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By Gil Pedersen

 These and other excuses are used by beekeepers to justify not culling their brood combs.

I have seen operations with ten to twenty per cent of their brood combs taken up with drone cells. That is equivalent of one to two complete combs of drone cell in a ten frame super.

One place I was at, told me they used their cull honey combs as replacement brood comb. I saw some of the cull honey comb that they were going to move into the brood nests. It definitely was cull comb.

Any drone comb is surplus to needs. But in my opinion, the location on a comb is even more important. A patch of drone cells on the middle of a frame will be used over and over to raise drones throughout the season. On the other hand drone cells in the corner of a comb may not be used by the queen, or at most only occasionally.

Bees don't store pollen in drone cells and are reluctant to use them for honey. This leaves the drone cells always available for the queen to lay in. There is competition for worker cells between the queen for egg laying and workers storing pollen and nectar when there is a flow on. The higher the per cent of drone cells, the greater they compete for use of the remaining cells.

What about bees replacing drone comb if you remove all or most of it?  We have seen no evidence of this happening in our operation. If a mouse chews out a corner, or if combs get very moldy in spring causing the bees to tear it down and rebuild, then drone comb will be built.

How soon will a queen start laying in drone cells? In our first check in the spring, which can be late March or very early April,  we have found drone brood when there were drone cells available.

By now you are probably saying "so what". It boils down to numbers. If ten per cent of your brood comb consists of drone cell,  then close to that same percentage of eggs laid by the queens will be drone. To put it another way, the reduction in workers produced is equivalent to having no drone comb but catching and caging your queens for twenty four hours every ten days. Or throwing out every tenth comb of eggs the queens lay. (If ten per cent is not the right figure for your outfit then adjust the numbers to fit.)

By removing drone comb from your brood chambers you should increase the quantity of workers.  If you are afraid that this expansion in bees will lead to June swarming try removing one or two combs of brood from the "overcrowded" hives. These surplus bees can be used to start nucs to replace your deadouts.

Culling the poor comb in your brood nests can pay big dividends. Replacing drone comb with good worker comb can increase the worker count in each hive . Increasing the number of workers in each hive should increase production of honey. A larger production of honey per hive can increase your profits.

Published in the S.B.A. Newsletter, Fall, 1997.


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