Raising Queen Bees

The success of the colony depends largely on the quality of the queen.  As a beekeeper you may notice a difference in the production of honey from one colony to the next.  The difference in production can depend on several factors, one of which is the queen.  Beekeepers call this trait as “queenlessness”.  When the queen is in the state does less brood rearing, drone layers and shows queenlessness, must be replaced.  When beekeepers spot this condition going on in one of his colonies he will, what is known as “requeen ” the colony.   Requeening is basically introducing a new queen into the colony.  Although queen bees can be purchased from commercial beekeepers, but prefer to raise the queen themselves in order to continue with a queen of the strain or stock of previous queens that has produced so much success in his colonies.  Purchasing queen bees from a commercial beekeeper does not guarantee a queen of from a good strain.

When rearing queens it is best to use larvae that are under 24 hours old.  Larvae of this age have not been exposed to the worker’s diet.  It is important that the future queen larvae be fed queen jelly.  Queens are raised from the same fertilized eggs as the worker bees. When the eggs are newly hatched, they are neither a queen nor a worker bee.  Once the hatched larvae is 3 days old pollen is introduced into the diet of the larvae destined to become worker bees.  On the other hand the hatched larvae destined to become queen bees are raised in what is known as the queen cell which has been specially built.

There are requirements to raising a good queen.   The needs to be an ample supply of nectar and good quality pollen, as well as an abundance of sexually mature, high-quality drones for mating with the newly emerge virgin queens.  There must be suitable weather for mating of the drones and the queens.  There needs to be a good queen mother to breed from, whose offspring worker bees (and colonies) seem to have the qualities desired, such as gentle temperament, disease resistance, low swarming tendency and excellent honey production.

This is a summary of the steps to be taken for queen raising.   A starter colony must be established for the beginning of raising queen cells.  A cell building colony must be established.  Then there is the grafting of the honey bee larvae.  Last but not lest the transferring the mature queen cells to honey bee nucleus colonies for the mating stage.

As a starter colony, choose a strong two-story colony that is headed by a two-year old queen.  It will be necessary to locate and temporarily remove the queen along with the comb she is sitting on with bees, to a spare empty 8-frame box or nucleus hive. Then the 2-story hive needs to move about 2 meters to the rear of its original site.

Now you can prepare the starter colony by placing an empty box with a bottom board and the lid on the bottom of the hive.  Four combs of unsealed brood with the adult bees from the two-story hive must be moved to the empty hive.  Also place a comb of unsealed honey and pollen with bees on each side of the brood.  Fill in the rest of the empty box with empty combs.

Take another 2 or 3 other brood combs with extra young bees and shake them into the 2-story hive.  Add a feeder of sugar syrup to the starter colony.  Since the bees will be what is known as “queenless”, the nurse bees in the starter colony will be stimulated to feed and produce more brood food.  Return the 2-year old queen and her comb to the bottom box of the 2-story hive.

The cell builder colony is another important step in raising queen bees. The aim of this procedure is to create a situation under which bees will carefully nurture the young, developing queens.  You will want to select a cell builder colony that is a strong colony that fully occupies a large hive.  A 3-story hive will work to your best advantage, by reducing the available space to two hives.   Confine the queen to the bottom box.  This brood chamber should be equipped with an equal amount of brood and empty drawn cells for the queen to lay eggs.

Two combs of very young larvae should be placed in the center of the super (the hive body) and fill in the remaining space with combs of honey and pollen.   It is necessary to place the combs of unsealed honey and pollen along side of the combs of unsealed larvae.  This makes it look like a natural brood nest.  With the queen being confined, it will prevent her from entering into the super.  Recruited nurse bees will feed the unsealed larvae in the super.  The bees will soon become aware the queen is not occupying the nest.  This begins the impulse of the nurse bees taking the steps to rear a new queen.  This is the type of environment you will want to place newly grafted or started cells to be introduced for rearing.  You will want to leave the cell building colony for 24 hours before inserting the newly grafted or started cells.

