January 2003


Will Your Bees Be Ready For The Spring Nectar Flow?

Successful beekeepers start “doing things” with their bees 2-3 months in advance of the spring nectar flow. Since our central Maryland only major nectar flow occurs in April and May, this means that responsible beekeeping begins in January or no later than February 1st, and not on the calendar’s first day of spring, March 21st! People often ask me “What can be done in the cold weather of January?” First, take 10 minutes of a warm, windless, sunny day, 50° or more, and OPEN the hive and make sure the bees are ALIVE and still have PLENTY OF FOOD. If they are NOT alive, look for symptoms of what killed them, rather than guess or cite that old wrong reason of “the bad cold weather”. If there was still plenty of stores but only a handful of dead bees in the ive, these facts would indicate death by tracheal mite infection. Maybe you forgot to treat with menthol in August (September is too late); or maybe you did not start treating with grease patties in July and continue the treatment until Christmas! These are the only two legal treatments for tracheal mite control, which are still destroying untreated colonies in 49 states. If some brood frames still had CAPPED cells and some of these cells had small holes in the cappings which also might be slightly sunken, this is a strong indication of American Foul Brood disease. AFB does NOT appear suddenly and kill quickly. Quite the opposite in fact. Generally, from the time of becoming exposed to AFB spores until death of the colony requires over a year; and hence you should have seen these signs of perforated brood cell cappings sometime last summer or autumn BEFORE you prepared the colony for winter. Was this colony STRONG enough in population back in October, i.e., did it have the equivalent of two 3 pound packages of bees; and what was the age of the queen, Le., older that 18 months? A colony headed by an old queen or weak in population often dies simply because it cannot maintain cluster heat, and the old queen had not produced enough young bees back in October and November to get through the winter. No one can examine a colony by observing it from OUTSIDE! You MUST go INSIDE a hive to properly examine it! Something I have said and written 10,000 times, I guess!

A colony must be “boiling” with a “multitude” of bees, like 40,000-0,000, to gather a large crop of nectar to make a good yield of honey. A “multitude” of bees can NOT be made “over night”, but takes some time. Let me explain some things that maybe you have not considered. Regardless of how great your queen is at brood laying, there must be a lot of bees in the winter cluster to keep a large area of brood warm while it develops in 21 days. Hence, it is desirable to force your queen to lay brood in late January or early February to get more new bees added to the winter cluster to provide warmth for more intense queen laying to have a LARGE number of “foraging age bees” ready to collect nectar on April 15th. Since a worker bee does “hive duties” and no foraging for the first 18 days of its life, and the gestation time of a worker bee is 21 days, that means that an egg must be laid at least FORTY DAYS before that bee becomes a forager. An egg that will produce a foraging age bee for April 1 5th foraging must be laid before MARCH 6th! (Never forget those 40 days!) Now, you see why it is best to FORCE the queen to begin egg laying early by feeding the bees 1:1 sugar syrup or even 1:2 sugar syrup (1 pound of sugar dissolved in 2 pints of water) in late January or early February! I always spread a few ounces of Bee Pro (a pollen substitute) on the tops of brood frames just to make sure that the bees have plenty of pollen, because queens, particularly Carniolans, just won’t lay very well without plenty of pollen. Let us NOT confuse sugar syrup ratios: 2:1 syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) is a WINTER FEED like honey and definitely will NOT stimulate queen laying of eggs. Bees start forcing the queen to eat so she will lay more eggs as soon as they are able to get pollen and a little bit of nectar from early blooms like skunk cabbage, alders, and maples. 1:2 syrup (1 part sugar to 2 parts water) is a thin syrup like a early nectar, in other words, 1:2 syrup or 1:1 syrup is an artificial nectar, which is just what the bees need to force the queen to lay. You 4 don’t want to “drown” the bees with too fast a delivery of this artificial nectar, because they will just store it away and try to convert it to honey. You want to “tease” or “excite” the bees with just a slow delivery system of this thin sugar syrup. I like to drill 4-6 holes with a 3132″ drill bit in the top of a gallon jar and set this over the hole in the inner cover so the bees get a slow delivery of syrup.

You MUST realize that by building this multitudinous population of bees which is the “key” to making an abundant honey crop from April and May nectar flows, the chances of having a swarm are greatly increased. This is “no big deal” as long as you properly manage the swarm controls that I have mentioned many times in the past, namely: have a queen less than 12 months old; start reversals of the brood chambers in February and continue it as needed until at least April 15th; put on at least one super of DRAWN COMB on April 15th; if you have 40 super frames of DRAWN comb (not foundation), install 4 supers of drawn comb all at one time no later than May 1st. REVERSING of the brood chambers is the most important swarm control, and this might have to be 3-5 times between February 1st and April 15th depending upon weather, race of bees, size of brood frame, queen fecundity, and population on Thanksgiving Day when the queen has stopped laying. Pages 617 and 618 of the 1992 Extensively Revised Edition of The Hive and Honey Bee support my feelings about REVERSING rather strongly, and I suggest you read it as well as several pages before and after 617-618..

