February 1999

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Getting Ready For Spring

As often as I have written it or said it LOUD AND CLEAR, more bees die of starvation in late February or March than any other time of year. It still happens! It is not the fault of the bees, it is not the fault of the weather, it is not the fault of the mites, but if that hive is out of honey and you find dead bees HEAD FIRST down in cells, IT IS YOUR FAULT, you killed them by your negligence or lack of knowledge.

Negligence is bad enough, but there is no excuse for lack of knowledge when your association meets the year around and you don’t bother to attend meetings or read my PINK PAGES. MCBA has NINE master beekeepers to provide you with enough knowledge to write your own book about beekeeping so lack of knowledge is just an excuse for lazyness or Don’t Give A Damn Attitude.

Recently, a man wrote me and asked “Who did I think I was?”; and I replied “Just a good beekeeper and very proud of it. Are you proud of your beekeeping?” He didn’t answer – he didn’t have to.

Bees don’t eat very much when they are INactive in the months of November and December when the Queen is not laying! The easiest winter, when very little food is used, is when it gets real cold at Halloween and STAYS, cold. so the bees practically don’t move around at all and just huddle up sharing warmth in a nice cluster.

Don’t ask me “if bees have a calendar” that tells them about New Years Day, January 1st or, Robt. E. Lee’s Birthday, January 19th, and I doubt that Punxsutawney Bill would tell the bees “it’s Ground Hog Day, Feb. 2nd”.

But in central Maryland, honey bee genetics sort of gets those bees, a goin’ in early January thinkin’ about all dem yunguns they has got to have to go nectar collectin’. The worker bees, even though there might be snow and wind outside, somehow know that “resting time” is over and they start polishing a few cells for the queen to lay in, arouse the queen’s ovaries to start spring work by feeding the queen a little more each day, and nature arouses the worker bees hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands to manufacture the larval food necessary to feed the worker bee larva that will be produced by the new eggs the queen is about to lay.

Now, you should know that even though it is still winter outside, the bees are planning ahead (LIKE YOU SHOULD) and this activity requires energy, and energy requires eating, and the honey stores that were put away last fall are suddenly needed and rapidly used to feed the queen to produce more eggs to feed the workers to give energy and for their glands to make copius quantities of larval food to nurse the new worker bee larvae to adulthood.

This was all planned by nature IN ADVANCE so that there will be a large population of nectar collectors ready for hard foraging for next winter’s food stores. He who thinks those bees are making honey for we humans to harvest, better sign up for my “special classes” to UPGRADE your knowledge of bees, or talk with another MASTER BEEKEEPER.

The sudden building of a colony population requires a tremendous amount of food and winter stores are rapidly expended. The late winter-early spring activities of a honey bee colony was part of the program that included the creation of Adam and Eve, but the Almighty never got to that chapter about “holding back by rationing the food”, so it was up to you, the beekeeper, either not to have harvested too much last year, or benevolently buy some sugar and feed those critters before they starve.

DO NOT FEED HONEY unless it is YOUR honey that you know has no foul brood spores! Sugar syrup is better food anyhow because there is less chance of diarrhea. Feed 1:1 syrup because it is like artificial nectar that stimulates Queen laying; but throw that Boardman feeder away to prevent robbing and feed from a 1 gallon jar inverted over the hole in the inner cover. 1:1 syrup is 5 lbs of sugar dissolved in 5 pints of water.


To make a record crop or a real good yield requires having a lot of foraging age (19 days old or older) bees ready at nectar flow time. To be ready for our major nectar flow about May 1st, the egg to produce that foraging bee had to be laid 40 days before, which is March 21st.

Eggs laid after March 21st do not make bees that will go out and gather nectar on May 1st. Hence, the beekeeper has to do all he can to build a big population starting back in February and getting very strong in March.

This involves having Carniolans, a very young queen, early feeding of 1:1 syrup, 20 good deep frames of drawn comb or 30 drawn comb Illinois frames, and continuous reversal of brood chambers as needed during February, March, and April.

For this year, 1999, you can’t change now to Carniolans, and you can’t put a new YOUNG queen in before March 21 st; BUT you can feed CONTINUOUSLY 1:1 sugar syrup unitil SUPERING on April 15th you should have lots of good frames and I (with help from other Master Beekeepers) will TEACH you the fine points of proper REVERSING at our February 10th meeting, so be there!

Everybody that follows “my” instructions makes more than they ever made before – just ask them or maybe they will speak up and tell you.

How many of you can average 130 pounds per colony per year after year near Washington, DC? And I do it on a bipartisan basis, regardless of whether the DEMOCRATS or REPUBLICANS are in.


  • Provide a continuous water supply for the bees before your bees select your neighbors swimming pool or the outdoor carpeting on the neighbor’s porch. Note: Once the bees select their water source,it is extremely difficult to change it until NEXT YEAR, so do it now.
  • Replace any damaged frames with new foundation or drawn comb. Remove the entrance mouse guard. Make sure that you have an absoulte minium of three supers, frames and foundation per colony and get 2-3 fresh coats of good paint on the outside.
  • If your colony did NOT have an upper entrance, some parts of the interior of the colony may be damp or wet.
  • Check the level of the hive to make sure it is slightly tilted forward; dry or change the wet or damp parts; cut an upper entrance in the front edge of the inner cover.
  • I should not have to tell you to check for disease or an OLD QUEEN, so DO IT!
  • Think about REQUEENING, with a MARKED queen.
  • If you see LOTS of brown stains all over the front of your hive, maybe your bees have nosema, suggesting that you did not treat with Fumidil-b.
  • If you see bees on the ground near the hive front that just can’t seem to fly, maybe your bees are heavily infected with tracheal mites


George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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