You will want to leave a space between the two brood combs in the super.  The space needs to be wide enough to fit a cell bar.  A cell bar is a wooden strip that holds queen cups for rearing queens.

If possible it is best not to rear queen during a heavy honey flow.  A light nectar flow with ample pollen, preferably a mixture of pollens, is the best condition for rearing queens.  If supplementary feeding becomes necessary, always use a mixture of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water for sugar syrup to simulate nectar.  Never use diluted honey.

Grafting is the process of removing worker larvae from its cell and placing it into an artificial queen cup for rearing the larvae into a queen.  You start the grafting process by preparing the bars of cells by sticking 20 plastic cups onto a wax covered board.  The bar must be placed into a hive for at least 24 hours before grafting.  During this time the bees will clean and condition the cell cups.  

You will need a grafting tool to transfer larvae.  Each larva is floating on a little raft of royal jelly and must be placed undisturbed into the bottom of the conditioned cups.  The grafting tool must be able to follow the curve of the bottom of the cup to allow it to be inserted under the back of the tiny floating larva without touching it.

The best conditions to graft in is cool temperatures and well fed larvae, the priming of the cell cups with diluted royal jelly should not be necessary.  Do not graft in very hot weather or in low humidity.  The larvae could potential be damaged by dehydration.  Only graft larvae that are under 24 hours of age from hatching and are floating on a good amount of royal jelly.  Never expose the larvae to direct sunlight and work as quickly as possible.

The grafted larvae should be placed into an abundance of nurse bees that are far enough away from a queen that they will attempt rear all the cells.  The age of the nurse bees range from 9 days to 12 days after they have emerged from a cell. It is always important to have a large number of replacement young bees available to the colony in order to provide nurse bees.  The production of royal jelly depends on an ample supply of pollen or pollen substitutes.  Lack of pollens leads to smaller, less well-fed larvae and queens.  Also the nurse bees will lose their body reserves of stored nutrients and become susceptible to disease. 

It is very important to record the day the cells were grafted and the day the queens are due to emerge.  A queen will emerge 16 days after the egg was laid, or 13 days after the egg hatches into a larva.  Since the larva was grafted at 24 hours old, the queen will emerge 12 days later.  If one of the queens emerge early, she will kill all the remaining cells.  It is best if the cells are left until the day before they are due to emerge, it is then possible to move the cells from the cell build colony to the nuclei. 

When you are transporting the cells to the nuclei, the cells must be handled gently to avoid damage to the immature queens. Make the transition to the mating yard.  Do not shake or jar the combs or bars with cells, and avoid turning the cells from the natural position.  Do not allow them to be exposed to direct sunlight, and because the queen nymph is susceptible to cold do not allow the cells out of the hive too long, or exposed to cold winds or a chilly atmosphere.

Cells should be distributed to the mating yard as soon as possible after the nucleus colony has set up.  You do not want too much time to lapse or the bees in the nucleus will start building cells.  It will be necessary to destroy all of these cells before inserting the raised cells into the nuclei.  Only one cell is given to a nucleus.  A wet, sharp knife can be used to separate adjoining cells on the cell bar.  Each cell must be carefully removed from the bar and placed into the nucleus hive.  First a side comb is removed from the nucleus to allow room for manipulation.  A small depression is pressed into the face of the center brood comb and t he plastic base of the cell gently pressed into it. 

Mark every nucleus with a date the young queen is due to emerge and the mother queen she was bred from should be noted.  A virgin queen will mate and start laying about 10 days after she has emerged from the cell.  In the fall this period can continue longer than the normal time.  Do not open or move the nucleus during the mating period.  It is important that the virgin queen start mating.  The mating takes place while she is flying in the open and not in the hive.   The mating does not begin until the queen is sexually mature.  This takes place 5 to 6 days after emerging.  The queen must mate within 20 days, if not she will remain infertile.  Most of the queen rears will destroy all the queens that fail to lay on time, except in the fall when mating and expected laying time can be extended because of cooler weather.

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