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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am a first-year beek (actually, first half-year as I only stared with a captured swarm last August :D) and I would appreciate some advice.

I have been nursing two hives/nucs through our California winter, and today we had our first sunny day in the mid 60's with tons of activity from both hives, so I decided to do a quick inspection mainly to check brood pattern.

One hive with a purebread Italian queen showed good tight brood pattern covering a softball-sized circle 1/3 of of the medium-sized frame on both sides of the three central frames. Everything A-OK.

The other hive with a feral queen on deep frames had a large number of bees, but a very spotty, mottled brood pattern on the three central frames. We're talking about 20-30 capped brood cells spaced an inch or so from each other spread out over a softball-sized circle on both sides of the central 3 frames.

One of the 3 frames had uncapped larvae in a tight cluster within a 1-2" circle within the center of one of these spotty-capped-brood areas.

During my quick inspection I did not see the queen in either hive. The purebread hive is obviously fine and I am cocerned that the feral hive may have laying workers and no queen (which I have never experienced or seen before).

Would appreciate any advice or recommenations on what to do about the feral hive. If these are laying workers, should I see many drones several weeks from now (did not notice any during the quick inspection)? Hive seems fine except for the brood pattern (bringing in pollen, practice flights, draining a quart of sugar syrup every 2-3 days, eating a pollen patty ever 7-10 days).

Should I just sit tight until mid-February and check again, or is there something more I should do before then?

If there is no queen I will combine the hives since they are both small from late-season split. Reason I do not want to combine until I am certain the feral queen is gone is that I do not wan to take a risk that the feral queen may kill the purebread Italan queen.

Any advice greatly appreciated.

-fafrd

p.s. with my ear to the hive bodies, there is no difference in the hum coming from the two hives. A low, gentle buzz.
 

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Would appreciate any advice or recommenations on what to do about the feral hive. If these are laying workers, should I see many drones several weeks from now (did not notice any during the quick inspection)?
You don't need to wait several weeks to look for hatched drones. If you google images of drone cells and worker cells, you will then be able to recognize capped drones cells and distinguish them from capped worker cells. Laying workers can only lay drone brood, so if had no functioning queen, you would not see any worker larva cells.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Omie,

thanks for the quick and constructive reply. I forgot a few details. Feral hive is on 11 1 1/4" frames of HSC (small cell plastic drawn foundation).

I have seen drone cells on wax comb, but on these tight 1 1/4" thick frames of HSC, there is really no way for them to create drone cells easily.

Bottom line I am unable to identify the spotty capped cells as drone cells (though it was an excellent suggestion).

One of the things I have thought of doing is moving an empty drawn wax medium frame from the purebread hive to replace one of the deep HSC frames in the feral hive to see what happens. Any queen should prefer the wax frame, drone cells can be created by the bees, and there is so much empty comb available in the feral hive I don't think I will have a problem with the bees drawing more comb in the space below the mdium frame over the course of a couple weeks.

Is this a good idea?

-fafrd

p.s. another detail I overlooked - both queens are marked and I have seen both queens during my final inspcton before winter. I have also seen drones in both hives and know how to spot them (seem to be none in either hive today and there were none in December when I did my last full inspection).
 

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If you see eggs or larvae in a lousy pattern, you know you've got a problem. But sometimes the last of the emerging brood will leave a bad pattern. Maybe because of the way the queen lays in circles? Also early in the season the queen tends to lay in spurts. Another inspection would tell you alot more, looking for multiple eggs and laying on the side of the comb if you cannot recognize drone brood cells.
 

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If you don’t see multiple eggs in the cells and eggs stuck to the side of the cell, common with laying workers. It sounds like the queen is just starting to fail. This could be for various reasons, she could just be at the end of her reproductive lifespan or perhaps she was somehow injured.
If this is the case and you have a nectar flow going, the workers should start supersedure queen cells. If not re-queen.
A failing queen will start to lay an unordinary amounts of drones because she is running out of juice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for the inputs, everyone. It's my first time coming through winter and I am going to keep my fingers crossed that this is just normal start-up for this hive (which is still very small and essentially a nuc). There was a small area filled with open brood (no empty cells), and so this is hopefully a pretty good sign of some regular laying, so we'll see...

The suggestion about multiple eggs is a good one, but I have never successfully spotted eggs before. I have black HSC to make spotting eggs easier, but because of the temperature I did not use smoke and left the bees on the frames. It's very hard to spot eggs when a frame is covered with bees, your doing a quick inspection to avoid too much loss of heat, and you are trying to see eggs for the first time.

