April 2003

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

Cocked and Ready?

Beginning last November, Commander-and-Chief George Bush ordered the Pentagon to get troops well prepared for the possible invasion of Iraq. Repeatedly, I have warned beekeepers that you start preparing your bee colonies for an April-May nectar collection in September, not March. As I write this in March, pollen is coming into colonies in great quantities, my colonies have 4-6 frames of brood, I am feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to keep the queen bee laying brood, the famous cherry blossom festival around the Washington Tidal Basin is just 3 weeks off, and buds are all over my willows, maples, alders, forsythia, tulips, crocus, etc. SPRING IS HERE, and the ground is “full of water’ implying we are going to have nectar “flowing out on the ground”.

Unfortunately, there are those non-caring or non-learning people out there who lost many colonies during the cold winter, and, of course, blame it all on the “cold winter” and NEVER themselves. Meanwhile, local beekeepers like Barry Thompson, Bill Troup, or David Bernard didn’t lose any bees and their bees are so strong that they are selling ‘nuc’ colonies. Doesn’t that make you wonder just what successful beekeepers do that you don’t? I noted the puzzled look on the faces of the 30 Short Course members when 2-3 of the Master Beekeeper instructors pointed out that this prolonged cold winter weather was “wonderful and calming” for their bees rather than a mild winter that changed from day to day from 20° to 60°, which causes chilled brood and excess use of honey stores. My queens were laying in January, surrounded by plenty of bees for clustering warmth of brood, and eating very little because of lack of flight weather. It was a great winter for bees if you had properly prepared them for it with a menthol treatment for tracheal mites in August (not September), 1:1 sugar syrup feeding in September to stimulate queen laying for young winter bees, hopefully a new queen installed in late August, Apistan strips installed on October 1st AND REMOVAL BEFORE DECEMBER to kill over 95% of all Varroa mites, Fumadil-B in November to prevent spring Nosema, and 2:1 sugar syrup in October and November to insure the colony with at least 70 pounds of winter stores. WHAT IS SO TOUGH ABOUT THAT? Are you satisfied with just being a beeHAVER and having to buy new EXPENSIVE bees every year or so? With your intelligence, you could be a real fine beeKEEPER if you just paid as much attention to your bees as you do to the Redskin football games, Oriole baseball games, Wizard basketball games, and the TV “who done its”. Don’t you want to find the excitement and JOYS OF BEEKEEPING that I have had for 70+ years?

I guess I have chastised some of you enough and bored those that did not lose colonies this winter, so let me talk about things you should do NOW to get these gallons of nectar converted into honey in you hives. By the way, when I use the word NOW, I don’t mean some nice weekend in April or May – I mean NOW, like tomorrow regardless of whether it is a workday or not, because it might be raining on the weekend. If you have been REVERSING YOUR BROOD CHAMBERS as I have “begged you to do” to prevent swarming, and if you have been feeding 1:2 or 1:1 sugar syrup to stimulate queen laying as I have “begged you to do”, your bee population should be strong and they might think about swarming in early April UNLESS YOU GIVE THEM MORE ROOM. Install just one super of drawn comb or 10 tightly packed together frames of foundation NOW, NOW, NOW without any queen excluder! REVERSE the Brood chambers so the queen is laying in the bottom chamber, add a 1:1 sugar syrup feeder over the inner cover hole, and the bees will start to draw the foundation or pack the sugar syrup in the drawn comb. This feeder should have TINY holes because you just want to tease the bees with sugar syrup, not “drown” them. In central Maryland, this should be done on April 1st, NOT APRIL 15TH or the nice weekend of April 19-20. When the frames in that super are about 50%-75% filled with nectar or young brood, which will be about April 15th, but surely before May 1st, make sure that the queen is put “downstairs’ in the brood area and install a queen excluder under that first super, and then add either 3-4 more supers of DRAWN COMB, or just one super of 10 frames of tightly packed frames of foundation. When that super of foundation is about 70% filled, add ONE more super of 10 tightly packed frames of foundation, etc.

The single thing that defeats so many beginners or beeHAVERS is they don’t STAY AHEAD of their bees, and upon discovering a need, they try to play “catch-up”. Often the bees SWARM. PLAN AHEAD AND STAY AHEAD OF YOUR BEES, so they have no reason to swarm. Frames of drawn comb or frames or foundation sitting in your basement or your garage attracts nothing more than dust, and maybe your bees swarm because they were not in place on you colony at the right time. Now, you have no excuse, because I have told you the RIGHT TIMES to install supers in Montgomery County , MD and other surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties.

I want to REPEAT something I have said thousands of times, but some people just don’t seem to understand. BEES DO NOT GATHER HONEY! THEY GATHER THIN, WATERY NECTAR! Since nectar might be 80% water and honey is only about 16%-18% water, bees might require 5 supers of drawn comb to store all that thin watery nectar until they have time to evaporate the water from the nectar and ripen it into honey that makes just 2-3 supers of honey. If there is NOT enough super space for the bees to store all this thin watery nectar, maybe collecting as much as 20 pounds a day, they will build BURR comb in every nook and cranny of the colony WARNING YOU THAT THEY NEED ROOM, and finding no more space, SWARM. Was that the bee’s FAULT or yours? Take out “insurance” by providing too much space and provide it AHEAD OF TIME.

