September 2000

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


My entire month of August was spent at the annual Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meeting, and my own 9 day long Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, during which my basic “job” was teaching successful beeKEEPING. I never cease to be amazed at how little many people know of the CHANGES in programs that confront them almost daily; and choose to either ignore up-to-date scientific suggested advice, go ask old retired “Uncle Ben” for his suggestion of a solution, or just ignore the problem and hope it does not repeat itself. Such is the case about the treatment of the tracheal mite and the Varroa mite, BOTH of which are still highly prevalent among all the bees in the United States, whether Montgomery County, Maryland, Alabama, New York, Texas, or Alaska.

Then, there are always those that are too “stingy” to spend any money to protect the lives of their bees, and there are those that don’t want to put any “chemicals” in their hives; so they either DON’T TREAT their bees at all, or treat with so-called NON-CHEMI- CALS like FGMO (food grade mineral oil) or “essential oils” like wintergreen, thymol, cinnamon, peppermint, or a dozen others even including Halls Mentholated Cough Drops. Pray tell, aren’t these products CHEMICALS? There seems to be a feeling that if a product such as FGMO or peppermint is OK for humans, than it must be OK for bees; but do these products kill or control the mites is the question of importance? Yet, I will wager that these same people take aspirin or Tylenol for headaches, Pepto-Bismol for an upset stomach, Imodium for diarrhea, many different antibiotics for various infections, and even nitroglycerine pills for certain heart problems. By the way, none of these everyday used drugs were “discovered” by “Uncle Ben” or “Aunt Sadie”, but were produced by re- search scientists who were paid to find and develop products suitable for overcoming human health problems.

Who are these research scientists and who pays them to delve into the ways of destroy- ing the predators, sicknesses, or pests of our apis mellifera , and without harm to our bees or adulteration of the honey they produce? Since the beginning of time, few research scientists have done their job for a financial return, but rather they have done it to answer the age old questions of: What is on the ‘other side’? How high is ‘up’? What is ‘atomic energy’, and how can it be controlled and used? What is ‘gravity’, and how does it effect the fall of a feather versus a paper-clip in a vacuum? Research oriented people are naturally curious about everything and anything just to “see what is on the other side of the hill”. The Federal Government has 5 Bee Research Laboratories each staffed with numerous Ph.D. scientists in the fields of entomology, chemistry, bio- chemistry, micro-physics, and other scientific specialties. Most states have similar scientists engaged in honey bee research on the problems of the honey bee in their area (after all, Maine or Minnesota have problems with cold weather that Florida or Texas never experience; and 5 Southwest states have the Africanized honey bee that has not yet entered our other 45 states). Let us never forget the Universities spread over the entire country that have students doing guided research about honey bee problems to enable them to secure a Ph.D. in one of the sciences. I am quickly reminded of Diana Sammataro who gained her Ph. D. in entomology by research on the effect of grease patties on the tracheal mite; and I am watching our own Montgomery County Alexis Park studying under Dr. Dewey Caron at the University of Delaware. Lastly, there are a few chemical companies looking for chemicals to use in treatments for honey bee problems; but these companies are few and far between simply because the treatment of honey bees does not offer enough profit to justify expensive research. Sadly, because of a few “self appointed ‘doctors’ of honey bee diseases”, who refused to follow written directions about the use of certain chemicals, notably MITICUR, as well as an effort to do a treat- ment FASTER and CHEAPER, the manufacturer simply withdrew the product from market and said “the hell with beekeepers”. Just a few rotten apples can spoil a whole barrel!

