Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lesson 38: Raising Queens Part 3

We love honey bees, also known as Apis Mellifera. Apis Mellifera is just the scientific name which means honey carrying bee, which technically is incorrect, as honey bees do not carry honey. They carry nectar and turn it into honey in the hive. So let's just call 'em honey bees!

Honey bees swarm. They swarm for several reason, and for some reasons we'll never understand. Here I am watching a swarm from one of my hives land in my near by tree. You can click on the image for an enlarged view.

My wife and I clapped our hands, rattled a metal sheet around the swarm and believe it or not they went back into the hive they swarmed from. Either what we did worked, or for some unheard of reason, they just went back home. I know bees cannot hear, but they do "hear" by sensing vibrations.
Beekeeping comes with many challenges. During May and June our biggest challenge is keeping our hives from swarming. I run my hives tight and full because I believe bees like to be crowded--not congested, but crowded. This year, I've only had 2 of my hives swarm. This one was high up so I put an empty hive on top of my truck and climbed up the ladder and shook the swarm down into the box on the truck. Imagine going through a fast food drive up with that on top of your truck! When a colony swarms, it loses a large number of it's population. Most agree that if a colony swarms, the remaining bees probably will not produce honey that year. So, no one wants to see a swarm unless it is someone elses. :)
Another beekeeping challenge is failing queens. Has your queen gone feet up on you? Maybe she's deformed, like this one which has lost an antenna. Or like this queen in the picture, maybe she needs wound up again. Sorry, when the queen runs out, there is no winding her back up. She will not mate again. Time for a new queen. This is another challenge we beekeepers face...failing or missing queens. None of us want to find a bunch of queen cells in our hives when the queen is doing great nor do we want to find that our queen is gone. We must have strong, young and great laying queens to keep our hives striving.

Here's a queen cell in my hive. For those of you who have never seen a queen cell and have always wondered if you could identify one, here you go. Queen cells on the top half of the frame means they are replacing their old queen for some reason. And queen cells on the bottom of the frames mean they are preparing to swarm. Excessive swarming can be a trait within the queen's genetics. But it can also be environmental such as the hive is congested.

So, all of that being said, I want to wrap up my lessons on queen rearing for now with some final comments.
You are most likely going to keep buying your queens from reputable queen providers probably from the sunshine belt, where the weather is warmer longer so queens are easier to raise and can be raised earlier in the spring. And, we sell packages and queens from the south, so I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. But there are a few things we should consider about queens from the south.

First, they have to travel a long way to get to northern states. Shipping can be hard on bees and queens. It shouldn't be, but sometimes it is. Data recorders have shown that some queens were exposed to cold and hot temperatures that could effect the overall health of the queen. Delivery centers spray for insects. Could that spray residue effect queens as well? Not to mention that some states in the deep south are known to have Africanized bees. Great efforts are being made to keep the Africanized genetics out of the pool, but for open air mated queens, who can be sure, right?
I've heard farmers say you should buy your animals from the north and move then south but never buy them from the south and bring them north. Which brings us to the idea and consideration of whether a southern queen may not be able to survive a northern winter. That's hard to make a case around. Bees are bees, right. They are going to work and do what bees do. However, it makes sense to me to obtain a queen that is bred in the area of your own climate. For years people in the north have successfully over wintered hives purchased from the south. However, winter die outs are on the rise.
That being said, if you live in a northern state which has harsh winters, it just makes sense to purchase queens that have proven successful in northern climates. Here's why: First, you avoid shipping stresses. Secondly, you are obtaining a queen that has survived your unique climate. Thirdly, you know that your queen is from hives that have survived pests and diseases that are common in your area. To me, this makes sense. And with a near by queen breeder, you may be more apt to replace your queens regularly.

Come on! Would you buy a queen from a hive that is known to have CCD or is Africanized? Of course not? Even though she may not carry or transfer the cause of CCD, no one would want to do that. Then, why would you buy a queen without knowing anything about her genetic track record? Usually because we get desperate to have a queen, and most queen breeders are desperately trying to sell queens and can no longer carefully monitor the genetics that governs the overall success of queens. This isn't the case with all southern or western queen breeders, yet the reality of the stress placed on queen production can sometimes cause shortcuts to be taken, in my opinion. I know for a fact that last year queens are sold as this year queens. Again, not everyone does this, but money does talk, and the bottom line governs business.