Since the hive is packed with 11 1 1/4" thick frames (shaved down side bars) of HSC plastic drawn comb, will the bees be able to make a queen cell? Does anyone think that replacing the central deep frame of HSC with a medium frame of drawn wax is a good idea just to give the bees more flexibility and a frame which is likely to be the most attractive to the queen and so more easy to monitor without needing to inspect everything? The other alternative is to replace the central frame of HSC with a deep foundationless frame, but then they will need to draw comb before they can do anything with it. Is either of these actions a good idea for this situation?

-fafrd
 

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>Since the hive is packed with 11 1 1/4" thick frames (shaved down side bars) of HSC plastic drawn comb, will the bees be able to make a queen cell?

Yes. They will build it out from the front of the cell. The only problem I see is it may be attached to two combs and then get damaged when you inspect.

> Does anyone think that replacing the central deep frame of HSC with a medium frame of drawn wax is a good idea just to give the bees more flexibility and a frame which is likely to be the most attractive to the queen and so more easy to monitor without needing to inspect everything?

If you are trying to regress then the question is if that frame of drawn wax is small cell or large cell. If small cell, or you want to put in a frame of small cell foundation, then it should work fine.

> The other alternative is to replace the central frame of HSC with a deep foundationless frame, but then they will need to draw comb before they can do anything with it. Is either of these actions a good idea for this situation?

What is the weather like? Are they building comb? Assuming there is nectar coming in, that might work. But it also might split the brood nest if they are not drawing comb.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Michael, some responses to your questions:

> If you are trying to regress then the question is if that frame of drawn wax is small cell or large cell. If small cell, or you want to put in a frame of small cell foundation, then it should work fine.

These bees have only ever been on small cell since I caught them as a swarm late last summer. All of my plastic foundation is PF-120, the few wax foundation frames I have are small cell from Dadant, and the majority of my frames are HSC (which is also small cell). So if I place a medium frame of wax comb drawn on foundation, it will be small cell.

> What is the weather like? Are they building comb? Assuming there is nectar coming in, that might work. But it also might split the brood nest if they are not drawing comb.

Days are high 50's to occasionally low 60's (like yesterday). In general, I have had great difficulty getting these bees to draw comb off of foundation (both plastic an wax) which is why I have switched to HSC (and which they have taken to readily). A couple weeks ago, I placed a frame of 1/2 HSC (leftover piece from cutdown of deep frame to medium frame) and 1/2 foundationless (empty hole in bottom half of frame with 1/4" comb guide along bottom of HSC/top of empty hole) and the bees quickly filled the foundationless hole with comb. I have since placed a complete medium foundationless frame in the hive and the bees have filled it top-to-bottom (within beespace of bottom bar) 3/4 across lenght of top bar (centered) sloping to 1/3 across length of the bottom bar in a matter of days. I added another foundationless frame yesterday, and overall, my sense is that these bees are MUCH more motivated to draw comb in foundationless frames than they are to draw on either wax or plastic foundation.

Note that all of the above is for the medium frame purebread Italian hive which is doing fine. The problem hive (which is feral) has nothing but 11 frames of HSC and so no opportunity to draw comb (though I am getting 1/16" buildout of the comb on the HSC, as well as some brace comb). We have pollen coming in, and if bees landing without pollen means nectar then we have that coming in as well (Eucalyptus trees near where we live are supposed to be in bloom). I have also been feeding light sugar syrup to encourage comb drawing which both hives have been taking.

I am pretty certain that placing one frame of wax comb in the center of the hive will not split the brood. In addition to everything else, I have been heating the hive with a heatlamp below the SBB and maintaining 75 degrees below the cluster (leftover thermostat and heatlamp from my daughter's lizard-keeping days :D).

My choices are:

a) put a drawn frame of PF-120 or small-cell wax in the center of the deep frames of HSC

b) put my newly-drawn medium foundationless frame in the center of the deep frames of HSC (in which case I can not control for cell size, though I believe that these bees should be considered fully 'regressed' since they have never known anything but small cell since I have had them.

c) put in an undrawn deep frame of plastic or wax small cell foundation (which experience with these bees tell me will lead to very slow or no drawn comb any time soon)

d) put in a deep foundationless frame (I am about to get some of the new frames from Kelley's) which will be the first time that this specific hive has recieved foundationless though the other hive has taken to it and drawn readily

e) do nothing and check the hive again in a couple weeks

Apprecate your help with this. As you can probably tell, this being my first time getting hives through winter, I am a bit anxious to be sure that everything is OK.


-fafrd
 

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Hi,
I'm over here in Concord, things are staring out slow in our two hives also. I think we need to give them a few more weeks before dooming you're queen.

