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The Classroom

The Classroom – November 2020

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

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Q  Miscellaneous questions

I use Russian stock which gets replaced by nature with Russian queens mated with local stock of unknown genetics. I am working to requeen with Russian queens every third or fourth year.

Question #1: I do my splits in April, when queens are available. I use frames of brood with queen cells when available. When no queen cells, I use mated Russian queens. Usually in June, some of the splits are not building as they should be. I was told to add brood from strong hives to boost the weaker ones. What I have been doing is taking a frame with heavy capped brood and the bees on the frame, placing it directly in the weak hive, usually in slot #7.

This year, two of the weak hives, after the introduction of new brood, lost their queens.

Now the question is, did the bees on the brood kill the existing queen? Should I be only adding the brood with no bees or isolating the frame in a nuc box for a day or two before adding? What is the proper, generally accepted practice on adding brood to a weak hive?

Question #2: It is late July, I have two split hives that apparently swarmed after the split and were unsuccessful in replacing their queens. One of the hives has a drone layer. There are capped drone cells scattered over three or four of the frames, about 15-20 per side. Being late in the year, I bought queens to add to the hives. The drone laying hive, I was told to take the hive about twenty feet out in front of where it stands, then shake all the bees out of the hive, return the boxes to the stand. The bees would and did fly back to the hive. I placed a caged queen in the hive while they were flying back. I was told the laying worker could not fly and would not return. If I did not get her or them out, they would kill the new queen. I will wait five days to release the queen. The returning workers did not actively go after the cage. Really seemed to ignore the cage. What is the best practice to requeen a drone laying hive?

Question #3: I live in north Mississippi. You live and work in Florida. I have been pulling my fall honey in late October usually a couple to three weeks prior to the first frost. I treat my hive with Apivar for mites in late October/early November, then again in March.

I was told that November was too late, that I should be treating in August/September. With temperatures in the upper 90s to 100 in the south, when is the best time to treat for mites? What product is best to use and when at these temperatures?

Question #4: I was told that almonds, peaches and early blooming fruit trees only produce pollen, not nectar, therefore not honey producing plants.

Gordon Easterling


Question 1: It is possible that the bees added with the brood killed the existing queen. I cannot guarantee that is what happened, but it could be the case. Next time, find and cage the queen in the weak hive for 3-4 days when you introduce the new bees/brood. Then, manually release the queen around day 3 or 4 once you see confirmation that the bees have “accepted” her. (How can one determine this? Bees that have accepted their queen tend to move around loosely on the queen cage. You can move them easily by brushing them with your finger. Bees that have not accepted the caged queen tend to bite at the cage and are difficult to brush off the cage using your finger. Recage the queen another 2-3 days if the bees attack her upon release from the cage.) Another option is just to shake the bees off the brood frame and only provide the weak hive frames of brood from which you see bees emerging actively. That way, the population will increase quickly. If you do this, you need to be sure that your weak colony can tend the new brood that you add to the hive. You do not want to give the colony more brood than it can keep warm.

Question 2: By drone laying hive, I assume you mean “laying workers”? You mention that in your question, but I wanted to be sure. Either way, I will answer your question as if (1) you have a laying worker colony and (2) you do not have a laying worker colony (i.e., your queen has become a drone layer).

For colonies with laying workers: Colonies that go queenless try to requeen themselves. Occasionally, they fail to rear a queen and become hopelessly queenless. When this happens, the ovaries of some of the workers will begin to develop, making it where these workers can lay eggs. Workers do not have a spermatheca (the organ that holds semen collected from drones). Furthermore, they never go on mating flights. Thus, workers can only lay unfertilized, or drone, eggs. Colonies headed by laying workers are doomed, given that only drones are being produced and drones do not contribute to the work force of the hive. Many scientists believe that laying workers represent a colony’s last-ditch attempt to flood the environment with its genes before it dies. The catch with laying worker colonies is that the laying workers begin to take on the pheromonal bouquet of a queen. The colony, then, believes itself to be queen-right. Any attempt to requeen the colony with a caged queen will result in the death of that caged queen. Countless new beekeepers have been frustrated by the loss of a purchased queen when trying to requeen a laying worker colony. Given that it is nearly impossible to identify a laying worker by sight (unless you happen to see one with her abdomen in a cell), it is hard to rid the colony of such a worker (or, in many cases, multiple workers), which otherwise would be necessary if you want to requeen that hive.

There are a couple of ways that beekeepers attempt to requeen laying worker colonies. First, some take the approach you mention, where all the bees in the hive are shaken from the combs/hive boxes some distance away from the hive. The general belief is that the laying workers are “too heavy to fly” and will not make it back to the reassembled hive at the original nest site. I am not sure if this is the case, but it seems to work somewhat. You effectively rid this colony of laying workers and then can requeen with a queen cell or caged queen. I am not a big fan of this method as it leaves too much to chance and does not have the highest success rate. Instead, I requeen laying worker colonies using nucs. I always have 5-frame nucs available in my production apiaries just for this purpose. When a colony develops laying workers, I remove five frames from the hive and put all the frames (bees, queen and all) from the nuc right into the empty spot I just created in the hive. I wrote a document in which I explain requeening with nucs in detail. You can find that document freely available online at this web address:

For colonies with drone laying queens: Queens can become drone layers if they did not mate at all or if they mated poorly. These are easier colonies to requeen because you can find/kill the queen and then requeen the colony one of the standard ways (with a caged queen, with a nuc, with a new queen cell from another colony, etc.).

