As I promised last time, and as you will have guessed from the title, this post is about queen bees. While the queen can’t live without workers, without a queen a hive will fail faster. At this time of year and as a small bee farm looking to grow quickly, queens are key. We can split an existing hive many times and introduce a new queen to each split which then itself becomes a mini hive that will build up over the spring and summer.
Where Do The Queens Come From?
Well there are two options for getting extra queens, one is rearing our own queens and I’ll talk about that more in the next paragraph. The other way of getting queens is… by post! The queens we have had this year have come from the Mediterranean, the warmer climate means they are able to rear new queens far earlier in the season than we are able to here in the UK. Although these queens came as part of a larger shipment amazingly you can send queens around the UK by the aptly named Royal Mail, however the postman does give you a funny look as you sign for a package of bees that have been buzzing in his van all morning!
In mid April we had our first batch of queens arrive, they come in well ventilated cages with food for their travels, the queen is accompanied by 5 or 6 workers who will look after her until she is introduced to a hive of her own. Generally I believe it is better to breed your own queens however the extra month these imported queens give us vastly improves the quality of the hives they live in as they have far longer to establish.
Queen Rearing.. A Very Brief Intro!
Queen rearing is in my opinion one of the most fascinating parts of beekeeping, the queens genetics and quality directly affects every aspect of a hives performance and temperament. This will be only a very short introduction into how we do it as it can be complex and for none beekeepers probably quite boring. It is also fair to say that the average ‘hobby’ beekeeper probably doesn’t bother with queen rearing, at least not intentionally!
The method we use is called grafting, that means we take a normal worker larvae that has been hatched within the last 24 hours and transfer it into a plastic (sometimes wax) cell that mimics a queen cell. Under the right circumstances (the hive is very busy but has no queen) the bees produce queen cells from the grafts that can then be harvested and the new queens emerge in their new hives.
To help this process run smoothly, as we only have a limited amount of queen rearing kit that goes in the hive, we bring the capped (8 day old) queen cells inside and place them in a chicken incubator, with a constant ‘hive’ temperature and a high humidity the queens hatch out and can be introduced to their new hives.
Using this method we produce about 5 queens a week which is certainly small scale but is sufficient for our needs. Our first queens hatched out on the 1st May which is quite early due to the unseasonably warm April, I would expect her to be laying eggs within two weeks.
I hope that although this was quite a basic post you’ve all learned something new about the amazing world of beekeeping, I’m always certainly learning new things about it. Thank you for reading – If you are interested in the roles of other bees in the hive check out one of our other posts here