September 1998


How Old Is Your Queen?

How old is your Queen? Most of you do not have a MARKED queen, and hence you do not know whether your queen is 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years old. Many of you are saying: “George, so what?” Rudely, I could reply: ” Why do you think that almost all commercial honey producers requeen every year; and some migratory beekeepers requeen twice each year!” The obvious reason for this extra work and extra expense has to be that a young queen has great advantages over an old queen.

Now, we approach another question: How old is an “OLD” queen? Further, does a queen have any more desirable attributes other than the ability to lay vast quantities of eggs? And, if so, what is the effect of age on this attribute? As it has been with most scientific findings, often there is a lengthy lag time existing between the announcing of a finding or discovery and convincing the users of the value of dip new discernment. It is very difficult to change people’s thoughts from the ways that society has historically taught by “common agreement”. Noteworthy examples of this are: Although an Atlanta doctor demonstrated diethyl ether putting people in a sound steep, skepticism by doctors backward in scientific thinking were unwilling to use it to relieve the pain of amputation in the Civil War of just 135 years ago. When I started beekeeping in 1933, the great majority of Americans were afraid to fly in an airplane and took 7 days of train travel to visit their son in California. Now, in 1998, we still have people who think that X-ray or isotope irradiation of a beehive to kill American Foul Brood spores will MELT THE BEESWAX by the “heat” of radiation. Time Changes Things! If it were not so, we would be bled to death like George Washington instead of getting a blood transfusion to combat infection.

Scientists found and described the queen bee pheromone a number of years ago, but few paid much attention to it. In more recent years, it was ascertained that this pheromone is the “glue” that bonds all of the queen’s progeny into a single functioning unit (a colony), and even more important, the queen loses her :ability to manufacture this pheromone as she ages. Hence, after 2 or 3 months of strenuous heavy egg laying and producing large quantities of queen pheromone in that first spring season, although only a few months old, she has lost the “vim and vigor” of youth and is now well on the way to being an “old queen”. I am reminded that all the Miss America winners and most contestants were teen age or not yet 21; and that the world famous Jesse Owens was only 22 when he electrified the world with his running speed in the 1936 Olympics.

Each spring, I witness beekeepers whose bees produced little honey because their bees swarmed just before the peak of the major spring nectar flow; and the spring of 1998 was worse. I saw so many of my friends having nothing but empty supers and lowered bee populations and, shamefully admitted to me that they had not requeened, little knowledge of the age of their queen, and she was not marked. It is tough to see a man cry! In my home yard, I had 31 young marked queens, and today, in September, I still have 30 of those 31. I lost one queen and the yard produced over 3000 pounds of honey. Now, I am in the process of requeening with nice fresh young queens, since my queens are “OLD” at age of 12 months. I think a $10 new queen cost is worth the expense if her youth provides enough queen pheromone to prevent spring swarming and her bees produce 100 pounds of$4.00/pound honey, don’t you?

Let me go a step further on the subject of “HOW OLD IS YOUR QUEEN?” Times Change!. The queen’s of 20 years ago did not have the stresses of mites, viruses, pesticides, urban environment, urban pollution, urban vandalism, UNSKILLED new beeHAVER’s and their mistakes, and the use of everything from castor oil to tobacco as a medicine to treat any or all the diseases. Bees are being subjected to treatments with MINERAL OIL, ESSENTIAL OILS, FORMIC ACID, TOBACCO SMOKE, and Lord knows “what else”, NONE OF WHICH ARE APPROVED BY GOVERNMENT RESEARCH, in addition to approved Apistan and menthol. BeeHAVERS, either because of lack of knowledge or their refusal to accept the changes of time, have placed increased demand for new bees and queens on the bee breeders far exceeding the orders of 10 years ago. Further, mites have decimated most feral bees thereby limiting the drone population needed for virgin queen mating. Faced with increased demand coupled with a nature’s shortage of drones, not to mention the buyers demand of early delivery in March or April, the bee and queen breeders are faced with a gigantic problem of BOTH quantity and quality production of bees and/or queens.

You can not keep bees in 1998 like Daddy kept bees, because Daddy did not have all these new problems that exist today; and unfortunately, many “Daddies” have not bothered to change, nor have they kept up with the NEED TO CHANGE

Just this week I noticed a writing about this same subject from Jim Bach, the Professional Apiculturist and Bee Inspector of Washington State. I would like to quote few lines of his writing for you:

“Unfortunately, queen losses between spring introduction and fall (October) is much more common than it used to be. Back 15 to 20 years ago queens used to last 2 years easily. Now most beekeepers say that only 50 percent of their introduced queens last a year. Of course, this data is not quite reliable since most beekeepers do not use marked queens. ——– I have used marked queens for 25 years, but now find that usually only about 10% to 25% of the queens last from April introduction to June of the following year (which is just 15 months). Further, I usually find that 25% of my newly purchased queens don’t make it to July.” As a hobbyist beekeeper, it is not,for you or I to “fix the blame” for this new era problem, but accept the fact that for unknown reasons, to be successful in honey production, pollination service, or just counting on your bees being alive year after year, you MUST CHANGE YOUR MANAGEMENT TO THE NEW ERA PROGRAM. This means using MARKED Queens, REQUEEN annually or (at the very least) every two years, and prevent swarming and/or supercedure by exercising GOOD MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES.

