June 2002

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

A June Inspection – No Brood and No Queen Found
Do You Requeen? – How Soon?

Every year, I am besieged with inquiries from local people and e-mail inquiries from beekeepers over much of the U.S. and even some foreign countries with the question in this article’s title.

If you can’t find much brood, particularly “open brood” (eggs and larva), in a colony in May or June, something has happened to your queen. She has either swarmed or has died. Are there any swarm queen cells, supersedure queen cells, or emergency cells? If you find any queen cells of any kind, are any of them capped, or has the capping been torn off? Finding a queen cell with a capping removed tells you that there is a virgin queen in your hive.

Many beekeepers, regardless of how long they have been keeping bees, have some difficulty finding a queen in their colony, particularly if she is NOT marked; and this problem is even worse when the worker bee population is high as it is in May or June. When one realizes that a virgin queen looks very much like a worker bee and does not really look like a queen bee until after she has been bred, this makes finding a virgin queen in your colony extremely difficult.

I have heard 100’s of stories about telephoning a queen breeder and getting an emergency shipment of a new queen, installing her, and the bees kill her right away. Then there are the stories about transferring a frame of eggs from another colony to this “queenless” colony so they can raise a new queen, but the bees won’t build a queen cell on the frame.

All of these frustrating experiences just prove that some beekeepers know very little about honey bee biology. I will explain the delay in laying.

Any time that you find a colony of bees with no “open” brood (eggs or larvae) present, particularly in the spring, DON’T ASSUME THE COLONY IS QUEENLESS, because in the great majority of cases, there is a queen present, but just hasn’t started to lay eggs yet! Maybe the colony swarmed and left a virgin queen behind to take over the colony; or if the queen died naturally or by accident, the bees would raise a new virgin queen to replace their dead mother. I repeat – It is rare to find a truly queenLESS colony in the spring or summer months. Instead of thinking the colony is queenless, think that you have made a mistake and just could not find the new queen of the colony.

When a colony swarms, the old queen has laid very few eggs during the week before swarming in order to lose weight so she can fly. Hence on the day of the swarm, there is very little open brood present. Maybe the new virgin queen emerges from her swarm cell 4-5 days after the swarm leaves, and she does not gain sexual maturity until she is about 6 days old. If the weather is nice on the day the new queen turns 6-7 days old, she takes her nuptial flight to be mated; but if the weather is cool or rainy, she might not go out on her nuptial flight for several additional days. Once she is bred, she starts laying a few eggs, not many, about two days later. An egg remains an egg for 3 full days before it hatches into a larva. So, let’s start counting time beginning with swarm PLANS:

  • Day 0 – Bees begin swarm planning and restrict feeding the queen, and eggs are laid in swarm cells
  • Day 8 – Swarm cells are capped, and swarm issues
  • Day16 – Virgin Queen emerges
  • Day23 – Virgin queen takes her nuptial flight
  • Day25 – Queen lays a few eggs
  • Day28 – These first eggs hatch into larvae, which is more easily seen by a beekeeper.

The example above assumes every happening takes place as soon as possible, and yet there are absolutely no eggs visible for 17 days (Day 8 – Day 25). In most cases, the time without any eggs being present is longer than 17 days and can be as long as 31 days in extreme situations.

If the old queen did not swarm but was superseded, essentially the same absence of open brood is about the same as the case of loss of queen by swarming, or 2-3 weeks.

Since the life span of a worker bee is just 6 short weeks, and the gestation period of a new bee is 3 weeks, it does not make good sense to install a new queen in a colony that has been barren of CAPPED BROOD for 3 weeks, because all bees will be dead before any of the new queen’s brood emerges.

It is easy to TEST to see if a colony is queenless: Select a frame of eggs and VERY YOUNG larvae from another hive and place it in the suspicious colony. If the bees start building EMERGENCY CELLS on the face surface of the comb of that frame and surround a larva with royal jelly, the colony is queenless. However, it will take a minimum of 21 days for a new queen to emerge, breed, and starts laying eggs; and is she going to be a good queen or a bum? Speaking for myself, if I found a positive EMERGENCY CELL on the TEST frame, I would “run” to the phone and order a new queen from my queen breeder and I would expect her to be in my hands within 3 days and laying eggs a week later. Further, I would have confidence that my queen breeder is trying hard to breed HYGIENIC bees and that my choice of bee race is being maintained. I am not satisfied with just some unknown queen bred by some unknown drones, because they probably will not perform in the manner to which I have come to respect.

