Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lesson 53: Queen Rearing Made Simple

There's never a dull moment here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. Hi! We are David & Sheri Burns and bees are our business. We live in East Central Illinois and our entire family is involved in our honey bee operation. We manufacture and sell beekeeping woodenware and we always appreciate your business. We also sell everything related to beekeeping and always welcome your business.
The primary goal of our business is to give glory to the LORD Jesus Christ through our business. The Bible says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). So whether we are building hives for customers, making up nucs, raising queens or answering the phones, we do it all in a honorable way that would give glory to the LORD.

The last few weeks has been a whirlwind of activity. Last Friday we had another successful class here at our honey bee farm. We had 17 students who came to learn about raising queens. This class was in conjunction with the Illinois Queen Initiative, which is a work where several of us are hoping to produce queens that are more acclimated to the climate here in the mid-west. Dr. Joe Latshaw is a commercial queen breeder and he came and held a workshop at our farm and the next day presented the same workshop to another group in Chicago.

Our store/lab was full of eager beekeepers wanting to learn the fine art of raising queens. During the morning Joe gave great detailed presentations on just how to raise queens. Joe holds a Ph.D and also teaches at Ohio State University in Columbus in Ohio. He has worked bees almost all his life and has studied and worked along side the most well-known entomologist. He has become my main mentor for understanding the art of raising queens. Joe has made himself accessible to me whenever I have any questions about queens. He's a true gentleman, friend and excellent beekeeper. His knowledge, experience and wisdom in raising queens is superior.

I highly recommend Joe to other beekeeping associations who would like a special speaker. Joe's website is:

After a full morning of presentations on the details of raising queens, we broke for lunch. We try to make our classes and workshops as comfortable and professional as possible, so we had a tent company bring in a nice size tent so that we could enjoy lunch outside. Again, during the lunch break, beekeepers continued to pick Joe's brain as well as talking to each other about failures and successes in beekeeping. It was a nice day, though a bit windy.

I enjoyed meeting beekeepers from around the state of Illinois and hearing about their special techniques of beekeeping. My wife Sheri is such a hard worker around our honey bee farm. She put the entire day together for me. She made sure our room was configured properly for the class as well as making sure lunch was brought in on time.
For the last few weeks Sheri has installed packages, fed bees, answered the phone calls from our customers, helped packaged hives, data entry, taxes, Internet orders and the list goes on!
Even yesterday Sheri was on the four wheeler running up and down the apiary feeding the bees. I am so blessed to have a help-mate like Sheri! Last week I needed to take a trip down to Kentucky to pick up a trailer load of beekeeping supplies. Sheri jumped in the truck with me and our little youngest son Christian and we enjoyed a two day trip down for supplies. Thanks Sheri!
In the afternoon of our class with Joe, I worked to prepare a starter nuc and gathered up 5 frames of larvae so the students could practice grafting.
With Chinese grafting tools in hand, flashlights, magnifying glasses in the other hand, students when to work, selecting the perfect aged larva and transferring them over into queen cell cups I had made earlier in the morning. Students helped each other and Joe was there showing each student the art of grafting. This was a great hands on opportunity.

You can read all the books you can get your hands on, but until someone walks along with you, somethings are difficult to grasp.

I have noticed that most beekeepers feel that raising queens is complicated and mysterious. I say that because I hear so many beekeepers say they are buying different types of "systems" for raising queens. These systems do work, but in my opinion there is much more control over raising queens through grafting than using systems. Besides, I like hands-on experience.
Here I am standing in David Miksa's apiary among his finishing colonies where he raises his famous queens. I told you that I visited with David Miksa. He and his operation was featured in the May edition of the American Bee Journal. It was a great article! Having seen his operation and now having read about it too, I am very pleased with his queens. I am incorporating several of his techniques into my queen rearing operation. And, of course, I'm using some of his stock in my yards for breeding as well. He has some very nice and very productive queens. I visited a hive two years ago that was headed up by a Miksa queen and I was impressed! We placed David Miksa's queens in 200+ packages, the ones that were picked up from our farm.
Raising your own queens can be very rewarding as well as save you money and time. I think every beekeeper should have a 5 frame nuc with an extra queen in there as a backup emergency replacement. Or if you want to make splits then you can raise your own queens to increase your hive count.
So let me give you a brief rundown on how to raise your own queens.
Create the perfect 5 frame queenless starter nuc. The nuc should consist of:
-One frame of honey
-One frame of pollen
-2 Frames of nurse Bees under 16 days old