George Imirie


Much to my disappointment, Frank and Helen Stottlemyer, 301 434-XXXX, have decided to retire after many years of good beekeeping. He has many things for sale, and this list is just some of the items. Telephone for more information. Observation Hive; Bee Blower; queen excluders; feeders; deep super with 10 frames of wired foundation, other foundation; bee escapes; screens; med. frame display case; hive stands; benzaldehyde, buckets, jars, bears, glue, spacers, etc. JUST ASK FRANK!


Yes, I just had a birthday during the Montgomery County Fair and it is sort of tough to examine knocking on the doors of 80 until you are reminded that you have been scientifically evaluating honey bees of all races and numerous management techniques for over 65 years and my wife has put up with propolis stains, sticky door knobs, and smoky smelling clothes for 55 years. NO! I am not in my second childhood in celebrating NEW YEAR in SEPTEMBER! A smart beekeeper starts planning his next season’s honey crop by planning for successful wintering of his “gals” in September.

Is he requeening with a young MARKED queen this month or is he going to wait until April and prevent swarming by making a split from his colony?

Has he made a decision about what race of queen to buy and what breeder to buy from? Or is he going to buy a NUC, from who, and has he talked to that person yet about the cost and the details of acquisition?

Surely, by now, menthol has been installed to kill the tracheal mite, and he is going to continue feeding grease patties 12 months of the year to help CONTROL those mites not killed by the menthol. He has ordered at least 4 Apistan strips for each colony to be installed by October 1st here in this area near Washington, DC to kill hopefully over 95% of all the Varroa mites. The November Honey Pot will remind everyone to REMOVE those strips by Thanksgiving Day to prevent creating mites that are resistant to Apistan.

The American Beekeeping Federation Queen Bee Symposium last January clearly pointed out that over 60% of all the bees in the United States are materially weakened and suffer shortened lives by the nosema spore disease, and it is so easily treated by feeding Fumadil B in 2:1 heavy sugar syrup in November. Hence, we will have to buy about a tablespoon of Fumadil B powder to feed each colony; and then our spring bees will be strong and healthy ready to collect lots of early spring nectar and pollen.

Speaking of pollen, bees can never have too much, and the queen won’t lay copious amounts of eggs without the protein of pollen, so it is always best (like an insurance policy) to have a small package of Mann Lake’s Bee PRO pollen substitute to lay in the brood chamber in January.

Brrr! January can be cold, the cold winds can blow hard. The bees are starting to eat a lot of honey in order to produce heat to warm the cluster to about 95 degrees so the queen (particularly the Carniolan queens) will lay eggs to build that very early force of nectar collectors. Is the hive protected by some kind of windbreak like a hedge or fence from the prevailing northwest wind? Has the colony got an upper entrance to exhaust all that rising warm air and exhaled warm breath of the clustered bees or are you going to let that moist air condense into cold water drops and “rain down” from the inner cover on the bees? George Imirie’s inner covers have a 1 inch long slot cut in the front edge of the inner cover that provides ventilation as well as an upper entrance all 365 days of the year.

EATING HONEY! Wow, those bees can really consume a lot when they have to raise that cluster temperature for brood rearing, not even mentioning the large amount of honey consumed by the newly created larvae to make all those 50,000 bees ready to “attack” a flow of sweet nectar in April or early May! Has your colony entered the winter in December weighing about 130-160 pounds gross weight which includes about 70 pounds honey (about 12 full deep frames or 18 full Illinois frames)? If you don’t have this much, in early November start feeding gallons of 2:1 heavy sugar syrup until you are sure that your colony has the equivalent of 70 pounds of honey for winter feed.

Don’t forget to prevent your bees being killed by mice making a nest in your warm brood chamber. The easiest and reusable mouse guard is a piece of 1/2 inch gap hardware cloth (Home Depot, Lowes, or Hechingers). Cut a piece the inside width of a hive body, 14 1/2″, by about a 2″ height and staple it over the front entrance in early October. Remove it in the spring and reuse it next year.

Although I feel quite confident that few will take my last advice, I give it anyhow and after gaining experience you will find that I was right. Unite two weak colonies by the newspaper method in September into one nice size colony. Not only is it quite difficult to get a weak colony through the winter, primarily because it is not populous enough to warm the cluster properly or particularly to expand the size of the cluster with brood, these weak hives rarely produce much honey from our Maryland early nectar flow_ One good size populous colony can winter easily, build up rapidly in the spring and make a good honey crop!

If you have done all that I do, and suggest that you do, as written above, you will enjoy a spring of great success with a fine honey crop and little swarming: and now you know why my bees celebrate New Years in September! GOOD LUCK!

Some of you now have Carniolan bees,but you will never be happy with them unless you understand their differences from other races, notably Italians. I thought that I might mention some of these differences here to help you.

  1. Unlike Italians, Carniolans prefer to enter winter quarters with a much smaller population of bees than you are used to seeing. They “make up” for this difference early in January when the queen starts intensive brood rearing 2-3 weeks ahead of Italians. Of course, this means that they are using up their winter stores more rapidly by feeding vast quantities of larvae in February and March, and hence, you must keep an eagle eye on their provisions in these mid-winter months.
  2. If you have had other bees and this is your first time with Carniolans, know well that you must do all management programs 2-3 weeks ahead of when you would have done those procedures for the slower developing Italians or Buckfast. And never forget that Carnies might swarm on a warm Christmas Day, so be swarm wary.


Russia seems to have more than economic problems. My bee partner, Ann, was summoned away from the Fair to teach advance beekeeping for 10 days in East Prussia (the ancestral home of the old German military leaders) followed by 10 days over at the Ural Mountains (near the Siberian border), back home for just 6 days; and then off again for almost a month to Armenia, a small mountainous country surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

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