The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
icon of list

The Classroom

The Classroom – March 2020

- March 1, 2020 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis

Email Questions to Jamie at
Follow my lab on social media: Facebook Twitter Instagram

Q Suggestion for The Classroom

I just read your first Classroom column and I look forward to reading more. I do have a suggestion, however. As you know, context is so important when dealing with honey bee issues, particularly as season and location may impact what occurs and the best way to deal with it. I am sure you take these into consideration with your response to the questioner, but the rest of us are left to guess. Perhaps the month of the inquiry as well as the region the bees are located could be mentioned. Many thanks.

Catherine Edwards
Northern California, December


Great suggestion. I will start right now, with my response to your question being the first to include location and month the email was received. Incidentally, I had this suggestion from someone else as well (thanks Carol A., Maine, December!!!). I agree this will be valuable.

Q Gin, Juniper Berries, and Varroa?

I recently saw a post where someone had spilled a bottle of gin on their deck. They said within minutes the bees were all over it cleaning it up. They then said over the next few days there was a significant mite drop they had not seen at any point prior. I was wondering if you might have time, money and staff enough to do a quick short study with juniper berries? Maybe just gin, although I’m not versed enough to know/think that booze would ever be beneficial to the girls??! LOL! I would also love some information on University of Florida Master Beekeeper Class. GO GATORS!!!

Thank you,
Ray Johnson
New Jersey, December


Thanks for the observation and email.

My guess is that there is no connection between the gin and Varroa loads in the hives. I suspect it was coincidental. That said, stranger things have happened. I did a quick literature search on “alcohol for Varroa control” and everything listed mentioned it in context with alcohol washes and not with the control of Varroa. Ethanol, in fact, is toxic to bees (in high amounts) so I am surprised to hear that bees were cleaning it up in the first place. Perhaps the ethanol evaporated relatively quickly and all that was left was the sweet residue of the gin. I also did a search for “juniper berry Varroa control.” I found that some scientists had tested juniper extracts against other mites (mainly poultry mites), but with no significant impact. This should not discourage one from testing it. Honestly, accidents like this are often how big scientific breakthroughs are made!

Regarding your question about the UF/IFAS Master Beekeeper class: Our first level (the Apprentice level) is online right now. You can find it at or by going to and by clicking on “Master Beekeeper Program” on the home page. Have a look and let me know if you have additional questions. I am happy to discuss this further.

Q Bee Size and Cell Size

Congrats on your new “job”! If anyone can fill Jerry’s shoes it would be you. I look forward to reading your column for years to come.

My question is regarding bee size and how it relates to cell size. I use foundation, and all my bees are about the same size. Working with other beekeepers who are foundationless, I see that their bees are smaller, as are the cells those bees prefer to make. I would’ve thought that worker size is genetically determined, with maybe minor adjustments made for the amount of room available for growth, but I don’t understand how a worker larva in a larger cell can grow to a larger size with what I know now, I don’t think larvae or pupae develop for a longer period in a larger cell. It is well known that a goldfish kept in a larger bowl with frequent water changes will grow to a larger size than will a similar goldfish kept in a smaller bowl … but that occurs over the course of months-years, not over a 3-week timeframe. Would a worker larva grafted into a drone cell become a super-sized worker? If it were about nutrition, and more food is deposited in a larger cell, wouldn’t that mean that smaller bees are poorly nourished so as to stunt their growth? I doubt this happens. Are you able to shed light on this phenomenon?


Sid Lehr,
Florida, December


You are asking some great questions. So great in fact, that I “phoned a friend,” well … emailed a colleague. I had some ideas of my own, but I wanted to ask someone who I thought would know the answer. My colleague: Dr. Tom Seeley, Cornell University. This is what he said:

“I don’t know of a study of the mechanism whereby giving a colony small-cell comb results in the production of smaller bees, but I know that it does. We found only a slight, approximately 3% reduction in head and thorax widths for bees reared in 4.9 mm cells vs. 5.4 mm cells. These results match what had been previously reported by McMullan and Brown in 2006. One thing that surprised me in doing this study is that the “fill factor” (ratio of thorax width to cell width) is less than 80%. My guess is that how this slight reduction comes about is that late-stage larvae stop feeding when they feel they are reaching a certain level of filling their cell, and so they feed a bit less and grow a bit less, in smaller cells.”

I would like to add to this as well. First, I think it is fairly common for adult worker bees to abort female eggs reared in drone cells. Thus, I do not think that nature usually allows this to happen. Furthermore, I suspect that there is a maximum size to which workers will grow due to the feeding triggers that larvae experience as they grow. Dr. Seeley suggests that worker larvae may slow their feeding behavior as they grow to fill the cell they are occupying. It is also possible, I guess, that nurse workers slow their provisioning of food as the larvae grow to fill the cell. Regardless of the mechanism, it sounds as if this is an area of research waiting to be addressed.

One last comment: You mention that you would think worker size is genetically determined. I think worker size and feeding habits owe a lot to genes. However, the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture provides space for nurture to play a role as well. I suspect it plays an important role in this case. Also, in insects, there often is a size threshold for larvae that, when met, the resulting adult is “normal,” even if it is smaller than average. Thus, worker larvae likely only need to reach a minimum size before they are otherwise normal, physically and behaviorally.

Q Honey Testing

I have five hives in Cheshire, CT, and I have a general beekeeping question. I would like to identify the floral origin of my honey. Is there any lab I could send a sample to, or any other reliable method, to determine it?

Thank you very much!
Xavier Lederer
Connecticut, December




It is your lucky day! I did a bit of homework and contacted a colleague from Texas A&M University. He is well known as a world expert on this topic (identifying honey source by the pollen it contains). I asked him if his lab provides this service for beekeepers. He said yes! Here is his contact information:


Vaughn M. Bryant, PhD
Regents Professor and Director
Palynology Laboratory
Department of Anthropology
Texas A&M University (TAMU 4352)
College Station, TX 77843-4352

So, it looks like you can send your honey to him and he will let you know. There is a charge for this service. Dr. Bryant provides information about how to send him a sample in a PDF he has online. I found the PDF by Googling “Texas A&M Palynology Laboratory.” Hope this helps.

Q “Dinks”

I’m a commercial beekeeper in Florida getting ready for almonds and go through a yard of 80 hives with a 12-frame average but always seem to have one or two, 2-3 frame dinks.
All were made the same way several months ago; yet, a few never seem to come on. Why? What do you do with them?

Thank you
Eric Joswig
Florida, December


First, I like your use of “dinks” to describe these colonies. (I like this term. I may begin to use it.) Second, any number of reasons can be responsible for the dinks you get. I, also, have seen this during my time as a beekeeper. It is pretty common for me and my team to set up dozens of colonies the exact same way (same amount of food resources, same amount of brood, same amount of adult bees, etc.), only to have overly strong or weak colonies days, weeks, or a month after establishment. How can this happen?

I have a sneaky suspicion that bees from colonies established the way you note are in, what I call, “panic

mode.” When this happens, it is very common for bees to drift to certain colonies. It is not always clear why

some colonies pick up bees and others lose them. It could be the position of the colonies in the …