October 2002


Some of the MAJOR problems that I have seen over the past 70 years that seem to “bam boozle” many beekeepers, so I mention them for you to think about.

“Correct” Bees for April-May Nectar Flow

ill your bees be of forager age to gather the early spring nectar flow, or will they still be young “nurse” bees? If you are the average uninformed beekeeper (really, a beeHAVER), you don’t know what I am even talking about; so why don’t you LEARN some-thing IMPORTANT right now!

During flying weather, the life expectancy of a worker bee is only 42 days, just 6 short weeks. However, she spends the first 18 days of her adult life doing “hive duties” feeding and grooming the queen, building comb, NURSiNG bee larvae which are visited several hundred times each 24 hours, receiving watery nectar from forager age bees, ripening that nectar into honey, hive cleaning, hive protection against interlopers like robber bees, skunks, or a ROUGH BEEKEEPER, and many other hive duties. Finally, when these bees become 19 days old, they “get their wings” and become foraging bees, searching for nectar, pollen, propolis, and water; and they remain in the position of FORAGER for the remaining 23 days of life expectancy. You should note, better that you memorize the fact, that it takes 40 days (yes, FORTY days) from the time the queen lays a worker egg until the bee that egg produces is able to go out FORAGING for nectar: 21 days gestation period + 19 days of “hive duties” =’s 40 days. Hence, if a nectar flow starts in your area on May 1st, the queen had to lay a worker egg 40 days before, which is March 21st, if that bee is going to forage for nectar on May 1st.

Now let’s explain a few more facts that most beeHAVERS have not thought about. Just as a chicken never leaves the eggs she is trying to hatch for fear of them getting cold and killing the unhatched chicken, the honey bees must have ENOUGH bees in the colony in February and March to cover the brood the queen has laid and keep it WARM, 91-96°. Bees that were “born” back in the fall are dying off rapidly in February and March and the queen must lay eggs for NEW bees in order for the colony to survive. If the queen does not start intense laying of worker brood until the weather warms in April, the colony will probably survive, but produce very little SURPLUS honey for the beekeeper. Too often, beekeepers lay the blame for this problem on a poor location, a poor queen, a bad winter, a drought, or any of a dozen other reasons; when the truth of the matter is that the beekeeper did nothing to AID HIS BEES! What is this AID? Start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup or even real thin 1:2 (1 pound sugar dissolved in 2 pints of water) sugar syrup in February to stimulate the laying of the queen. Maintain plenty of queen laying space in the brood area by reversing brood chambers during February, March, and April so that the queen always has laying space ABOVE her position. Always have a queen that is LESS THAN 6 MONTHS OLD during the spring buildup, because young queens rarely swarm, whereas older queens just can’t produce enough queen pheromone to spread throughout the colony to prevent the worker bees from constructing swarm cells. None of these management techniques change the normal pattern of the bees natural way of doing things, but just HELPS THEM DO IT EASIER. This is being a beeKEEPER instead of a beeHAVER.


Finding a Colony with No Brood and No Queen Should you Order a New Queen?

Very often, a beekeeper inspects a colony in May or June and finds little or no brood and no visible queen, so he quickly orders a new $12 MARKED queen, installs her, and upon inspection to see “how she is doing”, the new marked queen is NOT THERE, but a shiny new UNmarked queen is busy laying eggs. WHERE DID SHE COME FROM?

Bees just don’t decide on a given day to swarm and do it. Based on the age of the queen, crowded conditions in the brood chamber (I did NOT say anything about the super space), the bees plan ahead 1-2 weeks before swarming. The worker bees stop feeding the queen so she can reduce weight and fly with the swarm, construct swarm cells and pack enormous amounts of royal jelly in them with a worker egg, cap the queen cells, and then swarm. A new virgin queen emerges maybe 6 days later. She “hangs around the hive” to become sexually mature for 6-10 days, goes out to mate, and lays her first eggs 2-3 days after which develop into worker larva after 3 days. This might total 22 days after the colony swarmed, just time enough for you to install a new marked, laying queen and have her killed by this “new baby” queen that was in there all the time.

You should have TESTED the colony to see if it was queenLESS before you ordered a new queen. Just take a frame of EGGS from a queenRITE colony, insert it in the brood area of the suspicious colony, and inspect it 2-3 days later. If the colony has a virgin queen present, NOTHING will be done with the frame of eggs you installed. However, if the colony was indeed queenLESS, anxious to replace a queen, the bees will have selected 1 or 2 eggs, and constructed emergency cells of wax around them and started to pack royal jelly around the larva there in order to produce a new queen. These emergency cells will be right on the face of the comb, not hanging down along the bottom edge. The bees will single out either an egg or a larva less than 48 hours old for queen production, so the beekeeper must be SURE that the test frame has EGGS or VERY YOUNG LARVAE on it. You test for a fever with a thermometer, the optician tests your eyes for glasses, tests your blood for sickness, your car dipstick tests to see if you have enough oil in the crankcase. WHY NOT TEST FOR A QUEEN?

