Saturday, September 24, 2022
HomeBeeKeepingExtra queen rearing musings - The Apiarist

Extra queen rearing musings – The Apiarist

Synopsis : What occurs when your queenright cell raiser swarms? Are cells being reared below the supersedure response doomed? This and different musings on miscellaneous features of queen rearing, along with some feedback on clearing supers on queenless hives.


I described queen rearing final week as Probably the most enjoyable you’ll be able to have in a beesuit ™. That’s my opinion. You might choose making candles, or beeswax wraps or extracting and jarring honey and I wouldn’t argue, although none of them come near the satisfaction I get from queen rearing.

The time period ‘queen rearing’ someday conjures up pictures of booming, chest-high queenless cell starters, dozens of grafted larvae on every cell bar body, incubators and serried rows of mini-nucs ready for virgins … and even medical instrumental insemination equipment.

Capped queen cells on a cell bar body (produced utilizing the Ben Harden queenright queen rearing strategy)

That is the commercial scale manufacturing of queens, and it’s uncommon that enthusiastic however however small-scale beginner beekeepers want that variety of queens.

Or have the sources to supply them.

For comfort I consider queen rearing as an exercise that may happen at three totally different scales:

  1. One or two queens at a time – e.g. including a body of chosen (i.e. good high quality) eggs/larvae to a terminally queenless hive. Surplus cells may be minimize out and distributed elsewhere.
  2. 5 to 10 at a time – typically utilizing chosen larvae transferred to a cell starter colony by grafting, a Cupkit-type system, cell punching or (fewer manipulations nonetheless) the Miller or Hopkins strategies.
  3. Dozens of queens at a time – nearly all the time utilizing grafting and a robust queenless cell starter colony.

I’ve run 10-20 colonies for a decade or extra and infrequently want greater than 20 queens a season (a quantity which incorporates some spares to make up nucs).

As well as, I reside in an space with variable (i.e. typically poor) climate the place queen mating may be ’hit or miss’.

Little and sometimes

For these causes I choose to supply a number of queens at a time so I don’t need to dedicate important sources to an exercise that is likely to be thwarted by a month of awful climate.

I’d relatively try to produce half a dozen queens three or 4 instances a season, than dozens directly.

The latter requires a serious dedication of sources (colonies and tools). Relying upon the climate I would find yourself with a glut of queens.

Or an apiary-full of laying employees 🙁

In distinction, the strategies I take advantage of permit me to supply a handful of queens each few weeks. If the climate is type, all will get mated. If not, it’s not a complete catastrophe.

West coast climate, mid-Might to mid-June 2022 (common 13°C, vary 6.2°C to 23.9°C)

During the last month we’ve solely had 2-3 days with circumstances usually related to profitable queen mating i.e. mild winds, sunshine and temperatures of 20°C.

Predicting any such ‘climate window’ 2-3 weeks prematurely is sort of unattainable.

It’s higher to be ready to repeat issues once more.

And once more 😉

Apiary neighborhood mating

In actual fact, queens don’t want ‘excellent’ circumstances for mating. In the event that they did, sustainable beekeeping could be unattainable – or not less than very troublesome – in lots of northern latitudes. Queens may be efficiently mated in sub-optimal circumstances .

A part of my curiosity in monitoring the native climate at my apiary is to try to decide simply how poor the circumstances may be while nonetheless getting queens mated.

Native Apis mellifera mellifera (black bees) are reported to make use of apiary neighborhood mating (AVM) and so might not want optimum circumstances to fly to distant drone congregation areas. Jon Getty has written extra about AVM on his web site.

Nonetheless, wherever or every time they get mated, I choose to supply repeated batches of queens utilizing queenright cell raisers. By doing this I’m not placing all my ‘eggs in a single basket’. Basically these cell raisers are commonplace (honey) manufacturing hives manipulated in easy methods to supply the circumstances wanted to rear suitably-presented larvae as queens.

