Thursday, May 7, 2009

Raising Queens Without Grafting

Have you ever wanted to raise your own queens? Even if you can't graft larvae or have the equipment to do it, you can raise own queens. This comes in handy early in the year when it is nearly impossible to order queens from the big queen suppliers. I'll let you in on the easiest way I know to raise queens. The picture below is of a split I made on March 30, 2009. This picture was taken on April 3, 2009.

When using this method to raise queens it is imperative to open the colony and cut out any capped queen cells four days later. That is why this picture was taken four days after I made the split, because I'm getting ready to cut out the capped cells. First off, you must carefully inspect each frame for cells. Just a few bees gathered around a cell can hide it from your view so look very carefully. If the one capped cell gets by you it will hatch out first and kill your better queens.

Why does one cut out capped cells after four days? Wouldn't it be better if it hatched out so I could have a queen that much sooner? NO! It is very important that the new queen be fed a rich diet of royal jelly after it hatches into a larva from an egg. In order to ensure that your queen is reared from a very young larva you must cut capped cells at four days after making a split.On the fourth day after the egg is laid it hatches into a larva. Once it has been decided by the workers to raise a queen from it, it takes eight days from egg before the queen cell is capped. Queens can be raised from larvae as old as seven days. The larva between five and six days old are the ones we wish to eliminate by cutting out the capped cells four days after making the split.

What's wrong with a queens that was raised from a larva that was between five and seven days old? There is enough wrong with them that I shall continue cutting out the capped cells at four days. People commonly requeen their old queens with fresh quality queens annually. Why would you want a less than quality queen. Queens raised from larvae that are too old can lay fertilized eggs. However they have lower ovarian weight, are smaller, are weaker, lay less eggs, produce less pheromone and are therefore more aggressive, lay patchy or shotty brood patterns, are superseded rather quickly, just to name a few. These make bad queens because they were not continually fed royal jelly from the time they hatched until the time they were capped. If she lays fewer eggs than a quality queen then your going to get less honey because you have less bees.

Though this method of raising queens may produce what is referred to as "emergency queens", it does not imply that they are inferior. When they become inferior is when they are raised from larvae that is too old. This will produce what is sometimes called a "semi-queen" or "intercaste". These type of queens come from the true "emergency" cells. That is why we must cut out all capped cells after four days from making the split or nuc.

Pictured below are some queen cells along the bottom of the frame. These cells are still open and can be left alone.

I only found two capped queen cells that needed to be cut out. As you can see these cells are rather small in size and would no doubt make some small inferior queens.

Here is a picture of three queen cells from another split I made on the same day as the the one pictured above.

If you would like to sit up a colony to raise some queens please refer to my previous post on making a split. After you make the split do not add a queen or queen cell. Four days later go in and cut out the capped cells. If you only want four queens and they are making twelve, cut out some of the smaller cells. I like to do this because it makes me feel as if the queen cells remaining will receive more royal jelly than they would otherwise and that they end up being slightly better than they would otherwise. But when I make queen cells like the one pictured below I doubt if I'm going to start second guessing myself.

Though raising queens through this method is easy, you lose the ability to decide how many queens are raised and can not ensure they eggs were laid on the same day. The queen cells are also sometimes easily damaged when handling. When you graft you can virtually eliminate these problems which makes it a desirable skill to have. But if you only need a few at a time this is by far the easiest way to let the bees raise a queen.

Splitting a Colony

There is a quick and easy way to split your colonies. You can simply separate your hive bodies into two colonies. Take the top deep and put it on a floor with a lid. Let whichever half raise its own queen and not worry about them. This is the easy way. However, I like to have more control over what happens to my colonies. I like to leave the existing colony with the new queen, queen cell, or maybe it's raising its own queen, in the old location. I prefer to put the old queen in a new location. When doing this be sure to put extra bees with the old queen as many of them will drift back to their old location. As long as you have enough brood in the split you should not lose many bees. It is OK when some of the bees drift back to their original location because there is going to be an interruption of egg laying in that colony so some extra bees are a good thing. If you have a mated queen she should be accepted and laying eggs within a few days. A ripe queen cell will take around ten days. If you let them make a new queen you could be looking at nearly 28 days before any eggs are laid. So let's make sure we have enough bees depending on how we are going to queen the split.

When splitting a colony one must first ensure that the colony to be split is of sufficient strength. I usually will not split a colony which has less than eight frames of bees. Splitting a colony before it swarms is an easy way not to lose a swarm. It is also an easy way to increase colony numbers. After choosing a colony to be split I like to smoke the colony well and let the colony sit for a few minutes before beginning work.