By the way, EVERY queen should be MARKED, not only to make her easier for you to locate when inspecting, but also to tell you that she is the same queen that you installed 6 months ago and not some gal that has been mated by all the boys in the neighborhood, so your bees are no longer Italian, Carniolan, Buckfast or whatever you wanted. ALWAYS HAVE A MARKED QUEEN! Don’t let someone tell you that old wives tale that marked queens are superseded quickly, which is BALONEY! Mark your queens with Tester’s Hobby Paint, and it will last for years. White-Out is a joke, and quickly wears away!

Bees MUST Have a Nectar Flow to Draw Foundation!

Bees have SO MUCH to do in their short lives that they don’t do anything ahead of time, but wait until it is needed. Bees have to eat about 8 pounds of honey to get the I energy to produce and build one pound of wax comb; so they are not going to eat up their honey stores to ‘draw foundation unless there is a need for it► There are only two needs for drawn comb: cells for the queen to lay eggs, and cells to store nectar or honey.

Year after year, beeHAVERS complain that their bees won’t build, foundation into drawn comb. Regardless of the location of your bees, there are only a few weeks when nectar is flowing, and the great majority of time, there is a dearth of nectar, so the bees will NOT build drawn comb from foundation.

This can be changed by “fooling” the bees. Feed them 1:1 sugar syrup, which is a substitute for nectar, and they will build foundation into drawn comb. You don’t want to make the syrup TOO available, which can cause other BAD problems, but feed just a little sugar syrup 24 hours/day every day until you, get the foundation drawn that you want. I drill 4-6 holes, 5/64″ diameter (a 1/8″ is TOO big), in the cap of a gallon jar and invert that jar over the inner cover hole of a colony. A gallon of 1:1 syrup usually lasts about 6-10 days depending on the strength of the colony and weather.

PLEASE NOTE THIS, and save yourself from being MAD at your DUMB BEES. When trying to get foundation drawn into drawn comb, even though you only intend to install 9 frames in a super, you MUST use 10 frames of foundation TIGHTLY PACKED TOGETHER to get frames nicely drawn without Burr comb connected between frames. After the frames are nicely drawn, then you can space them 9 frames to the super or 8 frames to the super; BUT YOU MUST USE ALL 10 FRAMES TIGHTLY PACKED TOGETHER TO GET FOUNDATION PROPERLY DRAWN!

What Part of a Colony is Important to Inspect?

Something I have NEVER forgotten. 70 years ago, my mentor was Dr. James I. Hambleton, the predecessor of Dr. Shimanuki at the Beltsville Bee Lab, and he told me quite strongly, inspect only the BROOD CHAMBER, because that is the location of all problems like disease, swarm preparations, poor queen, lack of stores, etc., and ignore the supers because they will take care of themselves if all is correct in the BROOD AREA. I have been doing just that for the last 69 years, and most people know of my above average honey yields and the rare loss of a colony for any reason.


Ann Harman’s Talk on October 9th

I have to explain why more was not said in the Honey Pot. In August, I asked Ann if she would talk to MCBA on October 9th, and she agreed, stating that she thought a “travelog” of some of her MANY, MANY travels would be of interest. In mid September, I e-mailed a note to Ann to forward a synopsis of her talk to John Seets for publishing in the Honey Pot. Little did I know that she was away on another trip to Nepal, and hence John did not receive any communication from Ann. Lo and behold, she arrived back home on Wednesday, Sept. 25th and quickly contacted me. She is going to talk about beekeeping in the Republic of Georgia, Nigeria, and Nepal.

She also corrected me on some dates, and I like accuracy, so here are corrections: She has been sent as a VOLUNTEER to 5 continents to teach beekeeping during the period of 1993-2002, and still President of the Northern Piedmont Bee Association. We were business partners from 1984 to1992 when she moved to Virginia. She was a member of the FIRST certified Master Beekeepers sanctioned by EAS in 1981, and was the first Woman. Although her monthly articles in Bee Culture were about cooking with honey for many years, she now writes about various phases of beekeeping.

Ann knows more about bees and beekeeping than most people will ever learn, and I owe her so much, I am not ashamed to admit it, even though I wish she would spend her time helping AMERICANS rather than the damned foreigners who really don’t appreciate it.

George W. Imirie, Jr. Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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