Hygienic Cell Plunger Initial Test Results – By Ernie Daley

The Comox Valley Bee Club’s first Hygienic Cell Plunger has just passed it’s first field trial.  Pin orientation was accurate, penetration adequate (I had plastic foundation so if yours is wax, a more carful Pin pressure on the plunge would be suggested).  

Selected Frame     

Lining up the pins

 Actual Cell Puncture

The punctured 189 cells minus 6 heater cells (i.e. open) see left pic below = 183 pin killed March 30th at 1:27 p.m.

Checked on April 1 at 1:27 p.m. (48 hours later), pic above right. Noted 27 cells untouched (I counted the ones underway as cleaned out), resulted in 156 cleaned out of a possible 183 for a Hygienic score of 85%.  Given the activity and progress on the remaining ones as well as possible pin misses if any, I will definitely rate this one hive as a good candidate for splitting.  With a 2017 Superseded Queen, Winter survival and Spring build up have been good, mood is pleasing and first year’s honey production was also good. Being Hygienic is a huge bonus, even though they did not reach the 90-95%, with a score of 85% I like this stock.

This has been very satisfying, now that we have a working tool proven in the field, you too can test your stock at your convenience.  The (189 Cell) Hygienic Cell Plunger is available from  Peter Smith – Contact via countrydogs [at] outlook [dot] com to arrange a time. or call 250-941-7792    Location: 2319 Waveland Rd, Courtenay

Note: it is recommended that hives be re-tested a second time for confirmation of Hygienic Behaviour.  Also, full disclosure, I did not check to see if the brood was in the Pink Eye stage or otherwise. This detail was only recently learned from Dr. Leonard Fosters talk in Parksville.  I am unclear of the implications as it relates to the test. But expect to be enlightened by someone more so than I. For now, I’m pretty happy with the results. Happy Hygienic Beekeeping!


DIY, Hygienic Testing Plunger 2.0 – By Ernie Daley

A couple of other attempts failed spectacularly, but the mistakes made along the way got me to this simple and straightforward version.  We can add it to the Bee Club Equipment and anyone can check it out and use it, or for the handy in the crowd, you could make your own. Either way Hygienic Testing is coming soon to an apiary near you !

Here is the updated Cell Plunger, “The 189”.  Now available for Beta testing if anyone is interested.  Easy to line up and easy to use, we hope.

Hygienic Testing 101 –

  1. Count the open cells (if any) in the area of the brood frame you have selected for testing. Ideally, there should be no more than 10-12 empty cells.  Make a note of the number and subtract it from 189.  This will be your starting number.
  2. Line up and center the horizontal rows of pins over the cells in the selected area, plunge to puncture the cells and kill pupae. Check cells in the selected area and puncture any missed individually if necessary.
  3. The killed brood section frame is then placed in the center of the brood nest. Two days (48 hours) later the frame is removed and the number of sealed cells remaining is recorded. A hygienic colony will have uncapped and removed over 90-95% of the pin killed brood within 48 hours. A non-hygienic colony will take over six days to completely remove the dead brood. The speed with which a colony removed dead brood is correlated with its ability to remove diseased and parasitized brood.
  4. It is very important that colonies be considered hygienic only if they remove >95% of the brood on two consecutive tests.
  5. The test is also helpful in making a choice between two colonies for splits i.e. selecting for the higher percentage

(whatever it turns out to be) and continue on with that one to see if you can achieve an overall apiary improvement over time.  Always selecting for the more hygienic ones to make increases. Modest and incremental steps individual beekeepers can make along the way.

Note: The Pins should be dipped in Isopropyl alcohol and air spun dried between hives.

This work in progress continues and any new insights, feedback and observations are welcome.  

Please share your testing results with the Club and subsequent Apiary improvement.  Remember to keep accurate records of testing dates and cell numbers per hive as well as overall Apiary Numbers. Better Bees are on the way !

DIY – Hygienic Behavior Testing with “The Plunger” – By Ernie Daley

Recently I had the good fortune of attending the Bee Masters course in Vancouver with some of our Club Members.  We learned a great deal as you can imagine but one of the things which stuck out for me was the topic of selection of queens by breeders for Hygienic traits.  This subject seemed to be at the heart of most issues affecting bee health and vigor. There are many levels of testing for selection including identifying specific genes, using liquid nitrogen to freeze a specific area of brood just to name a couple.  I won’t go over that section of the course here, but the take away for me was that if we can select for and improve the overall level of Hygienic behavior in our own apiaries the spill over and long-term effects will be significant. Having looked at the testing involved I thought I would have to wait and see, hoping they would be successful and we would eventually have better bees available for restocking.  But at a recent club event over the weekend, I was speaking with another small-scale beekeeper like myself (with about 5 hives) who was going to undertake such a selection. In our conversation it became clear that we could play a role and participate in the process. Ultimately benefiting by ending up with better bees ourselves and by flooding Drone Congregation Areas with those same desirable traits. Initially I thought it did not apply to the very small-scale beekeepers as we did not have ready access to the tools, nitrogen etc.  But it turns out there is a no-tech way for us to get involved. Before I get into that though it would be helpful to have a good understanding of the Hygienic Behavior Test itself involving the liquid nitrogen. Take a look at this PDF and you will get a pretty good handle on how it is done and what to look for.



