August 2002

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Will your Bees be Alive next Spring?

August, September, and October are the three months that will determine not only whether your bees will be alive next April, but how strong they will be to gather the spring crop of nectar. Dr. Roger Morse wrote a book about a honey bee’s NEW YEAR starts in September, but the mites were not around when that book was written. Hence, let’s start our spring program in August about mite control, because the mite population MUST be dramatically reduced before the winter months if we are to have alive, strong colonies in April.

You MUST UNDERSTAND that the mite population increases much faster than the honey bee population right after the queen bee reduces her laying of brood, which is shortly after our major nectar flow. If the mite population gets too high, there is just so much damage done to the bees that they are sick and weakly and just cannot get through the cold months of winter. Too often, UNknowledgeable beekeepers blame the death of a colony during the winter on a “hard winter”, a “cold winter” , or a “very long winter”. The truth is that the beekeeper did NOT reduce the mite population by proper mite treatment. The famous Dr. Edward Southwick subjected bees to temperature studies and kept bees at -40° (yes, -40°) for periods as long as a month with no ill effect! The point is that cold weather does not kill HEALTHY bees!

Perhaps you ASSUME that there are no tracheal mites around, because you have not seen any. How can you? They are microscopic, like a germ, and live only in the adult bee’s trachea. Here they “clog up” the breathing of the bee, just like a person suffering from emphysema, and the bee simply strangles to death. UGH, what an awful way to die! These tracheal mites are easily killed by the fumes of MENTHOL placed in the brood chamber of a colony. However, since menthol does not sublime (become a gaseous vapor) unless the temperature is OVER 84°, menthol must be in- stalled in your colony around AUGUST 15th in Maryland and certainly BEFORE September 1st! Installing menthol in September or October is a waste of time and money, because it does get hot enough, long enough to covert the menthol crystals into vapor that the bees can breath which kills the tracheal mites in the trachea. A packet of 50 grams of menthol costs less that $2. Isn’t your colony of bees worth $2?

Now let’s talk about the varroa mite, that brownish red critter with 8 legs that you can see like a flea on a dog. Let’s get right to the NITTY GRITTY, and stop fooling around. The ONLY place that the female varroa mite lays new mite eggs is in a honey bee cell with a honey bee LARVA just a few hours before the cell is capped. Here, she lays 2-3 female mite eggs that feed on the bee larva and these 2-3 mite eggs become adult mites in about 10 days and emerge with the damaged honey bee. Note that 2-3 adult varroa mites are being produced with just one adult honey bee, and that the honey bee has been damaged by the mites “eating upon it”. Obviously, when there are few or no honey bee larvae in a colony, the female mites have no place to lay more mite eggs, and in Maryland, the laying of a queen bee is sharply reduced by October 1st and generally totally stopped by November 15th, and does not begin again until January. It does not require rocket scientist brains to understand that the best time to kill the highest percentage of varroa mites in a colony is during this period when there is little or no honey bee larvae present.. Hence, on OCTOBER 1st, I install 1 strip of Apistan in the brood chamber for every 5 frames that have brood on them, leave them for a minimum of 6 weeks (2 brood honey bee brood cycles), and ABSOLUTELY remove them before December 1st (8 weeks), so that I don’t CREATE mites resistant to Apistan. During the past 15 years of treatment of my many colonies, this single treatment with Apistan each year has been enough control of Varroa mites that rarely has any colony needed a summer treatment and no colony has ever needed a spring treatment. I was born in Maryland, and there are always a few days between November 15th and December 1st that the temperature will go above 50° for a few afternoon hours and you can dash home from work and pull out the Apistan strips, or aren’t your bees worth a few hours of leave from your job? It might be cold on the weekends, and it is dark by 5 PM in November, so you have to leave work for a few hours on some warm weekday afternoon. If you just do can’t this, give up beekeeping and take up some other hobby that you can do when it is CONVENIENT FOR YOU since you don’t care about bees living or dying.

So much for the mites – now let’s get to the other important things. As I have said repeatedly, requeening every colony ANNUALLY is the recommended colony management for the 21st century; practically 99% of commercial honey producers requeen each year and some even requeen twice each year. With Maryland’s very early spring nectar flow in April, I refuse to “screw up my honey crop” by requeening in the spring, and much prefer to requeen on September 1st. Then, queens are better bred than spring queens, arrive in the mail on time, and are cheaper, if that is important to you. Hence, think about fall requeening, but you better know what you are doing, because requeening a colony with lots of forager age bees and little nectar flow requires some skill. See my PINK PAGES about Imirie’s Almost Foolproof Requeening Method, which is basically putting a new queen into a nuc above a double screen on the parent colony.

In Maryland, a colony should have about 70 pounds of honey (not thin nectar or syrup) to make it through the winter. 70 pounds honey =’s about 12 FULL deep frames or 18 medium, 6 5/8″ frames. Don’t wait until October or November to start feeding 2:1 sugar syrup. Bees do NOT store heavy sugar syrup! Bet you did not know that! They treat that 2:1 syrup just like nectar, where they inject the enzyme invertase into it to convert the sugar sucrose into the simple sugars fructose and glucose, evaporate the excess water from it and store it as honey made from sugar. Your bees need time and weather above 50° to do this, so start feeding in September.

If you are raising Italian bees, you must be very careful about ROBBING, because robbing is a major fault of Italian bees. Make sure a weak hive has no big entrances that require house bee guards, and reduce those entrance sizes. ALL races of bees, including my Carniolans, will rob, but not as quick or with as much vigor as the Italians. A strong colony can easily rob and kill a weak colony in 1-2 days.

Bee scientists and researchers have found that about 60% of all hived bees suffer NOSEMA disease to some extent. Nosema rarely kills a colony, but the disease badly weakens a colony with diarrhea, so the worker bees just can’t work very hard. How well can YOU work when you have a “case of the runs?” Nosema is easily prevented by feeding about $2 worth of FUMIDIL B dissolved in a gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup. I like to feed that in late October and November rather than earlier so the bees don’t consume all of it in the fall, but store it in the winter stores so the bees are still getting some each day in February and March. As a result, my bees are healthy with no diarrhea and work hard to make an early spring crop of honey, and for just $2/colony.

Lastly, it is foolish to have one colony with a strong population and another colony that is weak in population going into the fall period. BEING VERY CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T MOVE THE QUEEN BEE, equalize those colonies by robbing some brood from the strong colony and give to the weak colony.

Summarizing, if you treat for tracheal mites with menthol in August, treat for Varroa mites on October 1st, treat for Nosema in late October or November, prevent robbing before it starts, equalize your colony populations, feed 2:1 sugar syrup to provide 70 pounds of winter stores, and requeen your colonies in late August or September 1st, you will have NO DEAD BEES IN THE WINTER, and big, strong, HEALTHY colonies ready to make a record crop in the spring. Isn’t that what successful beekeeping is all about: honey production, pollination of fruit, flowers, and vegetables, and the JOY of your accomplishments?

George W. Imirie, Jr.
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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