June 29, 2010

Queen Cells and Counting

In my previous post I described the steps I am taking this year with my queen rearing project.

As of my last post I had managed to get queen cells into cell builder colonies.

Above:  18 queen cells being removed from a queen-right cell builder colony. 
Some of these cells will be placed into queen-less mating nucs

Sunday afternoon I moved the queen cells from the cell builder hives into individual queen-less mating nucs. Usually I move the queen cells on day 14 (10 days after grafting, and two days before emergence on day 16) to the individual nucs.

Above:  As an experiment I kept 3 of the cells in the queen-less cell starter colony. 
As you can see I ended up with larger cells.

I moved them a day early (day 13) this year, because, last year I had 16 cells destroyed when one of the cells emerged early.

Step 7 Continued:
Ok, So at this point I had 21 cells, 18 in a queen right cell builder colony, as I described last week. On the 14th day (10 days from grafting, and two days before the queens emerge) the cells should be individually placed each into its own queen-less mating nuc.

Left:  By adding a frame of brood to the queen-less cell starter colony, I converted it into a queen-less cell builder colony that built larger cells.

Most of my mating nucs are regular deep hive bodies that I have divided into four compartments, each with its own separate entrance. Each compartment will hold two frames. Each compartment has a cover and a sugar syrup feeder.

To make up the nucs I take frames of bees and open larva from my hives and place them into the nucs. The nurse bees will stay with the brood to take care of it.

Above Left:  Cells from the queen-right cell builder.  Right: Cells from the queen-less cell starter.

\I place one frame of bees and brood, and one undrawn frame into each compartment. I then introduce a queen cell (with cell protectors) into each nuc.

You can see that it takes a lot of bees to raise queens. If you have 10 queen cells you need 10 mating nucs. If you have 50 queen cells you will need 50 mating nucs.

Above: One of the cells from the queen-less cell starter, converted to a cell bulder. 
You can see that there is still alot of royal jelly in the cell.

Step 8: Wait and allow the queens to emerge. Each queen will emerge on day 16 (10 days from grafting) into a nuc.

This nuc will become a little colony.

The bees will take care of the new virgin queen. In about a week she will take mating flights and mate with up to 35 drones (male bees). She will fly back to the hive, and if successful will start laying eggs in about another 7 days.

Above:  Cells from the queen-right cell builder
You can see there is no royal jelly in the cell.
Did the workers rob the royal jelly to feed to worker larva in the queen-right colony?
All the cells came from the same cell starter.  All the cells were over filled with royal jelly before they were placed in the cell builder colonies.  There is a difference!

This year I did not move all the cells into the queen-right cell builder. I left three cells in the queen-less cell starter colony. By adding a frame of emerging brood (no eggs or larva) to the cell starter I converted it into a cell builder colony. It was interesting to see that the queen-less cell starter colony built much larger cells than the queen-right cell builder colony.

It is obvious that the large number of nurse bees in the queen-less cell starter colony made a big difference in the quality of the cells. I expect I will get larger queens from the larger cells. In the future I plan to abandon the use of the queen-right cell builder in favor of a queen-less cell builder assembled specifically to build cells.

Right:  Red plastic cells and yellow plastic cells each contain larva grafted from different queens.  The cell color tells me which queen mother the cell is from.

Additionally I took eight of the cells and arranged them so the virgin queens will emerge into queen cages. These cages have been placed into a queen-less, brood-less hive. It is my hope that the workers will care for the emerged virgin queens.

I have plans for these eight virgins I may share with you at a later date.

Tomorrow 21 queens will be emerging. This weekend I will look in on them to see how the new queens are doing.

I’ll let you know.

June 23, 2010

Queen Season

Father’s Day. A holiday to commemorate all the hard working fathers. The perfect time of year to raise queens.

Generally, on Cape Cod, at this time of year, a colony will have built itself up to about 30,000 or 40,000 bees. Over the next month they will continue to increase in numbers to about 60,000. As the bees start to get crowded they start thinking about swarming.

Above:  Queen cup frame just pulled from my cell starter hive. 
After 36 hours the bees have started building queen cells. 
You can tell the accepted cells by the wax that has been added to the cell.
24 cells have been accepted out of 28 grafted cells

Swarming involves building queen cells. A beekeeper can use this natural tendency of the bees to raise his own queens.

It is always easier to work with the bees rather than against them.

