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Queen Rearing - some of my experiences

Some hints, tips and myths

There are a lot of "do's and don'ts" in beekeeping, a number of them associated with queen rearing. As with beekeeping in general there is a lot that is simply "cut and pasted", often with mistakes that have been repeated so many times they are taken as "fact".

I have been keeping bees long enough to know that if I am told something, I should challenge it and in many cases things aren't always as stated. When I started queen rearing I had no help from local beekeepers, so I listened to lectures and read books. I did what I was told, but was often disappointed with my results, so I looked closely at what I was doing and found other ways, some worked, some failed. If my success rate improved, I looked to improve further.

I have always done a lot of experiments in beekeeping and that is where some of my knowledge has come from. If I try something else I usually do it alongside the current method, so I can make a sensible comparison. I find it a good way of learning.

Not everything is going to work every time. We are mostly amateurs, so not particularly efficient. For that reason I suggest giving a method a reasonable trial before discarding it. I have come across far too many beekeepers who have tried something once, not been successful, then abandoned it without asking why.

Below I list some of my experiences with queen rearing.

Be careful of timing.

Different sources give different day numbers for when they start, e.g. "Day 0" or "Day 1". If you are taking instructions from one source, then you are probably O.K. If you are combining information from two sources, one starting on "Day 0", the other on "Day 1", you can be a day out. I treat today as being "Day 0" and I find that easy as 6 days time is "Day 6", not "Day 7".

Grafting "wet" or "dry".

This one keeps coming up, I think because it sounds as if it will give the larvae a better chance if there is royal jelly placed in the cell cup, but I'm afraid it is false logic. I have put quite a puddle of royal jelly in a cup, then put it in a colony. Five to ten minutes later it has been removed by the bees. I don't do it very often, but I find a little drop of water or nectar placed in the cup with a small paintbrush can make it easier to transfer the larvae.

"Conditioning" parts.

Some queen rearers prefer to "condition" cell cups, cell bars, cell plug boxes, etc, by placing them in a hive for a day or so. I have found no difference between doing and not doing it, so I now don't bother.

Cleaning parts.

I have carried out experiments on a number of occasions by having half a cell bar with clean or new cups and the other half that haven't been fully cleaned, just scraped. I haven't noticed any difference.

Grafting. Is the drowning of larvae when flipped over a myth?

Have you heard that if you flip larvae over when grafting they will drown because the breathing spiracles are on the top? So have I - many times! So many in fact that I believed it myself. Then I did an experiment. The results are here.

High loss rate from emerged Q/Cs.

In my experience this is getting worse. So many beekeepers blame the weather or birds taking queens, but I think these are no worse than they have ever been in my time. I think more likely reasons are:-

Please don't take the above as being the only way to do something. If the way you do something works best for you, then that's the one to stick with and that's the "best" way.

Roger Patterson.