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Posts Tagged ‘raising queen bees’

We have been having unusually mild weather lately with temperatures in the 50’s. That means the bees are out, but Spring is  still a long way away, and there’s really not much out there to eat.   I noticed that my bees were all over the chicken feeder… I had never seen this before.

Bee's 'n chickens

Bee’s ‘n chickens

Tuns out they’re just getting a little mid-winter protein snack from the fine particles in the chicken feed! I figured it was time to go into the hive and check on the bees.  Much to my relief, the colony made it though the coldest part of winter and the queen is alive and laying brood. I noticed that she’s looking a bit raggedy, and at age 3 probably past her prime.  I could replace her with another queen but I’d really like to see what will happen naturally.  The workers will notice that she is not as strong and will replace her.  This is called “supersedure”.  They do so by putting an egg into a special queen cell and feeding it royal jelly.

Queen Cell

Queen Cell

Since only one queen can occupy the hive, the workers will kill the old queen by “balling” or clustering tightly around her and stinging her.  But I have another plan…… I’ll check the hive often now, and if I see that they have built a queen cell and capped it ( meaning the larva is pupating) I will remove the comb contain the queen cell and put it and a large number of bees from the original hive into a second hive.  They will sense the developing queen and will stay with her until she hatches out. The new queen will fly out, mate with local drones and return to the hive.  Now I will have two colonies . The rest of the bees will stay with the old queen until she dies or they again try to replace her .        Well…. that’s my plan.    Stay tuned!

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I spent the afternoon with my bee mentor, Steve Wall who showed me how to begin to raise my own queen bees.   Queen bees can live 3  to 5 years, but they are the most productive in their first two years. The bees in the colony are sensitive to the strength of their queen and as she gets older or dies, they will naturally replace her. It is the worker bees that produce the queens. How do they do that?  Well, all fertilized eggs that the queen lays are female and therefore are potential queens. For the first 3 days after the egg hatches in to a tiny larva, it is fed a special substance called “royal jelly” . This stimulates the development of the larva. After three days, however, larva destined to become worker bees are no longer fed this royal jelly and instead are given a lower grade food of pollen and nectar. Their reproductive organs do not develop and they turn in to into sterile worker bees. .  Only those larvae that reside in specially built “queen cells” continue to get royal jelly . Being fed royal jelly will continue the development of their female reproductive organs and the result will be a fertile queen bee.

We can use this knowledge then to get the bees to make a number of queens for us.

And this is how to do it:

1. Select a comb that  has a lot of open brood ( larvae ) in it. This is where the queen has been actively laying eggs.

Comb with open brood

Comb with open brood

2. With a special tool…like a thin pen with a flexible blade at the end…. gently scoop up a very young larva…it must only be 1 or 2 days old. ( see how small it is?  This takes a lot of patience and good eyesight and practice!

Collected larva

Collected larva

Steve looking for larvae

Steve looking for larvae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Carefully place the larva into one of the “queen cups”.  This mimics the special “queen cell” that the workers make to hold the special egg that will develop into a queen. We used commercial plastic cups.

Plastic "queen cups"

Plastic “queen cups”

4. Once all the cups have been filled ( we transferred 60 larvae…. Steve did the first 40 and I followed with the other 20)  the bars are placed back in to a new  hive that has had the queen removed from it .  The workers now will sense that they have no queen and will begin to feed these new larvae royal jelly , as they are in what the workers think are “queen cells”in order to produce a new queen for their colony.

5. It takes 10 days for the larvae to develop and form a pupa( cocoon) . That will be May 3. At this time we will open up the hive and see how many of the 60 larvae have made it to this stage.  If we are lucky we may get 10 – 15 .  Fingers crossed!

I’ll report on our success and the next series of steps to take.  Stay tuned!

Good reference books to read if you are considering this:

“Successful Queen Rearing”: Dr. Marla Spivak and Gary S. Reuter. University of Minnesota Extension Service publication.

Queen Rearing Essentials. Lawrence John Conner

The Beekeepers Handbook, 4th Edition.  Diana Sammartaro and Alphonse Avitablile

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