Mastering Queen Rearing: A Comprehensive Guide to Beekeeping

Queen rearing is an essential aspect of beekeeping, focusing on the production of new queen bees. The process involves various techniques and methods to ensure the successful raising of a healthy and prolific queen. This article delves deep into the world of queen rearing, providing insights, methods, and best practices.

Key Takeaways

  • Queen rearing is crucial for maintaining a healthy bee colony.
  • The process involves selecting the right colonies, setting up the graft frame, and ensuring the right colony setup.
  • Regular replacement of queens can minimize the risk of swarming and maximize productivity.

Mastering Queen Rearing

The Importance of Queen Rearing

Queen bees play a pivotal role in the hive, laying eggs and producing pheromones that regulate the behavior of worker bees. Rearing queen honey bees ensures the continuity of the colony and its productivity.

How to identify and distinguish queen bees from other bees.

Rearing Queen Honey Bees in a Queen right System

The National Bee Unit has adopted a queen right rearing method for over two decades. This method has proven successful for research colonies and offers a system that beekeepers can consider for their use. The primary aim is to replace queens regularly, at least every second year, to maintain young, prolific queens. This approach minimizes the risk of swarming and maximizes productivity.

Colony Selection

Around the beginning of May, colonies in the queen-rearing apiary are assessed based on size, brood, honey, pollen, docility, and freedom from disease. Large queen right rearer colonies are chosen based on their size and temperament. These colonies should have at least 20 full deep combs of bees, 8 to 12 combs of healthy brood, and two or three full combs of pollen. Discover more about Colony Selection on this page.

The Graft Frame

The graft frame is a modified brood frame without wax, designed to accept two horizontal wooden cell bars. These bars are temporarily removed for grafting. The cell bars have about two inches of free space beneath them, allowing bees to build the queen cells. A saw cut along the length of the underside of each cell bar allows the insertion of plastic queen cups with base pegs. Find out more about the Graft Frame and its significance here.

Colony Set-Up

Before grafting, the rearer colony is arranged so that most of the sealed brood is above a queen excluder, with the queen and most of the unsealed brood below. The graft frame containing 12 – 24 empty plastic queen cups is added to the top brood box, allowing bees to polish the cell cups and add a small rim of beeswax. A comb of pollen is placed close to the graft bar, attracting nurse bees to the graft area. If there isn’t a reliable nectar flow, one is simulated by feeding sugar syrup.

Why Colonies Raise New Queens

Understanding the reasons behind a colony’s decision to raise a new queen is crucial for beekeepers. A strong and actively laying queen is vital for a successful honey bee colony. She not only provides a constant source of new workers but also directs the activities that keep the colony healthy and productive through her pheromones. However, several scenarios can prompt a colony to produce a new queen:

  • Aging or Ill Queens: An aging or ill queen may produce fewer and/or lower quality eggs. The pattern of her laying often becomes inconsistent. These cues can lead workers to produce supersedure cells, where the colony raises new queens to replace the failing one. Learn more about the lifespan of queen bees.
  • Swarming: Overcrowded hives can cause the queen to leave in search of a new home, taking more than half of the hive’s workers with her. Recognizing the impending swarm, the colony produces swarm cells to raise a new queen.
  • Missing Queen: If a hive loses its queen due to illness or injury, the colony will quickly recognize her absence. The rapid drop in her pheromone levels prompts worker bees to select young larvae and feed them exclusively on royal jelly to create new queens.

Mastering Queen Rearing

Why Beekeepers Raise New Queens

Beekeepers, with an understanding of the natural triggers for queen production, can create environments that encourage colonies to produce new queens. Here are some reasons why beekeepers might want to raise their own queens:

  • Replacing Aging Queens: Beekeepers might notice a decline in new brood in their hives and choose to requeen them. This ensures a steady influx of workers during peak nectar flow, preparing the hive for winter. But sometimes beekeepers choose to replace a queen bee themselves.
  • Splitting Hives: To prevent swarming, beekeepers might split a large colony into two or more new hives. Providing one or both of the new colonies with a new queen ensures a steady source of new brood.
  • Improving Production: Introducing a new queen from a highly productive colony can boost the output of a less productive one. Traits like temperament, disease resistance, seasonal population adjustments, and honey production levels are all influenced by the colony’s genes. Discover more about the benefits of introducing new queens.

