17 May

What if the beekeeper does not have drone comb from the previous year

Even though you do not have two drone comb frames from the previous year, you can still apply this method. Only, the procedure will be different. The first two building frames equipped just with a strip of foundation will be placed in the hive 14 days after the blooming of goat willow. Put both frames right next to the brood nest, each from one side. Insertion will not harm the thermal stability of the colony, as the brood nest will remain whole. In weaker colonies it is also possible to insert just one building frame and add the second one after the first one has been built and brooded. The beekeeper again needs to watch whether the colony is building only drone comb. Any worker bee comb needs to be removed from the building frames.

After the frames have been built and brooded, further procedure is the same as described above. After 20 days the beekeeper moves the brooded drone comb into the lower hive box and inserts two new building frames in its place. When they are built, there is no more need to control the swarming fever. Colonies treated in this way will never swarm.

I would like to emphasize that drone combs are available for repeated brooding by the queen throughout the entire drone rearing season. We never cut the drone comb out because drone rearing is desirable and cutting the drone comb out would be counterproductive.

An important rule in drone rearing is never to place building frames on the periphery of the hive box, next to the hive wall. The reasons are several. If the building frame is inserted as the last one, it will be the least heated comb in the bee hive and will be used to store reserves and as a cover comb. For the drone brood to develop normally, it needs to have optimum temperature. The peripheral areas of the colony’s clustering space are not warm enough in April when the temperature drops, because the bees gather in the center of the brood nest. The drone brood would be cold there. The custom of inserting building frames to the periphery of the bee hive is a bad habit that originated in the times when beekeepers used thermally insulated hives with portholes and wanted to see the building frames. They then cut the drone comb out. If the beekeeper still wants to insert the building frames to the periphery of the brood nest, as he or she is used to, it is necessary to make sure the drone combs are isolated from the hive wall by storage combs. If the building frames (no more than two on each side of the brood nest) are integrated between the brood and the reserves, the colony will not abandon it after brooding when it gets colder.

Another reason is that when applying the strategy of raising equal biomass of fertile males and females, bees have no interest in producing so many drones to prevent swarming. If the drone comb is on the periphery of the colony’s clustering space, the bees will build only a limited amount of it. The rest will be built with worker bee comb. This amount of drone comb will not, however, be sufficient to control swarming.

The primary cause of swarming is therefore eliminated by excessive drone rearing. The drones will absorb all the reproductive energy of the colony and thus save the beekeeper’s time, effort and money, as swarming will not occur. However, this state is achieved no sooner than after building and brooding at least 3 or rather 4 building frames of the size 37×30 cm. The fourth frame is usually not covered with drone comb in full; the rest may be covered with worker bee comb. Bees never build more drone comb than they can raise without problems. For other frame sizes, their total area needs to be calculated and ensured. Insertion of building frames of any size follows the same rules as described above. We always insert no more than two building frames at once and we never put them next to each other. When inserting building frames it is possible to insert foundations as well. However, we never insert the foundations right next to empty building frames. The bees would build on the frames leaving out the foundations. When the building frames are brooded, the neighboring foundations are built very quickly. When establishing such areas of drone comb, the colony must raise enough worker bees to take care of the drones. The basic requirement in these tasks is to maintain thermal stability of the bee hive and to do these interventions during the flow period. When the flow is strong, it is necessary to check whether the bees do not put sweet wart in the drone combs. Such drone combs do not have the swarm control effect; they need to be cut out and built and brooded anew. It is necessary to watch this especially during spurt and strong flow.

I would like to point out that continuous cutting of drone comb is nowadays considered a swarm control by some experts. However, the opposite is true. There is also no need to worry that the queen will lose too much time fertilizing drone combs instead of producing worker bees, which will later be active in honey production. As I have mentioned earlier, it is necessary to raise about 30,000 drones. In the climatic conditions of Central Europe this is done mainly in May and June when the queens give all their effort to egg laying. It is common that the queen lays about 1,500 eggs per day in this period. The queen will lay drone eggs for 20 days a year (30,000 / 1,500 = 20). This, however, does not mean that the non-fertilized (drone) eggs will be laid constantly for 20 days. Drone rearing is continuous throughout May and June, until mid-July, i.e. for about 75 days. Out of this period, worker bee production takes 55 days and drone production takes 20 days. For each day that the queen lays drone eggs, there is 2.75 days when she lays only fertilized eggs from which worker bees will develop. 30 thousand drones, each weighing 0.23 g, amount to the total weight of 6,900 g. Drone development takes 24 days. Its adult life tends to be short; in addition drones drift to the surrounding colonies. In 75 days, 3 generations of drones may emerge. At a certain point, there may be approximately up to 10,000 adult drones in the colony (30,000 / 3 = 10,000). This means that the biomass of the colony may theoretically increase by 2,300 g. In fact, there is about a half less of the drones in the colonies (due to their drifting). It is also necessary to take into account the fact that in July there is no flow and the queen stops fertilizing the drone comb. The worker bees rather try to drive the drones away. In mid-June I detected 1,200 g of drones on average in each of the 10 tested colonies in the morning hours. These drones represent a substantial benefit in terms of their thermoregulatory function in the colony.

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