Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa June Meeting – Queen Rearing

On June 27th, the Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa (FBI) had their monthly meeting. For this meeting, Jason Foley, of Foley’s Russian Bees, spoke on queen rearing. A beekeeper would want to raise his or her own queens because it saves money and gives the beekeeper the ability to somewhat control the genetics of their bees.

The first method he discussed was the walk away split method. We have used this method many times to split hives. A downfall to walk away splits is that it only makes one additional hive unless there are the bees to make multiple walk away splits. A beekeeper could cut out extra queen cells and put them in a nuc with extra bees, but this would risk hurting the queen cells. A cell maker, a special queen rearing tool, could go into the hive as long as the hive is queenless. One of the things Jason continued to emphasize throughout the presentation was that you always want at least two queen cells in a hive. Always.

Another method that can be used to rear queens is the horizontal technique. This technique requires wax foundation. In this technique, sticks or rocks are used to suspend a frame of larvae horizontally in the hive so that the larvae are facing down. The bees then will build queen cells out of the downward facing larvae.

The queen rearing system is another method used in queen rearing. Jason does not use this method because it is expensive, because he see it as an intermediate crutch, and because it requires the queen to lay in the artificial queen cups (The queen does not like to do this).

The general method Jason uses is the grafting method. Grafting is the removal of incredibly young larvae and putting them into a cup that manipulates them into a queen. There are two types of grafting, dry and wet. In dry grafting the young larvae is put in a queen cup without any royal jelly or yogurt. In wet grafting the young larvae is put in a queen cup with royal jelly or yogurt. Yogurt is similar enough to royal jelly that young larvae that are going to be queens can be fed a small amount of it when being grafted. The royal jelly or yogurt helps the larvae to not dry out.

Jason suggests using the Chinese tool for dry grafting. Dry grafting is more time consuming then wet grafting. The pros to dry grafting is that it is inexpensive and it does not take a lot of prep. The cons to dry grafting is that it can dry out the larvae causing some to die and it is rough on the bees.

He suggested using the German tool for wet grafting. In wet grafting, a syringe can be used to drop a small amount of royal jelly or yogurt into the queen cell before the larvae is placed in the cell. The pros to wet grafting is that it does not dry out the larvae and it is gentler on the bees then dry grafting. The cons are that it is more expensive then dry grafting and it takes more prep then dry grafting.

When grafting larvae the same steps apply to dry or wet grafting. First, the right age larvae must be chosen. The larvae should be young. They should be just starting to make the “c” shape. The larvae should not touch the side of the cell. If the larvae touches the side of the cell, it will most likely be damaged. The larvae should be grabbed from the backside of the “c”. The larvae should be carefully placed into its queen cell.

Jason talked about two queen rearing methods, the two part method and the Foley method. (Which one do you think Jason uses? 🙂 ) In the two part method a hive is opened up and refilled with mainly almost hatching eggs. The hive is then given extra nurse bees so that all the brood is taken care of. The hive is also fed and given one or two frames of pollen and honey. This allows the bees to focus on raising brood. Cell starters are then put in the hive. Once the cells are filled out, the cells are put in a strong hive above a queen excluder. The starter hive should refilled as cells are removed.

In the Foley Method, a nice overflowing double deep or supered hive is reduced to one deep and fed. The queen should be removed. The hive should be closed up so that all the bees cannot get in. The following day the hive should be given two frames of grafts. After five days all but two or three queen cells should be removed and put in an incubator. When incubating queen cells, the incubator should be kept humid (at about 80%-90% humidity). Jason suggests incubating because if the cells are left in the hive the bees will build burr comb around the cells. If the beekeeper wants his or her queens to hatch early the incubator can be kept extra warm. Jason, however, suggests keeping the incubator at 93 degrees so that the average is 92 degrees. On day five after removing the queen cells from the hives, the queen cells should be put in mating nucs. If some of the queens have already emerged they should also be put in mating nucs. It takes the queens three days for their bodies to harden before they can go on their orientation flights. When the queen goes on her mating flight, she likes to fly one mile from her hives. Drones on the other hand only like to fly 1/4 mile from their hive.

Nucs with a mated queen in them can be sold. Jason suggests using Styrofoam nucs if the beekeeper is making nucs on a large scale. Queens or queen cells can also be sold. Nucs, queens, and queen cells are very sought after by beekeepers.

Here are some of Jason’s tips and pointers. When making queens, everything should be kept warm. The beekeeper does not want to accidentally freeze a queen. The above timetable can be tweaked based on what works for each individual beekeeper. Don’t waste time with messed up larvae because they won’t make good queens if they live. Always make more queens then you want because some will definitely die. Watch the environment when making queens. If running mating nucs, feed, re-stock, check for hive beetles, and pull if hives have hive beetle larvae. If the beekeeper is shipping out of state, the package must arrive in two days. Finally go the extra mile, but don’t waste time on people who do not listen to instructions.

This was a great presentation. It is a very complicated subject and very hard to understand even if you are a beekeeper.


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