Instead of liquid nitrogen, a no-tech work around would be to take a push pin and puncture all the capped brood cells in a 3” circle on one brood frame per hive.  This would involve getting a marker to define the 3” circle and then individually puncture each cell within it, killing the pupae. Replace the frame in the hive and check it 24 hours later to see how much of the 3” circle had been cleaned out.  Pretty simple really. Even if you only have two hives it would be worth doing because if you are going to make a split with one, you would be further ahead to split the most Hygienic one. It turns out there are well over 150 cells in a 3” circle and that means a lot of pin pricks per frame.  In an effort to make it a quicker process and knowing that if we can make it easier we are likely to get more participation, I embarked on making a plunger that could puncture all the cells at one go. You can see my efforts in the pics attached, I started with a 2” circle first to test the concept.   It is still a work in progress but I hope to have a working prototype by the time we get to open our hives with frames full of brood. I know we have some great minds and inventors in the club so if anyone else has some innovations, comments or ideas it would be terrific to see if we can’t get a workable method which makes hygienic testing simple and accessible for all small-scale beekeepers.


Tis the swarming season, Snelgrove and more… – By Ernie Daley

Originally Posted on May 1st, 2017

Beekeepers fortunate enough that their hives, having survived the winter, now are on high alert looking out for Swarms and how to prevent them.  There was some good discussion on this at our most recent meeting and I wanted to share my experience with one of them. The Snelgrove swarm board method which I implemented last year and have already started this year.   Many people, myself included when first introduced to this method find it complicated but actually it is very simple once you understand the concept, and it works !

The Snelgrove method was first described by Leonard E Snelgrove in his 1934 book, “Swarming – It’s Control and Prevention”. https://www.amazon.ca/Swarming-Its-Control-Prevention-Snelgrove/dp/0905652398  It is a fascinating little book and if you can get one I urge you to add it to your library.  He describes and discusses many swarm control methods in addition to his own. I built a variation of his double screened swarm board and put it into service.  I modified the orientation of the boxes to suit my needs as described below. The principle is to separate the flying bees with the queen from the rest of the hive creating the impression that they have already swarmed and can start rebuilding.  The beauty of it is that once the board is in place you can alternate the access to the separated hive boxes maintaining the colony strength, in fact enhancing it and maybe ending up with a double queen hive (very likely if you get one in place early enough).  The idea is simple really; you separate the boxes of your hive into two categories. In one box you have the queen, frames of brood, stores and frames of drawn comb (we’ll call this A). In the second category you have all the frames with eggs, uncapped and capped brood and bees (we’ll call this B).  You now put the hive back together with “B” on the bottom board and a super above. Now the Snelgrove board goes on and on top of that “A” or the box with all the frames of brood, bees and the queen.

First step is to open door #1, all the flying bees that are in that upper box will exit and return to the bottom where they and all the other flying bees return to.  Any newly hatched bees in the upper box will now use that entrance to come and go after their orientation flights.

One week later close door #1 and open door #2 and open door #3 on the opposite side.  The bees from the upper box that were using #1 will now return to the bottom via #2 ending up in the bottom box and new bees will begin to use #3 to come and go because this is where they will orient to now.


Wait another week and open door #4 and #5 (at the back) and close #3.  Once again the bees that had been using #3 from the upper box will now return to the lower box via door #4 and new bees will begin to use #5 from the upper box.   Continue on with this rotation, while checking for space in each hive and add boxes as needed.

Sounds complicated but actually very simple and easy to understand once you get the idea of what is going on.  The bottom box is continually being reinforced with flying bees, the queen has lots of room to lay, there is little brood to feed in the bottom box so nectar coming in is stored freely.   So no downsides really, hive forager strength is maintained and enhanced through the flow, swarms are not likely as they are in an artificial swarm state. There is a possibility/likelihood that the bees in the lower box “B” may make a queen and she starts laying too, further increasing the flying bees bringing in stores.  But hey now we have a double queen hive, quality problem! This is in fact what happened for me in 2016. You can choose to recombine at the end of the flow, keeping the younger or better queen, make another hive or sell it. Either way, you have proactively intervened in the swarm impulse and improved your odds of a honey crop.

As with anything in Beekeeping there are more questions than answers…. what if there are already queen cells before you start?, what is the timing of the entrance rotations?, what if the virgin queen from comes back from her mating flight and goes in the wrong entrance?….. Well too much to cover here, you gotta get the book if you want all the answers, but it is fun trying out these different methods for sure.  Also you can make your own decisions based on what you observe and what your goals are.

I also use this method to make use of Dinks (queenright colonies which just don’t seem to build up or thrive on their own), thereby making use of her flying bees to add to the foragers of a strong colony below.

Ok, So….. if you’re not having fun with your bees, you’re not beekeeping right!  

Happy Nectar Flow all