Letting a colony sit for five minutes or so after smoking it will give the bees enough time to fill themselves with honey because they think they may need to leave the hive due to fire because they smell the smoke. Bees with a belly full of honey are less likely to be aggressive because they feel important to the colony's survival. Dry bees, or bees with empty bellies, can get pretty nasty sometimes so it is important to use your smoker properly when going into a colony.

After smoking the colony and before opening it, be sure to gather all the necessary hive components needed to make the split.

In the picture above you can see two deep hive bodies, hive base, floor, inner lid, and outer lid. Also there are twenty frames of drawn comb. Drawn comb is a beekeeper's best friend when making early splits. Bees need to consumes an estimated eight pounds of honey in order to produce one pound of wax. When making early splits it is essential to feed your bees even when using drawn comb. Here you can see that I am removing the inner lid with two jars of 1:1 sugar syrup placed over the ventilation hole.

In addition to sugar syrup, it is also imperative to provide the split with pollen. You can use a good pollen substitute or in my case I am using frames of drawn comb which contains bee bread. In order for the colony to raise one frame of brood it must have one frame of nectar and one frame of pollen available to feed the larva. So make sure your bees have resources available especially when making splits before the honey flow.

So now I'm going to tear the hive down in order to split it. The top super contains bees and brood. I will sit it aside for the time being.

Pictured above is the colony to be split after the shallow super on top was removed.

The top deep hive body contains nearly five frames of bees.

Now it is time to examine the lower deep hive body for content.

The lower hive body appears to have a little more than four frames of bees.

After separating the individual hive bodies it is time to sit up a new hive to transfer some frames of brood, honey, and the old queen into.

Pictured below is a frame which has been drawn out for drone brood. Drone comb is easy to spot out due to the larger size of the cells. Early in the season is does not do much good to replace this frame with foundation because the foundation will most likely be drawn into drone comb as well. Later in the season the bees are less likely to build drone comb, but for now I will replace this frame of drone comb with a frame of drawn worker comb. It is important not to simply throw away the drone comb. It can be used in a drone mother colony for breeding queens, can be used to catch varroa mites, or can be used to store honey above a queen excluder.

Here is a frame with some fresh pollen. I will put this frame into the new box.

I also want to select a few frames of brood to put into the new box.

A few frames of nectar, or sugar syrup, with bees are also essential to the split.

After putting enough bees and brood into the new box I fill in the rest of the space with drawn worker brood.

The above hive is the one I want to put the old queen in. After having gone through all the frames in order to make the split, I still have not found the queen. So I looked through the shallow super and found her in there. You can see her near the middle of the frame. Remember that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you want to see the pictures in more detail.

An easy way to put the queen into the split would be shake her off of the frame. I would rather pick her off the frame and place her into the split by hand. This way she does not get shook too hard or suffer an accident from being shook. It is important when handling queens not to ever hold one by the abdomen. They are very easily injured when they are full of eggs. I prefer to hold them by their thorax when handling them. All I had to do was simply place her onto a top bar and she disappeared in the hive body.

After placing the queen into the split a second deep hive body with drawn comb was added. This is the colony pictured below on the right. Pictured on the left is what remains of the original colony minus the shallow super.

The hive on the left will have a ripe queen cell added to it. It is always handy to have some queen cells on hand if you aspire to split your hives or make nucs. Queen cells are also nice to have should you decide to requeen your colonies. As a beekeeper you can save yourself a considerable amount of money by rearing your own queens. First I need to select a cell to place into the colony. This cell looks like a nice big one.

I have in the past cut a piece of comb from the frame large creating a space large enough to accommodate the queen cell. However I have had just as much success by placing the queen cell between the top bars and using a small amount of pressure from the top bars to hold it in place. I also prefer to place the cell above the most crowded or congested area in the hive.

Pictured below is two queen cells between the top bars.

I made this split on April 12, 2009. In a few more days I will have new bees hatching out from the new queen. The queen cells were from a split I did on March 30, 2009.

After placing the queen cells in place it was time to put the hive back together. The super went back on, then the inner lid, and the feeders.

The hive is topped off with a shallow super and a shim to accommodate the feeders. An outer lid seals it up.

The hive below on the left was the original colony which now has some ripe queen cells. The middle hive has the old queen and should not have its brood laying interrupted too much. Some bees will drift back to the original location. But once again, that is OK. Since it could take near ten days for the new queen to start laying eggs the colony will benefit from some extra bees. The colony with old queen is already hatching out bees which were laid after the split and is steadily increasing in population. It will not be much longer before I can split this colony again. The colony with the queen will most likely be split before the end of the month.

I hope this helps explain in some detail on how to split a colony. If you enjoyed this post please show your appreciation by clicking on the google sponsored advertisements. Thanks.