Leave it queenless for at least 2 hours, but not too long or they might start raising their own queen if there are eggs present, which there should NOT be.
The starter nuc must not have any open brood so that the nurse bees can give all their resources to the cell cups. And this 5 frame nuc must be severely overcrowded with nurse bees,
completely blocked off and kept in a cool, dark place for the 24-36 hours they start the cups. When I make up my starter nucs, I leave an opening to place my queen cell frame into the nuc. I like to close off my nucs so that the bees stay in for the 24-36 hour duration.

The nuc should not have any open larvae. I want my nurse bees to only care for the grafted queen cups. The goal is to make LARGE size queens and to do this, I need copious amounts of royal jelly in each cup. So the bees in the starter nuc feed the queen cells. Because this hive only has nurse bees primarily, I close it off. Nurse bees do not need to fly out, so I close it off and keep it in a cool place for the 24-36 hour duration. Because I usually graft between 30-40 cell cups, I have to move this frame out to a larger hive that can continue doing what this starter hive started.

After 24-36 hours in the starter nuc, transfer cells into a queenright finishing hive.

The finishing hive must be very strong with two deep hive bodies with the queen in
the bottom hive body below a queen excluder. Leave the cells there until 8-10 days
old. Then, on day 8-10, transfer the cells into a queenless mating nuc. The mating nuc can be anywhere from a complete large hive that is queen less down to a mini-mating nuc with only 2 or three mini-frames.

It works best to transfer the 10 day old queen cell into a queenless nuc on day 10. Bees always accept a queen cell, much better than an emerged virgin queen in a cage.

When I graft, I make my own queen cups from my wax that I know is chemical free. Then, I attach the cups with wax and then I place large amounts of wax on the bar so the bees can use my wax to continue to draw out the queen cells.

I also make my own frames and cell bars. I dip my wax after melting it in a large electric pan that I bought at Wal-mart for $50.

I place my graft into a queen cell cup frame that I've just made up myself. They are easy to make by modifying a deep frame . The one in the picture, of course, is upside down. Don't worry, when you flip it over the larvae will not fall out. They are sticky and stay put. Also, you really do not have to worry about temperature when they are this young, 1-2 days old. Notice I graft with several layers of wet paper towels because the larvae do need to remain moist.

The grafting technique must be hands-on. For example the larva must only breathe on one side when they are this young. Therefore, you must place them in the new queen cell with that same side up. If you flip it over, they will suffocate because they are not yet breathing on both sides.

Then I go out to my bee yards and transfer the 10 day old cells into queenless mating nucs. I mainly use 5 frame nucs with deep size frames or 3 frame nucs with deep size frames. As you can see, these nucs make nice chairs too when working down the line. You can click on any of these images for a larger view. I work my bees with only a hat and veil because my bees are gentle and I hate wearing gloves. Though I do not have to wear a hat and veil, I feel it is essential to protect the eyes from stings. I never want to take a chance, nor should you.

The success of the beekeeper will be greatly increased by his or her ability to raise their own queens.

That's all until next time! If you'd like to contact us, please give us a call or email us. Here is our contact information:

GENERAL PHONE: 217-427-2678

QUESTION LINE: v217-427-2430

Bee-have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lesson 52: Packages, Nucs, Splits and a Trip to Florida

APRIL 2009:
Hello From Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We're David & Sheri Burns, working hard to encourage more and more people to become beekeepers!
It's been very busy around our bee farm the last few weeks. In addition to keeping up with the hive woodenware demand, we are working hard to make sure all the packages get delivered on time. And last weekend was a huge success. Beekeeper after beekeeper kept driving in and picking up packages and equipment, anxiously anticipating getting started keeping bees. I was totally exhausted from my trip down to the Orlando Florida area, but it energized me to meet so many new beekeepers.

