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Actually, several us have been studying this question for months (years).

Generally folks assume that it is the lengthening days. However, they usually start in January and the hive is usually shut off from light. The difference in day length is really slight at that point in any case.

Another theory is that brood rearing starts again when the cluster gets really tight, due to the heat the bees are generating to stay warm. Since it is so warm in the center, the queen may be stimulated to start up again.

My pet idea is that bees cease brood rearing in late fall, due to the season's ending. Pollen stops coming in and they have to shut down and conserve. There may be a certain rest period and then they just start up again.

Another possibility is that it is triggered by the age of bees in the hive. By January there aren't any bees less than 60 days old.
 

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It would be interesting if Ian would chime in here and tell us if his bees, kept in darkness 24/7 for months, have brood when they come out of storage.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
From where are they getting the pollen in January onwards to feed the larvae? They have been moving up in the hive for many weeks, and if pollen is located on frames in the lower box, it seems they would be unable to access it unless it were warm enough for them to move to it and bring it upwards.
 

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Must be stored because I have one hive that had emerging brood at my last inspection several weeks ago which means she started laying in early Jan. Plus, on that same day which neared 60 degrees, they where bringing in tons of pollen.
 

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Through last season into this season, the majority of my hives did not shut down brood rearing. In prior years most would shut down brood rearing, at least for a month or two. I believe the difference to be, my feeding pollen substitute in November and continuing to feed pollen substitute, even though our recent rains have begun to make lots of pollen available. Most hives are ramping up brood production and have greatly slowed their consumption of the pollen substitute.
 

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FARRAR (1949) while giving evidence of brood soon after January 1 in a colony, presents the viewpoint that winter brood rearing can be brought about by added supplies of pollen, and that it is both normal and beneficial. From less informed sources, wider divergencies of opinion on the date of commencement of brood rearing could be quoted; and it seems desirable therefore to bring forward experimental evidence extensive enough to give an adequate picture of the real position.

... the quantity of brood in the months when bees are wintering drops to a minimum in October and November. In October only one in seven of the colonies examined had brood. In November the ratio had risen to one in four, and in December and January brood was present at half of the examinations. In February and March, twelve colonies out of every 13 had some brood.

WINTER BROOD AND POLLEN IN HONEYBEE COLONIES
by EdWard P. JEFFREE, B. Sc.
(Bee Besearch Department, North of Scotland College of Agriculture, Marlschal College, Aberdeen.)
 

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... the quantity of brood in the months when bees are wintering drops to a minimum in October and November. In October only one in seven of the colonies examined had brood. In November the ratio had risen to one in four, and in December and January brood was present at half of the examinations. In February and March, twelve colonies out of every 13 had some brood.

WINTER BROOD AND POLLEN IN HONEYBEE COLONIES
by EdWard P. JEFFREE, B. Sc.
(Bee Besearch Department, North of Scotland College of Agriculture, Marlschal College, Aberdeen.)

Thank you very much for the citation of these words.
I was working on that subject in Bonn and my results were very similar. (Brood minima).



May be you will find this paper from Egypt interesting, too:


http://app2.mans.edu.eg/eulc/Libraries/itemsAttach/IssueArticle/1037467/567.doc
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Ernie,
That study is most interesting. However, it focuses on the circadian (24 hour) bee clock. I'm still wondering what the deal is with the queen and her annual clock--living in that dark box all her days (unless she swarms), and somehow either knowing or being given the signal by the workers in dead winter that it's time to start laying eggs, in spite of no fresh pollen coming in for months--at least here in Vermont (where nights in February at my house can be -28F). I think Peter Borst's idea that the dying off of so many worker bees might be a trigger for egg laying is noteworthy.

I suppose it's best that, after all, we simple humans can and will never know all the complexities of the bees' life. So if there is no definitive answer to this puzzling question, I totally accept that!

Jeffrey
 
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