Above:  Close up of the started cells

Here’s what I have been doing.

Step one.

Create a cell starter hive. Take a strong colony and locate the queen. Place her and the frame she is on aside. Now take all the frames that have open larva and shake the bees into a 5 frame nuc (at least 5 frames worth of nurse bees). What you are doing is shaking nurse bees into this nuc since they would be found on the frames with open larva. There can be no queen or they will reject the cells you put in the nuc later. That is why we located her and put her aside. To this nuc add one frame of pollen, one frame of nectar, and a wet sponge. The bottom of the nuc should be screened so the bees will not over heat. The entrance must be closed so the bees cannot return to their original colony. Put the cover on the nuc for now.

Above:  A well fed queen cell which is 36 hours old
You can see how the larva has grown in a day and a half!

Step Two

Choose the hive (queen mother) you plan to raise queens from. You will need her eggs! Of course you will select the strongest, best behaved, active, honey collecting colony you have to pick from. Locate the queen and put her aside. Also locate a frame of eggs and young larva (newly hatched) and brush all the bees off of it back into the colony you are taking it from. If you shake the frame you will also move the larva from the center of the cell it is in.

Step Three

Graft newly hatched larva, 3 days old, into primed plastic queen cell cups. I prime the cells with royal jelly I saved (froze) from the previous year. You will also have success if you prime the cells with a mixture of 50% plain yogurt and 50% water. Just a small drop in the center of each plastic cell will help you float the larva off the grafting tool. The larva should look like a comma. If it looks like a full C shape the larva is too old. Use the youngest larva you can find. Use a damp hand towel to cover the grafted cells so they do not dry out. Graft two bars of 14 cells each, that will be 28 cells all together.

Step Four

Place the queen cup frame into the cell starter hive you created earlier. Place the grafts between the two frames, pollen frame to one side, open nectar frame to the other. Now leave them alone for 24 to 48 hours. Place the frame of larva you took the grafts from, back into the hive you stole it from.

Above:  Same cell with wax removed.  See all the white
royal jelley in the cell?  I will harvest this and freeze it
for use next queen season

Step 5

Prepare a queen right cell builder hive. Open the hive and find the queen. Place her in the bottom hive super with all the empty and capped frames of brood. Place a queen excluder over the box with the queen and put all the open larva, pollen, and nectar in the box. Leave an open space between open larva and a frame of pollen to place your started cells. Leave this colony over night while your cells are in the cell starter hive. This will allow time for all the nurse bees in that colony to move to the upper box. It will be 3 days before any eggs the queen lays in the lower box to hatch and require nurse bees.

Step 6

After 24 to 48 hours open the cell starter hive and remove your grafts. You will be able to tell which cells have been accepted by the bees by the work they have started on the cell. Excepted cells will have wax being added to them. This year the bees started 24 cells out of 28 grafts. Not bad. Take the queen cell frame and place it into the cell builder hive you prepared the day before. This hive will feed and build the cells.

Above:  Just a side note.  I was pleased with the very
large crop of peas we produced in the garden this year.
Thanks polinators!

Step 7

Wait and count. It takes 16 days for a queen bee to be created. Remember that the larva you grafted is already 3 or 4 days old. The queens will hatch at 16 days old, only twelve days after you graft them. Before that happens you will need to move the individual cells into queen-less mating nucs, or a queen-banking hive.

More on that next time.......

June 14, 2010

Eggs In Your Honey

The weather did not allow me to start queen rearing this week, But there was a short window of opportunity to look in on the bees.

Above:  Worker bee collecting pollen in my garden

The weather was damp and humid, not the best conditions for opening up a hive.

Bees make great barometers you know. It can be a clear, warm, sunny day, (perfect weather for opening a hive), but if rain is coming in the late evening, the bees will let you know by their attitude.

Right:  As I clean out the shed of old bee packages, old comb, and old frames, my debris pile slowly grows.

If you are going to keep bees on Cape Cod you will have to get use to working with them in all types of weather. One minute it will be clear, then, in a minute the weather will change. I don’t know how many times I have started the smoker with blue sunny skies, only to have dark cloudy weather by the time I pull out my first frame of bees.

Left:  Another worker collecting nectar and pollen

Saturday, between the rain, the bees were flying, obviously collecting nectar an pollen from something that is in bloom.

Above:  A solid brood pattern layed by one of the queens I raised last season.

I opened up the hives to find that the bees were storing honey in the honey supers.