Our long term goal is to raise queens from survivor hives, which are hives that have survived at least two northern winters, have gone untreated for all pests and disease for at least two years and have not been hindered by pests or diseases. And a hive that has other good qualities such as minimal swarming, gentleness and maximal honey production. That's a long term goal and will take years to improve this stock. For now though, we are achieving success along the way.

But remember, we can't always point the finger at our queens. There are some great coaches that just don't have the player skills to win games. Some queens may be great, but may face tough Springs. Is it fair to blame the queen for a tough spring? The older bees seem to be the ones that call a lot of the shots. Should we blame the queen when the older bees make poor decisions? Or, this is one none of us want to admit, but should we blame the queen for our poor management and poor manipulation of a hive? For example, some medications in the hive have been shown to reduce the queen's performance. Is it fair to blame the breeder or the queen because we poisoned her?

So be patient with the queen! We can all get a dude, but let's be sure before we give up on her.
This is why you should consider raising your own queens. This year introducing my own young, freshly mated queens has made a huge difference in the overall performance of my hives. I realize it is impractical for every beekeeper to raise their own queens. That's why we need more and more local beekeepers to form regional queen rearing programs.

We have a limited number of queens we are selling this year. If you'd like to try one, please give us a call at 217-427-2678. We ship queens on Monday and Wednesday. By purchasing your queens from us, we are able to use that profit to expand our queen stock improvment program.

Also, if you are planning on becoming a beekeeper next spring, then please order your equipment and hives from us this summer or fall. It becomes very difficult for us to keep up with all the orders between February-June. Plan ahead!!

That's all for now, and remember...BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lesson 37: Queen Rearing Part 2

[Information contained in this blog is my opinion after careful study and personal experiences. It is an expression of what's working for me today. Also, this is a blog which means the information is time sensitive. Prices may change and practices may change with new development and discovery.]

Hello from David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in Central Illinois. We've had a blast working our hives so far this year. The weather was cold and wet for so long, but finally it has warmed up and dried out.

This year there has been more swarms than what is typical. Here's a swarm I removed from a tree stump in Danville, Illinois. My father-in-law goes out many times a week retrieving swarms. I collected a swarm from a tree in Tilton, Illinois. It was the largest swarm I've ever collected. It's not the one in the picture.
For those of you collecting swarms you should consider purchasing one of our bee-vacs for easier removal. Also, a swarm might leave your hive once you catch them. So, be sure and try to put them on drawn comb and a frame of live brood if you have some. Also, keep the swarm closed off in their new hive for 24 hours so that they can settle into their new home.
Things have been pretty demanding since we are 100% into bees now. We had a great year selling packages of live bees and now we move into selling queens. As the season progresses, beekeepers will need to replace old queens or provide a queen to a hive that has, for one reason or another, lost their queen. Remember, that a hive dies quickly without a queen. We are having real good success in rearing queens and shipping them through the postal service. We prefer to ship our queens out Express mail, which only takes one to two days to arrive.
You could do the same thing! Some people have started their own queen rearing businesses and once you are established, this can be a very rewarding line of work. We ship our queens in a Tyvek envelop. That material is very durable and will not tear. We buy these at the local office store. We buy the larger size, 10 x 13 inch. Then, we punch a bunch of holes in the envelopes. While at the office store, we had them make us a red ink stamp that says, "LIVE BEES". Then, we use USPS CLICK-N-SHIP online (saves money over taking them to the post office) to print our labels.
I've worked with the post office so that I can get the best results in shipping queens. If they are placed in a priority mail container, the kind that are free, they can find their way into being handled by automation which is hard on bees. But the larger Tyvek envelop marked live bees express mail receives real good care. It does not take a lot of holes but some air is needed for the queen and her attendants.

Okay, before you ship queens you have to learn how to raise them, right. So in today's lesson I want to share my second lesson on queen rearing. Queen rearing is easier than it sounds, yet it can fail easier than you think. There are some very sensitive issues in raising queens and grafting is one of these. How well you graft determines the success of the queen's overall development.
TOOLS! There are many different grafting tools, some I have never tried. Probably the more common grafting tools are the ones that look something like a dentist's tool, but shaped differently on the end, like this one in the picture. Many folks make their own out of wooden tooth picks, plastic or metal. There are some very expensive, fancy tools that eject the graft from the spoon once placed in the cell. Others come equipped with a magnifying glass attached to the tool. Grafting does take exceptional eyesight, which very few of us have over the age of 40. So, some sort of reading glasses or magnifying glass along with a good light will be of much help.

