These past 15 years, beginning with the entrance of the Tracheal Mite in 1984,
the appearance of the Varroa Mite in 1987, and the killing of bees by the viruses
as a result of PMS (parasitic mite syndrome), has totally altered most of the
beekeeping techniques that had been in use since the beginning of the century.
The infestation of bee colonies by BOTH mites spread across the 48 continental
states with the speed of a wind blown prairie fire, so that in a few years,
there hardly was a county in the country that was free of mites. Many commercial
beekeepers lost 50-75% of their colonies almost overnight, and many hobbyists
lost 100% and gave up beekeeping. Beekeepers sought help from their bee inspectors,
their extension agents, professional apiculturists, and university beekeeping
departments to find some pesticide (miticide) to kill or at least control these
Of course, many beekeepers tried every known (or even unknown) homeopathic
treatment, garden "bug" or insect spray, and even very dangerous drugs or chemicals
to kill the mites; and all of this had the same net result: either the unauthorized
use of these drugs killed the bees, or the drugs did not kill the mites so the
bees died. In desperation, beekeepers as well as the inspectors, extension agents,
and professional apiculturists appealed to the government for help from the
scientists in the 6 honey bee labs in various parts of the country.
These scientists set aside their normal work, researched all known information
about the mites, tested many chemicals, researched their effect on the bees,
the honey, the safety of use for the beekeeper, the availability, the method
of application and the cost. Of course, under our protective systems in the
U. S., any chemical or drug found useful as a miticide must be approved by both
the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protective Agency
(EPA); and past history has proven that both these agencies work VERY SLOWLY.
Hence, during these exasperating 15 years, only TWO chemicals have been approved
as miticides that can be used inside a colony of bees: MENTHOL for the Tracheal
Mite and Apistan (fluvalinate) for the Varroa Mite; and neither of these can
be used during a nectar flow for fear of contamination of the honey. NO BEEKEEPER
wants to put any drug, chemical, or unnatural material in a bee hive in fear
of destroying the most important asset of honey: Nature's purity, or it Naturalness.
Every beekeeper has hoped for a strain of bees that was resistant to mites,
and much scientific research is being done on that, starting with the ARS-Y-C-1
Carniolan Hybrid, and now the new Russian bees; but, to date, no proof has been
Even more research is being pursued regarding the selection of "natural hygienic"
bees, and to date, it looks promising. However, even if any of these thoughts
prove successful, it will be years before the "pipe lines of supply" could ever
reach down to every beekeeper with two colonies in his backyard. If I make anyone
mad here, so be it. If the shoe fits, you wear it!
Many of us remember DDT, and it was withdrawn from the market place. It had
become so OVER used, that flies and some other insects had become resistant
to it and they "could eat DDT for breakfast without harm". Unfortunately, the
same thing has begun to happen to Apistan, and mites have became resistant to
it. Researchers, bee scientists, the Apistan written label, bee inspectors,
Bee Culture, American Bee Journal and my PINK PAGES have written in great detail
that the OVER use of Apistan, particularly leaving the strips in a hive too
long, using them too often, or using too many strips/colony will result in mites
that become resistant to Apistan.
Yet every inspector is fully aware that some beekeepers have kept Apistan strips
in a hive for 6 or 8 months, and some even leaving them in place during a nectar
flow. These so called "beekeepers" obviously don't care about their bees, their
honey, purchasers of their honey, other people's bees, or the LAW.
I guess these people also drive 80 mph on I-270 or I-495 around Washington
DC where the speed limit is only 55, because they think only of themselves,
disregarding all others and the law. Well, the government has just approved
for use in the year 2000 TWO new miticides: CheckMite (cournaphos) for Varroa
mites and Apicure (formic acid gel) for BOTH Varroa mites and Tracheal mites!
