With drone comb
The bees are giving YOU the Beek the resource to kill off mites
TommyT, Thanks for the reply, Ok, so please continue to bear with my ignorance... I should remove the drone comb? how exactly should I "use it" as you state. Once drone comb is built and used to create the drones the bees feel they need, won't they just rebuild the comb to meet their need for workers and honey storage, or will it forever stay drone comb and only used for drone production? If the latter is the case and I take the drone comb out, won't the bees just build more as they feel they need more drones? This seems kind of counterproductive to me........
There are a couple "tricks" you need to know about foundationless frame uses. First, the bees may or may not use it well, this appears to be genetic and if you get bees that don't want to put the comb in the frames properly, they won't. They will also probably give you fits with foundation as well, some bees just want to do things their way. You may have to do quite a bit of cutting out and rubber banding to get the comb where you want it. Typically once you get them going correctly in a frame, they will use it, but occasionally not. If you are hiving a swarm or a package instead of a split, I strongly recommend at least one frame with foundation in the center of the brood nest to get them started off properly. Two is better, I think, but at least one. That way you have one decent brood comb anyway.
Second, you MUST have your hive dead level side to side. Bees make foundationless comb by frestooning (hanging from the top bar in a chain) and if the hive isn't dead level, the comb won't be built in line with the frames, it will be built perpendicular to the the surface of the earth as the bees hang. Worse case you get comb that starts on a top bar of one frame and is tied to the bottom bar of the next frame, very hard to work with!
You need to provide a distinct and unequivocable guide for them to start from. A wedge type frame with the wedge nailed in sticking down works quite well. The Kelley Foundationless frame did not work as nicely for a friend of mine, his bees insisted on starting on the outside corners instead of the fairly blunt guide in the center. Of course, these were the bees that started out building the comb at a 45 degree angle across the frames, too (see note 1 above).
To get brood comb, you need to insert an empty frame between frames of drawn brood. That way the bees will make more brood comb as it's in the brood nest. If you put the empty frame outside the brood nest, they will make storage comb or drone comb until they have at least a couple frames somewhere around 2/3 full of drone comb. They keep that amount of drone comb around if left to their own devices, but only make drones in the spring and occasionally over the summer, using that comb for honey or pollen the rest of the time.
If you leave the drone comb where they make it, the bees may restrict the size of the brood nest. I believe they usually make the entire comb in a wild nest from a single start -- that is, they will start all the combs at the same time unless the cavity is quite large, and build down instead of sideways. Part of beekeeping is re-configuring the hive to get a bigger brood nest and more honey storage than the bees would make on their own.
Last, and probably most important, bees will NOT draw comb in a dearth. You really need to keep ahead of them in the spring if you are going foundationless, and keep them drawing comb properly early in the year. Later in the year, especially when there is a dearth, they will NOT finish foundationless comb and will build out adjacent comb much fatter than normal instead, so it you have a partially drawn frame between drawn storage frames, they will make the storage frames very fat, protruding into the empty space in the foundationless frame. Makes it hard to get them out, and they sometimes even bridge the two combs together. Not hard to fix, just cut off the excess comb and put those frames back between capped ones, but it's messy and fairly easy to avoid. I have a couple in each hive that need fixing this week when I start spring maintenance.
Foundationless works just fine -- prior to the development of rolled foundation, everyone used "foundationless" beekeeping! It is more work, but it can be done easily enough.
Peter, First I want to thank you for the detailed response. For a new beekeep like myself this is extremely helpful!
I am starting with nucs so I will have some established frames to use as guides. I will place the new foundationless frames between two established frames to help the bees get going in the correct direction. I have leveled the hives side to side with a very slight slope back to front to allow any water to drain.
I have already purchased and assembled the Kelley foundationless frames so that is what I will try to work with.
"If you leave the drone comb where they make it, the bees may restrict the size of the brood nest. I believe they usually make the entire comb in a wild nest from a single start -- that is, they will start all"
So as I checkerboard the brood frames up to encourage the queen to lay brood in the next box, should I also move the drone comb up and towards the outside of the brood? I would rather relocate the drone comb than destroy it.... maybe I'm just being naïve.
"Last, and probably most important, bees will NOT draw comb in a dearth. You really need to keep ahead of them in the spring if you are going foundationless, and keep them drawing comb properly early in the year. Later in the year, especially when there is a dearth, they will NOT finish foundationless comb and will build out adjacent comb much fatter than normal instead, so it you have a partially drawn frame between drawn storage frames, they will make the storage frames very fat, protruding into the empty space in the foundationless frame."