It was a pleasure to spend 4 packed days with Larry. Larry is a Renaissance man. He has a broad intellectual interest in art, music, and has many other interests such as Persian rugs. But bees are his business and he knows the business of beekeeping. Larry is well liked and respected throughout his community in Florida and Wisconsin. He's a true gentleman and has supplied our local bee club with packages year after year.

Here's a video I took on my cell phone of us working 400 hives, shaking bees for our customers outside of Orlando. The weather was perfect and we found the bees to be very populous and healthy here in this common orange grove. Huge swarms would often collect on the Orange trees.

I also met another well known beekeeper in Florida, David Miksa. David has been a queen breeder forever. Miksa is on the right. We visited his operation to purchase queens for the packages. He had the queens all ready when we arrived. David's queens are well sought out by the beekeeping community. The European Discovery channel did a documentary of David's operation a few years ago. David has a excellent grasp of beekeeping and raising queens. Here's a few pictures we took while visiting David Miska.

David's hives are nestled under those tall, Florida Eucalyptus trees. David's family works along side of him and they have an efficient operation in a beautiful setting.

It was nice being in Florida, soaking up all the nice, warm weather! But, the day finally came when we had to load up all the packages and head north, back to our honey bee farm, knowing that customers would be waiting to receive the packages. So, we loaded them up and headed north, north through half of Florida, all the way through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and finally into Illinois. It's a long trip. And with bees as precious cargo, stops were kept to a minimal for the 20 hour drive. Larry, Henry and myself drove the truck back, each taking turns so others could get some rest.
Once we arrived home with all the packages, customers began arriving to pick them up. Most brought pickup trucks, a few brought cars, but the best one was Charlie, a good customer of ours, who put 20 packages in the trunk of his Cadillac!
Charlie is expanding his hives from last year, so he's an old pro. But many customers who picked up packages were new to beekeeping and picking up their package was very exciting for them. Most seemed overwhelmed at even seeing a package for the first time.
We are now making splits and nucs. The weather appears to have broken for us. In fact, many beekeepers are reporting hives that are already swarming, so it is important to split hives to help cut down on the swarming tendency. It may not prevent all swarming, but some.
To make a split, it is best to pull out 3-5 frames from the strong hive. These frames should be of brood in various stages with bees on the frames. Find the queen and keep her in the main hive and place a mated, new queen in the split. It is helpful to place the split a few miles away so that the foragers don't return to the old hive. Or you can swap locations of the new split with the old hive which floods the new smaller split with foragers. We often make splits without worrying about moving them 3 miles away. Usually, the split has bees that are about to become foragers anyway so the force is not reduced that much for too long.

Before we started raising queens, we would let the split or the old hive raise a queen, which ever one didn't have one. But now, we realize that we can save a few weeks of waiting for the queen to lay by placing a laying queen in the split.
Some have asked us what to do if the weather is poor when a package needs installed. It is important to install the package as soon as possible. Most packages can last 5-6 days with the can of food inside, but who can be sure. So I would recommend installing the package the same day you receive it. BUT WHAT IF IT IS RAINING? If it is raining, install your package under a porch or overhang. Do not let your queen get wet from the rain. The bees really should not be rained on. Once installed, you can cover it and carry it to it's location.

I installed packages last week in the cold rain, hail and lightning. So cowboy up and get-er done. What we want is to get the queen released as soon as possible. She is taken care of in the cage, but not as well as if she was out and about. If you want to take a chance and wait a day or two for better weather, keep your bees in a dark place around 50-60 degrees and spray them with 1:1 sugar water lightly a couple of times a day. Be careful not to spray the queen cage if she is visible.
If it is going to be below freezing after you install your package you should worry...I do. Namely because I have lost packages to those sudden cold snaps at night. If you only have a few, and you have a strong back, seal them off and move them into a garage or area that will stay between 35-50 degrees. Then, take them back in the morning when the temperature rises above 37. Be careful in trying to put a heat pad or lamp around the hive. You can easily overheat them or burn your hive and house down. Be careful! That's why we never like to ship packages until the very end or first week of May.

Also, those of you calling in for questions, please be patient because this is the time of the year when we work away from the phone most of the day. Leave a short message and we'll get back to you in 48 hours. Thanks for understanding.
That's all for now. Enjoy your bees.

