Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Comb cell size and too many drones

Hello Steven,

Your work with the "Certified Russian Bees" is part of the solution to our honey bee problem.  They are naturally smaller than our "US Italian bees" and when they make their wax comb without man-made starter foundation the cell size is about 4.9 mm.  Our "US Italian bees" make their natural wax comb with a cell size of about 6 mm without man-made starter foundation.  This difference is not noticed by our beekeeping comunity because most are using man-made foundation with a 5.4 mm cell size.  Since your group of "Certified Russian Beekeepers" have not had to use antibiotics, pesticides or chemicals in your bee hives for the past 14 years this gives the rest of us hope to eleminate the need for this treatment in our bee hives.

Let's look at some objections to this idea:

             -   This cell size theory has been discussed in the past and because the honeybees will make drone comb as needed some feel the cell size is irrelevent.. 

Why then are the "US Italian Bees" making natural wax comb at the 6 mm size in my honey supers which are impossiable for the queen to reach since I am using a queen excluder?  At the same time my "Certified Russian Bees" make their natural wax comb about 4.9 mm..

              -   Some say that a colony on its own will make 25% Drone brood.

If this is true why did they make all the extra drones in Jonathan's top bar hive?  Something is out of balance.  Why did they make so many extra drones in my tree trunk top bar hive?  There is another school of thought that estimates normal drone population in a healthy bee hive at about 700, or 15%.

In conclusion, we beekeepers need to take another look at the size of the honeybee and the resultant cell size.  Maybe retrofit them back to 4.9 mm.

This spring my "Tree Trunk Top Bar Bee Hive" was started with a three pound package of Italian bees from California.  They made an excessive amount of drones - so many, they began killing the drones and the front of the hive looked like a battlefield.  There were hundreds of dead drones.  Why did this happen?  My other packages of Italians did fine in their hives with standard frames.  The only difference was that the bees in the "Top Bar Hive" had to make their wax cells from scratch.  The cells they made were found to be about 6 mm.  The queen had no choice but to lay a drone egg in the cell.  Today's commercial honey bee is so big that it has a hard time making the standard 5.4 mm cell.  It will make cells in the 6 mm range when there is no man made foundation. 
           Jonathan on the internet wrote:
           Top bar hive inspection with several frames full of drone brood??????
I inspected my top bar yesterday and noticed I have at least 4 full frames front and back of all drone brood. I don't see multiple eggs in the cells with eggs. Not sure if its a laying worker or failing queen. I wasn't able to spot the queen but i am going to try again in a few. What should I do????? I can get a queen today. Play it safe and get the queen?
Thank you, Jonathan 

Earlier this spring when I noticed my hive starting to rear brood and build up, I added three bars to try to keep them
from swarming. They made two of those mostly drone comb, and one about half. 
Beekeeper Denison, Texas

           Sounds to me like you killed a perfectly good queen doing her job by the book. She doesn't build comb or
           supervise its construction. She is obligated to lay an infertile egg in drone comb. That's the one decision
           she has responsibility for.

This brings to mind the great loss of feral honey bee colonies.  What chance do the virgin queens have to mate with good stock "drones" when the drone congregating areas are filled with male bees that have this large cell size characteristic?  After mating with them the offspring will build cells too large for optimum survival.  Can this be part of the reason we are loosing our feral honey bee colonies?  

Let us look at the history of cell size.  100 years ago it was about 4.9 mm.  Today it is about 5.4 mm.  We have been, among other things, selecting queen stock for size.  Bigger bees make more honey and we want to make more money.  Thankfully today there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Commercial beekeepers make much of their earnings from pollination.  They do not need this bigger honey bee and all the related problems of medicating them with antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. 

My "Certified Russian Bees" made some "natural comb" with no man made foundation.  The difference in size is amazing.  It measured about 4.9 mm.  Moreover, they have not been given any antibiotics, pesticides or chemicals since arriving here from Russia about 14 years ago.

This spring we hope to install man-made drone foundation in their colonies. This will load the drone congregating areas with extra Russian drones and begin to down size the bees.

Also, why make the Russian bees use 5.4 mm foundation when 4.9 mm foundation is readily available at Dadant .

Of course a picture is worth a thousand words...

The following is a list of where to get "Certified Russian Honeybees";
Certified Members

Manley Bigalk (Queens and Nucs)
23226 20th St. 
Cresco, IA 52136 
(563)547-4222(563)380-4056 c 

Bob Brachmann (Sold out for 2013)
7590 Maples Rd., 
Little Valley, NY 14755

Steven Coy (Queens and Nucs)
17 Deerwood Dr. W.
Perkinston, MS 39573

Charlie Harper (Queens) 
421 Louveteau Rd.
Carencro, LA 70520

Ronnie & Austin Smith 
Smith Honey Farm 
18 Honey Farm Lane
Petal, MS 39465 
(601)583-3521(601)550-8593 c 

Ray Revis (Queens and Nucs) 
P.O. Box 2520
Marion, NC 28752 
(828)652-3524(828)460-3247 c 

Hubert Tubbs (No Queens or Nucs for 2013) 
P.O. Box 274 
6009 Hwy28 W.
Mize, MS 39116 

Carl & Virginia Webb
349 Gastley Rd.
Clarkesville, GA 30523 

Harry Fulton (Queens & Nucs; orders taken only through February)
2011 Pumpkin Creek Road
Brookville, MS 39739

Jerry Dunbar
Roseville, Michigan