July 2000

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

beeHAVER or beeKEEPER?
Managing Your Bees For the Next 9 Months

Unfortunately, far too many people forget their bees after the honey harvest around July 4th in Maryland, not unlike putting your bathing suit in the attic until next summer. Maybe these people are satisfied with just “having” bees, because they surely are NOT doing those things necessary to “keep” bees or those things to retard swarming next spring or to produce a record honey crop next year. Maybe these people really don’t understand what happens inside the colony during these 9 months of July through March; so let’s talk about each of these 9 months as if we were on the inside of the hive ourselves.


Harvesting honey, extracting, bottling, freezing comb honey to kill wax moth eggs, preparing creamed honey for sale, storing and protecting drawn comb with PDB (para-dichloro-benzene), testing for Varroa mites with a Sticky Board and treating for mites if the test is positive, planning entries for all the coming Honey Shows and Fairs, and give thanks for America on July 4th.


Attend the EAS meeting and LEARN more about good beekeeping, enter honey and hive products in the COUNTY FAIR, help in our Association Booth at the Fair to tell all the attendees about WHAT our honey bees do for their gardens and for our human food supply by pollination (not to mention how to COOK with honey) and our bees are not aggressive “killer Bees” but just defensive, install MENTHOL (cost $2) in each colony BEFORE September to kill tracheal mites, refill PDB on stored drawn comb if necessary


Requeen your colonies, refill PDB on stored comb if necessary


Remove all supers and excluders, Install Apistan strips on October 1st, start feeding 2:1 sugar syrup to make sure that bees have 70 pounds of honey for winter stores, cut grass and make hive windbreaks if needed, refill PDB on stored comb if needed, put mouse guards over hive entrance


Feed 1 gallon 2:1 sugar syrup containing Fumadil-B (cost $2) to prevent Nosema Disease, POSITIVELY REMOVE APISTAN STRIPS on some warm (50°) day after November 15th


Start cleaning, repairing, and painting hive boxes and all wooden ware, Removing propolis when it is cold is EASY (not difficult as it is in warm weather), PLAN your spring, Are you going to try something new – READ about it before you try, write to queen breeders and inquire how soon they could ship and costs


Select some day when the temperature is over 50°, sunny, wind calm, take off from work, and OPEN up a colony and make a QUICK inspection for brood, disease, and food


Start your REVERSING program to curtail swarming, begin feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to get the queen laying rapidly; positively do an OPEN HIVE inspection on some day when the temperature is over 50°. LOOKING AT THE OUTSIDE OF A COLONY TELLS YOU NOTHING. Your colony might be dead, and the activity you see could be ROBBER BEES. OPEN THE COLONY AND INSPECT!


Continue the REVERSING and the 1:1 FEEDING. In the warmth of your house, start inserting foundation into the frames you intend to use on April 1st and April 15th

Based on the myriad number of questions that I hear asked, it is quite apparent that only a few people seem to understand just what is going on inside a beehive at different months of the year. They would be better beekeepers if they were more informed about the difference between May and August for example, or April and October. Of particular importance is the AVERAGE AGE of the bee in any given month, because there is a VAST difference in a hive that has many, many nurse age bees (less than 19 days old) as compared to a hive that has more forager age bees (over 19 days old) than nurse bees.

In our Central Maryland area, unless the bees have been fed 1:1 sugar syrup in February and March to stimulate brood rearing, colony population is at its highest in June or early July and at its lowest in January or early February. The peak laying months of a queen are April and May; and her rest period, when she is laying very little or not at all, is late November and December. Carniolan queens, which are noted for their very early brood rearing, will start laying in January, while most other queens generally wait until February. Young nurse bees DON’T GO OUT FORAGING, and there are 40 days between the time an egg is laid and the resulting bee goes out FORAGING. Hence, if our Black Locust bloom appears on April 20th, the egg to produce a foraging bee to gather nectar on that date had to be laid before March 11th, which is 40 days prior to April 20th. Further, if our nectar flow is essentially over by June 15th, than we really don’t have any use for the bees whose eggs were laid after May 6th. As soon as the nectar flow slows down or stops, the bees reduce brood cell preparation and feeding the queen, and hence egg laying begins to slow down in late May and is materially reduced by the end of June. Let’s consider Varroa mite population: Varroa mite eggs are laid with 4 day old bee larva and feed off of that. With the peak honey bee brood months being April and May, there are many, many Varroa mite produced with all this bee brood; but the mites have a longer life than a honey bee. Therefore, as the queen reduces brood laying and worker bees die off at the old age of 42 days, the Varroa mite has an excellent chance of killing off the colony in July or August by just having over- whelming numbers of mites feeding on adult bees.

In spite of all the flowers you might see in July and August in all parts of Central Maryland, there is almost NO nectar flow during these two months to the point that some bees have starved to death because a beekeeper removed TOO much of the honey from the bees. Most bees, particularly Carniolans, reduce brood rearing during this time because there is so little nectar to feed the brood (brood is fed nectar, NOT honey). Possibly some species of goldenrod that produces nectar might bloom in late August or September as well as aster; but these honeys crystallizes so rapidly, they have no great sales value and are better left for winter food stores for the bees. Of course, the appearance of this new nectar encourages the bees to start brood rearing again that produces new young bees to winter the approaching long winter. During October and November, all nectar sources cease and brood rearing dramatically slows and normally will totally stop around Thanksgiving. In December,the bees are clustered, the queen is not laying, and very little honey is being eaten due to lack of activity of the bees and even the cluster temperature is lowered because there is no brood to incubate. If you have followed my suggestions and installed Apistan on October 1st and left it in place for 6 weeks and removed it before December 1st, there was very little bee brood during this time. Since new Varroa mite eggs are laid with a 4 day old bee larva, there basically are almost zero mites remaining anywhere in your colony of bees. What a wonderful situation!

In spite of the fact that January and early February are the coldest time of our winter, surprising things are happening in our hives. Don’t ask me to explain how the bees know that “spring is just around the corner and they HAVE to be ready for it to gather enough honey to get through the following winter, still a year away”. Only GOD can explain how the bees know what must be done in cold January and February. I can only answer that this is part of the genetics of apis mellifera. In spite of the cold, the bees begin to eat honey, microscopically flex muscles thereby developing body heat that spreads through the cluster, raise the core of the cluster to 91°-96°, heavily feed the queen, and the queen starts laying eggs. It is interesting that all of these bees at this time are OLD bees, much older than 42 days, but are still alive because they haven’t suffered the stress of flight to collect nectar and pollen. Brood rearing proceeds slowly due to lack of nurse bees and enough bees to keep large areas of brood warm. During this period, there will be a few days that the weather is warm enough to allow the bees to break cluster and go forth to collect pollen from skunk cabbage, alders, maples and other winter bearing blooms; and this acts as a shot of adrenaline to the bees to increase brood rearing tremendously. This requires warmth in the broodchamber and the bees eat a great deal of honey to produce that warmth. Further, the bee larva must be heavily fed with nectar, so the bees use honey diluted with water. If the beekeeper has been careless and not left a full 70 pounds of honey with the bees as winter stores, and they are eating up vast quantities of honey to raise all this brood in February and particularly March, is there any wonder why more colonies starve to death in March than any other month of the year. We humans would turn the heat down, wear more warm clothes, and not think about raising more children; but bees don’t think like that, but follow the same program that their ancestors have followed without change for millenniums.

I hope I have given you a “smattering” of the things a good beeKEEPER does from July through next March; and I trust I have helped the beeHAVERS.

