May 2002

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Top or Bottom Supering?

Do you just add one super on top of the previous super, which is called TOP supering, or do you lift the previous supers and put a new super next to the brood chamber, which is bottom supering? This difference has been argued for years with the same intensity as arguing about religion or politics. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, not to mention that a particular method might be better for comb honey production, while the opposite might be true for a steady but weak nectar flow in extracted honey production.

Let’s start with TOP SUPERING. It is certainly easier, just “plopping” an empty super on top of a filled or partially filled super. However, unless many of the bees are using some type of upper entrance to the super area, the lower supers that are closer to the brood chamber will surely get a lot of travel stain on the pretty white comb from the dirty feet of the bees constantly walking on it. TOP SUPERING has the advantage of a quick inspection of the uppermost super to determine if another empty super is needed. Further, if you do not use a queen excluder, you will rarely find a queen laying eggs in any super except the super adjoining the brood nest hive body.

BOTTOM SUPERING is certainly more difficult, because you have to lift all the supers that are on a colony before you can place a new empty super next to the brood nest or on the queen excluder. Not only may each full super weigh 40-50 pounds, but it has a lot of bees in it. However, bottom supering prevents a lot of travel stain on the white wax, so bottom supering is advantageous when producing comb honey. The tremendous disadvant- age is the difficulty of inspecting the bottom super to determine if it is near full or still quite empty. If your honey crop is derived from a long, steady, but weak nectar flow bottom supering can be frustrating because you may have to make several inspections to determine the condition of the bottom super. When using a queen excluder, bees may be resistant to go through the excluder into an empty super unless it is “baited” by the beekeeper. However, if no queen excluder is used, if the brood nest area is crowded for laying space, the queen is certainly going to lay eggs in this empty bottom super.

Speaking for myself and the nectar flows in central Maryland, I am a great believer in queen excluder use because I want to always know exactly where that queen is, so I

Adding Supers One-at-a-Time or Multiple

As you know, for many years I have advocated installing supers ALL at-one-time rather than adding one super when needed. I have done this primarily to inhibit swarming, but also to increase colony honey production. Bees need a tremendous amount of space to spread incoming nectar around so they can ripen it and evaporate the water from it to make honey, so this extra space inhibits swarming during a nectar flow. Let me show you a few lines from page 618 of the 1992 Edition of The Hive and Honey Bee: …..This is the time to place supers of drawn combs on the hive for honey surplus. The number of supers to use is still a matter of discussion among some beekeepers. Some individuals believe it is best to add one super at a time while others will add multiple supers. Researchers for the Department of Agriculture conducted some very practical research in which they demonstrated that the “honey hoarding” instinct of the bees was actually increased if the amount of storage space (drawn comb) was increased. A colony with two or three supers of drawn comb will store more honey than a colony with one super of drawn comb during the same period of time, assuming the colonies are of equal size. An important consideration is that the hoarding instinct of the bees is increased only when drawn comb is used, and the use of foundation does not show any positive effect…..

This was written by John Ambrose, Ph.D., Professor of Entomology and Extension Apiarist, North Carolina State University. Dr. Ambrose was Director of the EAS Master Beekeeper program from 1990 to 1997.

How Old is Your Queen?

Did you lose any swarms this year? Was your queen MARKED? If not, how do you know whether you know that you did not lose a swarm? Did you have a weak honey crop? If you lost a swarm in March or April, you surely won’t get your share of the honey crop.

What does all this talk have to do with the age of your queen? Forty or fifty years ago, some beekeepers became concerned that colonies headed by older queens often swarmed, whereas colonies with young queens rarely swarmed. With all the many problems started by the appearance of the tracheal mite in 1984 and the varroa mite in 1987, bee scientists and bee researchers have done more bee research work in the past 15-16 years than ever before, and FOUND truth in some of the things that had been suspicioned, notably that the age of a queen has a great deal to do with whether a colony swarms or not. Research found that a queen loses her ability to produce the queen pheromone that inhibits swarming as she grows older. Tests showed that a colony headed by 2 year old queen was 3 times more prevalent to swarm than a colony headed by a 1 year old queen; and a colony headed by a queen that was a new queen during the spring of the previous year was twice as likely to swarm during the spring of the next year as compared to a new queen that was installed in the late summer like August or September. Hence, read almost any bee-book written recently (last 10 years), and the great majority strongly suggest ANNUAL REQUEENING, which means “never keep a queen more than 13 months”! The great majority of commercial honey producers (those guys with 5,000 or 20,000 colonies whose income is totally dependent on their honey bees) requeen every year and some even requeen twice each year! If you doubt me, attend the January meeting of the American Beekeeping Federation and ask them yourself! As many of you know, I have practiced requeening all my colonies on September 1st for quite a few years, and I don’t have many swarms.

