Over the past year as stated in a previous post I managed to sustain my own apiary without having to purchase queens or bees of any kind. I thought I would take time to write down some of my methods to hopefully use them as reference for myself and anyone else that may find them useful. I will try to remember some of the challenges I faced going through the past season. For instance dealing with laying workers and queen rearing methods will be on the list for sure.
I think I’ll start at the beginning with the queen rearing methods that I’ve employed. On a small scale beekeepers need to keep their equipment in mind. It’s very difficult to know what you’re going to need ahead of time if you’ve never raised queen bees. The simplest method would be some version of “On the Spot Queen Rearing.” (OTS queen rearing) This method requires no specialized equipment and in my opinion is perfect for a beekeeper with one or two hives. You will still need extra hives such as nuc boxes or in some cases you can get away with using full size hive body to get your new colonies started. I prefer using nuc boxes. You will also need frames and foundation to fill the new boxes. Now that I have covered equipment lets dive in:
Step 1. Chose the strongest colony in your apiary; this is pretty much self-explanatory you’re looking for traits that you find desirable for your apiary. For me I’m looking for weather or not they are alive after winter. They also need to look like a healthy thriving colony. I don’t want to propagate genetics that may be having trouble. Another way of looking at it is if they are weak they won’t be strong enough in numbers to split anyway.
Step 2. Locate the queen: In order to push your colony into making queen cells you will need to do one of two things. You will need to either make the colony queenless or wait until you see swarm activity. The second option is pretty much what happened to me last year for both runs of queens. The upside to this is that there is evidence that swarm cells generally produce very good queens. The downside is your working off of the bees clock, not your own. My bees typically want to swarm when I’m the least prepared. I would recommend that you keep at least a few nucs near your apiary so if you find swarm cells you can make splits immediately.
Although I’ve never tried this method I think I would prefer to split the queen before the swarming activity starts. At least this way I’m working off of my clock. In which case you need to locate the queen, remove the frame that she is on. I also like to give the new split a frame of good capped brood and another of honey. I would then shake a few extra bees in. The amount would depend on your location and time of year as well. For instance I can make much weaker splits in the middle of summer than I can in early spring. I would not want a slight cold snap killing off a split that was too weak. This goes for pretty much any type of split.
Step 3. Making more splits: My advice is that you need to have already consulted a queen rearing calendar. Here is a link to one if not. http://www.glenn-apiaries.com/images/rear.gif. There are plenty out there if you google search. My point with this is you need to know when to go in and harvest the newly formed cells. If you look on the calendar day 8 is when the cells are capped. Here is where the rub comes in. Your hive is going to have several frames with newly hatched eggs or 1 day old larvae if you prefer. So you need to do the math from the day you remove the queen starting with a one day old larvae. Basically as soon as you make the colony queenless they are going to start building queen cells using the already available larvae. 5 days after removing your queen you should have capped queen cells to harvest. You will need to open the hive preferably on the 6th or 7th day after removing the queen. I like to harvest every cell that I can and still leave one frame with cells for the original hive. You will make splits just like above except for you will be using a frame with queen cells instead of removing the queen.
All you really have to do after you have made the extra splits is wait the allotted 28 days after the egg was laid by the queen. Then check them for weather your new queens were successful or not. This leads me in to the second portion of this post. How to best take care of laying workers; I’ve read all over the internet about the doom and gloom associated with dealing with these little terrors. Honestly in my experience (mind you I’ve only dealt with two or three) this has not been that hard to correct.
I have always given my queens plenty of time to come back mated. I find that the 28-32 days is more a guideline. There are a high percentage of queens that are mated on their first flight the ones that aren’t need more time. Inevitably you are going to have some failed queens. I think my success rate from last year was somewhere around 60-70%. Once you know you have a failed queen you are going to have to do something about it. This is where self-sustaining your own apiary comes in. You are raising several of your own queens so when you have a failed one you have a backup. Just simply newspaper combine one of your nuc colonies with whatever colony is troubled with a laying worker. At least this is what has worked for me.
Now with a little effort we can raise enough queens to support our own habit. By the way there is a great tip on caging virgin queens in the comments on my last post from warmbees. I also have told you what I have been doing to correct laying workers. I have not heard very many beekeepers doing it this way, however I heard about it at a bee meeting for the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association. I also need to credit Mel Disselkoen with the OTS queen rearing reference. I also have a link in an older post to a talk that Mel gave at a SIBA meeting. It’s worth watching if you have a spare hour or so. I hope everyone find this helpful. Thanks for reading.