Very interesting... makes sense but I'm not sure any other way to approach this other than cutting the excess comb. I plan on trying follower boards to keep the open space within the box to a minimum, but this won't help with the situation of a partially drawn frame between two drawn frames as you stated above. In a dearth I plan on feeding with sugar water, I want to keep this at a minimum, but will the bees draw comb to new frames if they are being fed?
I'm very excited to get started, and there is so much to learn!!!
my experience with foundationless frames that i tried for the first time last year on about a dozen hives is that frames that were introduced early in the spring were drawn out nearly 100% drone comb, while frames that were added a little later in the spring were drawn out with cells of all sizes (smaller in the center of the brood nest and larger around the edges).
beekeeping since june 2010, +/- 20 hives, tf
Heff, the concept behind managing the drone comb referred to above is to let the bees make drone brood, and give the varroa a preferred place to lay their eggs. Then you would remove the drone comb, freeze it for a few days, killing both the drone brood and varroa eggs. The comb would then be defrosted and returned to the hive, the bees clean it up, make more drones, and the cycle continued.
The idea is that the drones are not needed, and the varroa reproduction cycle is interrupted. Note that I am not endorsing this concept/method, simply explaining it for you.
USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft
Squarepeg, I'm curious if the hives you placed the foundationless frames in had any existing drone comb or had it been removed? I can see where the bees instinctively would want to raise drones early in the year if the hive didn't feel it had enough drones. I'm thinking out loud but this would make sense from a bees perspective of having plenty of drones to breed any new queens......Not that I'm pretending to think like a bee, they are still a huge mystery to me.
Graham, Thank you for the explanation of how to manage drone comb and in turn manage varroa. I can see the concept, although to me this still seems like a person would be trying to walk a fine line between mite control and allowing the bees to have enough drones to ensure genetic diversity in the area for queen breeding. I'm not sure why a hive would create more drones than was instinctively needed (unless they had queen problems) I'm sure this are probably numerous flaws in my logic but please remember, I haven't even started my first hive yet, I'm still reading and trying to get some "book learning" under my belt. Please don't feel I am arguing against any opinions, just trying to fit the information into my current understanding of things. Again, thank you all for your patience.
heff, i can see by your responses that you are doing a good job gathering information and thinking through your management options.
as you have seen by now, the choices are many and beekeepers don't always agree.
on top of that is the variability of climate, plus specific availability of nectars, pollens, and water, as well as what drone contribution and disease pressures there may be from nearby colonies.
i'm probably not giving you anything there that you don't already have, i just wanted to share that the challenge of trying to get it figured out for my bees in my location is what i like the most about keeping bees.
bottom line: let your bees and your experiences with them guide you. embrace any mistakes as positive learning experiences and not a failure on your part for not having have read enough.
to answer your question, i interpret the solid frames of drone brood drawn in the early spring as the result of the lack of enough drone comb in the hive already since most of my frames were started with plastic foundation, combined with the fact that it was just prior to mating season and we were already experiencing a tremoundous flow.
beekeeping since june 2010, +/- 20 hives, tf
Yes, I have a feeling this is going to be a humbling and wild ride...... Hopefully my bees survive my good intentions. Lol
Yeah, no matter how much you read and how many people you talk to, you're going to make mistakes and take a while to learn what things look like soon enough to recognize problems to fix them before you lose a hive.
I lost my first hive because I failed to feed them through a severe dearth. All my fault, I didn't check well enough to recognize that the bottom deep was completely empty, nor did I realize how much I needed to feed them. Got everyone through this year, won't make that mistake again.
You will have to see how your bees manage building foundationless frames. Don't be afraid to move frames around, and it's probably a good idea to keep the drone comb if you get it one or two frames from the outside of the box, next to but not in the brood nest. The bees will take the queen over and have her lay in it when they want drones, but if it's away from the brood nest, will use it for storage most of the year.
Again, if they stop drawing out a foundationless frame and the frames beside it are starting to get fat, move that partial frame to the outside of the box. You should be able to do this better than I did since I wasn't looking at them all that much this year -- as a newbie, you should probably inspect your hive at least every couple weeks, weekly if they are doing well, not because THEY need it (they don't) but because YOU need to see what's going on inside and outside the hive. That was you can tell how well they are doing and the stage of buildup, etc by the activity at the entrance in future years and don't need to look inside much unless something looks wrong. It is disruptive to the hive for some chump to pull all the frames out and scare the queen after all.
Questions and pictures will make it much easier for you to learn without doing detrimental things to your bees!
> I take the drone comb out, won't the bees just build more as they feel they need more drones?
>This seems kind of counterproductive to me........