If any of these non-approved products, like wintergreen, FGMO, or numerous others, worked to control or kill the tracheal and Varroa mites, don’t you think it would have been loudly announced and publicized by our trade journals, newspapers, honey producers, and even ME? Our federal labs, notably Beltsville, or state extension service scientists, and our many university labs have all tested and “played with” these non-approved treatment products over the past 16 years, and to-date, none of these suggested products have been scientifically proved successful for use in control of our honey bee mite problems. As a scientist myself, although long retired, if I or members of my family are exposed to a life threatening pest or disease, I am going the seek advice from the medical profession and do as they say, and IGNORE the comments or suggestions of my nonmedical friends, my auto repairman, my friendly butcher, my Uncle Ben or Aunt Sadie or even my pastor. I want to listen to that segment of people who have spent their lives working as scientists to find the proper treatment to restore my health, irrespective of my relationship with all others. Off the subject a bit, but a little levity is good for us: While at EAS, an out of state attendee said to a friend of mine: I have been told that George Imirie has been hospitalized 5 times over the past decade with strokes; but he is still here on his electric scooter teaching proper beeKEEPING. Why isn’t he DEAD? My friend replied: beeHAVERS still need George, God is not sure just what to do with him, and the Devil is afraid of George. Only you can decide who is correct; but meanwhile I will keep “preaching” to you.

Some people seem to be OVER concerned about the monetary cost of treating a colony for mites, and that is like failing to buy new tires before starting your vacation of traveling cross country in your three year old car. The cost of a yearly dose of menthol to KILL tracheal mites is about $2.00 per colony, and the cost of 4 strips of Apistan to kill about 99% of the Varroa mites (if used at the RIGHT time) is about $8.00. If you give a fall treatment of Fumidil B to control the ever present Nosema disease, the cost is about $2.00 per colony. Hence, the TOTAL yearly costs of disease treatments using USDA APPROVED chemicals is only about $12.00 per colony. Healthy bees produce honey and do not HAVE to be replaced. Maybe your colony only produces a measly 50 pounds of honey, and you literally “give-it-away” for $2.00 per pound, which equals a total of $100 and your bees are not only healthy and ready for next year, but you can split one colony into 2 colonies or sell 4 frame “nucs” for $50 each, and STILL HAVE your bees. Further, maybe you or your neighbor is a vegetable gardener; and due to the absence of wild bees, perhaps the garden did not produce many vegetables like cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, squash, carrots, broccoli, onions, apples, cherries and many other veggies and fruit, because of the lack of plant pollination. How do you measure “this” in dollars and cents? I have often wondered if the average hobbyist beekeeper has ever thought of the package bee industry, where these operators only income might be from the sale of bees which certainly means that they dare not fail to PROPERLY medicate their bees against things like mites, and you can be assured that they don’t use some “Uncle Ben” remedy, fail to miss a treatment, treat on time with an approved chemical, and follow the directions of the research scientists that developed these approved chemicals. WHY DON’T YOU DO LIKEWISE?

Lastly, there are always those people that want to “ring every drop of honey out of a season”, and keep their supers in action continuously from April through September. Then they treat their bees with approved chemicals like menthol and Apistan in late September or next March. Their bees die or arrive in the spring sickly, and these people have the unmitigated nerve to declare that “I treated with menthol and Apistan and my bees died, so menthol and Apistan are no damned good”. It is hard to tell these self appointed experts that they did not treat at the specific time of year for their area that the scientists recommended. One simply has to decide whether to treat at the correct time and lose some of the honey crop, or treat at a poor time of the year, make a few extra pounds of honey, but your bees are either dead or sickly enough to have a very poor spring next year. Master Beekeeper Tom Muncey, representing the State of Nevada, served on the National Honey Board with me, and my talks with him revealed that the legalized gambling of Nevada had clearly shown him to never gamble with treatment of bees, but follow the approved treatment recommendations to the written letter. Tom’s total income is from his commercial honey production in the Nevada area.