I end this note with an admonishment: Just because you don’t see OPEN brood, don’t ASSUME the colony is queenLESS! You can always TEST to prove the presence of a queen or not. ASSUMING things is a mark of a beeHAVER, not a beeKEEPER.

Package Bee Colony Performance in First Year

It is very obvious that most beginners just don’t understand the progress, or lack of progress of a new package bee colony, particularly if it is being started on foundation rather than drawn comb. Let me “set the stage” for you of what is entailed for this new colony to become successful and prosper.

First, a 3 pound package of bees is only about 10,500 bees, which is much too small a group to make very much honey even if there is wonderful nectar flow. A high production colony has 50,000-60,000 bees, or 14-17 pounds of bees.

Worker bees only live 42 days (6 weeks) in flight weather, and the gestation period for new bees to arrive is 21 days from the day the queen started laying. Hence, over half of all the bees that came in the package are dead before your first new worker bee emerges from its cell! Even if the queen is a very fine, high production egg layer, she just can’t lay too many eggs because there are not enough adult worker bees to keep the brood warm on a chilly night; and surely not enough worker bees to nurse the new bee larva on the 1200 feedings of a little royal jelly plus lots of nectar and pollen during the 5-6 day larval period.

On top of these problems is the fact that the package bees must secrete wax to build the comb on the foundation for the queen to lay in and comb to store pollen and nectar. Bees must consume about 8 pounds of honey (about 40 pounds of nectar) to make and construct one pound of wax comb! I hope that last line shows you the importance of continued feeding of 1:1 sugar syrup, which is classed as artificial nectar! So many beginners contact me very upset that they don’t see very many bees flying in and out of their new hive that was started 3-4 weeks ago, and hence should have some new bees emerged to replace the now dead package bees. Worker bees do NOT go out foraging for nectar, pollen, or water until they are about 19 days old, or almost half of their expected life of 42 days. During those first 19 days of life, they are NURSE bees feeding the larva, secreting wax, building comb, feeding the queen, storing away nectar from older forager bees, cooling the hot hive, cleaning the comb of debris including dead bees and repairing the damage to the frames and comb that YOU MADE during your inspections of bee progress!

It is estimated that over 90% of all swarms of bees do NOT make it through the following winter because of the obstacles sited above and their lack of food to build enough comb to store winter supplies.

Hence, if you are a real beeKEEPER rather than a beeHAVER, you will give lots of assistance to your package bees by CONTINUOUSLY FEEDING 1:1 SUGAR SYRUP from the time you started the colony, probably in April, to sometime in September. By doing this, you will get perhaps 20 DEEP, 8 1/2 inch frames built of drawn comb and packed reasonably well with honey made from the sugar syrup, or you will get 30 or more MEDIUM, 5 1/2 inch frames built of drawn comb and packed with some brood, some pollen, and a lot of honey made from the sugar syrup. Don’t feed TOO MUCH at a time, but feed CONTINUOUSLY through 4-5 holes in a top feeding jar that are only the diameter of a frame nail, about 5/64″. You don’t want to “drown” the bees, but rather have a source of food always handy to use as they need it.

If you do this and have a good queen next spring, you have established the real basics needed for a high production colony that can make 100-200 pounds of honey next year.

Please note that all of my writings are written for the weather, nectar sources, and conditions of the Central Maryland area that includes Washington, DC and Baltimore. Other areas obviously may be different.


If there is a RED CIRCLE around a figure like 02/5, it simply means that you have NOT paid your $10 dues for the fiscal year of May 2002-April 2003 and this dues was due in May.