And inevitably, as a result of they’re queenright, issues can generally go unsuitable 🙁

Queenright queen rearing

The 2 strategies I’ve used are the Ben Harden strategy and a Morris board. Each use a single colony to start out and end the queen cells, and the queen stays current – albeit separated from the growing cells – all through the 10-12 days from grafting till the cells are used.

The Morris board

A Morris board is actually the identical as a Cloake board. These are boards that separate the queenright decrease brood field from an higher brood field during which the queen cells are produced. The board has an built-in queen excluder and the supply to separate the higher and decrease field with a steel or plastic divider.

Morris board (decrease facet)

With the divider inserted queen cells are began within the high field below the emergency response. Nonetheless, as soon as began, the divider is eliminated and the cells are completed below the supersedure response.

The Morris board is extra sophisticated than a Cloake board; it’s used with a divided higher brood field – permitting separate batches of cells to be began each week or so – and has a sequence of doorways for bleeding off and redirecting returning foragers to the right compartment.

It’s a intelligent concept and one which reveals appreciable promise for my queen rearing.

I’ll write extra about my use of a Morris board sooner or later, or you might monitor down the article Michael Badger wrote in Bee Craft.

The Ben Harden strategy

I’ve mentioned the Ben harden strategy extensively already – attempt right here for starters. The tactic, though maybe popularised by the eponymous Irish beekeeper (and glorious instructors just like the late Terry Clare) was additionally described properly by the Nationwide Bee Unit’s Mike Brown and David Wilkinson twenty years in the past within the American Bee Journal .

Preliminary setup for Ben Harden queen rearing (be aware the ‘fats dummies’ occupying a lot of the higher field)

Till the final couple of years that is the strategy I’ve used for many of my queen rearing.

The queen is confined beneath a queen excluder to the decrease brood field. Grafted larvae are added to the higher field, house inside which is commonly restricted by way of ‘fats dummies’.

The queen cells are due to this fact began and completed below the supersedure response.

Supersedure vs. swarming responses and colony swarming

In preparation for swarming a colony naturally produces a number of charged queen cells . Assuming the climate is appropriate, the colony normally swarms on the day that the first cells are sealed.

If the climate is poor then swarming is delayed, however they typically then go on the first alternative … a lot in order that even a borderline day after a interval of poor climate in the course of the regular swarming season is commonly characterised by a number of swarms.

In distinction, newly sealed supersedure cells – and these are normally only a few in quantity (typically only one) – are incubated for an extra 8 days till emergence of the virgin queen.

The superseding colony doesn’t swarm.

The brand new queen goes on a few mating flights and begins laying.

In some unspecified time in the future after that the outdated queen merely disappears.

At some point you’re shocked to search out two laying queens within the hive however on the subsequent inspection (or the one after that) solely the shiny new one stays.

The queen is useless, lengthy reside the queen.

Benefits (and downsides) of queenright queen rearing strategies

For the small scale beekeeper – maybe 2-20 colonies – queenright strategies supply an a variety of benefits (with a number of disadvantages) for queen rearing:

  • the standard of the cell starter/finisher is immaterial so long as the colony is robust. You merely present it with larvae from good high quality inventory.
  • no interruption to nectar assortment. In nectar circulate you merely hold piling on supers as wanted and the bees elevate the cells and fill the supers.
  • if there’s no nectar circulate you’ll have to feed the colony, so it’s essential to take away any supers to keep away from tainting any saved nectar with syrup.
  • when you do concurrently use the colony for honey manufacturing and cell elevating the hive can get tall and heavy. Thoughts your again.
  • you should use a single hive for the complete course of if wanted; cell starter, sourcing larvae, cell finisher and populating mini-nucs. You would possibly even get some honey as properly 😉

The queenright strategies outlined above exploit the supersedure response for cell elevating. Because of this the colony is not going to swarm in response to capping of the cells within the higher field.

However …

That’s not the identical as saying that the colony is not going to swarm 🙁

Don’t overlook, there’s a laying queen within the backside field. She is going to proceed to put whereas the brand new cells are being began, fed, nurtured and sealed.

And if she runs out of house the colony can nonetheless make swarm cells within the backside field and so might swarm.

Listed here are a few examples the place this has occurred … and the implications for my queen rearing.