As someone mentioned earlier you can tell a capped drone cell from a capped worker cell by the capping. The drone caps stick up like bullets, where the worker cells are relatively flat. If you have any flat capping's you have a queen.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Dan,

thanks for the tips.

I've seen drone cells before but that was on wax comb. This hive is on all HSC which is small cell and I have shaved the side bars down to 1 1/4", so there is nowhere in the hive for them to make drone cells and I am not sure they can create a dron cell out of small cell plastic drawn comb.

So I'm pretty certain that the spotty capped cells I have now are not classic drone cells and apear to be worker cells. Between that and the tennis-ball-sized area where I have seen uncapped brood in a tight pattern, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my feral queen is still OK and is just waking up in a different manner than my purebread Italin queen, who has 3-4 frames with beautiful softball-sized capped brood pattern on both sides.

Are you getting pollen and nectar into your hives over in Concord? What kind of bees do you have and how many seasons have you had them?

-fafrd
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Michael,

thanks for the clarification. The spotty capped cells I have were not drone cells. If they can form drone cells out of plastic small-cell drawn comb as you have indicated, sounds like I just need to wait another week or so to check what kind of cappings they place on the small areas of uncapped brood that I saw yesterday.

If I find a small tight cluster of capped worker brood in that area in a week, it means that all is probably OK, right?

Another quick question while we are on the subject: all HSC in the brood box is probably not a good idea because there is no easy place for drone comb, correct? Assuming that is correct and that a frame or two of drone foundation or foundationless should be added to povide an area for flexibility and drone cells, when in the season should I be sure to have that in place? As soon as possible or is later into the spring OK? And also, would you have any advice on which is better within a hive of plastic drawn comb - to use plastic drone foundation or wax drone foundation or to let the bees do it their way with a frame or two of foundationless?

-fafrd
 

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The bees always find a place to raise drones. If you want to control that, then I would put some foundationless in and let them build some drone comb. Put it on the outside edge of the brood nest when they are done capping it. What it will buy you is they will be less likely to go build drone in the supers...
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks Michael, that is what was planning to do. Any advice on when in the season the foundationess/drone comb needs to be in place? ASAP or later in the spring?

Also, to be clear, when you say to 'move the foundationless frame to the outside once they are done capping it', you are referring to the drone cells, correct? In other words, place the foundationless frame in the center of the broodnest and leave it there until it has been drawn, some drone eggs have been laid into it, and the drone cells have been capped before moving the frame to the outside edge of the brood box, right?

I have one of those green plastic drone foundation IPM frames that I have kept on the outside edge of my other hive but the bees have never done anything with it and it remains undrawn. Do you think those are a good idea and should I plave that frame in the center of the broodnest to get it drawn?

-fafrd
 

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> Any advice on when in the season the foundationess/drone comb needs to be in place? ASAP or later in the spring?

When they are drawing white wax.

>Also, to be clear, when you say to 'move the foundationless frame to the outside once they are done capping it', you are referring to the drone cells, correct?

Yes.

> In other words, place the foundationless frame in the center of the broodnest and leave it there until it has been drawn, some drone eggs have been laid into it, and the drone cells have been capped before moving the frame to the outside edge of the brood box, right?

Yes.

>I have one of those green plastic drone foundation IPM frames that I have kept on the outside edge of my other hive but the bees have never done anything with it and it remains undrawn. Do you think those are a good idea and should I plave that frame in the center of the broodnest to get it drawn?

Natural sized drone cells are probably what you want. Smaller drones can fly faster. It seems they make more variety of drone sizes when you let them, so there are large and small drones. That's what I'd want...
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thanks or the clarification, Michael.

Any tips on how to identify the arrival of 'white wax'? They are drawing some foundationless comb now, as I mentioned, but since I am feeding them light sugar syrup to encourage drawing comb, I doubt that counts, right?

I suppose I could ask the local beeks club and learn from them when we have 'white wax' in this area. Are there any other signs to look for?

Also, I am going to go foundationless for the drone cells I allow to hatch. Have you ever used the frozen drone brood IPM technique? It is supposed to trap mites in the drone cells (which the mites pefer) but the downside must be that since all the drone brood is supposed to be frozen and killed, there must be a lack of drones in the hive. Do you think it is an effective technique to control mites and can a green drone trap comb be combined with a foundationless drone-to-hatch comb so that you can have some brood in the hive while killing the vast majority for mite traps?

Is this IPM tchnique worth all of the trouble?

