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Been doing a lot of thinking and talking lately about the role of drones (beyond mating) in relation to the beehive. It seems most beekeepers try to keep a minimum of drone comb in their hives. I think this is a mistake.

Are there any studies relating hive health and drones in a hive? For several reasons I think hives with some drone comb are healthier than hives with little or none. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

What's the best way to add drone comb to a hive? Put a shallow frame in a deep and let the bees build the comb on the bottom or put a frame without foundation and let the bees do what they will or...other suggestions?
 

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I usually use a frame with drone foundation and I place it in the number 3 position to be drawn out.

If I have a colony that handles varroa well, I use drone brood from that colony to replace frames from other colonies that I remove and freeze. The colonies with poor VSH care for the drones from the queen with good VSH.

I believe I have read that a balanced population requires 10 to 20 per cent drones.
 

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If a colony has nowhere to rear drones, they'll try anyways. Weird comb, burr and brace comb, etc. I give them foundationless frames in position 3 or 7 in the brood area to draw drone comb since I use plastic 4.9 everywhere else.
 

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Are there any studies relating hive health and drones in a hive? For several reasons I think hives with some drone comb are healthier than hives with little or none. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Drones tend to be dead weight on the hive. A hive produces drones when the hive is strong enough to afford to carry that extra weight. Weak hives are struggling to stay alive, and have a difficult time carrying the extra burden of raising drones.

Is it that drones cause a hive to be healthier/stronger, or is it that healthy/strong hives are able to carry the burden of drones?

What's the best way to add drone comb to a hive?

Pierco makes those green drone comb frames. I don't think you can get much simpler than that.
 

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...It seems most beekeepers try to keep a minimum of drone comb in their hives. ... Are there any studies relating hive health and drones in a hive? For several reasons I think hives with some drone comb are healthier than hives with little or none. ... What's the best way to add drone comb to a hive?
Abbé Emile Warré observed: "I have always noticed that the most productive hives have lots of drones. I am therefore not of the opinion that we should try to reduce the number of drones. In any case, wax foundation does not suppress them. The bees find a way of providing the queen with the number of drone cells she needs. They build them in the corners of frames. If need be they enlarge worker cells to make drone cells. And they do this right in the middle of a sheet of foundation. Moreover, the queen sometimes lays worker eggs in drone cells."

Warré may have been mistaken about queen-drone inbreeding, but his other observations are probably still valid. Take-away: let the bees handle their own drone affairs.

NB heather skeppists through the 1980s commonly cut out drone comb with the aim of maximizing honey retention between major flows. But skeppists also relied on swarm production and interception for increase; not sure how those techniques and sensibilities are relevant today.

//Alex T.
 

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I like drones, and try to keep one frame of drone comb per box in the broodnest area. I will use them in early spring and early fall for varroa mite control. I use the green pierco one piece plastic frames, but in spring and early summer if you put starter strip frames in broodnest, they'll draw it out in drone comb if they have no other dronecombs in the hive.
 

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I did an experiment years ago with 10 hives. I removed all the drone comb and replaced it with worker comb.It was in the spring. The bees actually tore down 10% of the worker comb and built drone comb. From that experiment I came to a conclusion that a hive needs a minimum of 10% drone comb and never worried about incidental drone comb again.
One year we had an El Nino year in So Cal. A back breaking sage flow was on its way. An old beek I knew had been culling junk boxes and drone comb for a couple of years. He had a mountain of the stuff. Lots of it wax moth damaged. He split a thousand hives and put the splits in this junk. Some of it didn't even get bottom boards because time was running out and the boxes were so bad there was nothing to nail to. When the flow came, the junk made just as much honey as the top grade hives.
 

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One of the reasons I bring this up is that I just got back from California placing my bees in the almonds. About 95% of my equipment is fairly new (1 to 4 years) with little to no drone comb. The rest is really old with lots of drone comb. As I went thru the hives culling dead outs, combing weak hives, etc. I was surprised to see that the older equipment had stronger bees almost every time which flies in the face of the advice of rotating out old equipment.