Our May meeting was SPECTACULAR with MASTER BEEKEEPERS Nancy and Bill Troup of Williamsport, MD giving a fantastic talk about “QUEENS, Queens, queens” to about 60 members. If you were NOT there – you missed a fine meeting. I missed it too, because my throat surgeon unexpectedly wanted to do surgery on me that night. Our June 12th meeting will be Greg Gochnour, our Bee Inspector for the past 20 years who will talk about Honey Shows, WHY you are losing bees, and the FUTURE if the BEE LABS like Beltsville are all closed as planned in September of this year. YOU SHOULD ATTEND! Our July 10th meeting will feature MASTER BEEKEEPER and Super Photographer Steve McDaniel in a talk about the Secrets of Bees with 100’s of his famous photos on display. You can talk with him about photography or get ADVICE about your bees from a highly successful MASTER BEEKEEPER.

Because of the conflict of dates of our normal August meeting and the MONTGOMERY COUNTY FAIR (where I hope you volunteer some help), I am RE-scheduling the meeting to AUGUST 21st. MAKE A NOTE OF THIS! I hope to have MASTER BEEKEEPER Barry Thompson prepared to talk about “Starting to plan AHEAD for the 2003 season” Barry is a terrific speaker, a former commercial beekeeper in Mississippi, a retired M.D., this year’s MSBA Prexy, and has a gorgeous, highly intelligent wife. Last week, in the absence of Barry’s sojourn in England, Jo-Ann called my home for help with 3 colonies blown over by the mild tornado in Upper Potomac. My son, Arthur, went to help Jo-Ann and found colonies with 3 medium brood chambers plus SIX medium FULL SUPERS. Does Barry know about making honey or not? Plan on ATTENDING Barry’s talk on August 21st! Maybe I’ll have a voice back by September and talk about Requeening, PROPER USE OF any VARROA MITICIDE, and maybe MASTER BEEKEEPER Bill Miller will be back from his 4 months special work in an Alabama nuclear reactor to tell us about southern beekeeping.

Saving November 15th for something special, I have asked my former bee partner for many years, MASTER BEEKEEPER Ann Harman, to talk about all kinds of things in her new world of “international consultant about honey bees”. After she hears things at the EAS meeting in August at Cornell University, and maybe our U. S. Bee Labs will be closed or changed, Ann will in a position to help you and me plan for the future in our own beekeeping based on her knowledge of beekeeping practices she has seen in FIVE continents and dozens of different countries during the past 15 years.

December is an idle month for MCBA meetings, but not for me or Ann Harman. We are both active members of American Association of Professional Apiculturists and will attend the December meeting in Niagara Falls, NY, to consult with other scientists about the better beekeeping techniques and management in 2003 for ourselves and YOU. In January, I will AGAIN give talks at the American Beekeeping Federation Meeting in Kansas City. I hope to see “your smiling face” there as we personally talk to the bee scientists, bee researchers, professional honey producers, and queen breeders about how to IMPROVE all industry problems in the new year of 2003.


This is what you get for only $10 Annual Dues, and Contributions for My PINK PAGES. If these MONTHLY programs aren’t worth $10 bucks to you, pay it NOW, or take up some other hobby, because you have proved to most that you are still living in the days of Model T Fords, typewriters, and dead bees every year or so RATHER THAN LEARNING THE NEW MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES OF NOT LOSING BEES TO DISEASE OR SWARMS AND WHOSE COLONIES MAKE 100-200 POUNDS OF HONEY YEAR AFTER YEAR.

By-the-way, during the past 25 years, over a thousand beekeepers have taken some parts of the 4 phase difficult tests to become a CERTIFIED EAS MASTER BEEKEEPER and the great majority have failed and only 139 people have passed the tests. Maybe with my help and prodding, MCBA has TEN MASTER BEEKEEPERS, but no other bee association in the whole country can boast more than 2. Membership in MCBA is “the place” to LEARN GOOD BEEKEEPING MANAGEMENT AND TECHNIQUE.

Oh, Doctor and Surgeon – Please Give My Speaker’s Voice Back To Me!

What is the BEST bee?

Is a Chevrolet better than a Ford? Is French wine better than American wine? Is aspirin better than Tylenol? I drink “gallons” of Coca Cola, but think Pepsi Cola stinks. Do you agree? Most people swear by an Italian bee, but have not requeened any of their colonies in years. Do they really have Italian bees? Weaver Apiaries would make you believe that Brother Adam’s BUCKFAST hybrid has no equal. Maybe you do not know that the Star hybrid raises lots of brood in most months of the year, or the Midnite hybrid is said to be gentle enough for children to handle. Recently, the Baton Rouge Bee Lab released the descendants of Russian queen bees for sale, and buyers flocked to the sale as if they were getting dollar bills for a quarter. Drs. Harbo and Harris of the Baton Rouge Bee Lab have recently bred queens than suppress mite reproduction, and buyers are “fighting” to buy these SMR queens. Meanwhile, I still like New World Carniolans for my central Maryland apiaries. Am I “behind the times”, or just plain “stubborn”?

