The methodology that I will describe was created in the conditions of Central Europe. When applying to other regions, it will therefore be necessary to take into account local conditions. To facilitate the development of each beekeeper’s own methodology, I will describe interventions in relation to the generally known plants and their flowers. I will describe its application in a colony wintered in two hive boxes of the size 37x30cm (14.5×11.8 in.). These are higher frames.
The danger of swarming in strong colonies in lowlands starts no sooner than the middle or end of April. That is, after full bloom of apple trees. The earliest swarm we have recorded in experimental colonies in 15 years was on 22 April. The swarming peak occurs between May and June (depending on altitude). That is, in the bloom time of oilseed rape. And it ends in the bloom time of raspberries, in June. After mid-July, swarming is a rare phenomenon. Swarming ceases thanks to the shortening of days, and the stockpiling instinct gradually takes over. I think it is optimal to start rearing the drones as soon as possible.
In North America and Europe goat willow (Salix caprea) or related species are common. These willows are the ideal source of pollen for early brood rearing. During the bloom time of goat willow, colonies cluster in the upper hive box and are easily accessible. They also rear brood here. During the bloom time of goat willow (in my climatic conditions around 15 March) we do not disturb the colonies and let them collect pollen.
A week after full bloom of goat willow (end of March) I take off the hive roof and put two frames of drone comb from the previous year into each colony. I put one of them right in the center of the brood nest and the second one right next to it. By this time the colonies are already strongly brooding and are no longer in winter cluster. Adding the drone combs form the previous year never leads to hypothermia. After this short procedure I shut the hives.
The advantage of adding already finished drone combs is that they can be immediately brooded by the queen. The best time for brooding will be decided by the colony itself. Drone rearing will start as soon as the colony is biologically prepared for it. Usually at the beginning of April, the queens of normally strong colonies will brood the drone comb right after its insertion. Weaker colonies first rear the worker bees and only after growing stronger they engage in drone rearing. Of course, in order to be able to insert the two frames with drone comb after full bloom of the early willows, it is necessary to prepare a room for them in the top hive box in autumn.
After inserting the two drone comb frames, I keep the colonies at rest for 20 days. That is, approximately until 20 April. At this time, fruit trees, especially cherries, are already blooming in lowlands. And apple trees start blooming as well. It is at this time the second intervention needs to be carried out. We remove both sealed frames with the drone comb and move them into the lower hive box. This makes room in the upper hive box for inserting two building frames. By building frames I mean completely empty frames, which are equipped with a narrow strip of foundation of about 3 cm below the upper bar. Its sole purpose is to serve as a foundation for the colony’s construction of comb and to make it straight.
It is necessary that I point out the location of these frames in the bee hive. These building frames must be located in the same place where the frames with drone comb were placed in March. Which means they will also be right in the brood nest. It is important that they are not next to each other; there need to be at least two brood frames between them.
In the bloom time of fruit trees the sexual instinct of the colonies is growing and they have a natural need to build drone comb. Therefore, they immediately use the opportunity and quickly build the drone comb on the building frames. The beekeeper only checks with a short peek whether the colonies are building the drone comb. Weaker colonies may first start building worker bee comb, which is not desirable in building frames. It is because it doesn’t have the swarm control effect. If the bees build worker bee comb, it must be removed and after a week when you insert new building frames, they will surely start building drone comb.
As soon as four drone comb frames are built and brooded, there is no need to look into the brood chamber for the rest of the season. This makes the work of the beekeeper much easier. At the end of the summer, the beekeeper just removes the drone comb and cuts the wax combs out of the two older building frames that were inserted first. The beekeeper keeps the two younger frames with drone comb in order to use them the following year.
Let me remind you that when applying this method you always need to calculate the number of frames you will need in your bee hive. The number of four frames corresponds to the frame size 37x30cm. Therefore, it is important to calculate the number of frames needed, on the basis of the area needed for a sufficient amount of drone comb. Base your calculation on the above-mentioned amount 3,920 cm2 (608 square inch).