I made a choice this season to not use queen excluders when supering for honey. A queen excluder is a grid of wire that when placed between boxes of comb prohibits the queen from passing between the boxes. The spacing in the grid allows worker bees to move through, but not the queen.

Left:  An over productive queen was not able to resist the temptation to lay eggs in my honey super.  Look closely and you will see the small egg at the bottom of the cell.  Click on the photo to enlarge.

In past years I felt that the queen excluders discouraged the worker bees from moving up into the honey supers, acting as more of a honey excluder than anything else.

Of course you also take the chance that the queen will move up into the honey supers and lay eggs. Not something you want to see, that is, eggs mixed on a comb with your honey.

Right:  Opening up the hive to find ripe honey being capped over is what a beekeeper loves to see.

I have one hive that has a queen that is laying so many eggs that she has run out of room in the brood chamber. Sure enough when I inspected the honey super, there she was sitting on six frames of eggs where honey was to be. I took her and placed her in a lower box, then added a queen excluder. In about a month those eggs will hatch out into worker bees and the bees can store honey in the empty comb.

It is nice to see the bees storing honey in comb that I will take as my own in a couple of months. Honey comb is beautiful. The bees collect nectar from the plants and store it in their honey stomachs. Once back in the hive they place the nectar in the comb.

Nectar from flowers contains about 1% sugar. The bees evaporate the water and concentrate the sugar to turn it into honey. Once the honey is “ripe” they cap over the cell with wonderful white wax. The wax seals the honey and keeps it from absorbing moisture from the air.

It is estimated that it takes about 10,000 miles of flying to make a table spoon of honey.

It is exciting to see.

Above:  Ripe honey being capped by the workers.  You can see the white capping wax.

In a couple of months we will taste that honey.

What honey tastes the best to me?

The honey that’s in my mouth at that particular moment of course!

June 9, 2010

Strange Ideas

May and June have been good to the bees here on Cape Cod. For the first time in many years we actually had “spring”.

Right:  Two of the packages of bees we installed in May

Typically here the temperatures stay cold (because we are surrounded by water on three sides), until the end of may. Then suddenly it is HOT….. Until September.

This lengthened spring with nice weather has allowed the bees to take full advantage of the honey flow. I guess it is the least mother nature could do for us after last spring.

Left:  Empty packages on top of the newly created colonies.  In three weeks the bees have drawn all the comb in the first boxes.  The second deep brood chambers were added to these hives last week

Both Kona queens were accepted by their colonies, and have been diligently laying a thousand eggs each day for the past two weeks. Their patterns are beautiful. They are laying a solid worker cell pattern. I am pleased. The queens are only limited by the ability of the workers to produce new comb, and the amount of honey an pollen being stored.

I also managed to obtain a Minnesota Hygienic Queen two weeks ago. I recently discovered that this particular strain of honey bee has their roots in the old “starline” strain of bees. The Starline breed was sold by Dadant and Sons many years ago. They were the first bees I kept in my early years of beekeeping. My uncle and grandfather, who got me started in beekeeping, swore by them.

I remember that I did not know much at that time about beekeeping, and made many mistakes. Those starline bees lasted for years without any help from me. Year after year they would product honey, capped with the whitest wax I have ever seen. Alas they are no longer produced.

We will see how their great great great cousins do!

Right:  Honey supers (top thin boxes) have been added to the strong colonies.  The hive on the far left was the hive that had the two queens last month.  Mother and daughter existed side by side for over a month.

The Kona queens are installed in the two far right colonies

The one queen I kept from my queen rearing project last summer is doing outstanding. Honey supers have been added and the bees are busy filling the empty comb with honey.

Honey supers were added to the colonies last week. Within 24 hours the bees were working the comb, storing nectar, which will be turned into honey over the next two months.

I have the habit of obsessing about ideas that pop into my head. An idea will come to me, and I will spend much of my free time thinking about it, sketching it, drawing it, planning it.

This past winter I had two such apparitions, or perhaps I should call them obsessions.

I am about 80% complete with the fabrication of the second. I share here.

Left:  My latest bee endeavor....  Any guesses?

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Can you guess what it is?

Yes… It does have to do with beekeeping.


Peach Pollen

Spring Pollen

Spring Pollen

Queen Cell

Queen Cell
Well Fed Queen Cell

Marked Queen

Marked Queen
Queen produced from my second graft attempt