A tool that has worked well for me is the Chinese grafting tool. It has a tongue that slips under the larvae and draws it out. Then there is a spring loaded plunger that helps push the graft off onto the bottom of the cell cup.

I'm pretty fast with this tool now, and sometimes speed is important, otherwise the royal jelly in the cell can dry out if you take too long grafting. These are inexpensive, around $5. It's hard to keep them clean, and the tool must be very clean when doing grafts. So, some people throw these away after they start looking too dirty.

So you have a tool, now what. I mentioned in my first lesson on queen rearing that you need to establish a starter hive. This can be a smaller 5 frame nuc box with lots of nurse bees, very young bees which you can shake off of a frame of larvae and sealed brood. Some suggest not putting any larvae or brood frames in the starter, just a frame of honey and pollen. Overcrowding this starter nuc is important. Get this starter hive prepared and ready so that when you do your grafting, you can quickly place it into your starter hive.

Now, with close up eye wear on, a good flash light and the grafting tool of your choice go and pick out a good frame to graft from. Remember, get the frame from the hive that has the characteristics that you want to keep. Usually it needs to have proved itself over a couple of years to be sure these are traits not just a fluke.
Remove the frame from the hive and brush the bees off. Try not to shake the frame in an attempt to remove the bees. Carry the frame into the area where your tools are ready, where you'll be doing your grafting.

Here we go!! I like to lay down a moist cloth beneath the frame I'm grafting from to increase the humidity, keeping the grafts moist. You must be careful to select the youngest larvae possible. Not a egg standing upright, but a larvae that has just started to lay in the base of the cell with the slightest curve. A full curve is too old. Notice in the picture that you are looking for a slightly curved larvae. It is best to scoop up the larvae from the opened end of the curve. And remember, you must place the larvae in the new cell on the same side it was on when you removed it so that the larvae will continue to breath from that side. You can click on the images to enlarge them.

I took this picture just for you, to help you know what you are trying to accomplish. Boy, the things I do for you:) Actually, until someone shows you what you are looking for, it is impossible to really achieve good grafts. Oh, and for those of you that have never seen what an egg looks like, where here you go!

Once you retrieve your graft, then place it into the cell cup. Repeat this until you have all your cell cups started. Then, take the frame (explain in the previous lesson) and place it into your starter hive, a queenless 5 frame nuc with nurse bees that a) would love to swarm if they had a queen, and b) would love to have a queen, and c) are young and can produce the needed start to your queen cells. However, I have found that I must remove the cells out of this starter hive after 24-36 hours. They just don't seem to have the royal jelly and proteins the queen cells need to seal the cells all the way by the 8th day.
So, after 24 hours in the starter hive, I moved them to my big hive. It is a regular hive, consisting of two deeps, lots of good brood in various stages, honey and pollen. I place the queen in the bottom deep and place a queen excluder on top of that deep. Then, I pull out a frame with bees all over it (and put them in a starter hive if needed) and place my queen cells in this hive in place of the frame I removed. This hive is large enough to care and finish off the 30+ queen cells. Now, on day 10, after the cells are good and sealed, I moved them into my incubator.

As you can see this is about as good as I am right now grafting. The empty cups are bad grafts that didn't take. The extra bit of comb extra bit of comb the bees just built on the frame near the cups. I don't know why and it doesn't mean anything. Maybe they were bored on a rainy day.

You don't have to have an incubator. You can leave them in the hive. However, if one queen hatches, she will go through and kill all the other queen cells that have not hatched. So if you want them to develop fully in one hive, you will have to find a way to seal off or cage the cells. I'll explain of this in a future lesson. But for now, let me tell you how I do it.

I place the queen cells in my incubator that is VERY accurate. It has a digital thermometer and I've set it to 93.9 degrees. Be careful to handle your queen cells carefully, never tilt them from their vertical position. They must be kept at 93 degrees or the queen will die.
Keeping track of days is essential. You can be off a day or two because you may not know the exact age of the larvae you grafted, so play it safe. Be watching on day 15, because queens hatch on day 16 after the egg is laid.

