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Walking Drones

Although I have heard of several eager beekeepers talking about creating Nuc’s (for a variety of reasons, mostly around purported queen cell creation in their overwintered hives) already, I never create Nuc’s until I see a lot of walking drones in my hives in a given area. I an definitively say that my areas (eastern Henrico and central/western Charles City County) do not have a good population of walking drones in the hives, based on observations of a half a dozen yards, at least, in each area.

In truth, I have already been down that road, in my early beekeeping days. Warm weather hits in February, a few hives look really strong and I was off to the races in my Nuc creation! Some Nuc’s failed and those that made it seemed to start off strong but always had issues in short order. On the other hand, I have found that creating Nuc’s when there are plenty of walking drones in the hive is a very good indicator of success (a strong, long living queen and hive.)

Some might ask what the heck I am talking about, when it comes to “walking drones”. The base of this practice focuses on a theory (that I personally have found to be VERY true) that queens (and their hives) do much better when bred very well (by 13+ drones) in their mating flights. To get this kind of mating, the local population of drones needs to be high enough to make this happen.

By the time we hit February, I rarely ever find any drones from the past year still in the hives. All were either kicked out the past Fall or have died of old age in the hive. As things begin to ramp up (pollen and nectar start ebbing into the hive), the workers will encourage the queen to begin laying drone eggs. The key for the Nuc creator is to determine when these new drones will be out to mate with their queens!

It comes down to good old Bee Math. Once a drone hatches and begins “walking around on the comb”, you have about 3 weeks before it starts flying out of the hive to do the “mating thing”. Thus, many beekeepers use the date at which they find “walking drones” as a good time to start a new Nuc. When you start a new Nuc, it takes the bees about two weeks to raise a new queen and then another week for her to get her legs under her before she goes out to mate, for a total of 3 weeks. Thus, “walking drones” (also 3 weeks) is a good indicator of when to start a Nuc.

But, in my view (and experience) this just means a few drones will be out when my queen is ready. I like to have A LOT of drones out there (see theory above). So, I usually wait a week or two AFTER I see the first walking drones before I even begin my Nuc creation.

As of yesterday, I have only seen capped drone cells in all of my hives (despite all of the warm weather) – not one, single walking drone. So, I am at least two weeks out from the creation of any Nuc’s as of now.

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