A swarming Ben Harden cell raiser

Once I lived within the Midlands I routinely began queen rearing throughout April. Queens produced in April may very well be mated as early as the primary week of Might in yr, and sometimes, even earlier.

Colonies received an enormous enhance throughout this a part of the season from the oil seed rape. The picture beneath is from the nineteenth of April 2014.

Mid-April in the apiary ...

Mid-April in a Warwickshire apiary …

When rearing queens utilizing the Ben Harden strategy throughout a robust nectar circulate you’ll be able to safely relocate the higher brood field above the highest tremendous. In a busy hive the growing cells nonetheless get greater than sufficient consideration.

As well as, this can assist enhance ‘take’ by lowering the focus of queen pheromones as a result of separation of the underside brood field (containing the unique queen) and the field containing the grafted larvae.

When utilizing this technique you will need to test the higher field for queen cells on the day the grafts are added. This field, being separated from the queen-containing brood field, has decreased queen mandibular, and no queen footprint, pheromones.

Consequently, it’s commonplace for the bees to start out drawing queen cells. These should be destroyed or – being extra superior than the grafted larvae – they may emerge first and destroy all of your exhausting work.

I had finished this and added the grafts which, on checking 24 hours later, had all been accepted.

Chipmunks are Go!

Out of sight is out of thoughts

Nonetheless, I had failed to test the underside field for queen cells on the times earlier than I added the grafted larvae.

The colony promptly swarmed, most likely earlier than the newly growing queen cells have been capped.

This was both earlier than I routinely clipped my queens, or I’d missed this explicit queen. No matter, she and a major proportion of the bees disappeared to pastures new.

I can’t bear in mind how (or when) I realised the colony had swarmed. It may need been decreased entrance exercise in the course of the robust OSR nectar circulate, or I may need simply (lastly!) carried out an everyday inspection.

The underside field contained sealed queen cells, no queen and no eggs 🙁

However, all was not misplaced.

The cells containing grafted larvae have been capped and appeared good. They’d clearly acquired ample consideration and I used to be due to this fact hopeful they’d emerge, mate and produce usable queens.

And so they did.

I knocked again all of the sealed queen cells within the backside field after which – on the day I used the cells from the grafted larvae – added one of many latter to the decrease brood field.

I eliminated the queen cells within the decrease field for 2 causes:

  • it prevented a brand new queen rising there whereas I had cells above the queen excluder, and
  • it allowed me to make use of a cell raised from larvae sourced from a greater high quality colony.

So, a swarming cell raiser isn’t essentially a catastrophe.

A more moderen, however much less profitable, try

My first try at queen rearing this season concerned utilizing a Morris board.

I added the Morris board and higher brood field on the 18th of Might. I then did the entire obligatory Morris board manipulations – closing the slide, opening entrances, closing others – to pack the higher field with bees.

On the twenty fifth I did the grafting and – on the similar time I added the grafts on the cell bar body – I destroyed a small variety of queen cells within the higher field .

On the next day 7-8 of the larvae had been accepted and the cells have been capped on or across the thirtieth.

Cell bar body festooned with bees

I used to be off beekeeping elsewhere so didn’t test the hive once more till the first of June … and was dismayed to search out the entire cells had been torn down.

Torn down queen cells. The cell on the proper has a gaping gap on the alternative face.

There was no queen within the higher field and the queen excluder was intact. The cells seem to have been torn down by employees. I’ve had this occur earlier than when there’s been a dearth of nectar, however this field was getting 300 ml of skinny syrup each 48 hours.


In fact, I finally checked the underside field and located:

  • one vacated queen cell. This cell was located on the decrease fringe of one of many central frames.
  • a virgin queen operating about and no signal of the unique clipped and marked queen 🙁

The only queen cell would possibly recommend supersedure. Nonetheless, its place (although removed from a dependable indicator) was extra like that of a swarm cell.

A vacated queen cell

As well as, the absence of eggs or any signal of the unique queen, strongly urged that the colony had swarmed. This most likely occurred – coincidentally – on the day the cells containing the grafts have been sealed.

