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George Imirie's PINK PAGES
November 1995

Very Basic Numbers That You Should Thoroughly Understand In Order To Produce An Extra Large Honey Crop From Each Colony!

The gestation period for a worker bee is 21 days, and this bee does "hive duties" for the first 18 days of its life, not "graduating" to the status of a flight bee (nectar collector) until it is 19 days old. Hence, there is a 40-day minimum period (21 days + 19 days) between the time the queen lays a worker egg and the resulting bee becomes a foraging gatherer of nectar and pollen! NEVER FORGET THOSE 40 DAYS WHEN YOU ARE PLANNING HONEY PRODUCTION!

Let us assume that your MAJOR honey flow was 3 weeks long in the latter part of May, perhaps May 7th to May 28th. You want a huge force of "FLIGHT STATUS" bees ready by May 7th. Back up the calendar 40 days and you arrive at March 28th, which is the last day an egg can be laid for a bee to be ready for nectar collecting on May 7th. (Now follow me carefully because it gets more interesting.) Let's hope that you have a nice young queen that can easily lay 1,500 eggs per day, so in one "brood cycle" (21 days) she lays about 31,000 eggs. If we start calculating from MARCH 1ST to MARCH 28TH, she lays about 42,000 eggs, which is a right "husky" group of bees (about 12 pounds of bees or four 3-pound packages).

How do we get the queen to start laying 1,500 eggs per day in cold weather, March 1st? If you had followed my instructions about fall treatment (remember last September, the first month of the beekeeper's New Year), you would not ask. Hopefully, your bees have survived the winter in great shape, plenty of food, mite-free or almost free, and lots of new bees already because the new young Carniolan queen started laying about Christmas or New Year's, so we have A LOT OF YOUNG NURSE BEES TO FEED BROOD AND WARM BROOD. Since the queen is laying about 31,000 every 21 days (brood cycle), figuring she lays about 5,000 eggs in each deep frame, there has to be enough young nurse bees on teh scene to cover (cluster) and warm 6 deep frames (about 30,000 eggs). (BUT GEORGE, WHAT MAKES THE QUEEN START LAYING 1,500 EGGS/DAY?) I have told you over and over that 1:1 sugar syrup is an artificial nectar, and a nectar flow stimulates egg-laying! 1:1 sugar syrup is 1 pound of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water. Regardless of the outside temperature (even snow on the hives), start CONSTANT feeding of 1:1 on March 1st and continue it until April 1st, and never let the feeder go dry!

Now hear this! I am not going to let a damn little Varroa mite destroy my plans and my bees. Hence, on March 1st (when I start feeding 1:1 syrup), I will put 4 strips (2 in each box) of Apistan in each colony and REMOVE THEM FOR SURE when I add supers on April 15th (income tax day) or SPLIT COLONIES on that day.

I split colonies to prevent swarming and to increase the number of colonies or sell nucs. If you want to know how to split a colony AND STILL GET A HONEY YIELD, turn the page and learn some more FREE OF CHARGE.

Splitting: For colony increase or swarm prevention, or both!

Because I live in central Maryland and my bees are in that area, the dates and figures used are for this area (not suitable for the likes of Alabama or New York unless you change the dates).

I like to split a colony just before they get any swarming notions, which for my bees (all mite-free and strong from 6 weeks of sugar syrup stimulation) is about April 10th. Why do I split 20 or 30 hives when I don't want to increase my number of colonies? That is simple: To make a lot of honey per colony and mainly to prevent swarming. Then after the main nectar flow is over, about June 10th, I remove all honey and recombine two colonies into one, killing off the older queen. On the other hand, let us suppose I have 50 good colonies but keep running out of salable honey, so I want to increase my apiary to 60 colonies. Then I do not unite the best 10 splits.

You must understand that all of my colonies have been prepared as described so they are good strong colonies, "bursting with bees, a young queen, mite-free, and lots of stores" in early April. IF YOUR BEES ARE NOT REAL STRONG AND HEALTHY, FORGET SPLITTING BECAUSE YOU ARE JUST CHANGING YOUR ONE PROBLEM INTO TWO WORSE PROBLEMS!

