25% Drone Comb… Hmm…

Well, I inspected one of my hives today because I was concerned about swarming. I found a few queen cups, but also plenty of empty cells for the queen to keep laying. I don’t think the colony is at risk of swarming. It does, however, seem to be overrun by drones. This frame containing both capped worker brood and drone brood was one of the better looking frames — because it wasn’t filled entirely with drones:

Frame with drone and worker brood. (June 4, 2011).

Can you spot the monster drones?

Here’s a recently added foundationless frame that’s probably on its way to being filled with drones:

I sure hope this foundationless route pays off, because man, I’m guessing at least 1/4 of the frames are full of drone brood in this hive. I know they’re supposed to switch to worker brood or honey stores eventually, but Newfoundland has a very short summer and the clock is ticking. They better get to it soon.

In total I would say there are about five or six frames or worker brood in the entire hive along with some scattered honey and pollen, and not a great deal of either of those either. As discouraging as it is to see a hive overflowing with drones, it does seem like a healthy colony with a good sized population. I didn’t see any eggs, though, so I don’t know. It might be queenless too. I don’t even want to think about that.

Hive after full inspection. (June 4, 2011).

The inspection took longer than it should have and I overstayed our welcome. Anyway, I’ve decided to buy foundation for one of our two nucs this year. I’ve been on board the Backwards Beekeeping> bandwagon from the start, but I want to be a witness to the pros and cons of foundationless as well as conventional beekeeping. So this year one of my hives will be foundationless, and the other will be a conventional hive with foundation. I’ll see how each of them makes out by the end of next summer. Let the games begin!

12 thoughts on “25% Drone Comb… Hmm…

  1. So are the drone cells the puffy caps, and the workers the flat caps, or something?

  2. Are you going to do anything about the queen cells? You could do an artificial swarm. Most artificial swarm techniques require finding the queen (if you still have a queen in there), but a few don’t.

    Bees usually start producing drones six weeks before they start thinking of swarming. A week before they decide to swarm the workers will feed the queen less and start chasing her around to slim her down enough to fly. The lack of food dramatically slows down the queen’s laying rate, so no eggs, combined with a few queen cells, could actually be a sign that they’re going to swarm soon.

    • “Are you going to do anything about the queen cells?”

      Nope, because they’re queen cups, not queen cells yet. And the queen has plenty of room to continue laying. So I think the risk of swarming is minimal. Plus each of my hives has an empty medium foundationless super on top if they want to build more comb. They haven’t shown any interest in doing so yet, but either way, I think they’re okay. They better be.

      During this inspection, I was prepared to pull a frame and put it in a nuc if I found a swarm cell on it. I would have had to pull some brood, honey and pollen too. But I’m glad that didn’t happen.

      I know I’ll have to do it someday, but for my first year of beekeeping, I’m happy to avoid anything like that. I want to keep it as simple as possible.

      “The lack of food dramatically slows down the queen’s laying rate, so no eggs, combined with a few queen cells, could actually be a sign that they’re going to swarm soon.”

      I realize that’s a possibility too (what isn’t a possibility?), so I plan to check the hive for eggs next week if it isn’t raining on the one day I have off. But this is my hopeful interpretation of the situation in Hive #1:

      I was too concerned about swarm cells to look around closely for eggs. I did see some young larvae, though. And spotting eggs on natural white / yellow comb isn’t easy compared to frames with black plastic foundation. So it’s possible there are plenty of eggs, but I just didn’t see them because they’re hard to see and I wasn’t really looking for them. Foundationless colonies, when they first get a chance to build comb, will build lots of drone comb. Which is exactly what happened here. The hive still has some conventional frames with foundation, and those frames have worker brood on them. All the foundationless frames were full of drones or honey a couple weeks ago, but mostly drones. A significant portion of those drones have emerged and they’re eating up all the honey. That explains the lack of honey. I was told the colony will gradually shift to making worker brood once it’s met its quota of drones. And judging from the frame in the first photo, that shift is already beginning to take place. So hopefully that’s it for the drones and now the colony can get on with the business of making workers and honey and all that good stuff. And they better not even think about swarming.

      That’s my hopeful interpretation.

      • Ah sorry, misunderstood you, thought you meant whopping big qcs, not teeny play cups. That’s ok then!

        My local bee inspector carries a magnifying glass with her to help check for eggs, there’s no shame in it. Especially when you live in a cloudy climate. We’re back to non-stop rain here now.

        Since you have so many surplus greedy drones, maybe you could try a bit of drone uncapping to check for varroa?

        • With these natural combs, I realize I need a magnifying glass too.

          We’re back to non-stop fog and drizzle. Plenty of drones seem to die off in this kind of weather. And no need to check for Varroa. We don’t have mites in Newfoundland.

          • Emily, I just noticed that I actually wrote “queen cells,” not queen cups in the post. It’s been corrected.

          • I keep forgetting you don’t have varroa over there! At least that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.

            My winter coat came back out today, so I symathise with the fog.

  3. We have sun and 16°C agani today in Clarenville. The bees are out bustling, collecting that honey adn pollen.

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