When the queen emerges, I collect her, put a plug of my candy in her cage and place her in a queenless nuc, which some call a mating nuc. I use a 5 frame nuc rather than the smaller ones simply because I like all my equipment to be interchangeable. She will need some time to mate, usually a week, but sometimes longer if the weather is not right. Once she has been laying good for 2-3 weeks, then she is ready for sale. I've read that if she can lay for 21 days in her nuc, then she will be a better queen. This requires a lot more on our part, to have our yard flooded with 5 frame nuc boxes full of virgin queens. They actually have been mating and starting to lay a lot faster than I thought they would.
When I ship my queens, I mark them, if requested, and then I must add a few young bees to attend to the queen while being shipped. The queen does not like to feed herself, so the young bees will tend to her while being shipped. I choose the youngest workers I can find. I found a great way to do this, because checking the bees' flying license for their age is too time consuming. (Just kidding). When I see a young bee with its head stuck in a cell, then I know it is young, cleaning cells. Bees do different jobs as they age. And with their heads stuck in a cell their wings are straight up saying, "Grab me!". I do, I grab their wings and put them head first into the opening of the queen cage. I add 4-5 then I add the sugar plug.

I make my own sugar plugs. Too dry and it becomes hard and the queens can't get out. Too wet, and it will melt in warm weather and the queen could die along with her helpers. I take a thick sugar syrup which is just dissolved sugar in water, and mix it with powered sugar and I usually knead it until it becomes like dough. Then I keep it in the refrigerator and pinch off what I need. When using wooden cells I like to use the wax paper that comes with the wax sheets to cover the top of the sugar to keep it from drying out so fast.
Finally, the mated queen is ready to bless someone with a hive that needs a queen! Your work has been rewarding and you can rest at night knowing that somewhere, you queen will be saving a hive, producing honey and bringing someone a lot of enjoyment!

I'll finish up my queen rearing lesson next time, so if I left out something or you have questions, email me at and I'll answer these in the next lesson.

That's it for today, and if you need a queen, give us a call and we'll be glad to send you one, but do remember you may have to wait as they are selling faster than I can produce them right now.

Remember to BEE-have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678 (9-5 Central Time)
FAX 217-427-2678

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lesson 36: Queen Rearing Overview PART 1

[This is a blog and the information contained within each entry is time sensitive, meaning prices are subject to change and information, due to new discovery, can change as well.]
Okay, I really do intend on completing the lesson on the observation hive, but it will be delayed a few more weeks while I test and retrieve some vital information. And we are building a store which will house our large observation hive, so I want to wait until we have that up and operational to include in the lesson.
We have been EXTREMELY busy filling orders and building hives. It has been so good to have heard back from so many of our customers who are thoroughly enjoying keeping bees.

In today's lesson, I want to share about raising queens. I used to think raising queens was a monumental undertaking left to the more experienced beekeeper, commercial beekeepers or queen breeders. However, it is good for every beekeeper to know how to raise a queen, if in no other way, simply by placing a frame of eggs in a queenless hive and having them raise their own queen. That's queen rearing in the simplest way. Beekeepers need queens. They are in big demand and in short supply. There is a mystery that surrounds the queen, and most beekeepers are content never to handle her or monitor her performance. But the more we observe and know our queens, the better we are in control of the overall survivability of our colonies.
Also, by raising our own queens, we control much of the characteristics of our hives. Meaning, that we should choose to graft from the hive that has the overall most favorable characteristics such as:
1. Gentleness
2. Good brood pattern
3. Rapid spring build up
4. Resistance toward pests and disease
5. Minimal swarming
6. Good honey production