CheckMite was originally designed to kill the small hive beetle found in Florida,
Georgia, and South Carolina just 18 months ago; and then CheckMite was found
a very effective killer of the Varroa Mite. The government issued temporary
Section 18 Emergency Permit use for CheckMite to those states having Varroa
mites resistant to Apistan, and these permits will have to be re-issued each
Perhaps the reason for this caution is the fact that CheckMite is coumaphos,
which is a dangerous organo-phosphate that requires very delicate human handling
WITH GLOVES; and, maybe more important, if it were found in honey, that might
open "pandora's box" to inspection of honey by the FDA or EPA before you could
sell it, or even give it away.
Personally, knowing how beekeepers have violated the law and the label instructions
in the use of Apistan strips, I am sorry that CheckMite strips ever received
approval for any purpose other than small beetle control. The only supplier
of CheckMite is Mann Lake Ltd. The owners of Mann Lake, Betty and Jack Thomas,
are absolutely wonderful people and work hard to aid our industry, but unfortunately
they cannot control the lack of care of some beekeepers. Apicure is 65% formic
acid in a gel form packed in a pouch made of three layers of a special anti-
This pouch is laid on the top bars of the brood chamber, slit open with a knife,
and the gel gradually releases formic acid fumes over a three or four week period.
Formic Acid, already a natural constituent of honey, was exempt from tolerance
level studies by the EPA. One pouch costs $2.50 and can be placed in the brood
chamber in March, left for 3 weeks, and removed by about April 15th which should
be ahead of our main nectar flow in May.
Because the Varroa mite is raised and feeds off a honey bee larva and pupa
prior to the emergence of an adult bee, the most effective time to kill varroa
mites is the period of little or no brood. Hence, the best time to use any miticide
is in the fall after supers are removed. A treatment in October plus another
treatment in March should be excellent control of BOTH the tracheal and Varroa
mites. Formic acid in its liquid form has been used quite successfully in Europe
for over 20 years and no resistance has developed yet.
However, the EPA refused to allow the use of liquid formic acid in fear of
hazard to the beekeeper. Hence, it was our own Beltsville Maryland Bee Laboratory
personnel, Doctors Jan Kochansky, Hachiro Shimanuki, Mark Feldlaufer, and Jeff
Pettis who did the research and developed the gel pack. It was tested in Mexico
by Dr. Frank Eischen of the Weslaco Bee Lab in Texas.
By the way, it is my pleasure and good fortune to serve with Drs. Shimanuki,
Feldlaufer, Pettis, and Eischen on the Research Committee of the American Beekeeping
Federation. Apicure, although "pushed" and created by Bob Stevens of BetterBee
of Greenwich, N. Y., will be available from several different bee supply houses
like Brushy Mountain Bee Farm; and initial supplies are expected in the next
month or so. I have already ordered some for my bees as well as our MCBA apiary
bees, and will notify you upon receipt so that you can help me install the gel
The chances that the mites in your colonies being resistant to Apistan are
not very high, but there is no sense of waiting until the mites become resistant
and kill your bees. Hence, now that we have more than one product approved by
the government as a miticide, it is high time to began a miticide alternating
program of using one chemical this year and another chemical next year. By doing
this, we might never have resistant mites and our bees will stay alive until
the bee researchers finally find a strain of honey bee that is mite resistant
or a hygienic stock of each race that is mite resistant.
For those of you that have an interest in "hygienic bee stock", as I do, Pat
Heitkam of Heitkams Honey Bees has heavily participated in the research of Dr.
Maria Spivac of The University of Minnesota's study of how "hygienic bees" resist
the pathogens related to American Foul Brood. The famous Dr. W. C. Rothenbuhler
of Ohio State and the famous Steve Taber became highly interested in the study
of "hygienic bees" over 40 years ago, in the 50's, but then, there was no money
available or enough interest to pursue further investigation.
Could it be that finding a solution for the mite problems as well as the new
resistant strain of AFB has re-opened the door to the increased study of "hygienic
bees" being naturally resistant to certain diseases? If these studies produce
findings that certain stocks of "hygienic" bees resist mites and/or AFB, we
may want to award a Gold Star to the mites for pointing the path to our scientists
as well as making better beekeepers out of so many previous beeHAVERS.
Let each of us never forget to thank these dedicated underpaid bee scientists
for their work in helping the beekeeper. I strongly recommend that each of you
consider a plan for the treatment of your colonies for both tracheal and Varroa
mites in this year of 2000.
I intend to seal my supply of new Apistan strips in a jar and place it in my
freezer until probably the fall of 2001. I will use the Apicure Gel pack this
spring and fall and again in the spring of 2001 followed by Apistan in the fall
of 2001. Because of the possibility of honey adulteration by cournaphos as well
as the possibility of losing the Section 18 Permit for use, I do not plan to
use any CheckMite strips.
You will be wise to plan AHEAD!
Which is the BEST Size Hive?
For most of the past century, the most popular size box was 9 5/8" deep and
commonly referred to as a "deep". Filled with 10 frames of wax, it weighs about
20 pounds, but about 90 pounds when filled with honey. This was pretty heavy
for many people, so near the beginning of the 20 century, the Dadant company
in Illinois started making the 6 5/8" medium size box, commonly referred to
as an "Illinois", or a "Westerlie" on the West Coast. Filled with 10 frames
of wax, it weighs about 14 pounds, and about 55 pounds when filled with honey.
Lastly, there was the 5 11/16" box, commonly called a "shallow". Filled with
10 frames of wax, it weighs about 12 pounds, and about 45 pounds when filled
Maybe WEIGHT is very important to you, particularly when it is up high and
filled with lots of live bees. Of MUCH GREATER importance is the fact that the
frames in each box are NOT interchangeable with the frames in either of the
other sizes. 'Hence, you can't move a deep frame from the brood chamber into
a Illinois honey super or a Shallow honey super; or vice-versa.
Is it a scientific fact that a deep box is the size selected by bees and the
queen for use as a brood area; or equally that foraging bees selectively prefer
a shallow or Illinois size box? Of course NOT! Back in the days of skeps (before
Langstroth built the first removable frame hive), the central wax combs of of
the skep contained brood while those combs containing honey were the smaller
outer combs. Hence, the deep box was thought to be the volume size (1.4 cubic
feet) of most brood areas, and the average size wax honey comb were smaller
pieces about 4" x 4".
The original honey super (before extractors were built) was just 4 3/4" deep
and held 28 4"x4" basswood sections for comb honey. Upon the creation of the
extractor, the 5 11/16" shallow box holding ten 5 3/8' frames was created. These
two sizes, the 9 5/8" deep and 5 11/16" shallow were the accepted standards
for years, based on the single criteria of "that is what Daddy used".
Almost 20 years ago (when heavy weight was NOT important), I discontinued using
any deep bodies or shallow bodies, and started using just ONE SIZE box, the
6 5/8" Illinois, for brood area and honey supers! I did this for ONE SINGULAR
REASON: To have just one size frame that was interchangeable in any area, brood
area or honey area. Not having to be concerned about having a frame to fit saved
me many a mad day.
The comb space provided by 3 Illinois bodies of 30 frames is almost exactly
the same amount of comb space provided by 2 deep bodies with 20 frames. Hence
I use 3 Illinois boxes as brood chambers in place of 2 deep boxes. In the Illinois
size frame of 6 1/4" I make cut-comb honey, extracted honey, and even 4" x 4"
basswood section honey ( to recall my start in 1933).
I wish I had been smart enough to begin beekeeping in 1933 using only Illinois
boxes and just one size frame instead of "battling" with different frame sizes
for almost 50 years. Now, at my advanced age and stroke disablement, I defininately
appreciate the smaller weight of the Illinois as compared to the deep. incidentally,
the shallow is slowly being discontinued by many equipment makers because of
diminishing sales, and the fact that more and more beekeepers are adopting my
program of "ALL- ILLINOIS".
Maybe it would be wise for you to consider. Ask Ernie Miner about his position.
He has told me that if he were not in the bee equipment business, he would do
exactly what I have done: Have just one size frame, a universal frame, by using
"ALL-ILLINOIS". Ask him.