Just 100 years ago, when little was known about the IMPORTANT parts of swarm prevention or swarm control, most beekeepers lost about half of their “hoped for” honey production because of swarming. During the past 50 years and particularly the past few years since the arrival of mites which created a tremendous amount of bee scientist research, most successful beekeepers have stopped using the Demaree Plan, have stopped clipping queens, have stopped adding supers as the top super was getting filled, and are using the NEW MANAGEMENT techniques that I have just written above. Could this be the reason that my colonies usually produce a much greater crop of honey than comes from colonies in neighboring apiaries? Yes, there is NO way to prevent all swarming as this is a strong part of the honey bee’s natural reproduction system, but a skilled beekeeper can materially decrease the swarming that occurs in swarm season, which is defined as that time period of great increased brood production and just prior to a major nectar flow. Swarming during the major nectar flow is almost 100% the fault of the beekeeper because supers were added to LATE or NOT ENOUGH. A smart medical surgeon does not delay an appendecomy until the next day because it interferes with his fancy dinner party for fear the patient’s appendix will rupture and the patient dies.

Successful beekeeping is BOTH an art an a science. A beeHAVER starts a package in April and hopes for their success, plants his garden, fills his swimming pool, adds one super to his bees and hopes for their success, observes his bees from the back of his lawn mower before he leaves for vacation at the beach and hopes for their success, harvests his tomatoes, squash, cantaloupes in the cool of an August evening and hopes for the success of his bees, waits for a cool September weekend to collect his honey and finds that his bees only made about 10 pounds of honey, and BLAMES the queen producer who sold him the package of bees. In contrast, a beeKEEPER reads the writings of bee researchers and bee scientists and follows their new findings of management techniques, cares for the health of his bees by administering medical treatments that the scientists suggest and DO IT WHEN THE SCIENTIST SAYS TO DO IT, does not relegate his bee work to weekends but performs the needed work on what ever day is best for the bees, and attends bee meetings at many different sites to LEARN, LEARN, LEARN! What do you get for all this? Your reward is the self PRIDE of being successful, and enjoying the JOYS OF BEEKEEPING!

George W. Imirie, Jr. Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

Attend an Exciting Meeting!

At our FIRST meeting of 2003 on Wednesday, January 8th , CERTIFIED EAS MASTER BEEKEEPER Evelyn Hogg Bernard is going to be our speaker, and the title of the talk “Talking about bees: A Little Knowledge Goes A Long Way!” just excites me tremendously, because I constantly mention getting knowledge, but that word ‘little” bothers me. MI wager that you and the post office wonder why I always write TOO much if just a ‘little’ will go a long way. I will be there with my hearing aids turned on HIGH.

I have known Evelyn for many years, long before she married Master Beekeeper Dave. Both of them had bees, and were even moving colonies into fields for crop pollination before they were married. Who knows, maybe they married to consolidate the wealth of knowledge that both of them had about bees, plus saving telephone time for their long communications. Now, in addition to her job as a biological scientist, Evelyn has THREE cute daughters who are now in grade school. I don’t know where she gets the time and energy, but she also does volunteer work of going to Montgomery County schools and giving talks about bees and showing bees in an observation hive.

If Evelyn can give up an evening to come to Brookside Nature Center to talk to you about better beekeeping, when she has a regular 40 hour week job and still takes care of all the needs of 3 school age daughters in addition to her bee work, I think she deserves your attendance so you too can improve your knowledge about apis mellifera.

All over the country, whether you are talking about Montgomery County, Ocean City, or Northern Virginia, large numbers of people are asking “Where are the bees; I haven’t seen hardly any honey bees in my garden for several years?” Surely, the farmers who grow cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, apples, lima beans, and strawberries are greatly aware of the LACK of honey bees, and they have finally learned that the feral honey bees are gone and there is no evidence that they will return anytime soon, if at all. Some of these farmers have learned the value of pollination in making them a salable crop of these fruits and vegetables; and have been asking about the cost of placing some colonies of bees on their land for pollination. Of course, that farmer with 100 acres or more of crop farmland is going to be looking for many colonies, like 50 or 200, and he will have to contact one of the migratory beekeepers who brings hundreds of colonies up the Atlantic coast. But can’t you help that grower who just has a few acres and would only need a few colonies? Although the price is negotiable, many pollinators have been getting $50/colony for perhaps a month of pollination. With the sale price of honey remaining low, in our CHANGING TIMES, maybe crop pollination is the way for local beekeepers to pick up a few extra dollars.

Many people have complained that the drought all over the Maryland-Virginia region in 2002 was the prime cause for a lousy honey crop and a very poor year for this winter stores. The over abundant precipitation of October, November, and December have refilled the reservoirs and rivers, so maybe 2003 will be a banner year of honey production. Always the optimist, I am preparing for big yields.

Scroll to Top