There could be another reason why this older equipment looked better, just don't know what. I believe not letting bees have many drones adds additional stress to them and we know they're stressed enough as it is. We may think drones are "dead weight" but I think they serve a purpose we don't fully understand.

I talked to an old commercial beek a while ago who mentioned that hives with drone comb don't get foulbrood as readily as hives with it. I've verified this to my own satisfaction in my operation. Anyway, it's one of those "gut feeling" things, I've had a paradigm shift - hives need drone comb.
 

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>Are there any studies relating hive health and drones in a hive?

There have been some on productivity and drones. And the conclusions were not consistent but at least one showed more productivity with more drones.

Clarence Collison's study on drone comb and the number of drones concluded that the bees will rear the same number of drones no matter how much or how little drone comb they have. They will manage.

The natural range is from 10 to 20% drone comb, but they use it for honey when they don't rear drones in it...

I never cull drone comb. I just move it to the outside edges of the boxes when I find it in the center. Usually if it's in the center it's because I put an empty comb in.
 

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There have been some on productivity and drones. And the conclusions were not consistent but at least one showed more productivity with more drones.

Clarence Collison's study on drone comb and the number of drones concluded that the bees will rear the same number of drones no matter how much or how little drone comb they have. They will manage.

The natural range is from 10 to 20% drone comb, but they use it for honey when they don't rear drones in it...
From a work in preparation:

Conventional lore holds that the drones’ sole purpose is to mate with virgin queens of other colonies: a gross equivalence in the superorganism would be “flying sperm”. However, other roles have been suggested: warming the hive during peak foraging hours; acting as emergency genetic vectors should the hive be disturbed (drones flee when smoked during open-hive service); and in “setting the mood” prior to queen mating flights.
 

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Are there any studies relating hive health and drones in a hive? For several reasons I think hives with some drone comb are healthier than hives with little or none. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
Most studies show that unlimited drone production hurts the honey production of hives. Why wouldn't it? These bees have to be fed throughout their development and later life? That was one of the early benefits of honey comb foundation; fewer drones = more honey.

> There was significantly more surplus honey produced by control colonies (25.4 frames ± 3.9, mean ± s.e.) over natural cell colonies (5.4 frames ± 3.5; P = 0.0052). This difference may be related to the greater amount of drone comb produced by natural cell colonies (33% ± 3.5%, mean ± s.e.) as opposed to control colonies (1% ± 0.2; P ? 0.0001).

> In a previous study, (Seeley 2002 Apidologie 33: 75-86) colonies with 20% drone comb were found to gain half the weight of control colonies. Seeley proposed the reduction was due to energy costs associated with raising drones, along with possible increased Varroa reproduction.

SEE:
(2009) Wilson, M. W.r, J. Skinnerr, & L. Chadwells – MEASURING THE EFFECTS OF FOUNDATION ON HONEY BEE COLONIES: A SARE PRODUCER GRANT PROJECT
 

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One of the reasons I bring this up is that I just got back from California placing my bees in the almonds. About 95% of my equipment is fairly new (1 to 4 years) with little to no drone comb. The rest is really old with lots of drone comb. As I went thru the hives culling dead outs, combing weak hives, etc. I was surprised to see that the older equipment had stronger bees almost every time which flies in the face of the advice of rotating out old equipment.

I'm going to throw Allen Dick under the bus again. (sorry Allen) On his website www.honeybeeworld.com he talks about how he had poor overwintering success on new white combs, even when they appeared to have adequate honey and pollen stores. He found that if he overwintered bees on dark combs, he had much better success overwintering. He could run the bees on white comb in the summer, but he needed them on dark combs for successful overwintering.

Have you considered the possibility that it is the older darker combs which account for the better hives, rather than the amount of drone combs? If the bees overwintered better on the dark combs, it would stand to reason the bees on new combs would be weaker/deadouts. (I know, this flies in the face of advice for rotating out old comb too.)
 

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Have you considered the possibility that it is the older darker combs which account for the better hives
Yeah, I always thought that. There are a lot of people suggesting throwing out old combs, just cause they're old. That never set well with me. The bees have painted these old combs with propolis and they may have properties that new combs don't have.
 

