March 2002

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES


This monthly edition of my PINK PAGES is a different one because I have resorted to something I have never done before – I have REPEATED a previous PINK PAGE and added some pages of more explanation of the problem in the hopes that my readers will see the importance of SAVING apis mellifera and how to do it

It has been 17 years since the tracheal mite, acarapis woodi, was found in the U.S., and 14 years since the more dangerous varroa mite, varroa jacobsoni, arrived here. These mites have created far more problems for beekeeping than American Foul Brood ever did. Part of the problems caused by the mites is the completely different environment enjoyed by adults after World War II in contrast to the environment of adults prior to the war. Prior to the Great War, the great majority of adults were raised in a rural area where many farms had bees, feral bees (wild bees) were literally everywhere even in downtown city trees, a normal work week was 50-60 hours, honey sales were important income “help”, almost nobody was afraid of being stung, and “on-the-job” training by someone with great experience (in lieu of education) was the normal way of life. Sons were taught beekeeping by Daddy, who had been taught by Grampa; or taught by a group of “good old boys” in the spirit of friendliness.

In spite of the apparent success of those beekeepers of that era, most were only beeHAVERS, knowing precious little about bee biology, bee behavior, bee diseases, and having meager knowledge of the overall importance of honey bee pollination to our human food ecology. In the post war years leading up to the findings of mites in this country, adults had a much higher standing of income, education, vacation time, and less concerns.

Now most problems could be solved by just “spending money’, “buying a quick-fix”, or search your computer for the answer. No longer are people willing to work more than 40 hours/week, or do anything that interferes with their vacation time, weekends at the beach, or their TV time. They want a MAGIC BULLET to correct all their honey bee problems; and it is O.K. if this Magic Bullet costs a little money as long as it does not require any of the beekeeper’s TIME!

Since the arrival of mites, no feral bees are left, millions and millions of honey bee colonies have died by mite infection, some beekeepers losing 90% of all the hives in his apiary, thousands of yesterday’s beekeepers giving up in despair, the entry of cheaper imported honey into the U. S., trailer loads of colonies being carried up the coast of our country “following the bloom” for crop pollination, a million colonies being brought into California each February just to pollinate almonds, apple orchards becoming non-productive due to lack of bees, and beekeepers trying almost anything from Dentyne gum to vinegar spray to kill the mites. Our MAGIC BULLETS have included Miticur, Apistan, CheckMite, Apicure, menthol, grease patties, of course more concentrated Terramycin, food grade mineral oil, wintergreen, thymol, eucalyptus, numerous essential oils, and probably Uncle Tom’s dirty socks. Recently, there has been much ballyhoo about Russian queens (just another Carniolan strain), SMR queens (but since it takes “two to tango”, where are the SMR drones?), and reduced cell size to 4.9 mm.; and perhaps one of these might work in a scientist’s apiary, but can they work for the hardworking beekeeper whose interest is keeping his bees alive to make a crop of honey? Just because John Glenn can pilot a space capsule to the moon does not imply that these flights will soon be offered to the public for a weekend retreat. Like a drowning person grabbing for a straw, you name something, and somebody has already tried that, so the beekeeper defends his apparent knowledge of bees by reporting that his bees died from a cold, hard winter. LET US FACE IT – NO MAGIC BULLET HAS YET BEEN FOUND.

People want to know “what are all these high salaried government scientists have been doing, and why haven’t they found a QUICK FIX that is CHEAP?” First there are precious few bee scientists in our country, because our legislators know almost nothing about a honey bee, other than HONEY and STING, so bees are deemed quite UNIMPORTANT except for the trial lawyer who sues a beekeeper for millions of dollars because his bees stung someone who was vandalizing an apiary. Further, research is a SLOW process, and an expensive process; but primarily, the MAGIC BULLET has to kill the mites, but NOT kill the bees, NOT adulterate the honey, NOT be absorbed in the bees wax comb, NOT be dangerous in handling by the beekeeper, and CHEAP IN PRICE! That is a TALL ORDER! Just 2 weeks ago, the Federal Government is proposing the closure of all BEE LABS except Weslaco, Texas. That is implying to me that our government is saying: “We don’t need U.S. honey, when we can get along with foreign honey; and we don’t need U.S. crops of fruit and vegetables, when we can import those fruits and vegetables.” I, too, can say “Mr. Legislator, I don’t need YOU either if you are so uninformed that you are unaware of the importance of honey bee pollination to our HUMAN food supply and jobs for people in beekeeping”. (I better shut-up; I am just a old, retired scientist, who does not understand the new ways of GLOBAL ECONOMY.)

But by GOLLY, there is something that I DO UNDERSTAND and that is BEE BEHAVIOR! It is almost crucial today that a beekeeper can “think like a bee”, put away those feelings of anthropomorphism, so he understand what a bee does, why she does it, and when she is going to do it. If you are to be a real beeKEEPER in this 21st century, you are going to have to forget how “Daddy did It’, and adopt the new bee management methods and techniques that our bee scientists and researchers have developed in this last decade. THERE IS NO SINGLE MAGIC BULLET to cure all the problems caused by the arrival of the mites! In addition to the damage to bees caused by the mites themselves, we now have PMS, parasitic mite syndrome, which is a “secondary infection” of a colony infected with varroa mites which causes adult bee population reduction, queen supersedure, and spotty brood distribution. Further, a new predator was found in 1998, the small hive beetle, and is now found in about 25 states including some northern states, and this beetle can cause a strong hive to abscond, adulterate the honey, and destroy comb. WOW!

