The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – September 2022

- September 1, 2022 - (excerpt)


When the almond tree blooms, and more on drone cells

Ecclesiastes 12:5 “… and the almond tree shall flourish …”

As do most people I think, I look at the first blossoms of spring as the beginning of the cycle of nature. But this is not necessarily so or is not necessarily accurate. Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (a term to describe the growth stages — from sprouting, to leaf, to bloom, etc.). Annuals usually germinate from seed in the spring, grow to maturity, bloom, pollinate, produce seed, and die within a short period of time (less than three months). Perennials follow the same pattern but may cover several years rather than a season.

Trees follow the same pattern but may span many years. With this approach, the seed germinates, grows into a tree, blooms every year, bears fruit, goes dormant and repeats the flowering cycle the following year. From this perspective the blooming and reproductive stage is considered the end of the cycle, not the beginning, even though it occurs in the spring.

I read with interest Chester Ferguson, Jr.’s [June] letter, “Why not manage drone cells?” The author answered some but not all of my questions about drones and cluster life cycle. Thanks. I am a novice beekeeper and am still learning but I too question some of the beginning lessons taught in beekeeping. As an engineering professional I typically try to understand the entire process. As such, I try to manage my hives around the cluster cycle. As such, I take note of the first drone cells, not queen cells, as the first sign of swarm season.

Bees will not swarm until the queens have a mating partner. These usually appear 3-4 weeks before queen cells. For this reason I try NOT to stimulate growth in the spring [with] 1:1 syrup. The second sign is the size of the brood cluster. If one starts the first brood cycle at the winter solstice around December 20 and considers 21-23-day brood cycles, then typically by the third or fourth brood cycle around February 28 and March 22 the brood is covering four frames and bees are covering 6-8 frames. Whether it is the fourth brood cycle, size of cluster (8-12 inches), or population of bees (16-20,000, 6-8 frames of bees), this is about the time that drone cells appear. If there are no drone cells in the cluster space then they first appear on burr and brace comb between the frames or on the edges of the cluster. More drone cells and queen cells appear as the cluster grows and the temperature warms.

I too ask why bees always draw out damaged frames of drawn comb with drone instead of regular comb, or why they fill empty space below brood comb with drone comb, and wondered why they draw out drone comb above the queen excluder.

As the temperature warms and the cluster expands, by the time of the 5th or 6th brood cycle, the colony population starts expanding exponentially. I therefore start swarm control around the time of the fourth brood cycle depending on the strength and size of the cluster. If one can segregate the growing population of nurse bees from the mature bees (Demaree) at this time of “critical mass” without chilling the brood (i.e., expand the cluster volume size without chilling the brood), then the colony should continue to grow with minimal threat of swarming although drone rearing will continue but at a lower rate.

As long as nighttime lows drop into the lower 40s the bees continue to cluster. Optimal foraging temperature is from 56 to 86. Above this range (70-90) bees start foraging less and devote more time to cluster cooling or hive ventilation. Below this range (46-66) they devote more time to cluster warming or insulation. Once the colony reaches “critical mass” and the outside temperature reaches 70-90, the colony size (cubic inches, not population) expands substantially. From the time the bees come out of cluster at 56 degrees, the colony size will double in volume (not population) as the temperature increases to above 86. At this point it is important to either have supers above the brood area for honey and open frames below for brood expansion, or to reduce the population of bees if there is NO room for expansion.

Mother Nature is a marvelous mystery and a beautiful work of art if we just take the time to observe. We all marvel at the beauty of the almond blossom but usually fail to notice the honey bee bloom.

Note: These concepts and observations are incomplete and in draft form and are based on mechanical concepts of temperature, pressure, volume, coefficients of expansion, and thermodynamics.

Forrest Clark, Jr.
Batesville, Mississippi


Army Air Force?

We use license plates for the front of the hives. This one was given to us by a vet to use.

Melissa Jaskiewicz
North Branch, Michigan


Misrepresentation of Drones as Diploid in July Issue

ke Aloha All,

I truly hope that ABJ repents a STRONG retraction to R. Oliver’s description of male diploid drone as seemingly the way the allele selection & gene expression is normally in diploid zygote for eusocial bees (inc. Apis & Melipona [stingless] honey bees). [See “Selective Breeding for Mite Resistance; 2022 update,” July.]

It is fairly common knowledge that the common male drone bee is from a HAPLOID zygote.

If fact, the research notes that diploid males are very rare & are normally destroyed prior to maturity. See Herrmann, M, et al. (2005) Characters that differ between diploid and haploid honey bee (Apis mellifera) drones. Genet. Mol. Res. 4(4): 624-641.

I am concerned that those that do not understand that the illustration [See Fig. 1 above] that Randy Oliver “arbitrarily placed … on a fanciful chromosome” on a drawing that came from the …