Invest $2 and Save Your Hive from Tracheal Mite Death

A lot of people think the tracheal mite is not in Maryland, or death reports were over done, or that their bees are resistant. The major reason that so many people feel this way is because the tracheal mite is microscopic and they can’t see it. Hence, the old adage comes to mind: If you can’t see it, it must not be there. I hope they don’t feel the same way about a cancer pathogen, or e. coli in their hamburger. So often I hear about the loss of bees due to the cold winter or heavy snow or our long winter. I don’t hear the beekeepers in Alaska, Hudson Bay, or Russia mentioning colony losses for these reasons. One of our EAS Master Beekeepers keeps bees in Fairbanks, Alaska, when I represented Maryland on the National Honey Board, Idaho member, Randy Johnson, went to Siberia each year to work with Russian beekeepers, and I have delved deep among these “far north” beekeepers about winter losses. Frankly, they don’t lose colonies to cold, heavy snow, or long winters. Honey bees that are free of disease or pests and have plenty of winter stores arrive in the spring “hale and hearty”. The fact that tracheal mites live ONLY in adult bees (never in the brood) and weaken the bee as the bee ages and there are no new replacement bees in December or January creates the situation that most colonies infected with tracheal mitesdie in January! Hence, it is important to kill as many tracheal mites as possible BEFORE the mites can so thoroughly “clog-up” the breathing of the bee that it dies of strangulation. During the past 16 years, the Federal government has only APPROVED two chemicals to kill tracheal mites, menthol in 1984 and Apicure (formic acid) in 2000. However, there are some packaging problems with Apicure so it might not be available until 2001. WHEN USED AT THE CORRECT TIME, menthol works like a charm and kills 99% of all tracheal mite infection. Menthol sublimes (turns from solid into gas without becoming liquid) at 84°; and hence, in Central Maryland, menthol must be installed in a colony BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1st, when there are still enough hot days to convert those 50 grams (about 2 ounces) on menthol into a gas that the bees can breath and hence kill the tracheal mites infesting their “breathing apparatus” (Bees don’t have lungs like humans). Many beekeepers have delayed menthol installation until September or even October, their bees died, and they had the gall to announce that “menthol does NOT work”. Baloney! Menthol works like a charm, but it MUST be used at the correct time of year for the area involved. I install menthol in my Montgomery County area on August 15th, and have never lost a colony to tracheal mites.

You can do the same by spending about $2 and buy one 50 gram package of menthol for each colony and place it on top of the brood frames in your bottom story of your colony BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1st!

If you want to be “double sure” of protecting your bees from death by tracheal mites, you can use menthol PLUS a continuous exposure from July to December of GREASE PATTIES kept in the brood chamber of the colony. These GREASE PATTIES contain NO Terramycin, but only 2 parts of plain sugar mixed with 1 part of Crisco and this mixture made into a hamburger size pattie and kept on the frame tops of brood frames CONTINUOUSLY for 6 months. Dr. Diana Sammataro earned her Ph.D. at Ohio State University for the research on using grease patties to control tracheal mite population.

Be assured that if I hear of you losing your bees during this coming winter, I will embarrass you by asking you: Did you use menthol? When? It is high time that you spend $2.00 on something that works rather than taking a chance, your bees die, and then pay $40 to buy a new 3 pound package of bees, not to mention losing your honey. crop. I don’t believe that you are so “hard-headed” not to use menthol just to save two bucks.

Just some things you should positively KNOW!

  1. The favorite food of the honey bee is NOT honey, but fresh nectar or even 1:1 sugar syrup. Honey is a stored food for winter use.
  2. There MUST be a nectar flow of some kind present in order to make the bees draw foundation into drawn comb.
  3. Allowing your colonies to requeen themselves is about as obsolete as a typewriter or as unusual as seeing women’s hats. This is particularly true in the absence of many drones due to so much death my mites. It might surprise you, but just as it is highly irregular for a human brother and sister to mate, virgin queens rarely mate with drones that came from the virgin queen’s hive. Further, bee researcher has positively shown that when a colony finds itself queenless, in their desire to become queenrite QUICKLY, the worker bees select an older larva (perhaps 2 days old) rather than an egg to receive the royal jelly that will convert this worker egg into a queen. Due to lack of enough royal jelly feeding, the resulting queen is often poor. Queens reared by a skilled queen breeder are generally far superior to any queen that you could raise, and you are introducing new genetic lines into your apiary, hence preventing inbreeding.
  4. COOL smoke is normally white like cotton, but never blue or red which has some flame in it. Use a tightly packed fuel that smolders rather than something loosely packed that emits flame or sparks. Packed Pine Needles is my favorite.
  5. Supers are deemed quite important by beeHAVERS. However, the real beeKEEPER pays very little attention to the supers knowing that ALL PROBLEMS as well as ALL SUCCESSES start in the BROOD CHAMBER. If the apiarist provides comb space before it is needed, keeps the bees HEALTHY by using approved treatments on time, learns and uses the new management techniques, and always has a YOUNG queen ready for early spring laying, the SUPERS will “take care of themselves” provided that there are enough in place at the correct time.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

Scroll to Top