How to raise a few queens.
Considered by many to be very difficult and in the realms of the expert beekeeper the raising of queens is in fact not that tricky.
There are many many ways of doing all that follows but I am going to suggest as simple a way as I can.
One matter that cannot be over looked is selection and redundancy. If you are looking for say four queens, then I would suggest you try at least 6 to allow for failure.
To achieve that 6, I am going to suggest you aim at offering the starter unit 18.
From this you can see that one has to accept losses in this process.
The process really breaks down into three stages.
1. Getting very young larvae accepted as potential queens.
2. Finishing off the cells.
3. Getting the virgins mated.
To get larvae accepted takes a large number of nursing bees. Yes the figure is some 150, but the more the merrier and I have always found that the stronger the starter box the better the acceptance rate.
Personally I use a shook starter box. For this exercise though I am avoiding finding queens as that always seems such a psychological barrier to so many.
The starter colony should be on a double brood box with as many as possible of the frames full of brood and the colony bursting with bees.
We are now going to split the brood nest, one brood box stays on the floor, then an excluder then two supers, then another excluder, the 2nd brood box and the crown board and roof. The queen can now be in only two places, all being well.
As soon as you feel competent to look, identify in which brood box the queen is, and if in the top then switch the bodies around. Wait 9 days. The queen will evidence herself by laying eggs, so the box with no eggs in it is where the queen is NOT! Or the other way round, where the eggs and open larvae are is where she IS!
After 9 days ALL the open brood in the top Brood Box will be sealed and no material will be available to the bees to use for Queens. The queen will be in the bottom box working away normally.
Move the hive to one side. On the original site place a new floor and your top brood box. Take from it one frame of brood to leave a gap. Run through the combs to check for “wild” queen cells, if any and the parentage is not one you want then kill them. Make sure the parent hive is well off to one side so all the flying bees will cram your starter box.
From the best queen you have or have access to take a frame of young larvae. Cut a strip of them out and shave with a very sharp knife a strip of them. You can usefully cut the cells back by a good third so the bees can flare the cells out easily.
Cut your selected cells into units of one, and using bees wax stick them to a flat piece of wood so that there is a good inch between them. To offer 18 to a colony depending on your frame, modify a brood frame to support this strip at each end, and consider you may need 2 or even three strips.
The following day you will see if your offerings have been accepted. This will be clear by reason of fresh wax building on the cell, and in fact by occupancy of the same. Rejects at this point are literally out the door. The bees cull quite heavily at this point. An empty cell is a sure sign of rejection. There are no half ways at this point, the larvae is either there and swimming in royal jelly or has gone as a reject.
You have two options now. One is to do the same again. The other is to use the starter box as the finisher, and in five days time you can use the cells. Or you can put the started cells in to the supers of strong colonies to be finished and incubated, whilst another batch is offered to the starter box. Please note if you offer cells to supers to be finished/ incubated when they are finished I cage them. Imagine 20 virgins running around a super…. not really ideal is it, so keep a close eye on your timings. Preferably have your cells into your nucs just after they are sealed so you can relax.
With your cells now sealed, the starter box can be used to provide sealed brood to your mating nucs. A wellcrammed brood box will give you three or four, even five (if you are willing to take a risk) nucs.
If queen rearing on this small scale then using mini nucs is an added layer of work which can be avoided by having to hand a number of empty Nuc boxes or Brood bodies provided sufficient dummy boards are available to cosy up a nuc in a Brood Box.
Place your sealed cell carefully into (press gently) into a frame of brood, and add some bees to it.
If using the same apiary then plug the entrance with grass and they will be fine. Let them out after three days and they will settle nicely.
Your virgins will fly and mate in due time so leave them alone for three weeks at least before you look.
With luck you should achieve with some ease success with this method. And you haven’t had to find the queen or graft.
I hope this simplified method will encourage you to have a go.