Question 3: My advice about treating Varroa is treating when you need to treat rather than on a schedule. For me, that is when your mite ratios reach 3 mites/100 bees. So, you should sample colonies monthly (or every other month) during the active season (March to Oct) and treat when you reach that number. The “best” treatment (i.e., the most effective treatment) is likely Apivar (amitraz as the active ingredient) but the other treatments can be used and work well at other times of the year. In fact, you should not rely on a single compound for Varroa control. Rather, you should develop a strategy to rotate chemical treatments throughout the year. The Honey Bee Health Coalition put together what I consider the best management guide for Varroa control on the planet. I strongly recommend you read the free document and watch the free accompanying videos at their website: (or, you can do a Google search for “Honey Bee Health Coalition Varroa.” With this information, you will learn to treat in response to Varroa populations rather than just automatically depending on the time of the year.

Question 4: You are correct, almonds, peaches, etc. do not produce a lot of nectar for bees. They produce some, but not a lot. I do hear of incidences where bees can produce reasonable amounts of honey on some of these tree crops, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Incidentally, most of the plants that honey bees are used to pollinate do not produce a lot of nectar. There are a few exceptions (clover, buckwheat) but these are exceptions and not the rule. That is why you do not see watermelon honey, blueberry honey, peach honey, squash honey, etc. Do not get me wrong; I have seen some beekeepers market these types of honeys. However, I usually doubt their authenticity.

Q  Fainting queens

I thought this may be an interesting question that most of your readers are not aware of, or rarely experience. I heard it mentioned somewhere and if I had not heard it, I would have tossed a good queen. Also, I recently started listening to your podcast and love it.

I marked a queen yesterday with a one-handed marking cage and after I pulled back the plunger, it looked like she was dead since she just rolled around in the cage. I heard of fainting but after almost ten minutes, there was no movement. So, of course I started panicking since it was too late in season to requeen. I then caught a glimpse of her abdomen twitching. I let some bees crawl into the cage and about another 5-10 minutes later, she seemed fine. What causes this reaction and have there been any studies as to whether there are any long-term effects to this trauma?

Regina Rhoa
Pennsylvania, September


Well, this is less of an answer and more of an agreement given we know so little about this behavior. I have seen this happen quite a few times myself. When it happens for me, it occurs during the clipping/marking process just like you describe. I did a search for research on this topic and could not find any. However, I did find a mention of the behavior in Roger Morse’s and Kim Flottum’s third edition of Honey Bee Pests, Predators, & Diseases. The full reference is:

Calderone, N.W., Tucker, K.W. 1997. Variations, abnormalities, and noninfectious diseases. In: Honey Bee Pests, Predators, & Diseases, Third Edition (R.A. Morse, K. Flottum, Eds.). A.I. Root, Medina, Ohio, USA. Pp. 401 – 423.

I absolutely love the way that the authors describe this behavior so I will reproduce their passage, given they said it much better than can I. The key passage is in the subsection “Catalepsy in queen bees” (pgs. 418 – 420).

“Queens rarely faint, but they have been observed to do so by beekeepers who have handled large numbers of queens. This condition has been called catalepsy (Brunnich 1922), epilepsies (Laidlaw and Eckert 1962), fainting (Miles 1922), or shock (Latham 1922). When it happens, it occurs just after a queen is picked off the comb by her wings. According to Latham (1922), the queen hooks her abdomen forward, stiffens momentarily, becomes motionless for a few minutes, and then gradually revives and returns to normal activity. Not every queen who hooks her abdomen is so affected, but Latham believed it most likely to occur in large queens with enlarged abdomens that are laying heavily. In Miles’ (1922) experience, catalepsy happened only to young queens; moreover, most of the cases described by Brunnich (1922) were also young queens. In some cases, the queen does not revive, and death results (Miles 1922). The cause of catalepsy is unknown but may result from a temporary nervous disorder.”

Notice that the references cited in this paragraph are old, some nearly a century old. It appears to be one of those things that people who handle queens regularly experience, but for which we have no true explanation. Sounds like a good research project!

What do I think is happening? My guess, though only a guess, is that this could be akin to “playing possum” where the queen faints to limit the impact of a predator of combatant (maybe another queen, or balling workers). It is also possible that this is a stress response that is more like shock than anything else. Nevertheless, I think it is one of those things that happens in colonies that needs to be explored. As far as I can tell, there are no long-term repercussions of this behavior.

P.S. Glad you enjoy the podcast!

Reusing drawn comb

 I am aware of the accepted principles of rotating old drawn comb out of hives and the reason for caution using frames of comb from other colonies. My understanding for this concern is to prevent the spread of disease and that the wax can absorb toxins such as pesticides and herbicides. My question is: What is (are) the specific bee disease(s) we are concerned about being transferred on old comb? I understand that wax moth issues can be dealt with on frames of comb by freezing the frames. Can any of the diseases that can be transferred in old comb be addressed by freezing?

Ernie Schmidt
Washington, August


As you note, many beekeepers and bee scientists recommend rotating old combs (usually five years or older) out of hives to reduce disease, pest, and pesticide loads in the combs. Though this is a general recommendation and has been shown to be beneficial in some studies, why it is