Methods of Making Increase Colonies

August 2014

Are You On Board About Drones?

by John Connor


If you routinely read my books and articles, you are probably already aware that I am a huge advocate of proper drone management by beekeepers, both for mite control and for drone saturation for mating. Since all beekeepers have colonies that eventually will experience queen replacement, having good, healthy, viable drones throughout your beekeeper area during the entire bee season is essential for proper mating and good beekeeping practices. There is no point in keeping bees without managing drone populations. Fortunately, healthy hives do this, but on their terms. All beekeepers need to board the bandwagon in supporting the growth of healthy, virile and abundant drone populations. These drones should also carry genes that add varroa tolerance (such as hygienic traits and anti-varroa grooming behavior) to mate with queens selected for similar traits. While I do not find many large operation beekeepers that are on board yet with an active drone management scheme, I am pleased when I find the exceptions. These few beekeepers admit that proper drone management is an additional expense, but one that pays back with better mated colonies.

In June I was able to hear Dr. David Tarpy of the North Carolina State University. Dave was the featured speaker at the Indiana State Beekeepers meeting held at the bee lab at Purdue University. Dr. Greg Hunt and Krispn Given hosted the event.

Dave mentioned drone management during his talk, and, as usual, I found that he and I were in very close agreement about several methods that may be used to manage drones in light of varroa mite populations and keeping good drones for mating. Let me review some history, a few standard practices about drone management, and review some of the areas where Dr. Tarpy and I agree.

Removing Drone Brood for Mite Control

This concept has been used by many beekeepers as part of an Integrated Pest Management plan to reduce varroa mite populations in their hives. Basically, it is simply a matter of putting in a drone sized cell comb into each brood nest of every colony, waiting 14 to 22 days, and then removing the drone comb. Some beekeepers put a medium depth frame into a deep frame colony and let bees add brood to the bottom part of the frame. Many beekeepers put this comb into a freezer to kill the drones and the mites. The combs are then returned to the hives and the bees clean out the dead drones and mites and the queen will often re-lay drone eggs into the cells once they are cleaned out. If you use plastic drone cell foundation, you have the option of scraping the sealed drone brood (mites are only in the sealed cells, remember?) into a bucket and either feeding the mess to the chickens or dig a hole in the ground and bury it. Return the comb to the hive immediately. This saves you a return trip to the hive, but it also forces the bees to generate new wax, which they will only do when on a nectar flow.

Save the Drones!
Where Dave and I agree is that we all need to save these drones, not kill them. Well, go ahead and kill drones from average and below-average colonies (if they actually produce any drones). Do not produce drones in colonies that show any sign of disease, temper, personality disorders or fail to meet some standard of your apiary operation. Freeze or scrape off these drones. You will significantly improve your future colony quality by getting rid of really unfit drones if done on enough colonies  over a long time period.
With your good to fabulous colonies that are most likely producing drones we suggest you remove ...