Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grafting Queens

At one time or another every beekeeper will need to requeen a colony. Some will requeen annually. Queens can be costly for a beekeeper so why not raise some yourself out of your best colony? I prefer raising my own queens because I know what kind of bees I have. I do not know what kind of bees the queen breeder on the other side of the country has for twenty dollars a piece.

There traits you must consider when selecting a queen to graft from. If gentleness is important to you be sure to select for it. Hygienic behavior is important for colony health. Fecundity and a solid brood pattern are important. Honey and wax production need to be top notch. Disease resistance is a valuable trait though I doubt most beekeepers are going to submit their colonies to being tested with a disease to see if it is resistant. These are a few of the things to consider when selecting a queen to graft from. Since you are grafting for yourself you should decide what is most important to you and try to breed for it.

Once you have prepared a Cell Builder Colony you can add a frame with your freshly grafted larvae. Pictured below is my cell builder colony.

My cell builder also has a shallow super full of bees to be placed atop the deep hive body.

Here is a picture of the cell bars with the queen cups in place. The queen cups are where the grafted larva are placed.

Here is a picture of the cell bar frame. The cell bars slide into the slots on the end bars of the frame. The queen cups are faced down to simulate a natural queen cup within a colony.

Also in the above picture are some Chinese grafting tools in the coffee cup. They are submerged in water so they can easily be cleaned of the royal jelly they encounter while in use.

Now it is time to do some grafting. First we must select a frame with larvae of appropriate age from the colony we wish to graft from. This frame looks like it is acceptable.

In the picture above you can see the royal jelly in the bottom of the cells along with a very small larva. The larva which is most desirable are the ones which have not curled into a "C" yet. These are the youngest larvae. It is a good idea to graft your larvae of all the same size so the queens will hatch at about the same time. I have grafted queens which were curled with good results before. The main thing is to graft all your larvae of the same age, or size, and to make sure not to graft any which do not have any royal jelly in their cell. If they do not have any royal jelly do not use the larvae. They are too old, to big, and their diet of royal jelly has been interrupted and will result in an inferior queen. You can click on the picture above to see the larvae in their pools of royal jelly in the bottom of their cells. If you look hard enough you can see the ones which have not curled yet and are very ripe for grafting. Ideally you would want to graft the larva after it hatches from an egg, which is at three days. I have found that as long as all the larvae that is grafted are of the same size and are still being fed royal jelly that they will make good queens. The only thing that will vary is how long it takes for them to hatch out. The youngest larvae are more desirable because it is easier for the beekeeper to time out when the queens will emerge from their cells.

Here is a picture of me using the Chinese grafting tool to graft the first larvae. The Chinese grafting tool has a flexible tip which slides under the larva and removes it along with some royal jelly from the cell.

The Chinese grafting tool has a push button on the end similar to an ink pen which when it is depressed it will push the royal jelly containing the larva in the queen cup. I've used other types of grafting tools but the Chinese grafting tool is the easiest to use.

In the queen cup to the right is the first larva that has been transferred. You can click on the picture to enlarge it. You can then see how small the larva is. You may need to get some magnification glasses from your optometrist to graft the small larva. Fortunately for now I can do it unaided from any optical devices.

On the end of the Chinese grafting tool you can see a small pool of royal jelly. Within that pool is a very tiny larva. You'll have to take my word for it because it is nearly impossible to see even when you enlarge the picture.

Here is a picture of all queen cups filled with larvae.

Now the cell bars are ready to be placed into the cell bar frame.

And now the cell bar frame with its freshly grafted larvae is ready to be placed into the cell builder colony.

After the cell builder colony is put back together it is important to give it some sugar syrup. The extra syrup will help the bees make the wax for the queen cells. Also make certain that the cell builder colony has a frame of pollen. The bees need the pollen to make royal jelly for the larvae if they are to become queens. These queens should start hatching about twelve to thirteen days after I grafted them.

Grafting or raising queens is easy to do and every beekeeper at one time or another should do their best to make their own queens. I spent maybe twenty minutes at the most breaking the cell builder down, finding the frame with larvae to graft from, grafting the larvae, taking pictures, and putting everything back together. I'm raising eighteen queens for myself to make some nucs with. Most places charge close to twenty dollars for a queens. Provided all eighteen queens hatch out, I made $360 in twenty minutes, or $1080 an hour for grafting those queens. Of course this example is not quite fair because the queens you pay twenty dollars for are mated, or they should be. So my virgin queens are probably worth only ten dollars a piece. I guess I can buy some frames or foundation with the money I saved. Saving money is not my main objective for raising queens. My main objective is to raise a queen that I want. I don't want bees from Texas, bees from California, bees from down south, or bees from anywhere else. I want to continue raising my own feral queens that I captured here in southern WV. I doubt if I'll be seeing any of these queens available in Bee Culture or American Bee Journal so I will continue to raise my own.

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