Easy Queen Marking

My e-mail is filled with questions about what paint to use to mark queens. It is so simple, you use a TESTER’S MARKING PEN that is available in dozens of different colors. Tester made the fast drying enamel paint that I used to paint model airplanes about 70 years ago. Most of the bee supply houses have some sort of queen marking device or tool, but I like Better Bee Company’s Queen Marking Tube which is a 1″ diameter plastic tube closed on one end with a plastic screen with “holes” about 1/8″ apart and a sponge plunger. Just drop the queen in the tube and gently move the plunger towards the screen until she becomes immobile, touch her thorax with paint with Tester Marking Pen, let the paint dry for about 1-2 minutes, and release her back to her colony. Unlike typing Wipe-Out, water colors, or fingernail polish, the Testers paint MARK will last the life of the queen. The Better Bee Catalog Number is QMT1, and costs $4.95.

There are still some folks out there that are AFRAID to pick up their queen. SHAME ON YOU! First, a queen bee will not sting a human – she only stings another queen. Second, DON’T TOUCH HER ABDOMEN (that is like punching a pregnant woman’s stomach). Just grab her by her wings or thorax, and drop her in the marking tube.

How Long Do You Feed a New Colony?

Most new colonies are started in April or May on frames of foundation rather than drawn comb. Far too many only feed these new bees 1:1 sugar syrup until the May nectar flow starts, and then they wonder why they still have lots of untouched foundation still in their hive in July, August, or September. If I have said it once, I have said a thousand times “Bees will NOT draw foundation or build comb without a nectar flow”! 1:1 sugar syrup is an artificial nectar flow. Hence, you CONTINUOUSLY FEED BEES 1:1 SUGAR SYRUP from the day you start the colony until about September, and that generally requires about 20-30 pounds of sugar or about $10. When the nectar flow is present, the bees prefer that to sugar syrup and hence won’t take any of the syrup; but what to they do on rainy days or at night? In Maryland, there might be lots of pretty flowers out there for you to see, but there is essentially NO NECTAR FLOW after June 15th. Hence, if you want a nice strong colony to get through the coming winter, it has to have a lot of drawn comb (at least 20 fully drawn deep frames or 30 fully drawn medium frames) to hold the 60-70 pounds of honey needed for fall and winter stores; so FEED YOUR BEES SUGAR SYRUP CONTINUOUSLY until at least September. If we were in an area that had several different nectar flows stretched over several months, or if we moved our bees to gather different crops, little feeding would be necessary, but that is not the case for hobbyists in the Maryland area. Isn’t a strong colony with 30-40 frames of drawn comb worth the $10-$15 of sugar it will take to get that? You come to the MCBA Apiary at Brookside Nature Center and examine the two colonies the Short Course students started on April 13th, one in 2 deeps and the other in 3 mediums, and these colonies will always have 1:1 sugar syrup feeders on them until Labor Day.

How Long Before New Queen Lays Eggs?

Beekeepers surely are confused about how long the new daughter queen of a swarm queen begins laying eggs; and so many dash off, purchase a new queen, install it, and it is killed, because there is already a new queen in their hive. Let me explain why this might take as long as 16-23 days before the new queen lays her first egg, or 25-32 days before those eggs are capped so that “tired, old beekeeper’s eyes” can see proof of the queen laying.

Assuming that a colony is “hot” to swarm and the weather is warm and sunny, the swarm might occur on the day the first queen cell is capped, which we will call DAY 0. A queen cell is capped about 8th day after the egg was laid, and the new virgin queen emerges 8 days later, DAY 8, which is the 16th day after the swarm queen laid this egg. Queens do not become sexually mature until they are 6 days old, and if the weather is warm and sunny she flies out to a drone congregation area and mates in the air with several drones, or about 7-17 different drones. This is now DAY 14. She lays her first egg about 2 days later or DAY 16! Worker bee eggs remain as eggs for 3 days, DAY 19, hatch into a larva which is heavily fed by the nurse bees for about 6 days until the cell is capped on the 9th day, now DAY 25, and finally emerges as an adult worker bee 12 days later, which is DAY 37 from the day the swarm left. Suppose that the weather was chilly and rainy and the virgin queen could not go out and mate for a week; and this would increase the date of laying her first egg to DAY 23 and the first capped worker bee cell to 32 days.

A beekeeper inspects a colony and determines that the colony has recently swarmed, and orders a new queen. The new queen is introduced via the queen cage method to the colony, but it is killed. WHY? There was already a queen in the colony, maybe still a virgin, but was accepted already by the worker bees as the queen of that colony, and the fancy, new queen in the introduction cage is an “interloper”. Remember the Chinese adage: Two women in the same house is WAR.

Of course, if you are installing a new, laying queen in a new split or a new package of bees, that queen will lay her first eggs about 5 days after installation, using up about 3 days to escape from the introduction cage and 2 days “getting-to-know” her subjects, and a “tire, old beekeeper” should see the first capped worker bee cells on DAY 14.

I hope I have helped you!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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