Arrange with your queen breeder (back in December) to have your new queen delivered to you on April 15th. Upon receiving her, water her, put her in a cool (60°) dark place until the next day. Of course, you should already have your new hive fully ready to go, hopefully with 10 frames of DRAWN comb (you can substitute foundation but it stresses the bees). Open the parent hive, locate the old queen, and remove that frame with her on it and hide it in some empty hive box, so you can't misplace her. Now, find 3 frames well-filled with brood (1 frame primarily capped brood and the other 2 primarily with eggs and larvae) and transfer them with lots of adhering nurse bees into the center of the new hive, put an empty frame on either side of these 3 frames (new queen laying space), and transfer 2 FULL frames of honey and pollen from the parent colony, putting them next to the 2 empty frames. Now you have transferred a total of 5 frames (3 brood + 2 honey) to the new hive. Add 2 more empty frames to the hive, making a total of 9 frames (5 transfers + 2 empty), shake some of the bees off the remaining frames of the old hive onto the 9 frames in the new hive, and close up the new hive with a restricted entrance and add a 1:1 feeder jug over the inner cover hole. You will put the new queen in that hive the next day when things have calmed down and the shaken flight bees have returned to the parent hive. Concerning the still open parent hive from which you have removed 3 brood frames and 2 honey frames (and the frame with the old queen on it is hidden in a box). Move those 4 remaining frames together in the center of the parent box, add the frame with the old queen, and finally add 5 frames of empty drawn comb on the outside of those occupied 5 frames in the center. Close up, and the split is made, and you are done! Add supers to the parent hive for honey production, keep 1:1 feed on the new split for at least 3 weeks, add a 2nd deep hive body with preferably drawn comb (foundation is OK, but slower) about 1 week after you made the split (about April 23rd in my example here). With drawn comb and some luck, your new split might even make honey!

Steak or Sizzle? Honey or Nectar of the Gods?

Many of you have suffered through my long-winded messages about the sale of honey or the "gift" of your honey; and its importance indicates that it needs repetition.

Although I produce several thousand pounds of honey each year, I have NEVER "sold a jar of honey" in my life! Giant and Safeway have a lot more honey for sale than I do, and their price is a LOT CHEAPER than my sale price. However, they don't have COMB HONEY, CREAMED HONEY, CHUNK HONEY, FANCY HEXAGONAL GIFT JARS, GIFT BOXES OF HONEY, HONEY COOKBOOKS, and no store clerk can tell them a single factual piece of information, e.g., how do the bees make honey, why does honey turn to sugar, doesn't honey darken with age, etc.

I'll let the grocery stores sell their HEATED CHINESE honey for their cheap prices, and it does not affect my sales one iota! My customers don't buy "honey" from me, but rather they buy ME, MY EXPERTISE, MY ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS, MY UNUSUAL PRODUCTS OF THE HIVE, and MY APIAN KNOWLEDGE! Hence, my honey sells for $4 to $5 per pound depending on the item. This is no different than eating a juicy $30 filet mignon at a fancy French restaurant which has 3-foot-long pepper grinders for "peppering" your salad as compared to purchasing an equal filet mignon at the counter stool of the local Tastee Diner for $12 and you pepper your own salad from the counter pepper shaker. I sell 6 ounces of honey (3/8 pound) packaged in a shaker top mug for $2.00, which equals $5.33 per pound, or a "sampler" gift package of 1 mug of water white honey (clover or locust), 1 mug of amber honey (wildflower or alfalfa), and 1 mug of dark honey (tulip poplar) all packaged in a wooden crate with honey recipes for $6.00 (and only 18 ounces of honey, 1 pound, 2 oz.)!

Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are CANDLE season. My 10-inch long candles made of just 6 ounces of pure beeswax sell for $8.00 per pair, which equals $21.33 per pound of wax! The fancy candle box and tissue paper costs about 60¢. Ann and I get tired of making these because our sales are so good. Have you seen Ann's fancy floating beeswax ROSE candle? They are beautiful, weigh less than 3 ounces each, sell for $4.00, which is $21.28 per pound.

Provide older people with some nostalgia of their youth when most honey sold was COMB honey, not bottled honey. Learn the tricks of making fancy comb honey, select and package only your premium-looking, and sell the average 12-ounce square for $4, which is $5.33 per pound.

A honey bear "dressed" with a fancy tie as a Father's Day Gift will command up to $4 each! Does the tie make the honey taste any better? When that buyer sees your creative idea and thought for providing "added value" for a gift, that honey really tastes MUCH BETTER!

