More Drones not Less
For years beekeepers have been teaching beginners that we should discard combs that contain many drone cells. Their reasoning is that the drones eat honey and do not contribute to the honey crop that a colony collects.
Whilst I can see their point from a superficial point of view... I think that there are much deeper reasons to consider the opposite case. However bees are not wasteful, they will make the number of drones that they require, artificially removing or reducing them, disturbs the rhythm of what the bees consider 'normal'.
When I started beekeeping I followed the method of culling drone combs in order to provide a greater foraging force of workers.
As I gained experience, (I am still doing that!), I started to follow the idea that bees never do any thing without good reason and even if we beekeepers did not understand the reason, it was the bees that were RIGHT not us.
These days I actively encourage my bees to produce drones in larger numbers than they would naturally. The numbers require to be high, because only something like one in 200 drones ever get the chance to mate in their lifetime.
I have been criticised for this by our local bee inspector, but I think that I am the one that is 'marching in step' on this occasion.
The biggest problem for drones is the erroneous human observation (of a century or so ago) that drones are 'lazy' or 'useless' which colours beekeeper's judgement even through to the present day.
The first batch of queens that I rear, have to be early... I am not particularly interested in the absolute quality of these queens as they are only a means to an end. That end reason is for the new queens to head up the mating nucs to provide plenty of workers to look after subsequent batches of queens. The role of the first batch is to get the nucs laid up and to repair and redraw any damaged combs, do the housework and the spring cleaning... So quality or breeding are unimportant. There is very little likelihood of this batch of queens producing drones or queens that would contaminate the breeding pool.
When the second batch of cells is sealed then the first queens are killed as they have achieved my aim of establishing the nucs under queenright conditions. I hear some complain that this is callous or brutal, this it may be, but it is practical.
Regardless of whether you require the drones for breeding purposes, you will gain more of a honey crop from bees whose needs for drones are satisfied, than from colonies that are under artificial stresses, due to shortage of drones.
Another good reason for plenty of drones is that the bees themselves appear to be 'more at ease', (I cannot be more objective than that), when 1,000-3,000 drones are present.
Yet another reason is that the drones are available to keep the brood warm while a strong nectar flow encourages a high proportion of those bees that are able to forage to be out in the field.
Steve Taber, in the 1970s said that large colonies in Hawaii had about thirty percent drones, and had no problem making tons of honey.