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The Classroom

The Classroom – March 2019

- March 1, 2019 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

The Classroom - American Bee Journal

I have to submit the Classroom column approximately two months in advance of the publication date for that ABJ. Sooooo, this is a couple months old but it is a bizarre gem that I wanted to share with you.

I was cleaning my kitchen and had the radio on and a program called ‘Ask Me Another’ came on. It is a Saturday game /quiz show with contestants and lots of questions. At the start of the show, they introduce the players and give some background of each. One of the contestants was introduced as a recent college graduate who is also a Beekeeper. My ears, of course, perked up and I quit mopping. He said he received a degree in Philosophy and had his bees on the side of his house under his bedroom window. The emcee, of course, asked the question we all get, “Have you ever been stung”? He said yes, many times, and that is why he takes a can of Raid out with him everytime he looks in the colony.

WHAT??? I have NEVER ever NEVER heard of anyone using Raid or any pesticide as a management tool for beekeeping. Can you imagine!!! I think we are making progress and this happened on National Public Radio. I am depressed.

I have had a love for honey bees for lots of years. New beekeepers do need some time to learn and this is why I have said many times finding a 5+ year beekeeper mentor is a good thing to do. It shortens the learning curve. Please give the correct advice when the opportunity strikes.


Hello. I’m trying to find detailed statistics for various hives, such as total number of bees, number of mites, worker/drone counts, brood count, how often they swarm, how often a queen is replaced … can you point me to such info?

Josh McFarland

Hope, Arkansas


Good morning Josh McFarland from Hope, Arkansas home of Bill and Hillary.

The short answer is no, nothing like that exists.

Diversity in and of the honey bee colony is too great to be able to quantify based on the cavity they live in.

Honey bees can live in a variety of cavities. I have seen them in hollow trees, a wall of a house/building, attic, mailboxes, old car gas tanks in salvage yards, underground in a cavity under a tree’s roots, water meter boxes and on and on. As long as the cavity meets some marginal volume then swarms will accept it. And then, of course, there are different cavity sizes of managed equipment globally that beekeepers provide and honey bees adapt to.

The number of honey bees in a colony is dependent on the fecundity of the queen, flower nectar and pollen resources in the area, how much comb has worker size cells and how much drone size and then what is the impact of uncontrolled varroa and the varroa/virus complex and additional stress-related diseases, etc., etc.

The metric with our Langstroth size traditional hives in the peak of the season is 30K to 50K population based on an amazing queen laying 2000 eggs per day because there are enough pollen and nectar resources coming in with approximately 10-15% drones and 3 mites per 100 bees sampled from brood nest and the other 2/3 reproducing on developing worker brood, emerging every 21 days with workers not killed by them.

In a perfect world, other beekeeper cavity hardware provided probably could duplicate this.

Honey bees cannot exist for long as wild colonies since the introduction of Varroa destructor mite. Honey bees are to be considered pets or livestock now as they need informed beekeeper management. So, regardless of the cavity or container you place them in, being able to remove frames, sample for varroa and visually inspect for other pests, parasites and diseases, you have to be a good beekeeper manager.

But the world isn’t perfect. There is an old adage from beekeepers that all things being equal 30% of their colonies are textbook strong, viable and active, 30% are mediocre, and 30% are junk.


I was outside this afternoon here in the Midwest looking at my six colonies. The temperature was sunny and 37°F. Some of the bees were flying ‘a lot’ and some colonies not at all. I thought when the temperature got to about 57°F or so the colony forms a cluster and stays there. Mine were obviously not. Are they sick or stressed or hungry? What’s going on?


Lincoln, Nebraska


Great question, and glad you went out and made the observation. Let me say I don’t know why your bees thought sunny 37°F was good but here are a few things to think about.

First, you are absolutely right that the marker of 57°F outside temp, indicates ‘generally’ that the bees will have reached a cluster forming point where the outside of the cluster is compact visually, i.e., you can see it. ‘Generally’ honey bees cannot fly when the temp is about 55°F or lower.

There is a thing called a micro-climate. You probably have driven along a black asphalt road when it was cold outside on a sunny day and seen those ….