I say ‘coincidentally’ as a result of I believe the swarming was triggered by emergence of the brand new queen within the decrease field and had nothing to do with my grafted larvae. That will match with two issues – the timing of the earlier inspection (18th) and the truth that swarming is delayed when the incumbent queen is clipped.

Nonetheless, as a result of she was clipped, the colony was not depleted of employees. The unique queen was misplaced, however that was all.

An alternate interpretation could be that the brand new queen merely did away with the unique queen.

However why have been the cells containing grafted larvae torn down?

One chance was that the brand new queen pheromones have been sufficiently robust that the employees realised they didn’t want further queens. Alternatively – although she wasn’t by the point I noticed her – I suppose there’s a chance that the virgin queen was sufficiently small to squeeze by way of the queen excluder, slaughter the growing queens, and squeeze again right down to the decrease field.

Studying from my errors  

Each examples above have been as a consequence of my not sustaining a correct inspection schedule on the decrease, queenright, brood field.

Responsible, m’lud.

Regardless of the benefits outlined above, cell rearing colonies ought to nonetheless be handled in the identical manner – vis-à-vis common inspections – as another manufacturing hive.

Aside from forgetfulness, sloth and stupidity there’s no motive not to examine the decrease brood field correctly on a 7 day cycle.

As soon as the larvae are accepted you’ll be able to take away the higher field (and all of the bees it comprises), gently set it apart and go although the underside field. The employees with the growing queen cells will take care of them for the ten minutes or so this takes.

Conversely, there’s no motive to intervene with the higher field aside from to test acceptance and ensure, sooner or later, that the cells are sealed. Should you assemble the queenright cell rearing colony and wait every week earlier than including grafts to the higher field (as described above) they can’t begin new queens from something different than the larvae you add.

What else would you be in search of?

Only one thing more

There have been a number of feedback final week about honey manufacturing in queenless colonies.

I collected extra supers on Monday containing spring honey. This included recovering supers from a number of queenless (or at the moment requeening – some might have contained virgins) colonies.

I’ve beforehand seen that supers are cleared much less properly – utilizing my commonplace clearer boards in a single day – from queenless colonies.

A not-cleared-as-well-as-I’d-like tremendous above a queenless colony

You all the time get a number of bees remaining within the tremendous, however there have been persistently tons extra in queenless colonies.

I didn’t depend them … few is lower than some, which is sort of a bit lower than tons, which – in flip – is appreciably lower than ‘did I put the clearer on inverted?’

This was the second batch of supers I’d collected, every week after the primary. I’d left the supers on longer as a result of:

  • there have been too many to move
  • some nonetheless had unripe nectar which failed the ‘shake check’ over a hive roof (see picture beneath), indicating that the water content material was too excessive to extract with out risking the honey fermenting

Unripe nectar is straightforward to shake out of tremendous frames.

Luring the bees down from the supers

In an try to hurry up clearing bees from the supers of queenless colonies I added the clearer beneath the total supers, however on high of a moist tremendous from which I’d already extracted honey.

A moist tremendous getting used to ‘lure’ bees down from full supers in a queenless colony

This labored properly.

The heady odor of honey within the moist tremendous resulted in considerably fewer bees within the cleared supers.

I’ve to move these cleared supers ~200 miles again dwelling for extraction. If I had a trailer or a truck a number of stragglers wouldn’t usually be a difficulty.

However I don’t … these supers are in the automobile with me.


Truly … stragglers would nonetheless be a difficulty, even with a trailer/truck.

My Fife bees have Varroa (low ranges, however it’s undoubtedly current) however my west coast bees don’t. I take biosecurity significantly and don’t like discovering any bees within the automobile after the journey.

I additionally actually don’t like discovering bees within the automobile at 65 mph on the A9 … and, if I do, I cease and allow them to out.

The mix of the better-cleared supers and a pointy thwack on any frames with adhering bees decreased the stowaways to zero.

And the 5 hour return journey was notable for stellar views of an osprey, a surprising male hen harrier and the solar setting over Creag Meagaidh 🙂





Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments