June 2003

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

CARE For Honey During and After Harvesting From Bees

All of us know that iron rusts if not painted, bread gets stale if left in the open, meat has to be refrigerated, and you sunburn unless you use sun protection. HONEY IS NO DIFFERENT! IT REQUIRES PROPER CARE AGAINST FERMENTING, or CRYSTALLIZING, or DARKENING IN COLOR, or FLAVOR LOSS. Hence, let me mention the EASY ways for the “backyard” hobbyist beekeeper to properly handle honey.

I think we all know the BEST honey is freshly made CAPPED COMB HONEY, because it is protected by the CAPPINGS from increased moisture content, seeding for crystallization by dust or debris, and protected from overheating by the bees. However, Americans have not “learned” how to eat and enjoy COMB Honey, so the majority want extracted honey.

You certainly should know that honey is quite HYGROSCOPIC, that is it absorbs and condenses water vapor out of the air thereby increasing the water content of honey. Talking in “ROUND” figures rather than specific figures, bees attempt to “ripen” honey down to a water content of about 16% before they CAP it; and honey with a water content over about 19% will probably FERMENT and eventually turn to vinegar. In the normal HUMID summer of Maryland, the bees often CAP the honey at 17%-18% water content, because they just can’t lower the water content in our high humidity. WHY SHOULD YOU KNOW THIS? First, you should NOT extract any frames of honey that are not FULLY CAPPED or maybe 90% CAPPED, because the UNcapped honey is not fully “ripened” by the bees and its HIGH moisture content might increase the overall moisture content of all the honey to the point of fermentation. THIS is the reason that a honey judge at a Fair tests your honey entry’s moisture content with a refractometer, and deducts show points for moisture content higher than 16% and possibly ELIMINATING entries with a moisture content of about 19%. Secondly, and perhaps more important than “showing” honey is the care given honey between the time it is extracted and the time it is bottled. During all of that time, the honey is “open” to the atmosphere, and it is YOUR JOB to keep it covered as much as possible, particularly during those 3-4 days that you have to let it just SIT and settle with the FOAM and debris rising to the surface to be “skimmed off”. It is a horrible shame to ask your bees to do all “that work” of nectar collecting and making honey, and you, by lack of knowledge or lack of discipline, let their wonderful honey get ruined by high moisture content. DON’T GET MAD AT ME; I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU!

The majority of the American public don’t understand the crystallization of honey, think it has “gone bad”, and trash it. Honey is “basically” a combination of TWO simple sugars, glucose and fructose. At room temperatures, although fructose is a liquid sugar, glucose is a solid sugar (like crystals). All nectar sources produce nectar that have a specific ratio of glucose to fructose relevant to the flower that produced the nectar.

Obviously, those nectars that are rich in glucose tend to crystallize rapidly like GOLDENROD, those with somewhat less glucose like CLOVER will crystallize less rapid, and those with a lot less glucose like TULIP POPLAR or BLACK LOCUST are very slow to crystallize, and TUPELO honey, which is very low in glucose, almost refuses to crystallize. ALL crystallized honey will become liquid honey again without any damage if it is SLOWLY warmed to about 100°. Crystallization of all honeys is EXTREMELY dependent on temperature. In 1931, Dr. E. J. Dyce of Cornell University found that the very best temperature to encourage honey crystallization was 57°, which should tell you that your basement or your garage is NOT a good place to store bottled honey. Oppositely, liquid honey can be kept in your FREEZER at -20° for years without any change, BUT NEVER IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR! Most, not all, honeys will not crystallize at temperatures above about 80°. However, temperatures higher than about 120° will darken you honey, and diminish its flavor, and these changes depend on HOW HIGH is the temperature and HOW LONG was the honey kept in these higher temperatures. Commercial honey is fast heated to temperatures as high as 150°-160° and quickly cooled to liquefy all possible seed crystals to give the honey long “shelf life” on the store shelf before crystallization begins. NOW, TO GET INTO AN ARGUMENTATIVE AREA ABOUT HEAT AND NATURAL HONEY. How high a temperature is UNnatural?

Today, there are all these “nuts” out there that want only NATURAL honey, and won’t buy or eat “heated” honey. In talking with many of them, I have found that the GREAT majority have no idea about NATURAL colony internal temperature on a warm July day, or the temperature that damages honey, and haven’t the foggiest notion of what temperature is used by commercial beekeepers to retard crystallization. The height of this stupidity is quite evident when a person asks for “Pasteurized” honey that has not been heated. I turn away, turn up the volume of my radio and listen to the Redskin foot- ball report which makes better sense. YES, HEAT DAMAGES HONEY, but HOW HIGH is DAMAGING HEAT? Too much salt is not good for humans with high blood pressure, but HOW MUCH is too much? A queen bee cannot lay eggs at any temperature less than 91° and the worker bees maintain a temperature in the brood chamber of 91°-96° irregard- less of whether the outside temperature is 50° or 100°; and heat RISES and honey supers are ABOVE the brood chamber. What do you think the temperature of honey supers are on a hot July day of a colony outside in the broiling sun? Bee scientists have checked this many times and have found honey in the supers with temperatures of 100°-110° – WONDERFUL HIGH QUALITY NATURAL HONEY. Heat LESS than about 120° and kept at that temperature for just an hour or so (just like nature) does NOT damage honey!

Ending: To properly CARE for your honey, don’t extract frames that are not FULLY CAPPED, keep liquid honey covered to protect it against moisture absorption, and never heat honey higher that 120° for any reason and then for only a very short time.

“THINGS” for you to THINK about and DO

Although this is early June, August is “just around the corner” and there is SO MUCH to do in AUGUST – I mean BEFORE SEPTEMBER, because September is TOO LATE.

Get your extraction and bottling done by JULY 4th. There is NO nectar flow in the central Maryland area after June 1-15th. If you don’t believe me, I can show you graphs of my the weight increase of my scale hive for many years. Sometimes people see the yellow summer clover in June and believe that it will provide honey, but it RARELY does. When you harvest your honey, ONLY TAKE THE FULLY CAPPED FRAMES, and leave the rest for the bees, because they might STARVE in the dearth of July and early August. Further, FULLY CAPPED honey is fully ripened and you won’t have any excess amount of moisture in the honey that could cause spoilage and fermentation. DON’T BE GREEDY!

Demonstrate your “know-how” and your success by entering your honey in the Mont- gomery County Fair from August 9-16, and WIN CASH MONEY plus a RIBBON. Even better would be to enter an education exhibit about beekeeping – You are smart, have ideas, so show the public the IMPORTANCE of honey bees in the POLLINATION of our food! How some photographs of bees from your “fancy new camera’s” and win MONEY. How about showing a beautiful FRAME of CAPPED HONEY, and win MONEY? See pages 87-88 of the FAIR catalog for other entries – there are all kinds!

Don’t forget to VOLUNTEER just 4 hours of your time to help Barry Thompson at the MCBA booth in OLD MACDONALD’S BARN tell the public all the good points about honey bees and the MASSIVE IMPORTANCE of their POLLINATION of our human food! You don’t have to be a master beekeeper to answer the questions of the public. And the FAIR will give you a FREE lunch or dinner for volunteering!

Speaking of master beekeepers, those people that attend the August 4-8 EAS meeting in Maine will LEARN so much by attending SUPER SHORT COURSE, listening to the expert speakers at the convention, and participating in the workshops, you might be one of our new MASTER BEEKEEPERS shortly.

Since the TRACHEAL MITE is microscopic in size and hence INVISIBLE, many WRONGLY surmise that their bees don’t have any TRACHEAL mites so they DON’T bother to treat for them. Lo and behold, they find their colony dead in January or February, and make their second mistake by thinking the cold weather killed their bees. All they had to do to KILL about 98% of all the tracheal mites was to put $2.00 of MENTHOL crystals in the colony on AUGUST 15th when it is good and WARM. SEPTEMBER IS TOO LATE and the menthol will not work in the coolness of September. Spend just $2.00 and save your bees from tracheal mite death!

I know that some of you had swarms this year in April or May. They ruined your honey crop and some lost the swarms and left your colony VERY WEAK. When are you going to start LISTENING to ME, bee RESEARCHERS, bee SCIENTISTS, and many big time COMMERCIAL beekeepers about real YOUNG queens RARELY SWARM, and starting a new queen in September rather than April or May is MUCH MUCH BETTER, plus you get better laying in September and October that produces a larger, younger crop of worker bees to winter through the long winter? These new queens can produce enough queen pheromone to retard queen cell construction and weld a large population of worker bees into a well functioning unit that produces a lot of honey! However, many queen breeders cut back queen production by the end of June, so you have to ask your queen supplier in June whether he can supply you with new queens in mid to late August, and if so, order them and pay for them now so delivery is guaranteed on the August date that you name. Requeening a colony with a lot of forager age bees is TOUGH, but if you do it by introducing a new queen to nuc of nurse bees and later unite that nuc with the entire colony, you can usually get almost 100% success. If you do not have a copy of my article entitled “Imirie’s Almost Foolproof Requeening Method“, just ask me to e-mail you one. I have used this method for over 20 years to requeen 100’s of colonies and rarely lose a queen. You CAN”T wait until the last minute to requeen, because you have to do certain things to the colony about 10-12 days before you get the new queen. Hence now is the time to plan to do fall requeening! By the way, a new queen that you bought in April of this year is NOT a young queen in April of 2004, because her ability to produce large quantities of queen pheromone that helps prevent swarming is greatly diminished, because she is a year old in April 2004, an old lady! Why does Richard Adee, the largest commercial beekeeper in the world with his 60,000 colonies requeen them every September in Mississippi; or why does Dave Hackenburg, past President of American Beekeeping Federation, requeen all of his 5000 colonies every year and some of them TWICE each year? They will tell you that they do it to retard swarming! WHY DON”T YOU SPEND $10 FOR A NEW QUEEN AND REQUEEN A COLONY THIS AUGUST?

I am SO P-L-E-A-S-E-D, my voice is getting stronger and stronger. Surgery was May 1st, 3 weeks ago today and the swelling in my throat is almost gone. However, I am going to Williamsburg for 3 whole weeks and commune with our founding fathers, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Tom Jefferson and learn more about the ways that such a few men from each of the 13 colonies were able to form our GREAT Nation. Who knows, maybe I can give some volunteer help to President Bush regarding making our country even more satisfying as the home of the brave and the free. But none of us can sit on our duffs and do nothing, because we will always have to fight those that are jealous of our 200+ years of success. Has it ever ocurred to those “cmplainers” that so many people want to immigrate to the U.S., but darn few want emigrate away from the U. S. Must be a good reason for that. Although my ancestors came from Scotland,I am a PROUD AMERICAN!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper in my 71st year of beekeeping.

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