The Chosen Ones
I have some great queens in my hives. My best one is a “yellow dot” in her third season. Her hive is always one of my tallest, giving me loads of honey every year. I’ve never seen any signs of swarming in her colony, and she has gone through two winters in fine fettle. Why would I not want to make daughter queens from her? She is one of my breeder queens this year. I’m breeding from my four best queens. Hopefully, the daughters will be great too, but you always get the odd dodgy one (weak or bad-tempered).
Let’s face it; the bees do most of the work. I set things up, and they make the queen cells. Nevertheless, when I inspect my colonies knowing that many of their queens were reared by me, from selected breeder queens, I feel proud and happy. I am a simple walrus.
Ten Cells Every Ten Days
My queen production line is now up and running. I am using one hive as my queen factory, which is supposed to be producing ten queens every ten days (10 x 10!). The system that I have settled on works well for me so far. It seems to be ideal for a smallish beekeeper like myself. Assuming the virgin queens get mated, I should have plenty available for my needs. The plan is to requeen any colonies that I’m not happy with, make up at least ten nucleus hives to take into winter and to sell some queens to local beekeepers.
It has taken eight years of keeping bees to get to this point. The illusion of being organised and knowing what I’m doing is almost complete. It is, of course, very much an illusion. I know very well how many things can go wrong. But they are the known knowns and the known unknowns…what about the unknown unknowns?! Donald Rumsfeld would approve. The fact is that in beekeeping, we are always learning and just as you start to think you know what it’s all about something goes wrong. That’s OK; it’s still a great way to spend time in my opinion.
I recently made a “queen bank” in anticipation of having to keep mated queens alive for a few weeks before they get to their final destinations. All I did was modify a brood frame by using thin plywood in the place of foundation, with a strip of plywood to hold queen cages in place. The queens can stay in their cages in the queen bank, which sits inside a queenless hive.
My 10 x 10 queen production line is similar to the Cloake Board method shown in the video below. The main difference is that I only do ten cells at a time, I only have one set of cells in at once, and I often add frames of sealed brood from other colonies to the top box. I also built a floor for my cell builder with a front and a back entrance, with only one being open at a time. Rather than turning the bottom box 180 degrees, I change the entrance blocks around.
Theoretically, every ten days, I remove ten queen cells to go into mating nucs and replace them with ten grafts. I am getting better at grafting and have changed from using a thin paintbrush to a Chinese grafting tool. From my ten grafts, I seem to be getting seven or eight virgin queens. Not all virgin queens will mate successfully. In truth, I will probably get five mated queens every ten days. A “5 x 10 queen production” headline is not symmetrical nor pretty, so 10 x 10 it is.
Hive, Meet Queen
Oh yes, even after our queen has survived through all the steps up to being mated, there is another hurdle she must overcome. Many queens that are introduced to a new colony get killed. Queen introduction is a subject all of its own, but the most important thing for success is for the recipient hive to be queenless. If they already have a queen, they will kill the imposter. Sometimes they will kill the imposter anyway; there seem to be multiple factors involved, but that’s for another time.