The saddest part of all of this is that the average hobbyist beekeeper hasn’t the foggiest idea of what is the best bee for HIM when one considers the location of his bees, is he making comb honey or extracted, is he a beginner or a real apiarist, does he “live with his bees” or are they in out-apiaries, is gentleness more important than disease resistance, or does he expect to make as profit in beekeeping? Generally, he has the same bees as the “good old boys” of the local bee club has, because they showed him his first queen bee; and he has been told by “everyone” that one bee is as good as the next, but there would be a fight if someone said that Miller HiLife beer was as good as Budweiser.

Up until Reverend Langstroth introduced the movable frame hive in about 1855, the only bees in the U. S. were the disease prone, downright nasty old English bee, apis mellifera mellifera, all descendants from the first bees brought here from England in the early colonial days. Rev. Langstroth acquired a recently imported ITALIAN queen bee in 1859, and visitors were greatly excited by the COLOR of this new bee – it was GOLDEN. That was like selling a new Cadillac with leopard skin upholstery – everybody wanted it! GOLDEN BEES, and that set the stage for the Italian bee to be considered the BEST bee in the country – no other reason.

There are good Italian bees, and there are bad Italian bees, just as there have been some good Italian people and some bad Italian gangsters. The same is true of good Carniolans, and bad Carniolans; or very nasty Africanized “scutellata” bees and “killer” bees that can be handled and hived if done carefully. In addition to these races of bees, there are hybrid bees like Buckfast, Starline, Midnite which are bees of two different races bred by queen breeders to serve a special market and these hybrids can NOT repro- duce themselves!

Just as we have numerous races of people in our U. S., some are easily defined because of obvious differences like negroes or orientals or American Indians. We also have different STOCKS of the same race of people who have different cultures like English people, Germans, French, Italians, or Russians; and these cultures are made different due to the climate of the country, its geographical features like mountains or desert or water, and other variables.

WHAT IS THE POINT of all this writing? Contrary to what some people think, honey bees are NOT all the same, but are as different as night and day. Honey bees dramatically differ regarding gentleness, disease resistance, swarming propensity, calmness on the comb, honey production, wintering ability, colony size, and of course, color. There is NO SUCH THING AS THE BEST BEE! If you live in a neighborhood among lots of homes, your major concern should be gentleness. If you live in an area like central Maryland which has a very EARLY but short nectar season, you want a bee that explodes in early population to exploit that nectar collection. If you are a migratory honey producer, you want bees designed to constantly build a large population to be ready to collect nectar at each move to a new location. If your interest is comb honey production, you want a bee that rapidly builds beautiful white comb rather than yellow comb or comb with thin watery appearing capping. What is the “best” bee for me may be a lousy choice for you, and vice versa. After having Italian bees for 15 years, Steve Taber convinced me that I would be better satisfied with the “explosive” late winter, early spring population buildup of the Carniolan race for honey production in the Central Maryland area, so I switched from Italians to all Carniolans 54 years ago, 1948; and in spite of their propensity to swarm, the Carniolan is the “best” bee for “Old George”.

Some might want to know the most important characteristics of the Italians and the Carniolans, which happen to be the two most important races in the whole world’s honey production, particularly in the United States. The advantages of the Italian bee are it is relatively gentle and calm, has a strong disposition to brood rearing resulting in large populations able to gather a considerable amount of nectar in a short time, it uses little propolis, is an excellent forager, good comb builder, and covers the honey with brilliant white wax cappings. However, the Italian bee has some serious defects such as continued breeding at the end of a main nectar flow which causes high food consumption. It does NOT overwinter well in areas with long and cold winters. The Italian has a poor sense of orientation causing her to drift from one colony to another and usually from a weak colony to a strong colony. The excellent ability of the Italian to locate food sources often results in a grand scale ROBBING of a weak colony, not to mention the robbing of some neighbor’s birthday party sweets; and lastly, the Italian bee are also well known to angrily fly about the head of a beekeeper during colony manipulations in the apiary. However, in spite of my use of Carniolans, I still favor the use of a WELL BRED Italian bee for a beginner or novice beekeeper.