-fafrd
 

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>Any tips on how to identify the arrival of 'white wax'? They are drawing some foundationless comb now, as I mentioned, but since I am feeding them light sugar syrup to encourage drawing comb, I doubt that counts, right?

If it''s warm enough and you're providing syrup then they are drawing comb. Are they rearing any drones? Here I'd be doing this about early May.

>I suppose I could ask the local beeks club and learn from them when we have 'white wax' in this area. Are there any other signs to look for?

White wax is usually what you look for. :) It's usually when they start bringing in enough nectar that they decide to make some comb here and there.

>Also, I am going to go foundationless for the drone cells I allow to hatch.

Of course.

> Have you ever used the frozen drone brood IPM technique?

I have not. It costs the bees a lot. If you didn't take that frame of drone larvae away from them they wouldn't try to rear another frame of drones. Which then costs them a frame of workers (which they would have drawn if they had that first frame of drones). That's pretty "expensive" in the bees' economy.

> It is supposed to trap mites in the drone cells (which the mites pefer)

It will. But I don't have enough mites to be worth the cost. I saw three Varroa all of last year...

> but the downside must be that since all the drone brood is supposed to be frozen and killed, there must be a lack of drones in the hive.

Which they will make up for by making more. But every frame of brood costs a frame of honey, a frame of pollen and the same amount of water. That's a lot of work.

> Do you think it is an effective technique to control mites

If you have a mite problem, it probably is. But if you don't, then it''s a huge waste of resources.

> and can a green drone trap comb be combined with a foundationless drone-to-hatch comb so that you can have some brood in the hive while killing the vast majority for mite traps?

Why would you want to combine them. There is nothing special about the green plastic other than the bees don't like it. :)

>Is this IPM tchnique worth all of the trouble?

Perhaps, if you have Varroa issues. Do you? If you are on small cell, I'm guessing you don't, but the way to find out is a sugar shake and/or a 24 hour drop count, and/or uncap a few drones and look for mites... if you don't measure the problem, then how do you know you have one?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Michael,

thanks for feedback. Here are some answers to your questions:

Q: If it''s warm enough and you're providing syrup then they are drawing comb. Are they rearing any drones?

A: No signs of drones yet, though what started all of this off was concern that the very spotty brood pattern I saw on Saturday could be evidence of workers laying drones (will check the open brood again in 1 week which should be capped by then to see if it is worker or drone capped brood).

Q: (About using green drone foundation together with a foundationless frame for drones) Why would you want to combine them?

A: Idea was to use the green foundation to kill drone brood and mites while at the same time allowing some drone brood in the foundationless frame to hatch into drones...

Q: (On question of green drone frame IPM technique being worthwhile) Perhaps, if you have Varroa issues. Do you?

A: Through my SBB I caught roughly 6 Varroa per 24 hour period for my 5-frame medium nuc. Monitored weekly through last October and November and level never increased so I did not treat. Have not yet monitored again but from quick inspection did not see any signs of Varroa on bees now.

Q: If you are on small cell, I'm guessing you don't, but the way to find out is a sugar shake and/or a 24 hour drop count, and/or uncap a few drones and look for mites... if you don't measure the problem, then how do you know you have one?

A: I will begin monitring through the SBB again when it warms up a bit more (late February) but since the bees are all on small cell and now foundationless, I am hoping the problem is under control and will not need additional treatment.

Q: (In response to following question on Drone Frame Trap for Varroa control: Do you think it is an effective technique to control mites?) If you have a mite problem, it probably is. But if you don't, then it''s a huge waste of resources.

A: Thanks for the explanation. I thought as much - a great deal of energy and resorces goes into raising brood, all destroyed just to get rid of a few Varroa. I will keep monitoring and hope that my bees can control the Varroa by themselves with the help of the small cell.

Thanks for the feedback and here area few additional questions for you:

a) What level of mites woul you consider severe enough to attempt the drone-frame-trap IPM technique?

b) As long as I am seeing a constant level of less than 10 mites per 24 hour period can I contine to 'let it ride'??

c) What magntude of increase in 24 hour Varo drop levels would lead you to take further action?

A last small detail is that I have been feeding light sugar syrup with 1 tsp/qt of HBH (the Mann-Lake equivalent) since the fall when I first discovered evidence of Varroa. I plan to stop the essential oils and the sugar syrup as soon as we are into 'White Wax' here (hopefully by the end of February).

-fafrd
 

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I'm wondering what the consequences of shaving the frames down to 1 1/4" are? Was the HSC comb depth not designed with the 1 3/8" dimension in mind? Do you now not have a proper bee space between combs? (9mm or ? for 2 bees back to back)
 
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