Saul Creek Apiary
Raw Honey Pollination Equipment
Marked Breeder Queen
It doesn't matter if your a hobby beekeeper, sideliner or commercial operation, raising your own queens has its rewards. Most Queens live from (2) to (3) years and can live slightly longer. It is recommended that colonies be re-queened every year in the Southern states where Africanized Bees are present to two years in managed colonies outside of Africanized areas to keep colonies headed by younger queens for production purposes.
Raising your own queens allows you the beekeeper to pick which colonies thrive in your climate and allows you to choose what traits such as honey production, tendency to swarm, runny queens, colony build up and much more. It also allows you to keep emergency queens for back-up if needed. In order to raise your own queens you'll have to understand a little bee biology, keep good records and have patience.
Note: One of the biggest misconceptions is that Quality Queens cannot be bred in Southern States where Africanized Bees exist. This is totally false! Even in the smallest of apiaries steps can be taken to lessen the chances of your queens being bred with Africanized stock by keeping a few colonies that are of known genetics for drone production. Drone Brood Frames are available which will allow you to flood your area with drones of known genetics.
Picking a Breeder Queen to Graft From: Genetics Play a Key Role in Picking a Breeder Queen! In order to pick your best queens to graft from, detailed records should be kept for every colony within the apiary. Details such as Brood Patterns and how rapid the colony builds-up in the spring (Brood Patterns), temperament (how aggressive are they), and honey production as well as if the colony is prone to throwing multiple swarms all need to be noted well before ever picking a queen to graft from as some or all these traits can be passed on to the queen daughters.
Drone Colonies: Drone Colonies are colonies are colonies that are selected just like queen breeder colonies for production, temperament and over wintering. Drone colonies must be set up in out-yards at least (1) mile from breeder colonies for mating purposes. For hobby beekeepers or small operations this might not be possible but should not stop them from breeding their own queens anyway. Queens from operations that cannot use drone breeder colonies or have access to out-yards can still breed queens but must use greater care to cull out out traits in queens that are undesirable such as aggressiveness as only one side of the genetics (Queen) can be controlled.
Natural Queen Rearing in the Hive: In order to rear quality queens one must understand natural queen rearing and the conditions that are most ideal for colonies to produce quality queens for swarming or when superseding the old queen. When honeybees rear queens the ideal time is during a flow when plenty of pollen and nectar are available and the colonies population is growing at a rapid pace. In nature this is when the best queens are produced so for anyone rearing their own queens this is the ideal time to mimic nature and produce quality queens for your apiary.
Bee Biology: Development times of Queens, Workers & Drones.
Queens: 16 Days (from egg to emerging from queen cell)
Worker: 21 Days (from egg to emerging from cell)
Drone: 24 Days (from egg to emerging from cell)
Grafting: Grafting is the transferring of larvae that are from 12 to 24 hours old from a brood frame and placing them into cell cups (Grafting may sound easy and once mastered it becomes second nature but there is much much more preparation that leads up to the point of grafting larvae to cell cups. Proper technique must also be mastered in transferring the 12 to 24 hour old larvae into the cell cups to maximize the acceptance rate).
Cell Cup Tip: Several days before your ready to start grafting we highly recommend placing the frame containing the clean cell cups into a strong colony. Once placed in a strong colony the bees will clean and polish the cups. We have found that it helps the bees acceptance of the larvae that have been grafted into the cups and frame to have the scent from a colony on them as opposed to just dropping in a frame with new unused cell cups.
Preparing step by step, Grafting Queens:
Step 1. Finisher Colony: 9 to 10 days before grafting set up a finisher colony. A finisher colony is a strong populated colony that is always kept on the verge of swarming and has plenty of brood in all stages which means there will be plenty nurse bees to take care of the started queens cells that will be placed in the colony. (Supplementing the colony with sugar syrup and pollen patties will help stimulate the colony into rearing more brood).
Step 2. 1 to 2 hours before grafting prepare a Starter Colony/ Swarm Box: In this box we are going to shake about 3-4lb's of young nurse bees into the box. Nurse bees can be found on frames of brood. Before shaking any bees into the swarm box it's highly recommended to locate the queen and set that frame aside as she will most likely be found on a brood frame. In the bottom of the swarm box we want to place a wet sponge for humidity and water for the bees. We also want to place 2-3 frames of fresh nectar and pollen in the swarm box.
Step 3. Removing the Brood Frame you are going to Graft from: The Frame should contain larvae that is from 12 to 24 hours old (in order to make sure you have the proper age larvae for grafting you can place the queen on a section of dark comb in a push in queen cage for her to lay eggs in 24 hours before grafting.
Push In Queen Cage
Queen Producer: A Queen producer relies on open air, natural mating to produce Queens in a semi controlled environment. Normally a Queen producer will pick eggs to Graft from their strongest colonies or use Breeder Queens of known genetics in hopes of producing Queens with traits like the queen heading the colony the producer is grafting from. This is of course dependent on the Drones (Male Honey Bee) that they mate with which may not come from the Beekeepers own Apiary. In areas where AHB (Africanized Honey Bees) exist this is a major concern and producers do their best to have quality drone breeding colonies within a one mile radius of their apiary in hopes that their queens will mate with drones of known genetics.
Queen Breeder: A Queen Breeder is much different than a Queen Producer. A Queen Breeder uses artificial insemination to breed traits and qualities such as Genetics, Disease Resistance, Gentleness, Honey Production and Exceptional Brood Laying patterns just to name few. Queens and Drones come from known Genetics so that pure races such as Italian, Russian etc... are produced. Breeders are an exceptional few and a single Breeder Queen can run upwards of $200.00 or more for quality Queens.