The Carniolan bee is a grayish-black version of the Italian bee, and its home territory is north of Italy primarily in the lower Alps of Austria and extending into the former Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and parts of Russia. It is a slender bee with a long tongue measuring 6.4-6.8 mm. Perhaps the most outstanding trait of the Carniolan is its exceptional docility, or gentleness so it is easily worked without stings to the beekeeper. Brother Adam describes the Carniolan late winter, early spring population “explosion” as “par excellence” exceeding all other races of honey bees. The Carniolan minimizes brood production during a nectar shortage, forming a small colonies in the fall enabling it to winter on a minimum of stores, which is distinctly different from the Italian bee that requires large stores for the winter period. Other important beneficial characteristics of the Carniolan include longevity, hardiness, foraging ability, and wintering ability. The Carniolan bee is not only an excellent honey producer and comb builder, but also caps the cells of honey with paper white wax cappings. Unlike the Italian, the Carniolan bee has an excellent sense of orientation and hence is NOT inclined to robbing. The Carniolan bee collects LESS propolis than any other European race. The major deficiency of the Carniolan bee that prevents it from being everybody “best” bee is its strong disposition to swarming due to its great vitality and fast development of its colony. I have often said that a colony of Carnies might swarm on a warm Christmas Day. To many Americans being used to the golden color of Italian bees and “golden” queens, the dark color of the Carniolan and the dark orange color of the Carnie queen is a disadvantage during colony inspection. However, the explosive early spring buildup gives the Carniolan an advantage in honey production in areas of a short, but early nectar flow like central Maryland; and the Carniolan’s better wintering ability than the Italian bee gives the Carniolan an advantage as one proceeds north in the U. S. towards Canada.

The BEST bee is the bee that best suits your style of beekeeping need and not that bee proclaimed the “best” by any writer (including me), or your friend Uncle Tom, or even the world’s greatest bee scientist who may have more knowledge of honey bees than you have. Consider your knowledge of bees and what you expect of your bees, and pick a race or a hybrid that best satisfies your desires; and then do what a fine bee KEEPER does, STUDY your bees, and learn all the information you can about your bees.

The Famous Montgomery County FAIR is August 9th – 17th

In our highly educated county, it is hard to believe that the great majority of ADULT Americans, including our legislators, know very little about a honey bee other than it makes honey and it stings. What a shame it is that these people are NOT aware of the importance of honey bee pollination of 35% of all the food we humans eat. A few people know of honey bee pollination of some fruit like oranges or blueberries, but don’t know about cranberries, raspberries, grapefruit, lemons, cherries and numerous other fruits. Very, very few know that honey bees heavily pollinate watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, cucumbers, and even carrots, onions, broccoli, and other vegetables. Precious few people know that 98% of all alfalfa is honey bee pollinated, and without the high protein alfalfa hay, beef cattle won’t have much good meat and dairy cattle won’t have very good milk. Hence, no prime rib dinners or ice cream for birthday parties. Suddenly, that “lowly” honey bee has become a pretty important “critter”!

But who is going to tell the million attendees to our 9 day FAIR unless YOU are there VOLUNTEERING 4 short hours in our booth to explain the importance of honey bees to all mankind? Hence, when Barry Thompson issues the call for help at the FAIR – VOLUNTEER! We need about 50 “helpers”, and you get a free meal of fresh food for your services.

And as long as you are going to come as a VOLUNTEER, you might as well enter some of your liquid honey, comb honey, creamed honey, bees wax, candles, gift arrangement, educational exhibit, photographs of bees, or gadgets to assist beekeepers into competition for award ribbons and MONEY prizes. There are THIRTY different classes, so surely there is a place to display some of your bee products, and be a PROUD BEEKEEPER! You can’t WIN unless you enter, so get thinking about all the things you can enter.

Bye now – it is a l-o-n-g writing, but it was FUN!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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