Until next time, BEE-have yourself.

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lesson 51: Clean Up Your Overwintered Hives

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We are David & Sheri Burns, working hard to help others enjoy being beekeepers!

With winter gone and spring finally here, we are starting to dig out of winter. We live in Central Illinois...the North! People who live up north are a different lot of folks. In the fall, we look forward to winter because we like the changing seasons. We get tired of the hot, dry days of summer. In the fall, we welcome winter because the first snow is beautiful. But by the end of winter, we hate it. We are tired of snow and cold temperatures. In March and April, we fuss and complaint about lingering winter cold snaps. So by digging out, I mean we are cleaning up and shifting our honey bee farm from winter mode to summer mode. As you'll see in some upcoming photos, we clean out hives by shaking out the bees that gave their lives keeping the place warm during our harsh winters, but didn't live to see spring. Spring is fun and always forward-looking. New flowers, green grass, the smell o f dirt being tilled up for a garden, and the fragrant smell of Easter Lillies all cause us to feel better and to live better as we eagerly face another great bee season.

Bees are out and here's one on a Box Elder plant. Her back legs are stuffed full of pollen and she's hoping to find some nectar in the small flower. You can click on the photo to enlarge it. My wife, Sheri, has planted a few of these plants around our house and the bees love it.

We are still expecting Dandelions to bloom any time and that will send the bees out if full throttle. Also, we are near many maple trees and they are an early provider of nectar if a late frost does not kill the maple flower.

Every winter we experiment with beehive survivability. I believe beekeepers lose more hives to winter die-outs than all other problems combined. In fact, many beekeepers are caught on a dreadful treadmill, a rat race of methods that are proving to be be unsuccessful. Something has to change! The idea of a sustainable bee farm seems impossible, but it is not.

Beekeepers are a breed of folks who will not give up. Our tenacity and persistence can be very beneficial. Yet, when we become so stubborn that we refuse to re-tool our methods, we might be the reason so many of our colonies are disappearing.

It is my opinion that we are too quick to think that dumping medication and pesticides in the hive will solve all our problems. Our culture has taught us that there is a pill for every ill. Some medications do heal, if used temporally. But when we become dependent upon medications the balance of nature is upset.

I believe years of dumping medications and pesticides in the hive has now produce new problems. Wax is absorbent. We now know that what we put into the hive stays within the wax. We know that some harsh chemicals that were put into the hive years ago still lingers in the wax and we also now know that certain chemicals used to control mites can effect the drone and queen's ability to reproduce. Come on, enough is enough.

I was once told that people will change only when they have hurt enough. Finally, beekeepers have hurt enough. Beekeepers are tired of watching 50% of their hives die. The answer is not to do it all the same next year and hope for better results. The momentum is shifting to a new and modern type of beekeeping which I have subscribed to for years. But what's really interesting is that the new and modern way is really a return to the old ways, a more simplistic and natural way of keeping bees. This is at the heart of our honey bee farm and, in my opinion, will bring hope back to sustainable beekeeping.

In our operation here's what we subscribe to: 1) We use no medication on our hives 2) We are working hard to raise queens that have proven genetics for survivability and 3) We are using IPM (Integrated Pest Management) solutions that are natural and safe. So, I'll focus on number two above.
Here's a picture of the queens that we raise. You can click on the image to see a larger photo. I've heard people refer to older people who are tough and strong as "pioneer stock". It's a way of saying that early settlers went through a lot of challenges, harsh winters and diseases but survived the worst of circumstances.

That's why we finally decided to name our queens and call them "Pioneer Queens". There are several definitions for pioneer in the dictionary. One says, "Leading the way; trailblazing". We hope to join many others, like us, who feel the importance of seeking greater diversity within the queen genetics, traits and characteristics that show resistance toward pests, diseases and harsh winters. Most of our pioneer queens are dark in color, more along the line of being Carniolan or Russian. We open air mate our queens and this year we are planting mother drone colonies around to control genetics a bit more.

If you are interested in purchasing one of our Pioneer queens, please call. We plan to start grafting the last week of April and will start having queens available mid to late May through September.