Two of these new management techniques are the use of IPM, Integrated Pest Management; and, the keeping of bees that possess the genetic factor of HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR, and HB is what I want to address you with now. Forget just BUYING a new queen or switching to a different race of bees to gain HB, because it does NOT work that way. Too many people have bought a new SMR queen or switched to Russian bees (which is a Carniolan strain) hoping to have hygienic bees that didn’t need any chemical treatments, and their bees died.

Good hygiene is a genetic factor found in every race of bees, and this factor can be passed on in a queen’s progeny if the drones that mated with the queen were also hygienically clean. This is going to take several years of selecting queens for breeding by queen breeders so that a high percentage of the queens that breeders produce possess this hygienic trait rather than the small percentage that have it today. No one can ORDER or DEMAND a queen breeder to supply you with a hygienically clean queen, but questioning by a large number of potential customers may well force a queen breeder into doing some research of his own breeding stock to comply with customer requests.

Knowing a great many of the paramount queen breeders of the U.S., I am not worried about a compliance failure on their part, but I am concerned about the many, many queen PRODUCERS in the country who allege that they know as much about queen breeding as Dr. Harry Laidlaw or Dr. Robert Page; but the fact is that they know little more about genetics than you or I, but advertise their expertise hoping you will buy. If enough beekeepers test their bees for hygienic behavior, and find little or none, demand a refund from these charlatans or new bees no charge, and e-mail or tell other beekeepers about their dealings with “Mr. Charlatan”, we may either get rid of some queen producers or get hygienically clean queens.

HOW CAN YOU TEST YOUR PRESENT BEES FOR HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR? You select a 2 square inch area (which is about 1.5 inches x 1.5 inches) of CAPPED brood (which contains about 60 cells on each side of the comb, or 120 cells total), and you CUT IT OUT OF THE FRAME, place it in your freezer for at least 24 hours, and then replace it in the frame where you removed it. Hygienically clean bees will open the cappings, remove all the dead pupae or larvae inside, and clean the cell within 48 hours, making it available to the queen for a new egg. If it takes longer, your bees are lacking the genetic factor of HB, so requeen and test again the capped brood that has been laid by the new queen. Someone is going to ask: Eh, so what? If my bees possess this HB genetic factor, what does that have to do with varroa mites. If your bees are clean bees, they will find and destroy varroa mites before the mites can damage the colony and coupled with the good management techniques of IPM, you might not have to use any chemicals like Apistan, CheckMite, Apicure, etc. except in some emergency situation.

Isn’t that worth your efforts, or do you want to be stubborn and keep trying to buy a MAGIC BULLET that does not exist.


There always seems to be as stumbling block that confuses people right at the beginning, so we will solve that problem right at the start – and that stumbling block is the use of todays PLASTIC foundation, such as Dadant’s Plasticell, Pierco’s Snap-In, Mann Lakes Rite-Cell, etc. Like me, many of you use plastic foundation or even all plastic frames, and these plastics can’t be cut, particularly when covered with live bees, so what can you do? Always paying strong attention to what the leading scientists recommend, I e-mailed Dr. Marla Spivak, who is on semester leave from Univ. of Minnesota and lecturing in Brazil, inquiring about a hobbyist testing procedure and she discouraged my thoughts of killing the capped brood by pin-pricking each cell, saying it would work but results would be questionable. Hence, I contacted her assistant and co-author, Gary Reuter, who, recognizing the plastic foundation problem, suggested placing just one frame with a sheet of beeswax foundation in the brood chamber of a colony during a strong nectar flow and egg laying period, watch it until there is capped brood in it, and volia, you have a test sample to cut out. Since you are only going to cut out a piece about1.5″ x 1.5″, freeze it for 24 hours, put it back in place and temporarily hold it there with string until the bees reseal it, this one frame of plain beeswax will be available for many future tests of HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR.

Now let’s suppose that you make the test, and it shows that your bees do NOT have the genetic factor of Hygienic Behavior, what are you going to do? I would telephone my queen breeder, explain to him in detail that the test made on the bees that he supplied to me, indicate that the bees are NOT HYGIENICALLY CLEAN, and I am not only UNHAPPY, but I am discouraged with his lack of care in producing bees that lack this valuable factor. I will spend an additional $10-$12 and purchase another queen from him, requeen my colony, test the brood for HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR, and if I find little, I will no longer purchase from him, and will report my complaint far and wide through my bee association, my bee friends, and all other interested parties.

A queen producer who ignores a customer’s action of this type will have but two choices: Find another source of income, or start producing bees with the genetic factor of HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR. Some might say that this is too demanding of a queen producer. Gosh, when you purchase a new car, surely you ask about the horsepower, gas mileage, warranty, tire pressure, repair hours and costs. Pray tell, what is wrong with asking a queen producer if he is testing for and producing queens and bees that possess HYGIENIC BEHAVIOR? By the way, that $10-$12 cost for a new queen is a lot cheaper than buying more chemicals that probably aren’t going to work anyhow. Further, you will have the experience of REQUEENING, so your bee’s temptation to swarm is much less, and you can now serve as a requeening expert to the newer beekeepers in your area. To help you in this regard, I enclose a copy of George’s Almost Foolproof Requeening Procedure that I use every September 1st, but of course, can be used at ANY time

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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