Introducing brood breaks at specific times of the year can prove to be very beneficial for your hive. Understanding the brood life cycles of the different bees is critical - we recommend getting a Queen Dial if you're not familiar with them.
To do a brood break, you will need a Queen Cage Frame. These are special frames which you can cage the queen up in and leave her in there for extended periods of time. The bees will still feed and look after her with no trouble.
If you have beehives in good condition in Autumn, they will greatly benefit with a brood break in the winter. The bees that hatch out after you cage the queen will live happily till the next batch of brood arrives several months later, after the brood break period. This is all conditional to the bees being healthy and having enough of them.
The queen can be caged for 3 to 4 months.
24 days after caging, there will be no capped brood and the hive can be vaporized with Oxalic Acid (OA). If done with the correct technique, it will kill almost every varroa mite in the beehive. (There is no capped brood for them to shelter in.) Another treatment one week later will kill off any remaining varroa mites. You can get a few varroa mites from stray bees that come to your beehive from other colonies, but they cannot breed when there is no brood.
The temperature in the cluster will drop from 34°C to around 22°C to 28°C. With the low temperature and no brood, there are significant advantages such as: -
- A lot less honey required in the winter.
- A lot less pollen is required.
- The worker bees and the queen live a lot longer because they have very little work to do.
- There is less condensation in the beehive.
- The timber stays dryer and lasts longer.
- Only one box of bees is required over winter.
- Easier to keep secure in case of storms or floods.
No varroa strips will be required in the beehive unless you have massive varroa mite re-invasion issues from nearby colonies.
Swarm Control. (And varroa control.)
Some beekeepers also cage the queen in Spring to control swarming and varroa mite populations. There are 3 stages that precede swarming:
- Build excess amounts of drone brood.
- Build queen cell cups.
- Add eggs to cell cups to produce new queens.
The following procedure is best during stages 1 or 2:
- Cage the queen for 18 days.
- Release her and wait 6 days.
- Then you will have 2 days where there will be no capped brood. Vaporize the beehive with OA and kill almost every varroa mite inside.
- The 18 days with no eggs being laid will usually make the bees forget about swarming for a while.
Maximise Honey Crop. (And varroa control)
Some honey flows can be very valuable but occur for an intense & brief period of only 2 or 3 weeks. To maximise the crop, cage the queen 2 or 3 days before the start of the expected honey flow. This allows for the following:
- The queen excluder can be removed.
- 8 days after caging, there will be no brood to feed.
- More bees get involved in field duties to maximise the crop.
- Less food and pollen required in the brood nest.
- No chance of getting brood in the honey supers.
The honey crop can then be removed, queen released, and the hive can be vaporized with OA to kill almost all varroa mites in the hive.