Speaking of "gifts," most hobbyist beekeepers do not sell their honey but give it to neighbors, office friends, family members, etc. If you are a gardener, surely you do not give overripe fruit, damaged tomatoes, or "thirsty" flowers to these neighbors and friends; because you are proud of your gardening skills and want to show others your ability. Likewise, there is nothing that I have said about SELLING honey that does not equally apply to presenting YOUR HONEY to these friends and neighbors. It is not SINFUL to be PROUD; and beautiful honey and other hive products are something to be proud of. After all, YOU are about the same as the fancy 3-foot-long pepper grinder!

And for those people who "package" their honey in an old peanut butter jar or pickle jar or mayonnaise jar, surely you must be the type of person to wear a torn dirty T-shirt to a Presidential dinner at the White House. You are simply demonstrating your lack of respect for the gift from the bloom of nature's flowers treasured by people for eons for its purity and the sense that man has had nothing to do with its production, but rather, honey is a gift to us from God through just one of his myriad of creations, apis mellifera, our honey bee.

Adequate Winter Stores?

I am constantly asked HOW MUCH is "adequate" stores to get the bees through the winter until the dandelions bloom. Others ask "How do you measure stores?" Others ask the importance of pollen, is sugar as good as honey, and "How do you feed them?" Previous "PINK PAGES" have covered much of this subject, but this writing will describe: HOW MUCH and HOW TO MEASURE.

In our area (not Alabama or Maine), a colony should have at least 70 pounds of honey for winter stores. Most colonies winter in two deep hive bodies, each containing 10 brood frames. One deep frame (9" deep) filled with capped honey holds about 6 - 7 pounds of honey depending on thickness (width) of the wax. Hence, a colony of two deep boxes must have about 11 or 12 FULL FRAMES OF HONEY to be adequate winter stores. Obviously, if you are wintering in Illinois boxes or shallow frame boxes (poor choice), figure that a FULL Illinois (6 5/8") frame holds about 4 or 4+ pounds of honey, so you would need about 16-17 full Illinois frames, or a shallow (5 3/4") frame holds about 3 or 3+ pounds of honey, so you would need 23-25 full shallow frames.

Some "talented" or very experienced people can LIFT THE BACK OF THE HIVE and get a right good message about the amount of stores in their colony. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE FAIL IN WEIGHT ESTIMATION. The TOTAL weight of a complete two-story deep colony filled with adequate stores, wax, bees, pollen, top, bottom board, etc. is 120-130 pounds of which about 70 pounds is honey.

Here it is now November, and my colony is light (surely, not 70 pounds of honey in it). What do I do? FEED, FEED, FEED, and the sooner the better. WHAT FEED? 2:1 sugar syrup. WHAT IS 2:1 syrup? Dissolve 5 pounds of plain sugar in just 2-1/2 pints of BOILING water, or 10 pounds of sugar in 5 pints of BOILING water. The sugar will NOT dissolve in the hot water that comes from your hot water tank (usually about 160-170°). You have to stir the sugar into BOILING WATER to get complete dissolving. If the sugar is not completely dissolved, the particles of undissolved sugar will clog up the tiny holes in the feeder jar cap so the bees cannot get any syrup out of the bottle. LET THAT SYRUP COOL BEFORE YOU PUT IT ON THE BEES!

When to order New Bees or Queens

Many of you know that in bygone years I owned a multi-store million-dollar business; and that explains why I think and act kind of "hard-nosed" sometimes like many people apparently think is the norm for businessmen. You be your own judge. Suit yourself, but I am going to explain "HOW, WHO, and WHEN a businessman FILLS AN ORDER," and frankly, I do not believe that most beekeepers (few are business-oriented) understand the problems.

ALL package bee producers, "nuc" producers, and queen breeders plan ahead about a year based on the success or failure of the year just past, the number of active hives they have, employee availability, the space available for out-apiaries, their disease problems (if any), the financial position, and their desire to expand, remain static, or slow down. All of these aforementioned factors can be controlled or planned by the businessman, but there is no way that he can control or plan his program in regard to an UNUSUAL fall and winter season. He could experience long periods of extended or heavy moisture (rain or even snow), bitter cold, alternating hot and cold spells, a late spring, etc. etc. (AND YOU WANT TO BE A BUSINESSMAN, HA. HA.) So much for the variations that might befall the businessman; so now let us mention YOU.

Unfortunately, you probably do NOT plan ahead, and therein lie many of your gripes and groans about that D--N breeder. This is November, and you know (I hope) the condition of your bees. Are you going to INCREASE your colonies next year? By splitting present hives, buying nucs, buying packages, or how? Are you going to requeen in April? Are you going to try some Carniolans or maybe Buckfast? WHO are you going to buy from? WHAT DATE do you want delivery - THIS IS THE IMPORTANT THING!

