Pepper pot

Second visit to my mentors apiary

I took a logbook with me this time as I found I’d forgotten quite a bit on the last visit. The weather (as recorded) was bright, sunny with patches of mist in the distance that hadn’t quite burned off in the sun. It was a really nice day, temperature was around 19C and there was no real breeze to speak of. A great day to look at the bees.

Photo showing frame assembly
Frame assembly

How are the hives doing?

Since the last visit, Mr A’s hives had been doing well and he’d united two of the weaker hives. It seems they all had queens that were laying, all in all, good news!

No diseases and the queen’s are present

In all, we checked for signs of disease and checked for evidence of a queen. There were no signs of disease and evidence of a queen was found in all. (Eggs and larvae).
In each we just did some maintenance work really, we provided new frames, that Mr A had shown me how to assemble, and we also started the process of rotating some out of use by pushing them further to the end with a view to emptying them.
There was some mess in one of the hives where a super frame was used and the bees had extended it to the box floor. That took a little bit of clearing up, however the real moment came when we looked at the fourth hive.

Pepper pot

Imagine a pepper pot with all those holes on the surface. That’s what a few brood frames in this last hive looked like. It was very noticeable, not just the odd few empty cells but around 50% in each frame. They were “shot brood” and the distinctive pepper pot pattern can indicate diploid drones. here’s an example photo, I’m afraid I forgot to take a photo of Mr A’s hive but this is close enough, although it wasn’t as bad as this.

Photo showing what shot brood looks like

© Adam Tofilski,

Mr A pointed out this was mentioned in Ian Craig’s book, My Beekeeping Year, found here:

“In the honeybee a fertilized egg is diploid, having 32 chromosomes and will develop into a female caste; an unfertilised egg is haploid, having 16 chromosomes and will develop into a male caste. With multiple matings of the queen with, say, up to ten drones diploid females are usually produced. If in-breeding occurs some of the eggs would produce diploid drones.”

In-breeding? This was a concept I hadn’t even considered.

“Diploid drones are detected by nurse bees whenever the egg hatches. They are not seen in the colony because they are not tolerated and are eaten by the worker bees leaving a ‘pepper pot’ appearance to slabs of brood. In-breeding can occur in isolated apiaries affecting up to 50% of the brood. However, with the demise of the feral colonies of honeybees, due to the ravages of varroa, in-breeding is becoming more likely in the more heavily bee-populated areas of the country. Colonies where in-breeding has taken place fail to build up to full strength. In-breeding should not be confused with any of the brood diseases.”

This was starting to make sense as we’re in quite a remote area where we’ve already discussed Varroa. It makes me wonder if the area is able to sustain its own healthy bee population or whether we’ll need to import queens fairly regularly? 

Time will tell I suppose. In the meantime, we’re seeing how this situation progress and will observe again in a week or two.

Until next time! 

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