October 2000

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Bee Management
HOW does a Beekeeper HELP his bees?

Most of you have heard of beekeepers (right in your area) having annual yields of 100, 125, or even 150 pounds of honey in most years; whereas your colonies seem only to produce 40, 60, or 80 pounds in most years. Your natural inclination is say “Somebody is telling tall tales” (just plain lying), but suppose you personally visited his apiary on May 31st and found that his colonies each had 4 or 5 Illinois supers FULL, but your colonies only had 2 or 3, and both of you had bought new queens from the same queen breeder! WHAT would you think then? Could it be that his bee management technique is better than yours?
WHAT is bee management? Let’s talk about it; as well as bring you up-to-date to honey production techniques learned in the past 50 years. When I began keeping bees in Bethesda, Maryland back in the Depression Days of 1933, the great majority of apiarists were just bee HAVERS. They HAD bees, and frankly knew very little about bee management, suffered with “eternal” swarming, were always short of equipment, usually waited too late in the season to do those things that should have been done, never requeened, and were happy with a average annual honey yield of 25 -50 pounds. However, the hives of my mentor, Dr. James I. Hambleton, Chief of the Bethesda Bee Laboratory (precursor of Beltsville Bee Lab), just 2 miles from my house, were producing 75-100 pds. every year and rarely swarmed. Dr. Hambleton made it very clear to me back in those days the importance of bee management; and although bees that are just left alone, like wild bees, can survive and produce 25-50 pounds of SURPLUS honey annually, they need a knowledgeable beekeeper’s help to produce more surplus honey than that and keep swarming at a minimum.

During these past 50 years, particularly during the past 15 years due to research about mites, bee research has proven that the number one cause of swarming is a CROWDED, CONGESTED BROOD CHAMBER.

Secondly, a very young queen (less than 12 months old) is un- likely to swarm because queen pheromone production is so high that it can “glue” 40,000 to 60,000 worker bees into a single functioning unit. Thirdly, lots of empty drawn comb must be in place on the hive at the start of the nectar flow to store the thin watery nectar until it can be ripened into honey. Finally, your bees must be HEALTHY bees, free of bee diseases like Nosema, foulbrood, chalkbrood, etc., and relatively free of pests like both Tracheal and Varroa mites, skunks, mice, small hive beetles, etc.

Honey production requires LOTS of foraging age bees (bees over 19 days old) and having these foragers ready for “work” when the major nectar flow starts in Montgomery County, MD about April 20th means that the egg to produce this foraging age bee has to be laid by the queen 40 days in advance of April 20th, which is March 11th. Normally, in our area, queens might start laying in January, but are not laying heavily until late February. A beekeeper can HELP his colony get earlier egg laying by feeding 1:1 sugar syrup by February 1st as a brood production stimulant. The perfectly normal movement of bees in a colony during the winter is UP. They consume their stores in the bottom brood chamber in early winter and leave it completely empty as they eat their way up into the second brood chamber as the winter progresses, and the queen starts laying in the upper brood chamber. Feeding brood requires tremendous amounts of NECTAR (or honey diluted by water gathered by the bees). BEE LARVA DOES NOT EAT HONEY! The 1:1 sugar syrup is artificial nectar, and the bees don’t have to wait until a warm day to fly out and collect water to dilute the honey in the hive to feed the brood. Bees don’t store nectar or sugar syrup AWAY from the brood where it will get cold, but store it close-by, surrounding the area that they are warming to 91-96° for the queen to lay eggs. When they get the upper brood chamber filled with as much brood as they can keep warm, they STOP the queen from laying until open cells are available; but will NOT move the queen back DOWN to the empty lower brood chamber because it is empty of nectar, honey, sugar syrup, pollen and cold Here too, the beekeeper can HELP his bees by providing laying space for the queen and their normal UP-WARD movement of the brood nest by REVERSING the position of the brood chambers when indicated (3-5 times between January and May). REVERSING is simply moving the top brood chamber which has center frames of brood and the queen into the lower brood chamber position, so that now the upper brood chamber is empty and is warmed because heat moves upward so the worker bees ready these upper cells for the queen to move up there to lay, leaving the capped brood in the lower body to emerge and then REVERSE again. Reversing is a system that always provides laying space for the queen, space for nectar or sugar syrup close by, and warmth for the larva. This provides LOTS of foraging age bees on time for the major nectar flow in late April and all of May. It also promotes swarming because the hive is getting congested with lots of bees and brood, so the beekeeper has to stop swarming impulses. HOW?

Get the foraging age bees OUT of the BROOD CHAMBER SPACE, by putting a super of drawn comb in place over the brood chamber about April 1st, let the bees move some nectar into it or even a smattering of brood and then put a queen excluder in place under it (make sure the queen is back down in the brood area) and make sure there is either an upper entrance or an Imirie Shim in this super area as an entrance and exit for the forager bees rather than forcing their way back and forth through the congested brood area. Put ALL of your supers of drawn comb (no foundation) in place about April 15th, surely before May 1st. Bees do NOT collect honey and bring it into the hive! They collect thin, watery nectar (perhaps 80% water), store it temporarily in the supers until they have time to evaporate the water down to thick honey (about 16-18% water). Hence, they need lots of storage space for the nectar or they will quit work and start making swarm preparations. I put 5 Illinois supers of drawn comb in place on April 15th. Many readers do not have DRAWN COMB and have to use foundation. Read earlier PINK PAGES about how to use foundation, but YOU CAN ONLY USE ONE SUPER OF 10 FRAMES OF FOUNDATION AT A TIME, and not add a second super of foundation until the first super is about 70% drawn. Your job is get foundation drawn into comb, and then PROTECT it from wax moths as you store it until next year, explained in other PINK PAGES.

Now let us start an argument. Requeen EVERY year, so no queen is over 12 months old. Fall requeening is perhaps more difficult than spring requeening, but it has so many advantages over spring requeening that it is worth it. The great majority of professional honey producers requeen every 12 months or sometimes twice each year. These guys that have 5000 colonies or 20,000 colonies and make their total income from honey production would not bother to requeen every year if it was not a good reason. If you join the American Beekeeping Federation, attend their annual meeting, sit down with these professional honey producers and talk, they will tell you to requeen EVERY year and give you the reasons. So a new queen costs $10-$12, but it might prevent losing a swarm and a year’s honey crop. That, by itself, is good enough for me. Further, bee researchers have shown that about 60% of unmanaged colonies supersede their queen sometime during her first year. The great majority of superseded queens are developed from 2 day old larva rather than new larva and hence are poorly bred queens who just can’t produce lots of brood to make a good honey crop; and if you live in Texas, maybe your new queen mated with an africanized drone, which endangers you to being sued for keeping non-european bees.

I can’t explain everything, so when you go in your colony, enter with the idea of LEARNING something by shrewd observation. Let me give you an example that many people just don’t seem to grasp. In the late winter or early spring, bees rarely lay brood in 1,2 and 9, 10 or even 1, 2, 3 and 8, 9, 10, but lay brood in the CENTER frames of perhaps two stories or even three stories when using Illinois size frames like I do. WHY? The queen can not lay eggs at a temperature under 91°, the eggs and larva must be kept that warm to mature, the nectar (or sugar syrup) used to feed the larva must be kept warm, and the only heat available is the body heat of the clustered bees. Heat rises and does not spread sideways towards the cold hive body sides, so the bees cluster around the center frames in a chimney effect rather than a warm wide body first floor and a cold wide body second floor or vice-versa. On a chilly March day, I have witnessed brood on 12 Illinois frames, the 4 centermost frames in broodbox #1, broodbox #2, and broodbox #3, and little to nothing on any of the outer frames in any of the 3 broodboxes.

Further, particularly during the late winter and early spring period, DON’T YOU RE-ARRANGE THE “FURNITURE”. The bees know far better than you just where they want the brood in relationship to nectar, pollen, outside walls., etc. It is OK to reverse brood boxes up and down, but don’t move frames to different positions sideways.

I want to leave you with a final thought, and I strongly suggest that you read Dr. Norman Gary’s Chapter 8 in the 1992 Revised Edition of The Hive and The Honey Bee about BEE BEHAVIOR. The bee emerges from its cell with all the “brains” or knowledge that it will ever for its 6 weeks of life in flying weather. The bee is incapable of learning anything from you or knowing who you are, or whether you are gentle or nasty. It’s mind was programmed by GOD back before Adam and Eve and it has not changed one iota since. Every action that our bee performs is based on what is NATURE’S way of doing and it does these things NOT by direction from some boss, queen, or older bee, but by the instinct that was given to it at its creation. No one teaches it how to build comb, how to fly or sting, how to feed larva, how to convert nectar into honey, or when to stop producing honey, because she never stops if there is a nectar flow. However, we humans are honored with the ability to think and LEARN. All we have to do is open our minds to accept new thoughts and then get off our lazy butts and LEARN. We can learn how to get our bees to produce more honey than they would if left to their own management. This is what BEE MANAGEMENT is all about. We don’t alter any phase of the normal operation of a bees action, but we HELP the bee to perform these actions for a longer time period in the same location rather than swarm or wait through the winter until the weather warms to lay lots of brood, or provide them with a younger well bred queen that can lay more eggs daily. Like so many famous beekeepers that I have talked to or read their works like Roger Morse, Brother Adam, or Freidrich Ruttner indicate that as we learn more about our bees, we dismiss the many ideas that our problems have been caused by bad weather, bad queen breeders, a lousy choice of race or stock, bad governmental decisions, or any other bad “this” or lousy “that”, and we finally realize that 90% of our problems was our own lack of knowledge about apis mellifera and our lack of willingness to accept the new findings each day by bee scientists and bee researchers.

I have but one regret after 68 years of wonderful beekeeping, and that is I am still learning each year more and more about my bees, but my time is running out and I won’t be able to enjoy the new findings of this 21st century.

Christmas is Coming

There are lots of books about bees, many of which are quite famous and respected. But since our biggest problems seem to be the mites and parasitic mite syndrome (PMS), books written before about 1992 are essentially obsolete because the Tracheal mite was first found in the U.S. in late 1984 and the more damaging Varroa mite was first found in the U.S. in 1987. It took several years to find any treatment procedures for these mites. Further, although the queen pheromone was first suggested about 40 years ago, little was really known about its importance until about 1990, and now in 2000 we know how very important the queen pheromone is as well as some other bee pheromones. Reading a book authored by Chevrolet in 1985 about repairing the carburetor or installing new brakes would be useless today, because all cars built since about 1990 have fuel injection and disc brakes rather than carburetors or drum brakes. Hence, for reliable information, read only the bee books published or revised in the last few years. Every beekeeper should have a bee “bible” on his desk. There is nothing better then the 1992 Extensively Revised Edition of THE HIVE AND HONEY BEE whose 1300+ pages are written by 34 of the TOP bee scientists or researchers in the U. S. and it is only $36.00.

“Things” about Honey

As I listen to people talk about honey, particularly when they are trying to sell some of their crop, I am appalled at how little people seem to know about their product. Hence, I thought you should know the answers to some of the questions that often are asked, as well as showing your interest in helping a customer by telling them things they should know.


Unless you are a chemist, you think that sugar is that white powder in the sugar bowl on your table. You are right, since table sugar is chemically the di-saccharide, SUCROSE. However, there are many, many different sugars, some very complex poly-saccharides, and others are simple mono-saccharide like glucose and fructose; and strangely, some are sweeter than others. The nectar of a flower from a plant, tree, or shrub is primarily 80%-90% water and the di-saccharide chemical, sucrose. A honey bee’s stomach emits an enzyme, invertase, that chemically breaks down the di-saccharide into two different mono- saccharides, GLUCOSE and FRUCTOSE. After the worker bee adds the microscopic amount of invertase to the nectar and evaporates the water concentration to only about 16-18% water, we now have HONEY! Hence, honey consists of primarily two simple sugars, glucose and fructose dissolved in about 16-18% water. Just like you might keep a food like orange juice in a sealed bottle, the bee keeps the honey in a sealed wax comb that they have made. The ONLY thing that a beekeeper does to the honey is remove the combs of honey from the bees, cut off the wax cappings of the comb, drain (extract) the honey from the comb, filter out any particles of wax and bottle it – READY FOR YOU TO EAT! When I mention the enzyme, invertase, some people get a little squeamish, but you should not; because your own body does exactly the same thing with table sugar, sucrose. Your pancreas manufac- tures invertase, and when you eat sugar, like in tea or candy, the invertase breaks that sucrose down into glucose and fructose which is sometimes called “blood sugar” and is found in your blood. I’ll bet you did know how much we are like bees in handling of sugar.

Every beekeeper should be able to explain “How honey is made”!