Wax or Plastic Foundation?
At the recent American Beekeeping Federation meeting in Fort Worth whose audience
was largely commercial beekeepers, one of the principal speakers asked for a
show of hands of those who had switched to plastic foundation versus those who
still continue to use wax foundation. I think that everyone in the room (about
200) was surprised when the vote revealed that about 50% are now using plastic
foundation. The results initiated a discussion about using plastic frames of
plastic comb; and very few were satisfied with these frames because of expense
and lack of strength.
I switched my entire brood foundation and extracted honey foundation to Dadant's
Plasticel Foundation almost 20 years ago, and I strongly wish I could have done
it 68 years ago! No wiring of the frame; just snap it in place; it will not
sag or bend, you almost can NOT break it even with force, and if you desire
to destroy some comb on it, for example drone comb, just scrape it off with
a hive tool and give back to the bees who will rebuild it with beautiful worker
comb. Plasticell is a Dadant product and not available from other equipment
makers. Ask Ernie about Plasticell he thinks it is wonderful too.
INSPECT YOUR BEES WHEN THERE IS SNOW
How do you know your bees are alive? Do they have enough food? Is the queen
laying brood? Will there be enough foraging age bees present in the May nectar
flow? Will there be enough nurse bees present in late March and early April
to feed all these future forager bees?
"But George, it is SUPER BOWL Sunday and it snowing hard outside on top of
the 8" we got on Tuesday! How can I inspect bees when it is freezing and
there is 10" of snow on top of the telescoping cover of the hive?"
Are you one of those beeHAVERS that don't know that most Northern hobbyists
and even some commercial beekeepers keep their bees outside just like yours
in the cold and snowy Montana, Minnesota, Maine, CANADA, and even ALASKA?
They might have snow on top of their hives continuously and below freezing
for several months, rather then just a few days! Just being COLD, even at 20
or 30 BELOW zero does NOT kill bees, and they can even raise the cluster temperature
to 95 degrees so the queen starts laying eggs in these cold outside temperatures!
They don't need a furnace like your house to warm the whole hive. They just
need FOOD that they can get to, and they will make their own warmth after eating;
and after warming the bee cluster, they will feed the queen and prepare cells
for the queen to lay brood.
All you have to do is make sure that they are NOT low on food supplies, and
this is easy! Surely, NOT for a beginner or novice, but veteran beekeepers can
get a fair estimate of food supplies by "hefting" a hive to see about how heavy
Then, brush the snow off the top and remove it, and look into the inner cover
hole. If the bees are right up in inner cover hole, start to worry, because
this might indicate that they are VERY short on food supplies and need immediate
help. If it is snowing, windy and cold, you should not remove the inner cover
and check any further.
Just quickly prepare a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup in a jar and invert it over
the inner cover hole, so the bees can get a very quick feed. During the next
15 days, one of those days might get to 50 degrees in the sunny afternoon, take
from work, and inspect your bees. That would be a good time to move outer frames
of honey over to the center frames position so the bees again have plenty of
food ABOVE them. It is also a good time to REVERSE your brood chambers (see
George's PINK PAGES about reversing).
I want you to think strongly about some things that I continually mention:
You can NOT tell if your bees are alive by looking at the bees flying in and
out on a warm day, because your bees may be DEAD and the bees you see are robber
bees robbing out the honey in the colony. You MUST go INSIDE your colony to
inspect it! Remember that your colony can NOT make a good honey crop unless
it has a lot of foraging age bees ready to go out and forage when the nectar
flow is in progress; and that means the egg that produces this forager must
have been laid by the queen 40 days before it can -go foraging!
Also, remember that there must be a lot of NURSE bees present to WARM the colony
and to feed the brood that will later become forager bees; and hence feeding
1:1 sugar syrup back in February and March to stimulate queen laying may be
desirable. INSPECT YOUR BEES IN FEBRUARY! Good Luck! George W. Imirie, Certified