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The Classroom

The Classroom – August 2022

- August 1, 2022 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Does shaking a frame harm brood?

When handling queen cells, we are often warned to be extremely careful with the capped cells in order to avoid causing damage to the developing queen, especially the wing buds. However, we often vigorously shake frames of bees when doing various hive maintenance tasks. Are we harming any of the developing brood when we do this?

Brad Price
Nebraska, June


Very thoughtful question, one for which I am afraid that I only have anecdotal input to add. As you might imagine, I could not find a research project on this topic. Nevertheless, I have heard some beekeepers say that they prefer not to shake frames for fear of damaging the developing bees. As you note, this is often tied to queen cells, as the reports are that they are considerably more sensitive to being shaken than are drone or worker larvae. Some posit that this is due to how they hang vertically in cells, rather than horizontally. I have heard you can shake queen larvae off their food. I have heard that there is a particular range of days in a capped queen cell that if you shake it, the queen will die/be damaged. However, I really do not know what is true.

I have shaken frames for three decades and have not noticed any visual damage to cells of any type — worker, drone, or queen cells. In fact, I have used queen cells from shaken frames to requeen other colonies. So, I know that shaking queen cells does not always damage queens, even though I am now careful not to shake them if I plan to use them.

I was trained under the “be nice to brood” paradigm. For example, my mentor told me that bee larvae would die to UV radiation if exposed to the sun too long during colony inspections. To combat this, he would remove a frame or two from the brood nest, put it in a nearby cardboard box, and cover the box with a towel while he worked the other frames in the hive. That way, the brood would not get exposed to sunlight too long. I did this for a while (though, no longer), mainly because my mentor told me to do it. I even know a professional queen/package bee producer who suggested shaking frames can damage adult bees, especially if their honey stomachs are full. He was careful when he shook frames for the sake of adult bees.

Yet today, I shake frames all the time and feel that I see no negative consequences from it. The bees do not seem to cannibalize or abort the brood (which is what I would expect to see if the brood were damaged due to me shaking it). Ultimately, I have taken the position that occasional, mild shaking is a useful management technique and when done in moderation (not repeated, violent shaking of the same frame), will not cause any lasting damage to the brood or the colony.

I will throw in the caveat that I have noticed, after shaking a frame, that really young larvae can be moved in their cell with moderate shaking. I could see where this would be a problem (i.e., the larva is now on the cell wall and will be aborted or die). I tend to shake frames containing young larvae more gently than I would a frame of predominantly older larvae or capped pupae. I do handle queen cells with care and try not to shake frames on which they are found if I plan to emerge a queen from that cell. Commercial beekeepers shake bees all the time and the colonies seem to be none-the-worse for it.

I guess I will conclude with this advice. Honey bees are living animals and we should minimize disturbance to them as much as is possible. I shake a frame as part of routine management of colonies. I am careful when I do it, and I try not to overdo it.


Are pollen patties converted to bee bread?

 Can a pollen patty be converted to bee bread, and ultimately worker/royal jelly that is fed to larvae? If the answer is yes, can you point to a source describing the chemical process by which this is possible? I understand (generally) the plant-pollen-to-larval-food process. I do not understand how a pollen patty could be converted to larval food.

Kirk Kirksey


Kirk: You are in luck. I actually know the answer to this question because it is a research project that my team and I conducted. I was fortunate to supervise a great master’s student named Emily Noordyke. Emily asked some very basic research questions related to bee use of pollen patties. In her very first project, Emily asked how bees use pollen patties. She addressed this by dying pollen patties, and then looking for dyed patty in adult bees, brood, and bee bread.

Guess what? She only found dyed patty in adult bees. The bees did not store it as bee bread, neither did they feed it directly to developing larvae. The answer to your question, then, is that bees do not seem to convert pollen patty to bee bread at all. You can read more about this project here:

Noordyke, E.R., van Santen, E., Ellis, J.D. 2021. Tracing the fate of pollen substitute patties in western honey bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) colonies. Journal of Economic Entomology, 114(4): 1421 – 1430.


Now, this raises all sorts of questions. How do bees use patties? Why is it only found in the adults? What are the adults doing with it? What impacts does feeding patties actually have on colonies? Etc.? Based on some of the research my team and I had conducted on pollen patties in the past, I worried that the answers to some of these questions would not be very positive. So, Emily conducted a literature review on research projects in which a pollen substitute of any type (commercially-available or homemade) was ever tested. She compiled all of that information into a single article in which we review the efficacy of pollen substitutes as a management tool for improving colony health and productivity. You can find that article here:


Noordyke, E.R., Ellis, J.D. 2021. Reviewing the efficacy of pollen substitutes as a management tool for improving the health and productivity of western honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 5:772897.


Please consider reading that article. It might surprise you. In essence, we looked at any impact that pollen substitutes were documented to have — good impacts, bad impacts, neutral impacts, impacts on adult bee population, brood, disease, pests, productivity, physiological condition, etc. Believe it or not, the research on pollen patties is very mixed. Yes, there are times during which feeding patties seems to show some benefit. But there are as many times, maybe more, where they show no impact at all, or maybe even hurt colonies. My eyes were opened.

When reading the article, please pay special attention to the tables Emily published as supplemental information. This is very important. Many folks will not want to read the article due to its length. Knowing this, Emily created three tables that you can only find online in the supplemental materials. (You find that by scrolling almost to the bottom of the page on the link above, until you get to the section entitled “Supplementary Material.” You will find a link to the tables there.)

In the first table, Emily lists every parameter that has ever been measured as a response to giving bees pollen substitutes: adult bee population, brood development, brood production, honey production, package establishment, etc. She, then, lists every diet that has ever been tested on that parameter, noting if the diet had a positive, negative, or neutral influence on the given parameter. In the second supplemental table, she summarizes all of the findings related to commercially-available pollen substitutes. For example, what are all the health impacts (good or bad) ever demonstrated when feeding bees Bee-Pro, Brood Builder, etc.? In the third table, Emily lists all the findings related to any of the homemade or research patties ever tested.

I really think this entire document is helpful for any beekeeper (and bee researcher) hoping to understand pollen supplements, their use, etc. Sorry, I gave you more information than that for which you asked. However, I wanted to point folks to that resource so that they can get an even deeper dive into pollen supplements if they want.


Creating a DCA

My question is, can I form a drone congregation area (DCA) in my yard, or do I need to place hives with a heavy drone population elsewhere? I would have to ask for volunteers in the community paper and bribe them annually. This is my fourth season and I have had only ONE emergency queen reared. I accidentally killed queens last season and this season. Each time I had approximately 20 queen cells created, spread them among some temporary nucs, not a single one was mated. I have ordered queens from several different sources, both Italian and Carniolan, and had thought to make a DCA here with nucs and green drone frames. No small hive beetles and my Varroa count is 1.3 per 300 sample.

Bob Kochis
New Jersey, June


Let me start by explaining for the reader what a DCA is. DCAs, as the name implies, are areas where drone honey bees congregate while searching for young queens with which to mate. Adult drones that are 2-3 weeks old begin leaving the hive daily in search of …