Since the density of honey varies slightly with the percentage water that is in the honey, a “specific gravity” figure cannot be given. How- ever, for the most part, honey is half again heavier than water. Hence, a 5 gallon can of honey contains 60 pounds of honey, but it would only hold about 40 pounds of water. The 1 pound “queenline” honey jar that we are familiar with holds 16 ounces of honey, but only about 11 ounces of water. Old Timers used to sell honey in pint or quart Mason Jars (same as “moonshine” whiskey), but a pint Mason jar contains about 24 ounces (1 1/2 pounds) of honey which makes pricing difficult. It is always best to bottle honey in 1/2 lb., 1 lb., 2 lb., or 5 lb. honey jars, just like we sell eggs by the dozen, and never just 10 or 15 eggs.


Although the nectar of two different flowers of a plant like clover or buckwheat essentially consist of maybe 85% water and 14% sucrose (sugar), that other 1% or less has all kinds of many different things in it, like minerals in tiny quantities. Dependent on what these different minerals are as well as how much of them are present, such as sodium, calcium, iron, or copper, etc. will determine the color of the honey. For example, clover honey is a light amber color, whereas buckwheat honey coming from a tiny white flower is almost pitch black in color, like old axle grease. Although not totally true, generally one can say that “THE DARKER THE COLOR, THE STRONGER THE FLAVOR”. I don’t want to start any arguments, but most beekeepers prefer the darker honeys for their own eating and ignore the light colored honeys as “sweet like sugar syrup, but little flavor”. My favorite is Tulip Poplar, and it has a pronounced reddish caste to its color in the bright sunlight.

Some foolish people have said the “dark honey is OLD honey”. They are WRONG!


Almost all honey will crystallize if left long enough with the exception of sage honey or tupelo honey. Honey is composed of a mixture of glucose and fructose, and the relative percentage of each determines whether it crystallizes slowly or rapidly. In nature, glucose is normally found as a solid, whereas fructose is normally found as a liquid. Hence, when a honey has a relatively high relationship of glucose to fructose, the honey crystallizes quickly, like goldenrod honey or alfalfa honey. Oppositely, honey that is lower in glucose compared to fructose tend to be quite slow to crystallize, like tulip poplar or locust honey. Based on White et al in 1962, the list below gives the relative speed of crystallization in descending order of various honeys found in Maryland:

TypeCrystalization TimeColor
Tulip PoplarVery SlowDark Amber with Reddish Caste
LocustVery SlowWhite to Light Amber
HollyVery SlowLight Amber to Amber
BasswoodMedium SpeedLight Amber
CloverMedium SpeedWhite to Light Amber
BuckwheatMedium SpeedBuckwheat
Wildflower(1)Anybody’s GuessAny Color in the Rainbow

(1) this is the honey you get when you mix nectars from different floral sources

Has water gone “bad” when it freezes to ice? Of course not. Just warm the ice, and it turns back to water. The same is true for crystallized honey, just warm it SLOWLY in a double boiler to no more than 120° and you convert those solid crystals to liquid honey again. Don’t use a microwave oven, because you might burn the honey.


Well, the WORST place is a temperature near 57°F, because that is the temperature that Dr. Dyce of Cornell University found was the absolutely best temperature to make honey crystallize the fastest. Hence, probably the worst place around a home is in the basement, garage, or outside shed. The best place to keep honey that is being used often is in a sealed bear or jar sitting on a sunny table or on a sunny shelf. If you want to keep honey for several weeks or months, put it in your freezer and keep it near 0°. NEVER PUT HONEY IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR! Make sure that you tell your customer’s to never put honey in a refrigerator, but a freezer is fine!


At my old age, that is such a silly question, but people under about 50 years old ask it all the time, or look at it as if it had “bugs” in it. During the Depression days of 1930-36 when many were unemployed, if you had a 60 hour/week job, your pay was $5/week, a quart of milk delivered to you home was just 8¢, bus fare all over Washington DC was 3¢, and double feature movies were 15¢. Honey producers could not afford to buy jars or an extractor, so almost all honey was sold as 4″x4″ wooden section comb honey for 25¢ each if you were lucky. You laid the section flat on a dish, dipped into the wax comb with a fork or spoon, and spread it on hot rolls, corn- bread, toast, blueberry muffins, or best of all – JUST RIGHT IN YOUR MOUTH. The honey that dripped into the dish, you used to sweeten your tea or lemonade or the sweetener to make fruitcake. Most everybody swallowed the wax, and because it totally inert, you did not have to spend money for some fancy cereal to “put bulk in your diet”. Chewing gum was 5¢ a package, so we used to call comb honey “poor man’s chewing gum”. I still love to eat comb honey, but my dentures don’t like it, because the wax sticks to false teeth. You “ain’t lived” until you just take a big bite of comb honey, swirl the delectable honey around in your mouth, chew on the wax for the next half hour, and then swallow. WOW! I also love to eat raw oysters – after all, Maryland is Chesapeake Bay country, the “the land of pleasant living”! Now I sell comb honey for $5.00/pound or a 3 ounce sample for $8.00/pound. How much are you selling your honey for? Seeing a comb honey section of nice clean white (not dirty yellow) wax reminds me of the prom queen dressed in a white satin evening gown. Yum Yum!