Regardless of what you have been told, there is almost no nectar collected after May 31st in Montgomery County, and essentially ZERO after June 15th, so your honey should be harvested and bottled around July 4th. I will talk about this in the May PINK PAGES.

Is Your Queen MARKED?

If your queen is NOT marked, how to you know that the queen you see tomorrow is the same queen that you bought and installed 6 months ago? Face it – YOU DON’T KNOW! If the queen you purchased was an Italian queen, and the one you see now is unmarked, WHAT DRONES DID SHE MATE WITH? Were they my Carniolans, or Bob’s Caucasians, or Harry’s “County Specials”, or maybe a Africanized drone that escaped from a migratory beekeeper’s truck when passing by your apiary? Not only does this bad breeding really mess up the genetic traits that you want with your bees, but a MARKED queen is so much EASIER TO SEE a you inspect your colony. Buy a Queen marking Kit from BetterBee, Part Number QMT1 for $3.95 and mark your queens from now on. RED is the color for 2003. If you don’t know how to pick up a queen and place her in the marking tube, ask some Master Beekeeper for a demonstration; but every beeKEEPER should certainly know how to pick up a queen without hurting her or losing her.

A Major Reason for Requeening

You should know that I requeen every colony every year in order to MINIMIZE SWARMING. However, I refuse to requeen in the spring because I don’t want anything to “screw up” my honey production. I much prefer requeening in late August (before Labor day), so that young queen lays a bunch of new bees for the winter bees that makes a bigger cluster which enables the bees to keep a larger brood area open for queen laying in January and February. I think you should consider this, and there is an old PINK PAGE that totally describes my “ALMOST FOOLPROOF REQUEENING METHOD.”

Just in case you have forgotten, all queens emit a pheromone that inhibits the worker bees from building queen cells, and the ability of the queen to make this pheromone REDUCES a little bit every day of her life. Hence, a 13 month old queen is 3 times more likely to swarm than a 1 month old queen; and the probability of a 25 month old queen swarming is almost astronomical. A new queen only costs about $10-$15, and you lose your honey crop if bees swarm. Losing a 50-100 pound honey crop that you can sell for $3.50/lb. which is $175-$350 because you wouldn’t spend $10-$15 for a new queen doesn’t make good sense. If you want a copy of Imirie’s Almost Foolproof Requeening Method, e-mail or telephone me for a copy.

How to MAKE a Split

A split is made to either increase colony numbers or to prevent swarming. In either case, a colony is NOT split unless it is strong in numbers of worker bees, has a prolific queen, and is healthy. Although sometimes desirable to be done in very early spring, a split should NOT be made until decent flight weather for pollen or nectar collecting in the spring. In Maryland, because our total honey crop is made in April and May, and little, if any, is collected during the rest of the year, the new split is NOT going to produce any honey in its first year. This might be dramatically different in states that have nectar collection during the summer and/or fall.

Order a new queen, preferably MARKED, and upon its arrival, give the queen a drink of water and put her in a cool, dark place until the next day. Go to the colony you want to split, find the queen and ISOLATE the frame she is on and the adhering bees in a spare hive body while you select the frames you want to remove and move them to the new split. I select 2 frames of honey, 2 frames of CAPPED brood, 1 frame of OPEN brood, and 1 frame of nectar and pollen ALL WITH ADHERING BEES which is a total of 6 frames. Put these 6 frames in a new hive body and add 3 more frames of drawn comb, totaling 9 frames, put the new queen cage in place between the frame of OPEN BROOD and the frame of nectar, and then SHAKE the adhering bees off 2 BROOD frames from the old colony. Add a bottle of 1:1 sugar syrup and do not touch for at least 3 days and if the queen is out of her queen cage, remove it, and put the 10th frame of drawn comb in place. Going back to the original colony, return the old queen on her frame to the colony and replace the 6 frames you have removed for the split with 6 frames of drawn comb. YOU HAVE A SPLIT!

If you do NOT have drawn comb frames, if you are LUCKY, you might get by using foundation, but there MUST BE A STRONG NECTAR FLOW PRESENT and/or a CONTINUOUS FEED OF 1:1 SUGAR SYRUP to get that foundation drawn and drawn properly. As I have repeatedly said for over 40 years FOUNDATION IS NOT DRAWN COMB.

Feeding NEW Colonies

New colonies started in April from packages or nucs, particularly if the frames are foundation rather than drawn comb, just have a very difficult time building a strong population, finding enough food, and making foundation into drawn comb in our Maryland area because our ONLY major nectar flows are in April, May, and maybe early June and then NOTHING until next year. You can’t do much work without food, and neither can bees. Bees have to consume about 8 pounds of honey (NOT NECTAR) to produce and construct just ONE pound of wax comb! Bees will NOT, will NOT, will NOT build comb without a strong nectar flow or an artificial nectar of 1:1 sugar syrup, and sugar is only 30¢/lb. Not only do brood frames have to be built, but super frames of drawn comb have to be built for next year; and don’t forget that those bees have to make about 50-70 lbs. of honey before November 1st in order to get through the coming winter!

The solution to this problem is EASY. CONTINUE FEEDING THE BEES FROM THE DAY THE COLONY IS STARTED WITHOUT STOPPING UNTIL LABOR DAY IN SEPTEMBER. There are people out there that will tell you “George has lost his marbles to say continuously feed for 4 months”. Let’s compare my new colonies with theirs next March and see which is ready to make lots of honey in the spring of 2004!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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