January 1999


Are your bees ALIVE?

In this wonderful Season of the Year that features Joy, Happiness, Thankfulness, and Hope, I feel sad and guilty about asking about the condition of your bees. In the long analysis, if your bees are weak or already dead, is it an Act of God, or is it your fault? I did not seek this task of of attempting to upgrade your knowledge about bees, but was rather forced into the “teaching” and “instruction” of the revised apiary management procedures that have become necessary during the last 15 years caused by the appearance of mites in the U.S. But, why me? Not only had I already been keeping bees for 50 years when the mites arrived, but I was a retired scientist who had the time and (hopefully) enough scientific brain power to seek out, examine, try out, and select the management techniques that would best serve you to KEEP YOUR BEES ALIVE. Suffering the indignities that others have experienced in introducing new thoughts and changing long used standard procedures was difficult for me in that it is not my desire to hurt one’s feelings. However, seeing the happiness of those that upgraded their knowledge and accepted my management procedures when their bees not only stayed alive year after year plus scoring record honey yields for them, was enough reward for me to just continue. Further reward is found in the number of Master Beekeepers, NINE, in the membership of MCBA, whereas no other local bee association in the U.S. has more than TWO; and there are only 118 Certified Master Beekeepers in the U.S.

Not only was 1998 a lousy year of honey production for many Maryland apiarists, but there was little fall nectar from Goldenrod and Aster to provide adequate winter stores. Then, of course, unfortunately there are still some non-believers in the value of Menthol and the necessity of installing it before September 1st. Since most deaths by tracheal mites occur in January, maybe you should inspect the health of your colonies on the first day (not a weekend day) that the temperature goes over 50 degrees and no wind. Hive condition can NOT be determined by viewing flight activity OUTSIDE the colony! You must take off the inner cover and peer down the space between the frames! If there are frames of honey near the outside wails of the hive and the center frames are EMPTY (no honey or brood) and the bees are NOT well clustered, switch the frames so that the bees can cluster around honey in the center of the hive. Apparently some people don’t understand winter food consumption, so let me explain it SIMPLY. Flightless bees and no brood are normal December conditions and the bees eat VERY LITTLE honey due to lack of activity and need. Normally, bees eat more honey in January as they start raising the cluster temperature to 91-96 degrees so the queen can lay eggs, and this new brood requires LOTS OF FOOD, When February arrives, on those flight temperature days, foraging bees find pollen and the bees “blow whistles and wave flags” to announce the coming spring and now food consumption really increases dramatically. Not only are flight bees using food for flying energy, adult bees are eating lots of honey to raise body heat to increase cluster temperature for queen laying to expand the brood nest, and (wow!) those bee larvae need a tremendous amount of food. A very high percentage of bee death by starvation occurs in late February and March

I have been asked many times “How come your bees are so strong (heavy population) by April 15th?” I have always supered my colonies on April 15th in preparation for an early April crop. Not only do I use Carniolans because of their “explosive” early spring build up, but I start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup on Feb. 1st to stimulate queen egg laying. Hence, my bees are in superb condition for our main nectar crop in May. Provided you are very wise about swarm prevention management, you do REVERSING, and you have a queen less than a year old, I encourage you do do the same: FEED 1:1 sugar syrup to stimulate queen laying. You must accept the fact that if you follow my feeding procedure, you are taking a chance of losing most of your honey crop if your bees swarm, but maybe making a record crop if they don’t swarm. I can only teach you the management methods, but success or failure will be determined by weather conditions, your apiary location, your race of bees, age of your queen, and your own ability to alter my management methods to fit these other variables.

I am sorry I will not be at our Jan. 13th meeting, but I will ask some of the other Master Beekeepers to help me demonstrate the fine points of REVERSING and other swarm prevention procedures at our February 10th meeting. MAKE SURE YOU ARE THERE! I have been asked to discuss spring requeening and making splits, so I will ask some of our Master Beekeepers to help me put on a meaningful demonstration of these procedures at our MARCH 10th meeting. NOW YOU HAVE TWO IMPORTANT DATES TO UPDATE YOUR KNOWLEDGE, FEB. 10th and MAR. 10th.

I eagerly await the American Beekeepers Federation meeting Jan. 7 – 13, and feel very confident that Ann, Barry, and I will bring back to you “THE LATEST SCOOP AND EXPERTISE” about all kinds of things including information about the NEW PEST, the HIVE BEETLE. That is another thing that “Daddy did not have to worry about”.

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