Bees: Installing Drone Frames

Trying natural varroa mite control.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

Varroa mites are a real problem for beekeepers in the U.S. (and likely abroad). They breed on bee larva, sucking the “blood” out of their hosts and spreading throughout the hive. It’s impossible to prevent them from infesting a hive. The only thing you can do is try to minimize them and their damage.

A drone frame is a special brood frame with larger cells on the foundation. It’s part of a varroa mite control program. Theoretically, when the bees see these large cells they realize that they’re perfect for raising drones. Drones have only one purpose — to fertilize the queen — but they’re really not needed once the queen has been fertilized and is laying eggs. They’re larger bees and need larger cells to develop. They also take longer to develop, which is why varroa mites prefer infesting drone cells. So the idea is to encourage the bees to put only drone cells on one frame which, hopefully, will attract many of the mites in the hive. Then, before the drones hatch but after the mites have infested the drone cells, you pull the frame out of the hive and freeze it. This kills the drones (which, again, you really don’t need) and the mites. You then remove the caps from the drone cells and put the frame back into the hive where, hopefully, the process starts all over again once the bees have cleaned out the cells.

That’s the idea. I figured I’d give it a try, so I ordered two drone frames — so I could always have one in my hive, even when one was in the freezer. After getting the frames, however, I caught a swarm and started a second hive. So I’ve got one frame in each hive and need to get another pair to swap them out.

The photo below shows me inserting a drone frame into the bottom box of my first beehive. I pulled out a frame that was virtually untouched by the bees and moved that into the upper box in place of another untouched frame.

Adding a Drone Frame to a Bee Hive

I just hope I can fit the darn things in my freezer. Right now, I’m still living in my RV; eventually I’ll have my chest freezer out of storage and set up where I’ll have plenty of space.

I should mention here that using drone frames is part of an integrated pest management (IPM) system. I’ll use other control methods — such as a bottom board screen — when I settle my bees into their permanent home later this season.

What do you think?