Raising Your Own Queen Bees

Loving it!

A 2017 queen in 2020
A 2017 queen in 2020

The bees don’t care about COVID-19; in fact, they seem to be having a great time. I don’t know if it’s the reduced air pollution, the beautiful weather or something else, but my bees are booming. I’m a little concerned about the lack of rain which is a strange thing to say for a resident of Manchester UK because we usually get plenty. I have seen signs that the lime trees (Lindens) may flower soon, and bramble too, which suggests that if we do get some rain, a decent nectar flow will be upon us. If it stays dry, it could be a lousy honey year, but I’m pretty confident in the ability of my local area to attract precipitation.

Ratio of mated queens to grafts

Last week I was writing about my struggles with small mating hives, but on reflection, I can see that I made plenty of mistakes. The harsh numbers from my first round of queen rearing are as follows:

Number of grafted larvae: 20
Resulting emerged, living virgins: 11 (55%)
The final number of successfully mated queens: 6 (30%)
Absconded: 5

Clearly, this is nothing to boast about, but I am remaining optimistic. At least I have six mated daughters of my fancy expensive German breeder queen – the one that I accidentally killed. That queen’s colony is making another queen, who will be daughter number seven. I also made up a nuc with some frames from “Frau Breda”, and they too are creating what will be daughter number eight. I was hoping to do better than eight, but it’s a lot better than none.

Mating Nucs

I had 100% success with getting virgins mated in my two or three frame nucs (full-sized frames). The smaller mating hives were my nemesis, but I’m aware of what I did wrong. I believe that I should have used some queen pheromone when setting up the mini nucs, and the nurse bees should have been sprayed with weak sugar syrup. I also think I should have kept them confined for longer than one day before adding the virgins. Somehow I managed to get a mated queen from one of my Kielers, despite my incompetence, which proves that it can be done.

Something odd happened today when I was trying to catch the queen in the Kieler mating nuc. As I went to pick her up, she took flight, much to my surprise, and flew around in circles waiting for me to go. I put the lid back on and stepped back. A few minutes later, her majesty returned through the entrance, and this time I went in and grabbed her successfully. She got a blue dot and a new, much larger home.

Loire valley comes to Manchester

This year I sold my first nuc, an over-wintered one, on 26 April. I left a frame of open brood and added some sealed brood from another nuc, and on 26 May they had a new laying queen. It’s not always like this. Everything is early. It feels as if we are getting the sort of weather that I would expect from somewhere further south, like Nantes on the River Loire in France. Our holiday weather is coming to us, which is quite handy in these times of restricted travel and social distancing.

Having killed my Peter Stofen breeder queen, I decided to select the queen of my biggest colony for my next batch of grafts. They have been good bees. They came out of winter well, built up fast and have nearly filled three honey supers so far (Langstroth mediums). I noticed from my notes that this queen is the daughter of a queen from Peter Little. The drones in my area seem reasonable (and I try to help with that) because F2 or F4 hybrids do not sprout horns and breath fire. They seem to be as well behaved as their predecessors.

YDQ beginning to tire

I decided to remove my old yellow dot queen from her hive and put her in a nuc. She has been a fine servant, and clearly possesses non-swarmy genes, but she is beginning to flag at long last. Her replacement is one of the newly mated daughters of the Stoffen breeder queen. I should be able to graft a few more of her larvae before she goes to bee heaven, but we’ll see. She owes me nothing.

I keep notes on individual hives because I don’t have too many to make such a task unduly onerous. Usually, I dictate my notes into my iPhone then write them up on my spreadsheet later on. I can tell from these notes that from 17 production colonies I have lost four swarms so far this year. It could have been supercedure, but I’m going with “swarmed.” None of my 13 nucs swarmed, but I caught one that was about to. I have also successfully prevented swarming several times by removing the queen in a nuc or doing a vertical split. It’s all part of the fun.

My Happy Place

My bees are loving it, and I am too. Despite the mishaps, I especially love raising queens. I remember being told, by Randy Oliver, I think, that each beekeeper needs to find their “happy place.” For some, it will be producing honey, for others pollination services, or making beeswax cosmetics or whatever. I can make more money selling nucs than honey, and I love making queens. The intersection of doing what I love with making a small income is at the nucs because they each need a queen; a nice queen selected from my best bees. Who knows, maybe one day my ratio of successfully mated queens to grafts will be over 50%? It’s good to dream…

2 replies »

  1. Catching queens in mini nucs.. and they fly off.?

    Same issues here.

    Trick posted elsewhere: spray the queen on frame lightly with water: she then is incapable of flying..

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