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How to raise a few good queens

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Simple Queen Rearing for a Hobbyist

I get this question a lot, so let's simplify this as much as possible while maximizing the quality of the queens as much as possible.

Quality of Emergency Queens

First let's talk about emergency queens and quality. There has been much speculation over the years on this matter and after reading the opinions of many very experienced queen breeders on this subject I'm convinced that the prevailing theory that bees start with too old of a larvae is not true. I think to get good quality queens from emergency cells one simply needs to insure they can tear down the cell walls and that they have resources of food and labor to properly care for the queen. This means a good density of bees (for labor), frames of pollen and honey (for resources), and nectar or syrup coming in (to convince them they have resources to spare).

So if one adds either new drawn wax comb or wax foundation without wires or even empty frames to the brood nest during a time of year they are anxious to raise queens (from about a month after the first blooms until the end of the main flow), they quickly draw this comb and lay it full of eggs. So four to five days after adding it, there should be frames of larvae on newly drawn wax with no cocoons to interfere with them tearing down the cell walls to build queen cells. If one were to do this in a strong hive and at this point remove the queen on a frame of brood and a frame of honey and put it aside, the bees will start a lot of queen cells.

The experts on emergency queens:

Jay Smith, from Better Queens

"It has been stated by a number of beekeepers who should know better (including myself) that the bees are in such a hurry to rear a queen that they choose larvae too old for best results. later observation has shown the fallacy of this statement and has convinced me that bees do the very best that can be done under existing circumstances.
"The inferior queens caused by using the emergency method is because the bees cannot tear down the tough cells in the old combs lined with cocoons. The result is that the bees fill the worker cells with bee milk floating the larvae out the opening of the cells, then they build a little queen cell pointing downward. The larvae cannot eat the bee milk back in the bottom of the cells with the result that they are not well fed. However, if the colony is strong in bees, are well fed and have new combs, they can rear the best of queens. And please note-- they will never make such a blunder as choosing larvae too old."--Jay Smith

Quinby seems to agree:

"I want new comb for brood, as cells can be worked over out of that, better than from old and tough. New comb must be carefully handled. If none but old comb is to be had, cut the cells down to one fourth inch in depth. The knife must be sharp to leave it smooth and not tear it."--Moses Quinby

C.C. Miller's view of emergency queens

"If it were true, as formerly believed, that queenless bees are in such haste to rear a queen that they will select a larva too old for the purpose, then it would hardly do to wait even nine days. A queen is matured in fifteen days from the time the egg is laid, and is fed throughout her larval lifetime on the same food that is given to a worker-larva during the first three days of its larval existence. So a worker-larva more than three days old, or more than six days from the laying of the egg would be too old for a good queen. If, now, the bees should select a larva more than three days old, the queen would emerge in less than nine days. I think no one has ever known this to occur. Bees do not prefer too old larvae. As a matter of fact bees do not use such poor judgement as to select larvae too old when larvae sufficiently young are present, as I have proven by direct experiment and many observations."--Fifty Years Among the Bees, C.C. Miller


Second lets talk about equipment. One can set up mating nucs in standard boxes with dummy boards (or division boards) but only if you have the extra boxes or division boards. The advantage is that you can expand this as the hive grows if you don't use the queen. You can also build either two frame boxes or divide larger boxes into two frame boxes (commonly sold as "queen castles"). These need to be the same depth as your brood frames.


Make them Queenless

So if we make a hive queenless (do what you like about having new comb or not) nine days after making them queenless these will be mostly mature and capped and be three days from emerging.

Make up Mating Nucs

At this point we need to set up mating nucs. The "queen castles" or four way boxes that take your standard brood frames and make up four, two frame mating nucs in one box are very good for this, but dummy boards and regular boxes can work also. In my operation these are all medium depth two frame nucs. The queen we removed earlier goes well in one of these also. We now want a frame of brood and a frame of honey in each of the mating nucs. An extra shake of bees from a brood comb that doesn't have a queen cell on it (shaking can damage the queen) is good for making up for drift back to the parent hive.

Transfer Queen Cells

The next day (ten days after making them queenless) we will cut out (with a sharp knife) the queen cells from the new wax combs we put in. If we used unwired foundation (or none) they should be easy to cut out without running into obstacles (as we would with wire and with plastic foundation) and can put each of the cells in a mating nuc. You can just press an indentation with your thumb and gently place the cell in the indentation. If you want you can also just put each frame that has cells on it in a mating nuc and sacrifice the extra cells (as the first queen out will destroy them) if you have plastic foundation or you just don't want to mess with cutting out cells.

Check for Eggs

Two weeks later we should see some eggs in the mating nucs. If not, then by three weeks we should. Let her lay up the nuc well before moving her to a hive or caging her and banking her for later.

Next round just make them queenless again

Now that these nucs are well populated by the brood the queen has laid, we can make more queens by simply making a strong mating nuc queenless and they will raise more queens. Again, it's the density of bees that's the issue. We can also, if they are wax combs, cut cells out and make use of multiple cells in other mating nucs as well. In this case either set up those nucs the day before or remove the queen the day before.

And that is all there is to raising a few queens.

Michael Bush

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Copyright 2009 by Michael Bush

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