Let's face it - EVERYBODY wants their new bees, nucs, or queens to arrive on the same date, APRIL 15th, if they live in central Maryland. If the breeder is LUCKY, his southern customers ask for delivery in March and his northern customers in May. However, a good businessman is going to ship first to those customers who planned ahead and ordered back in November, December, or January; and who paid in advance. Further, this breeder is human, and hence, he is much more disposed to helping a NICE guy than he is to aiding a loud-mouth BIGSHOT who called late and expects delivery the next day or he will write nasty letters to The Federation and the newspapers or his congressman. (Me - independent George, I'd quickly tell that demanding person that I have the right to pick my own customers and "You ain't one of them, and I don't want you!")

The relationship between you and a bee supplier should be one of mutual trust and respect for each other. This also means that you should TREAT HIM exactly the same way that you want to be TREATED. Understand his problems IN ADVANCE (NOW) and PLAN AHEAD with money up front NOW (before January 1st)! Let's assume that you do exactly that, and now it is April 6th and you are checking the condition of your bees and by accident, you crush a queen. Guess what will happen when the breeder answers your plaintive telephone call? Shucks, you will have a replacement queen in the next day's special mail and "Pay for it later." That is the kind of teamwork a beekeeper and breeder should have! If you don't, I'll bet the problem has been YOU, not the breeder, because I have dealt with many and 90% of them are top-drawer people. (Hey, I heard that whisper: "They have to be top-drawer to put up with George's special needs and demands"). That is why I don't pay any attention to PRICE; but rather I can ask for special things because I only buy QUALITY PRODUCTS from QUALITY PEOPLE, and I help them by PLANNING AHEAD!

I am finished above, but there is some paper left so I am going to write some things that I should not - kinda like the old adage: Never talk about politics or religion, but most of us do sometimes anyhow. I have been a beekeeper for over 60 years now, requeening most of that time EVERY year. I have bought a LOT of packages, nucs, and particularly queens; and have run scientific testing for Maryland performance on Buckfast, Caucasian, Carniolan, Double Italian, Midnight, and Starfire (seven different races or stocks). Obviously, I have bought from a lot of breeders over the years. Many of you want to ask me "who is the best?" Well, I am going to stick my neck out and tell you my opinion (I am entitled to my own opinion even if you don't like it). IF you are a highly knowledgeable beekeeper (I mean just that!) the Carniolan bee is far and away the best bee for Maryland because of our very early, very short nectar flow. My second choice would be the Buckfast, but they are a little feisty and temperamental; and my third choice would be "selected" Italians (not just any old Italian). Forget all the others as just not right for numerous reasons with the possible exception of the Midnite, which is a nice Carniolan Hybrid (with the natural problems of hybridization). Now to "pull out all the stops" and name some breeders that I think are head and shoulders above all others (I am entitled to my opinion). Susan Cobey will probably be known as one of the truly great breeder scientists of this century, and her NEW WORLD stock of Carniolan bees has never had an equal (I got my first Carnies from Steve Taber back in 1949, followed by many stocks like Hastings, Al Dietz's, etc). Unfortunately, Sue had to give up private research and business to maintain financial security, but she passed her progeny, by artificial insemination, on to certain selected breeders, and Pat Heitkam is "my kind of breeder" (even though the California weather gave him some mating problems this year). Buckfast, up until this year, were only available from just ONE source, Weaver Brothers. However, the brothers separated this year, and my choice would be Binford Weaver with his son Danny, t/a B. Weaver and Son. And everyone wants Italians. There are good Italians and there are some bad (Mafia-type) Italians, and some reliable breeders and some not so good. Even though I prefer Carniolans and Buckfast, I use some Italians, but they have to be SELECT high-quality Italians to make me happy. I have always found Reg Wilbanks a very special, honorable, knowledgeable person, and maybe his Italian bees are certainly his equal or even better. Wilbanks Italians are true Southern Belles, whereas Reg is a real Georgia Gentleman. Lastly, I better know Fred Rossman for his sincerity, his fine beekeeping equipment, his reputation, his recent nomination to the National Honey Board, and Fred is sort of my type too. How can a person with all those wonderful qualities fail to have high-quality bees? I know that Rossman's bees are just like Fred - exceptional! There, I've done it! Sue me.