Here my daughter Karee is setting up more hives to expand our numbers this year. Here in Central Illinois it's time to head out to the hives and clean up. It's not quite time to reverse the deep hive bodies because we still might have some cold snaps. And you NEVER want to reverse the hive bodies when the brood nest extends into both boxes. I have hives that overwintered in various ways. Some clusters have moved all the way to the top box, which on some of my hives are medium supers. Others are in the top of the deep second deep hive body, and others have expanded their brood nest into every square inch in the hive.

Here's a picture of a hive that has a brood nest all the way through all boxes. Even the lower box is full of bees and brood. So, I do not reverse this hive. I simply keep it all the same. They are in good shape just to start up fast when the nectar flow starts. These hives will need to be split because they came out of winter already overcrowded. We sometimes cause this to happen by fooling the colony with brood patties and sugar water. Thus, the bees think they can start building up since pollen and nectar are available.

Here in the north, a typical colony would have moved up into the highest area in the hive leaving the lower section(s) unoccupied and the bottom board full of dead bees. If the hive has three boxes on, like the one in the picture, most of the bees will try to go in and out of the hive higher up so as not to go through the bottom boxes and near the dead bees. See how these bees are moving in and out through a crack at the top.

Let me walk you through how I clean up hives and "set" them for spring. First, I remove the
bottom, unoccupied deep hive body by taking off the upper boxes. It was cool day to work, about 49 degrees and windy.

The hive in the picture to the left was hard to do because the second deep box had no handles so I had to hug it to move it. It was a strain. The reason the box doesn't have handles is because I bought a bunch of used materials years ago and this one didn't have handles. When it is full of honey, you cannot pick it up.

Once I have the upper boxes off which contain the cluster, the overwintered bees, queen and brood, I then take off the lower empty hive body and set it aside, which exposes the bottom board. The bottom boards can be filled with dead bees, those who died of old age and cold snaps. Last year, this bottom board was accidentally put on upside down which makes the screen sit below the actual bottom surface. A family member was helping in a hurry and didn't notice what they hand done.

So when the dead bee fell in this pocket, the bees did not attempt to drag them up and out, so I scraped them out with my hive tool. I carry a bucket of bleach water and thorough clean my hive tool and hands between each hive just in case nosema spores may be present in early spring.

Now I added another small pallet to the one it was on, because pallets sink a bit every year into the ground and another one is due to bring up the hive about 6" above the ground.

Now, I begin to muscle the handle-less hive back

onto the clean bottom board and once it is in place I will begin to inspect the hive. It is not uncommon to find dead bees throughout the hive even though the cluster is fine. Small pockets of frozen bees and sometimes be found, usually caused by a winter warmup followed by a rapid temperature drop which did not allow enough time for the bees all to recluster in one cluster.

This is what I found in this hive. So, I removed the frames of dead bees, scraping the bees and comb away. When the nectar flow starts, they will quickly repair all of these areas in the comb.

You can see the honey in the comb where they have been eating it, but then this group of bees were too small to stay warm. In the picture they look alive, but believe me they were not. Since I use plastic foundation, I can merely scrap out the comb on this side and it just leaves a small bald area that the bees will quickly repair.

It is very important that old, dead bees be cleaned out of the hive as soon as you can do that on a warm day. The bees will do it themselves eventually, but we feel it cuts down on possible spread of disease or moisture. Believe me, all beekeepers who have ever lost a hive know the smell of rotting bees. Clean up your hives!

In our next lesson we'll give several ways to make splits. That's what we'll be doing in the next few weeks, so we'll give you some pointers.

It was a pleasure to met many new beekeepers who dropped by our place over the last few weeks. We had fun talking with Leo from who stopped by driving up from Texas and Leo is a big fan of Studio Bee Live. Leo strongly encouraged us to get on the ball and get more broadcast aired and believe me we want to! We'll try and get on that!!

If you are still needing to purchase your hive equipment, do so as soon as possible. You can call us at: 217-427-2678 or go on to our website at: and purchase online.

To order our Pioneer queen, just call us at: 217-427-2678.

Until next time, remember to bee-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

14556 N. 1020 E. Road
Fairmount, IL 61841
(217) 427-2678