What are the Suggested and Approved treatments for mites in our central Maryland area near Washington DC and Baltimore:


Apply 50 grams of menthol on top of brood chamber frames about AUGUST 15th, but before September 1st. Solid menthol crystals sublime (turn to vapor without becoming liquid) at a temperature of 84°, and it is this vapor that enters the breathing “tubes” of the adult bee and KILLS the tracheal mites in the trachea of the bee. There are not many days of temperatures over 84° after September 1st to permit menthol to become a gas and enter the “lungs” of the bee to kill tracheal mites. Bees infected with tracheal mites usually die of strangulation (like emphysema in humans) in midwinter: late December, January, or February and leave abundant quantities of winter honey stores in the colony. If you inspect a suspicious colony on a warm winter day, and find a colony whose population has just dwindled away to a small group of bees and queen and there are plenty of honey stores still in the hive, this is a classic case of death by tracheal mite infestation. But don’t GUESS at the cause of death, dissect some bees and examine their tracheas under a microscope at your local high school lab, or send a sample of the bees to Beltsville for tests.

In the spring of 2000, APICURE (formic acid) was APPROVED for treatment of both tracheal and varroa mites, and Apicure can be used at temperatures lower than 84° and will KILL about 100% of tracheal mites and perhaps 70% of Varroa mites. Unfortunately, APICURE experienced some leaking package problems and has been temporarily removed from the market until reliable packaging methods are found. If you did NOT use menthol on time and you can still find some unsold packages of APICURE, you can certainly use this in September and early October.

Although LABOR INTENSIVE, many use plain grease patties (2 parts of plain sugar mixed with1 part of Crisco) to control (not kill) tracheal mite population so that they do not get strong enough to kill a colony. Unfortunately, a plain grease pattie must be CONSTANTLY present on the top of brood chamber frames from about July to December and this requires many colony inspections of the brood chamber during these months to make sure that a grease pattie is not used up. Dr. Diana Sammataro has well proven that PLAIN grease patties (no Terramycin) constantly present in a colony (even during a nectar flow) control the tracheal mite population so the bees can stay alive and function, but this system has NOT been approved by the government as a tracheal mite treatment because it does not KILL the mite, but just controls its population.

When $2.00 of APPROVED menthol used in August, or $2.00 of APPROVED APICURE (formic acid) used in August, September, or early October, or $2.00 of grease patties used CON- TINUOUSLY from July to December will either KILL or control tracheal mites, then you have NO EXCUSE to lose any bees from tracheal mites! Bee Research Scientists have PROVED that treatments with any of the three products listed above WORK to control or eliminate tracheal mite infestation provided you follow the exact written directions, particularly the time to be used, and the rest is up to you.


Research has clearly shown that most of our problems in treating Varroa mites with Apistan result from the OVERUSE of Apistan thereby creating resistant mites, and the use of Apistan at the WRONG time of year to effectively kill Varroa mites. Applying Apistan strips in the fall and just leaving them in the colony until spring or any time frame longer than the suggested 6 weeks is just plain IRRESPONSIBLE and downright “illegal”, because this long term constant exposure of the mites to the effective chemical in Apistan strips, fluvalinate, simply breeds mites resistant to death by Apistan treat- ments. Maybe you travel our highways every day at 70 mph and just pay your fines; so you “illegally” use Apistan strips and create resistant mites that kill your bees, and you just buy more bees. Apiculture does not need people like you, so get out!

It might surprise you that TEMPERATURE plays a very important role in the BEST time to use Apistan. Female Varroa mites lay their eggs to produce more mites in just ONE place: the open brood cell of a new honey bee on the day just before the cell is capped to com- mence the pupal stage of the honey bee and reaching fruition 12 days later when the new honey bee emerges. During this 12-13 day period, the female adult mite lays 2, 3, or even 4 baby mites in this one bee cell; and these baby Varroa mites feed on the hemolymph (blood) of the pupal bee host and emerge from the cell with the new adult, but damaged, honey bee. Note right here that just one new honey bee arrival might also present 2. 3. or even 4 new Varroa mites to the colony, and it is extremely important that you understand this population inequality so that you can PROPERLY treat for Varroa mites. If there is NO honey bee brood in the hive, no new mites can be accumulated, because the baby mites have no host to feed upon. What time of year is there little or NO honey bee brood present in a colony? In Central Maryland, the worker bees begin slowing the queen’s egg laying about October 1st and generally the queen bee totally stops all egg laying about mid November. Hence, there is less and less bee brood present in a colony beginning in early October and becoming zero by about Thanksgiving Day. THIS PERIOD from October 1st to about November 15th is the IDEAL TIME to kill Varroa mites, because precious few NEW mites can be raised in the absence of most honey bee brood. The reason for exposing a colony to Apistan strips for 6 long weeks is to cover both ends of two 21 day honey bee gestation periods where any new mite emerging with a new honey bee is quickly killed by contact with the Apistan strip. Research bee scientists have clearly shown and published papers that the best time to use any Varroa mite killing agent is at the time of year where there is the least honey bee brood; and if properly done, this ONE treatment will probably be adequate for a whole year. One fall treatment is usually adequate for states in the north like New York or Michigan, sometimes two treatments are required in our central states like North Carolina or Arkansas, and the “tropical” areas of our southern states like Florida or Texas always have to have two treatments or maybe even three.

Now, after reading the explanation above, it should be easy for you to understand that Varroa mite population INCREASES dramatically as honey bee production increases; and becomes a severe infestation when the queen starts slowing her egg production in mid summer because the life expectancy of a Varroa mite is LONGER than the 42 day life expectancy of our honey bees! Hence there is case after case on record of a colony producing a record crop of honey which was is harvested by July 4th, and the colony suddenly DIES in August or September. This is SO different than the tracheal mite, because the Varroa mite population is totally dependent on an increasing honey bee brood population, whereas the tracheal mite never is hosted by anything but ADULT honey bees.

In Central Maryland, the BEST time or IDEAL time to treat Varroa mites with Apistan is to install 4 strips of Apistan in the colony brood chamber on October 1st and remove those strips on any warm day (above 50°) after November 15th, but POSITIVELY REMOVE THEM so that you don’t create resistant mites.


p.s. – My wife proof read this article for me and objected to my language and “being so nasty”. My interest is SAVING OUR HONEY BEES SO THEIR DESCENDANTS WILL BE ALIVE TO POLLINATE FOOD FOR MY HEIRS TO EAT, and if it takes this kind of strong writing to gain the attention of poorly informed beekeepers, then I stand ready to accept your criticism. SAVE YOUR BEES!

EAS Awards SURPRISE Unannounced Plaque to George Imirie for “his” PINK PAGES!

The very last event of every EAS week-long annual gathering of LEARNING is the gala EAS Banquet with its specialized `entre, filet of sole stuffed with crab meat, a top-line speaker, Dr. Marion Ellis presenting a slide presentation of the 60 years of honey bee envolvement in postal service philatelics, presentations of special honors to committees and particularly volunteers, introduction of the 4 new EAS MASTER BEEKEEPERS who “made it” from the 17 who took the tests, and a “final” speech by EAS President David Bernard thanking ALL for the “jobs” they performed (even learning). I busied myself finding personal effects to I could get to my electric scooter and head for bed and home the next day, when suddenly the LOUD voice of Master Beekeeper Bill Troup shattered the quietness, saying “Mr. President, there is a VERY SPECIAL Award yet to be presented” and he took the podium. Bill gave a short talk about the value of learning, asked to see the hands of the audience of 300+ who routinely read the PINK PAGES (about 200+) and forced me to stumble my way up to the rostrum. Totally caught off guard, I could do nothing but CRY like a baby. What a superb HONOR!

It is a beautiful plaque, now hanging in my den doing “watch” over my computer; and it is inscribed:

Presented to GEORGE W. IMIRIE, JR. For your endless commitment as an EAS MASTER BEEKEEPER by publishing “The Pink Pages” August 2000

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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