Common Queen Rearing Techniques

Like most aspects of beekeeping, methods for queen rearing can vary among individual beekeepers. However, most methods fall into two general categories:

  1. Direct Laying: An actively laying queen is separated from the main hive and provided synthetic queen cups where she lays her eggs.
  2. Grafting: The beekeeper removes newly hatched larva from the brood comb to prepared queen cups.

In both methods, once the queen cells are filled with developing larvae, they are moved to specialized hives on a precise schedule. The first, known as the starter hive, is full of young nurse bees who care for the developing larva. The second, the finishing hive, is where nurse bees complete the raising of the larvae. Individual queen cells are then moved to mating nucs before they emerge. Find out more about these specialized hives and their significance.

The Doolittle Method of Queen Rearing

Many of today’s queen rearing methods are based on techniques described in Scientific Queen Rearing, written by Gilbert M. Doolittle in 1889. Doolittle’s method was highly successful, and many of his techniques are still in use. When combined with modern equipment and strong genetic stock, Doolittle’s method reliably produces high-quality queens.

Essential Equipment for Queen Rearing

Having the right equipment is crucial when raising queens. Some commonly used items by beekeepers include:

  • EZI Queen System: Simplifies the process of rearing queens without grafting.
  • Nuc Boxes: Used for starting hives, finishing hives, or mating nucs.
  • Handling and Marking Tools: Accessories like the One-handed Queen Catcher make capturing queens easier. Once captured, queens can be marked for easy identification.

Once you’ve successfully reared your queen bees, the next step is to ensure they reach their new homes safely. This involves careful handling and transportation. If you’re considering buying queen bees, it’s equally important to understand how they should be transported to ensure their survival and health. Learn more about the best practices for purchasing and transporting queen bees.

Mastering Queen Rearing

Challenges and Benefits of Queen Rearing

Challenges of Queen Rearing

  • Mating Flight Uncertainties: One of the primary challenges in queen rearing is the uncertainty associated with the mating rituals and flight of queen bees. Queens need to mate with multiple drones to ensure genetic diversity in the colony. However, factors like weather conditions, presence of predators, and the availability of drones can impact the success of these flights.
  • Genetic Diversity Concerns: Ensuring genetic diversity is crucial for the health and resilience of a bee colony. However, when rearing queens in a controlled environment, there’s a risk of reduced genetic diversity, especially if the same drones are used for mating repeatedly. This can lead to inbreeding and associated health issues in the colony. Learn more about genetic diversity in bees.
  • Disease Transmission: Queens can act as carriers for various bee diseases and pests. When introducing a new queen to a colony, there’s a risk of introducing new diseases or pests, especially if the queen comes from a different region or has been reared in less than ideal conditions.

Benefits of Queen Rearing

  • Colony Expansion: One of the most significant benefits of queen rearing is the ability to expand bee colonies. By rearing and introducing new queens, beekeepers can split existing colonies and create new ones, leading to increased honey production and pollination capabilities.
  • Improved Genetics: Through selective breeding, beekeepers can rear queens with desired traits, such as resistance to certain diseases, increased honey production, or better temperament. This can lead to stronger and more productive colonies in the long run. Read about selective breeding in bees.
  • Colony Recovery: In cases where a colony loses its queen, having a reared queen ready for introduction can be a lifesaver. Introducing a new queen can help the colony recover faster and prevent it from collapsing. Signs of a failing or absent queen in a hive.
  • Economic Benefits: For commercial beekeepers, queen rearing can be a lucrative business. There’s a demand for high-quality queens, especially those with specific traits or from particular genetic lines. By rearing and selling queens, beekeepers can generate additional income.

Conclusion

The Queen Bee is an essential part of each hive with her own unique role, different from working bees. Queen rearing is an essential aspect of modern beekeeping, offering numerous benefits, from colony expansion to improved genetics. However, it’s not without its challenges. Beekeepers need to be aware of the potential risks and take measures to mitigate them. By understanding the intricacies of queen rearing, beekeepers can ensure the health and productivity of their colonies, contributing to a sustainable and thriving beekeeping industry.

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