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Beekeeping, Brood, Drones, Honey, Honey Bees, Latin Literature, Queens, Swarms

Georgics Book IV: The invasion of the drones!

BkIV:The Nature and Qualities of Bees

solae communes natos, consortia tecta
urbis habent, magnisque agitant sub legibus aevum,
et patrium solae et certos novere Penates;
venturaeque hiemis memores aestate laborem
experiuntur et in medium quaesita reponunt.
namquealiae victu invigilant et foedere pacto
exercentur agris; pars intra saepta domorum
Narcissi lacrimum et lentum de cortice gluten
primi favis ponunt fundamina, deinde tenaces
suspendunt ceras; aliae spem gentis adultos
educunt fetus; aliae purissima mella
stipant, et liquido distendunt nectare cellas.
sunt, quibis ad portus cecidit custodia sortis,
inque vicum speculantur aquas et nubila caeli;
aut onera accipiunt venientum, aut agmine facto
ignavum fucos pecus a praesepibus arcent.

 From P. Vergili Maronis, Georgicon Liber IV, T.E. Page editor, MacMillan 1909
(pdf copy from http://www.textkit.com/learn/ID/163/author_id/80/)

They alone hold children in common: own the roofs
of their city as one: and pass their life under the might of the law.
They alone know a country, and a settled home,
and in summer, remembering the winter to come,
undergo labour, storing their gains for all.
For some supervise the gathering of food, and work
in the fields to an agreed rule: some, walled in their homes,
lay the first foundations of the comb, with drops of gum
taken from narcissi, and sticky glue from tree-bark,
then hang the clinging wax: others lead the mature young,
their nation’s hope, others pack purest honey together,
and swell the cells with liquid nectar:
there are those whose lot is to guard the gates,
and in turn they watch out for rain and clouds in the sky,
or accept the incoming loads, or, forming ranks,
they keep the idle crowd of drones away from the hive.


‘Invasion’ may seem a bit dramatic, but even though we are what is termed ‘second-year beekeepers’,  we do still feel a bit of a panic when we see cells such as those above and are not quite sure whether they are drone or queen cells (we think they are drone cells, because queen cells are a bit more elongated, but I expect one of our bee pals to say we are wrong!).  Either would not necessarily be a good sign, as depending upon other factors, their presence may signal the potential for a swarm.  And we have definitely been put on the alert regarding swarms by our local beekeeping association, having received this missive at the beginning of April:

This is a warning that we thought we should send you.
We have noticed that due to this lovely spell of warm weather the bees are doing well, very well, so well in fact this is a reminder to look at your bees NOW and be prepared to put supers on.
There has been no set back with cold spells yet, killing eggs that they can’t keep at the right temperature.
So Priority job Look at your bees and take supers, we think you will need them.
Heres to a wonderful year for Honey bees.
Also Drones are about to hatch so swarms could happen early April , Thats now so give those bees space

We were not able to get to into the hive for a good look around until a few weeks ago, and saw no queen cells (just a queen cup). The drone cells we saw were mostly in the position in the photo:  on the very edge of the frames, sometimes hanging off them.  I have read in the British Beekeeping Association newsletter that if the cells are in the middle of worker brood then that is a sign there is a problem with the queen.

All other signs seemed positive, or at least not indicative of swarm behavior:

Brood:  We have about 6 frames of brood, in various stages of development

Honey:  The girls have been working a lot harder than last year and are finally filling the outer frames with        honey. So we’ve put some frames in the super (we had kept one on during the winter), and are tracking their progress in drawing the comb etc.

Pests:  I am not seeing a lot of mites, but I acknowledge that I have to get better at identifying them on the removable hive floor.  However, in early to  mid April I had to clear off some wax moth from the hive floor, and was a bit afraid that I would find an infestation on the frames.  However, we only saw evidence of one, and we scraped it out of the comb

Queen:  Still haven’t seen her, but the fact that there is brood seems to indicate she’s still productive.  Also, the bees were in a very agreeable mood, no matter  how much we had to shake them to get a look at the frames.

Of course, things have turned a bit cooler now, towards the end of April, beginning of May.  So, we will have to see if the change in weather has an impact.

I have some other notes to post, but the presence of fucos  was my main concern.  I am hoping that the girls intend for the drones to remain idle, at least in my hive!


3 thoughts on “Georgics Book IV: The invasion of the drones!

  1. Looks like drone brood to me too. If you uncap a bit with an uncapping fork you will probably find some mites hiding within.

    Posted by Emily Heath | May 3, 2011, 8:26 pm
  2. Hi Emily

    Glad to hear we have managed to accumulate more than a little useful knowledge by now! When you say ‘mites’ though, do you mean drone larvae or actual varroa mites? We did uncap to see the larvae, but are you suggesting we should then examine the larvae for varroa? (I know that purposefully cultivating drones is a method for detecting and eliminating varroa).

    Posted by mylatinnotebook | May 4, 2011, 10:34 am
  3. Sorry, yes mean varroa mites. They can be spotted instantly against the white drone larvae and it’s quite satisfying to foil their evil plans. You won’t be able to completely eliminate varroa in your hive, but as you say destroying drone brood can be used as a method to help keep their numbers down.

    Personally I like to leave my drones alone and treat against varroa in other ways, as I feel it helps other beekeepers nearby if their virgin queens have plenty of drones to mate with. But when the local bee inspector visited recently she did a bit of drone uncapping in my hive and we found some varroa mites hiding within, which was interesting to see.

    Posted by Emily Heath | May 4, 2011, 11:43 am

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