You gotta be kidding! Didn’t your grandmother treat your sore throat with hot tea, lemon, and honey? Mine did! Now, we have been taught to rely on antibiotics to cure everything from too much flatulence to a hang nail. For centuries, in the days before guns, when the sword was a major weapon, honey was known for its healing properties and effective antimicrobial agent, and hence was used as a dressing for wounds and burns. Germs have difficulty living in antimicrobial agents, and since honey has relatively high acid content, pH about 4.0, and even the presence of a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, a dressing of honey promotes healing, helps prevent scarring, and keeps a wound from adhering to a bandage. No sense buying Neosporin when there is plenty of honey around. DOES EATING LOCAL HONEY HELP ALLERGY (HAY FEVER) SUFFERERS? Yes and no. If you are allergic to the pollen of some flower visited by honey bees in their searches for pollen or nectar, eating of the local honey from that area may desensitize your immune system and hence, work like a vaccine. But if one gets hay fever from some floral source that honey bees don’t visit, eating all the honey in the world will have no effect on that allergy. Recently, many of us saw on television the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia with those sport people “burning the candle at both ends” in energy consumption. It is amazing how many of these athletes swallowed a teaspoon of honey just before their event to get a sudden boost of energy, and many of the marathon racers by foot or on bicycles added a teaspoon of honey to their water bottle, not because it tasted good, but to give them “instant energy”. Just “plain old sugar” won’t so that, because the body has to break this sucrose down into the simple sugars glucose and fructose (blood sugars) before it will provide energy to a human.


It is used as a topping on biscuits, muffins, rolls, cornbread, and toast. It is a sweetener in tea, barbecue sauces, and ham glazes. It is an ingredient when used in honey beers, honey breads, honey cereals, honey mustards, honey salad dressings, honey cough syrup, and honey shampoo. Half of all the honey sold in the U. S. is used in manufactured products!


First, let my say it is NOT honey butter or “spun” honey. Honey butter is honey mixed with butter and “spun” honey is honey mixed with air and looks like a cobweb on a stick. As previously said, all honeys will eventually crystallize except tupelo or sage honey; but when they crystallize naturally, the crystals are large and coarse, and feels like sand in your mouth. A beekeeper selects some of these large coarse crystals of a honey he likes, and GRINDS them with a pestle in a mortar until they are a tiny, fine crystal almost like talcum powder. This is used as the seed to make a jar of selected honey crystallize into a “cream” or “spread” of honey, whose crystals are tiny and not sharp. About 2 ounces of this ground “seed” honey is added to about to about 14 ounces of the honey you want to make into honey spread, placed in a controlled temperature of 57° and kept there about 10 days, and VOILA, you have a pound of honey spread. It is 100% honey – nothing has been added, nor anything removed! Honey spread MUST be kept at a temperature of less than about 70° or it will go right back to liquid honey. Now if you want to get real fancy, you can flavor this honey spread with cinnamon, straw- berries or other tasty things. It may come as quite a surprise to you, but outside the U.S., particularly in Europe, the great majority of honey sold is honey spread rather than liquid honey. I love it, because it doesn’t drip and spill on your clothes, and it is so spreadable with a knife like peanut butter, and I sell it for $5.00 per pound.


First and most important, different nectar sources bloom at different times, e.g., Tulip poplar blooms in May, clover blooms in June, and buckwheat blooms in August. In advance, you find a farmer who plants these crops and ask his permission for you to set your beehives in his fields during the bloom. Generally, he is delighted to get the pollination of his crop done free by your bees. Sometimes, two different floral sources might bloom a the same time. Then you have to be satisfied with the one with giving the nectar with the highest sugar content, because that is where the bees are going to select as long as the bloom produces.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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