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... benefits of honey comb foundation; fewer drones = more honey.
> [more surplus honey] may be related to the greater amount of drone comb produced by natural cell colonies...
> ...Seeley [2002] proposed the [weight gain] reduction was due to energy costs associated with raising drones
The phrases "may be" and "proposed" do not constitute proof... but then good science is not capable of proof, much less Truth. If maximum honey production at any cost be the overriding drive, then by all means knock back drones.

But: for those interested in happy & healthy -- or whatever the analogs are among beekind -- long-lived colonies, a beek may want to hesitate & rethink the routine strategy of drone extermination. It's time for the "lazy, honey-sucking layabout" drone stereotype to be retired: evidence and dissenting philosophy allow there being more going on with drones than that.

//Alex T.
 

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The phrases "may be" and "proposed" do not constitute proof... but then good science is not capable of proof, much less Truth. ... a beek may want to hesitate & rethink the routine strategy of drone extermination
Frankly, I don't know how you got from Point A to Point B. Neither I nor any of the work I cited ever suggested the "extermination" of drones. Limiting drone comb in hives is a century old practice, drones are simply not reared in excess.

Sorry about the "weasel words". I could make bold rash statements but have been a scientist far too long to believe in unequivocal proof, let alone Truth. However, this is the world in which I live. Your mileage may vary.

While on the subject, I shall mention our general approach as scientists. We don't spend a lot of time trying to prove stuff, we try to disprove. In other words, you take a hypothesis, like too much drone comb is bad for the colony. Then you set up an experiment to disprove the theory. Take ten hives with no drone comb, and ten with unlimited drone comb. If there is no effect of too much drone comb, these colonies will perform the same.

If the droney hives do better than the others, my theory is ruined. But if the control hives do better, my theory is supported. I don't go around saying that I proved it once and for all time, drones are bad for the hive. I just put my theory out there, with the supporting data. If others try the experiment and get similar results, we start to think we are on to something. If somebody sets up a good trial and gets the opposite result from me, then it starts to look like there's a big hole in my hypothesis.

Anyway, if having a bunch of drones makes your hives happy, I am not about to try to disprove that. Why would I?
 

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Limiting drone comb in hives is a century old practice, drones are simply not reared in excess. ... If the droney hives do better than the others, my theory is ruined. But if the control hives do better, my theory is supported....Anyway, if having a bunch of drones makes your hives happy, I am not about to try to disprove that. Why would I?
The trouble here may be that of unquestioned underlying assumptions. To an orthodox Lang beek, a hive may seem "droney" and in need of intervention according to his biased judgment; whereas a low-intervention Warré keeper, inclined to be laid back and not paranoid about honey consumption, might just keep an eye out for late-autumn or winter drones.

I have two Warré colonies on a concrete deck, each with a scattering of drone corpses left over from the autumn slaughter. A third nearby has no such carnage signs; sunny days will bring out some drones, suggesting that this colony may be lacking a fertile queen and has good reason to retain its drones. Conclusion: maybe it's time to order a new queen for April installation -- or not.

Note I didn't have to vivisect the colony -- a practice facilitated by frames -- to check on queen or drone status, but just read the signs at the entrance. Not conclusive, maybe, but good enough.

"Traditional" beekeepers and honey-hunters, over many thousands of years, have destroyed colonies without a second thought. That such practices have been largely supplanted by rational management may be a good thing. But any practice or theory, be it century-old or not, is subject to review, revision, confirmation or abandonment at any time. A scientist should know this, and laymen can do what they please anyway.

//Alex T.
 

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Note I didn't have to vivisect the colony -- a practice facilitated by frames -- to check on queen or drone status, but just read the signs at the entrance. Not conclusive, maybe, but good enough.
Personally, I find this statement outrageous for two reasons. 1) to refer to ordinary bee inspection as "vivisection" is beyond the pale. 2) to suggest that ordinary bee inspection is superfluous is irresponsible at best, and just plain shoddy beekeeping.

Please view pictures I have placed online that show the results of NOT inspecting hives regularly, paying close attention to the photos with flames in them.

http://picasaweb.google.com/peterlborst
 
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