President asked if we could come to their spring meeting in Morgantown next year. If Ann can still drive, maybe we will!

Although I still believe in scientific proof of success like menthol for tracheal mites and Apistan for Varroa mites, Dr. James Amrine, University of West Va. entomologist made quite a case (not proof) for using various concoctions of things using the oil of Wintergreen as another pesticide. Beekeeping needs several new pesticides, so I will monitor his progress.


A queen more than 12 months old is an OLD queen!

Many of you are not familiar with Dr, Basil Furgala of the University of Minnesota, who died young a couple of years ago. Many of his contemporaries considered him among the most pre-eminent of honey bee researchers. I invite you to read a little of his writings found in The Hive and the Honey Bee.


Young Productive Queen

Installing a young queen does not ensure the beekeeper that he has a productive queen. Despite this disadvantage, beekeepers should replace queens at regular intervals or face a greater disadvantage, namely, having old queens in colonies during fall and winter, a condition that too often brings about:

  1. A supersedure in the fall, too late for a virgin queen to be mated. This results in a drone layer.
  2. A failing old queen in late-winter or early spring. In the north (probably Maryland), this happens too early for the virgin to mate and too early for the beekeeper to requeen the colony. A more serious effect is that a void in egg laying occurs during a period when accelerated brood production is requisite to the proper development of the colony.
  3. The death of an old queen during the winter, leaving the colony queenless.

Many beekeepers requeen annually. Others allow a queen to lay through two summer periods and one winter period (requeening just prior to the spring,nectar flow); or two winter periods and two summer periods (requeening during the late summer flow). [Maryland does not have a late summer flow, so requeening has to be done in early September with 1:1 sugar feeding.

Most honey producers requeen every year. Unfortunately, too many beekeepers (They are beeHAVERS) allow colonies to requeen by supersedure THIS IS NOT ADVISABLE.

How often should a colony be requeened to preclude the failing and/or replacement of an established queen? Much depends on the pressure that has been placed on the egg-laying activities of the queen. In a climate where the season is short and honey flow is brief, queens may remain prolific for two seasons. [This is NOT Maryland, our climate season is long.] On the other hand, where the season is prolonged and/or where egg laying is needed to build up colonies to exploit nectar flows, requeening must be more frequent since the queen will be superseded much sooner. Recent studies in Minnesota indicate that depending on the source of queens, as many as 66% are superseded or missing after 16 months.

I hope all of you will read and reread these chosen lines and use it to UPGRADE YOUR BEE KNOWLEDGE!

I hope all of you will read and reread these chosen lines and use it to UPGRADE YOUR BEE KNOWLEDGE!


My walking is poor at best; a paralyzed vocal chord holds me back from yelling loud or “making love” (can’t whisper), but my 65 years of apian knowledge has not drained away and my mind seems very active. Often I have said “Beekeeping is keeping me alive, because I am still needed.” I have been so rewarded by watching so many of my “students” upgrade their apian knowledge; but the grade of C or even B is just not good enough. Why not get in the A class? Then, you really appreciate the wonderment of nature demonstrated by understanding so much more about apis mellifera; not to mention your own self esteem in having that knowledge. I am not talking about becoming an entomologist or professional apiculturist; but rather a darn good beekeeper who can teach others, solve problems, and attain personal goals in your elective time of recreation.

Langstroth was a preacher, neither Dadant or Root had a great deal of schooling, Quimby, inventor of the smoker, did not have degree in thermal emission, Reg Wilbanks has a degree in Business, Danny Weaver (Buckfast fame) is a lawyer, and I am just an atomic physicist who never had a course in biology. The single common denominator in this group is the DESIRE TO LEARN! You can too!

Wouldn’t you like to thoroughly understand identification and treatment of bee disease, queen rearing, differences in races, BEE BEHAVIOR (my favorite), honey production, all the different pheromones and their importance, important local flora, other stinging insects that you must contend with to answer the public’s questions, allergies, practical pollination, and etc., etc.

I am proposing that the NINE MASTER BEEKEEPERS of MC accept this teaching task as their gift to our membership! We could start in February and go for about 12 weeks plus work in various colonies using everybody’s ‘hand’s on”.

Not all applicants will be acceptable. You will tell us that you would like to attend, and we will tell you if we think you are qualified or wait until next year. UNFAIR! you say. Shucks, look my position of acting as God, but that is why some lead and others follow. I have great hopes that I will serve only as Socrates to many of you, Aristotles. Further, maybe we might charge an “admission fee” of $30-$50 to show sincere interest that we might spend in new queens, or new equipment FOR YOU; so you are home free except I hold your deposit for a while. If you find this “money thing” objectionable, so be it, stay a HAVER. If some of we Master Beekeepers put forth this effort “out of the goodness of our heart”, you have to bend a little too.

Who knows, maybe we could have some help from Shim or Dave Knox. Maybe some queen breeder might provide us with queens to “experiment with”. Maybe we could persuade Oliver Collins to tell us the fine points about pollination, or catch a queen breeder attending a Washington conference to lecture us in successful queen breeding. The possibilities are boundless in the beginning, and we might be starting a program that the rest of the country can learn from.

At the September meeting, I asked how many would like a course in ADVANCED BEEKEEPING. I was dumbfounded when about 30 hands went up. Also, I was personally DELIGHTED! Golly, beekeeping needs all the expertise it can find today, particularly in the area of public fear and ignorance.

t the Oct. 8th meeting plus letters mailed to me before Oct. 20th, I want to know a more defined number of “who is interested in attending a long course in ADVANCED BEEKEEPING?”

Stray Thoughts of Importance

Don’t leave a queen excluder in a colony during the winter, or the queen will freeze to death.

2:1 sugar feed is 2 pounds of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water. This requires BOILING water (not hot spigot water) to dissolve the sugar. I like to weaken the solution just a tad to make things easier, such as 11 five pound bags of sugar (71 pounds) placed in a 1 gallon jar and add 4 pints of boiling water, and stir until dissolved. I also add a rounded teaspoon of Fumadil B to control Nosema, AFTER THE SOLUTION COOLS.

The condition of a colony CANNOT be determined by observing the outside activity on a warm day. Many times, the colony is dead, and you see ROBBING BEES stealing the left behind honey and maybe spreading disease also. On days when the outside temperature is 45° or more, open the hive, remove the inner cover and LOOK. If the bees are moving and not up close to the top, GOOD, put the top on. Check again in 2 weeks. If the bees are right up near the top,,their food supply may be exhausted and emergency feeding is needed. When the temperature is below 40°, still check your bees by looking through the hole in the inner cover or rapping on the hive while your ear is against the hive and listen for a strong buzz. Hives should be checked INSIDE THE HIVE at least twice in December, twice in January, weekly in February and March. Tracheal mite death generally happens in December or January; whereas most winter death is caused by starvation which occurs during heavy brood rearing as in March and April. Bees lost to starvation is TOTALLY YOUR FAULT! SHAME ON YOU!

I remind you: Bees do NOT warm up their hive space like you warm your house. They warm ONLY the cluster of bees, where the area of egg-laying must be at least 91° although the outer bees in the cluster are only in warmth of about 47°-50°, and the side wall of the hive body might be 32°. DO NOT BREAK (separate) the cluster in temperatures below 45°-50°.

COLD will not kill a strong colony!!! But it can kill a weak colony. More next month

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