Once a good hive is selected, there are several ways to raise a queen. Some use a kit which makes gathering the eggs or larvae easy and requires no grafting. However, these kits can be somewhat restrictive in timing, whereas actual grafting of the young larvae provides much more flexibility.
Our operation has studied queen rearing for several years. In the last two years we have had more and more success understand queen rearing. To help us along, my wife and I have attended several workshops and conferences on queen rearing. At one of these conferences I had the pleasure to hear from Dr. Joe Latshaw of Latshaw Apiaries.
latshaw01 Months after the conference I emailed Joe and I found him very helpful in answering some of my questions. Then, after talking with Joe on the phone, he offered to personally mentor my daughter, Karee, and me in queen rearing. So a couple of weeks ago my 14 year old son, Seth and my 17 year old daughter made our way to Ohio to meet with Joe. What a great day of education it was!
Joe's specialty is producing inseminated breeder queens. Commercial beekeepers purchase inseminated queens from Latshaw Apiaries and then raise their own queens from this queen because her genetics are more controlled through insemination. Joe is also the state coordinator for the Ohio State Beekeepers Association queen project which is called the Ohio Queen Project (OQP). It is a program designed to promote queen rearing through training and working with local beekeepers. In addition, the OQP is also a stock improvement program aimed at developing a regionally developed stock and then promote this stock through the production of locally produced open mated queens.
latshaw03 One more thing about Joe. He also invented and designed a very unique, flexible and easy to use, award winning insemination instrument which he sells.
I have a dream...of one day breeding a queen from Illinois (Midwest) survival stock which is more accustomed to the climate, conditions and pests in the upper US. I hope that all of my work and research that I am doing now will lead to that end, if not for others, at least for my own operation.
So, Joe took us out into his bee yards and explain the whole process of queen rearing. I've heard about the difficulties in grafting and so I started queen rearing using a particular system that requires no grafting. But after talking to Joe, he explained the benefits of grafting and I was sold.
latshaw2 Grafting means that you examine a frame of brood from your selected hive. Then you look for 1 or 2 day old larvae. This is an important step. Here's, my daughter Karee gaining experience in grafting very young larvae from a frame of brood. The younger the larvae, the better. I try to find the youngest larvae that has just barely started to curve on the bottom of the cell. They are harder to graft, but have a much more promising success rate. This is known as grafting, taking eggs or young larvae from a frame of brood and transferring it into the queen cell cups.
I took a shot a learning too and it really was not as difficult as I thought. I need lots more practice, but I'm looking forward to becoming a good grafter. It seems to be best to graft the youngest larvae possible.
queenmay312 I make my own queen cup bars and frames which is a slightly modified traditional deep frame.

As you can see, the horizontal cell bars are removable so that you can easily place them next to your frame when grafting and then place them back into the cell starter nuc. These dimensions are pretty standard. You want the bar to fit tightly so that it stays in place but still can be removed. The cell bars which old the cell cups have a small grooved cut into the middle to hold the cell cups. Finding the right size saw blade ensures a perfect fit.
June 1 2008 007 I use a skill saw blade(1/8") thickness. The cups fit tight and have to be wedged into place the first couple of times.

Once the larvae are grafted into the cell cups and placed on the cell bar in the frame, the frame of grafted larvae are ready to be placed into a starter hive. Often, if the trip back to the starter hive is far, the larvae need to be kept in a humid box, to keep them from drying out. A cooler with a wet towel in the bottom is usually plenty of moisture. It is not extremely critical to keep the grafts real warm when they are at this young age.
In my case, the "cell starter" hive is a 5 frame queenless nuc. They have several frames of pollen and honey and a frame or two of young larvae which I retrieve from other hives.
It is very helpful if this starter hive is almost overcrowded. There has to be a lot of bees, packed in, well fed and lots of young nurse bees. They will build out the comb and feed royal jelly to your newly grafted cells. They do this because they know they need a queen, and you have given them the start of queen cells loaded with fertilized larvae and plenty of royal jelly.
Without a queen in this starter nuc, it will die, so I have to monitor their own brood, pollen, honey and growth, using resources from another hive.
So in summary, we chose a hive to graft from, then we graft 1-2 day old larvae into our queen cells and place them into a queenless hive with plenty of bees, pollen and honey. Now, you can leave the cells in the starter hive until they emerge or move them over to what is known as a "finishing hive" where the cells are drawn out fully and sealed.
Now, here's the challenge. You cannot let these queens hatch together. If you do, the first one out will meticulously kill all the other queens in their cells.
In our next lesson, I will discuss grafting tools and techniques, mating queens, saving queens (called banking), how to sell queens and how to ship queens.
Thanks for joining me today, and to contact us, feel free to use the information below. Remember, BEE-have yourself!

davidsheri David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms