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September 2001


Since I have already lived longer than the average life expectancy of the American male and am disabled by strokes, I doubt that I am a good bet to be around next spring; but MY BEES will be ready, willing, and "chomping at the bit" to gather that first skunk cabbage pollen in February and first black locust nectar in April, because they are being well prepared for winter. Are YOURS?

With all the new exciting findings by our bee scientists during the past year or so, maybe the beekeepers of 2010 won't have to worry about chemical treatments anymore. The work with IPM, Integrated Pest Management, HYGIENIC QUEENS and BEES, and the new SMR queens, SUPPRESSIVE MITE REDUCTION gives me high hope that the days of using several different chemicals to keep our bees alive are slowly drawing to a close. Meanwhile, here in 2001, we MUST continue to use chemicals and use them in the correct quantity and at the right time or our bees won't be alive in the spring of 2002. One thing you can surely do as the doldrums of winter settle in is to read all you can or attend all the meetings you can about these new scientific findings: IPM, HYGIENIC BEES, and SMR QUEENS.

What chemicals am I referring to? Menthol for Tracheal Mites, Apistan for Varroa Mites, and Fumidil-B for Nosema Disease. Note that I did not mention Terramycin, because I am very opposed to its use as it only masks the symptoms of American Foul Brood disease and does NOT kill ft. My 69 years of beekeeping up to 100 colonies per season, and never using TM is proof that TM is NOT needed.

Just because the Tracheal Mite is NOT visible to the human eye, too often the beeHAVER assumes there are no tracheal mites in his colonies. Usually in January or maybe February, he discovers that there are tracheal mites around when he discovers his colony dead with only a few bees left in the colony and surrounded by plenty of honey stores. In Central Maryland, he could have prevented this by installing 50 grams of Menthol (cost about $2) on the tops of his brood chamber frames on August 15th. September is usually too late and hence does not kill the mites because the weather is not hot enough to vaporize the menthol into a gas. If you are willing to lose a nice hive of bees and next year's honey crop because you didn't want to spend about $2 for Menthol, you are a lousy gambler!

It has been said that there are Varroa mites around that are RESISTANT to Apistan. While true in a few instances, the great majority of the problem has been people using old Apistan or Apistan strips that have been left exposed to LIGHT or excess HEAT which destroys the active chemical (fluvalinate) in the strip. In Central Maryland, the best time to install Apistan strips is on October 1st, but REMOVE THEM by November 30th, or your failure to remove may well create resistant mites because the mites are being exposed to a low dosage of fluvalinate over a long period of time. Some one might ask: Isn't October 1st LATE for installation of Apistan, and Thanksgiving time is late to remove the Apistan? It depends on what you mean by the word LATE. Let me explain: The female varroa mite lays eggs ONLY in the cell of a 5 day old honey bee larva just before that cell is capped. If there are only a few honey bee larvae in the hive, or none, there is no place for new mite eggs to be laid and new mites grown. In central Maryland, most queen bees have greatly curtailed their egg laying by October 1st and have totally stopped laying eggs by November 15th. Hence, installing Apistan on October 1st and finding a day when the temperature is above 50° between 11/15 and 11/30 to remove the strips provides the maximum kill of all varroa mites, and finding an hour to remove the strips at 50° or more is not difficult. This treatment is usually so successful that no other treatment has to be done until the following October 1st, but I do a sticky board test for Varroa mites on July 1st to make sure.

At a Joint Short Course meeting of MAAREC held June 22nd and 23rd, retired Dr. Shiminuki literally "shocked" most attendees when he said that Nosema disease caused more loss of honey production that American Foulbrood disease. Wow, that really opened some eyes, and there were many questions. Shim pointed out that about 60% of all the colonies in the country have Nosema disease every spring, but most beeHAVERS and even many beeKEEPERS are not aware of it because Nosema rarely kills a colony. It hurts honey production because it shortens the life expectancy of the foraging honey bee by as much as 1 or 2 weeks. A major symptom of Nosema disease is diarrhea, and I ask you: How much work can you do when you "have the runs"? Just dissolve about 200 milligrams of Fumidil-B in 2 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup and feed it in October and November to your bees. This costs only about $2 per colony or the price of a few ounces of honey. To those, who have never used FUMIDIL-B, it is very difficult to dissolve. Put your dose of Fumidil-B in a about a cup full of warm (not hot) water and stir strongly, and after all is dissolved, stir this into the 2:1 sugar syrup.

Lastly, a colony can NOT gather any food during the winter. Maybe you removed too much honey for extraction, or maybe the so-called fall nectar flow from goldenrod and aster never materializes, will your bees have at least 70 pounds of capped honey in their colony by November 1st to get through the winter? 70 pounds = about 12 fully capped deep frames, or 18 fully capped medium frames. Feeding for survival in January or February is very difficult, so you better think about feeding in October and November before it gets real cold when the bees can't break cluster to feed.

I am so reminded of the "preaching" of the deceased Dr. Roger Morse, who decreed that each September (not January) was really the First month of a honey bee's NEW year. He pointed out so clearly that if you properly prepare your bees for the coming winter, your reward will be live bees "rearing to go to work in the spring". Although some bees die between now and next spring from the death of a queen, extremely bad weather, or molestation by animals or vandals, the GREAT majority of bee loss is the human failure to properly prepare his bees for winter. It is up to YOU, not the weather, not the location, not the government, and not luck as to whether your bees will be alive next spring, so don't put off until tomorrow what should be done today.