Why raise your own queens?
There are plenty of easier and more profitable things to do with your time - so why raise your own queens?
1. There is the scientist in us - can I do it?
2. It appeals to the gambler/battler in us - why not give it a go?
3 . We cannot get a commercial one - no supply (we didn't order in time - yet again).
4. Its part of beekeeping, and you want to experience all aspects of the craft.
The art, skill and science of queen rearing will appeal to all the same instincts that attracted you to beekeeping in the first place. You will probably also convince yourself that you will save money and that your queens will be better than the ones you can buy.... Hmmmmm.
As you will soon learn, queen rearing is part art, part science, and part luck - some good and some bad.
The basics of queen rearing.
To raise a good queen requires good sources of nectar and pollen, good weather, worker eggs or one day old larvae, and a queenless hive with an ample supply of young bees.
The basics are :
1. Select a half depth frame;
2. Use melted wax to attach the queen cell cups to the bottom bar.
3. Insert this frame into a queen-right hive for the bees to clean, polish and warm the cups.
4. Using a grafting tool (or twig, matchstick etc), insert it under the brood food with an egg or 1 day old larvea, and place this into one of the cell cups.
5. When all cell cups have been grafted, place the frame in a colony without a queen.
What happens next?
15 days later, the queen cells should be drawn and capped, and ready to move to your queenless nuc hives. You may want to place more than 1 cell in each hive.
Each virgin queen will hatch, and begin piping. If she finds another queen in the same colony, she will try and sting it to death.
What is Piping?
Piping describes a noise made by queen bees. Adult queens communicate through vibratory signals: "quacking" from virgin queens in their queen cells and "tooting" from queens free in the colony, collectively known as piping. A virgin queen may frequently pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterwards. The piping sound is created by the flight motor without movement of the wings. The vibration energy is resonated by the thorax.
Piping is most common when there is more than one queen in a hive. It is postulated that the piping is a form of battle cry announcing to competing queens and the workers their willingness to fight. It may also be a signal to the worker bees which queen is the most worthwhile to support.
Where does she mate?
Her mating flight is a very vulnerable period for the queen. She is in danger from birds and other predators, changes of weather conditions, and accidents.
A virgin queen will make several orientation flights, then when about 6-10 days old she will mate. Mating takes place on the wing, where the drones congregate.
Many drone congregation areas appear in the same place year after year. One at Selbourne in Hampshire, UK was first described in 1789 and still exists today.1
What happens if she cannot mate?
The young queen has only a limited time to mate. If she is unable to fly for several days because of bad weather and remains unmated, she will become a "drone layer." Drone-laying queens usually mean the death of the colony, because the workers have no fertilized (female) larvae from which to raise a replacement.
A special, rare case of reproduction is thelytoky: the reproduction of female workers or queens by laying worker bees. Thelytoky occurs in the Cape bee, Apis mellifera capensis, and has been found in other strains at very low frequency.
How often does she mate?
There may be several mating flights, and she may mate with from 1 - 17 drones. She stores the drone semen in her body (in the Spermatheca sac), and is then confined to the hive for life.
The larger the number of drones, the wider the possible variation in genetic material. ( Consider the difference between say a Pittbull Terrier and a Labrador in dogs.)
Some queens were inseminated with the semen from one drone, others with the semen from 10 drones. The scientists then put the queens in hives and observed them."Our results clearly demonstrate that insemination quantity alters queen physiology, queen pheromone profiles and queen-worker interactions," the scientists write in the PLoS One paper.
How many eggs can a queen lay?
A queen can live up to 7 years old, and can lay as many as 600,000 eggs.
To maintain the popluation of the hive, she must lay up to 2,000 eggs per day in the main season.
What is Supersedure?
Supersedure is the process by which an old queen bee is replaced by a new queen. Supersedure supersedure may be initiated due to old age of a queen or a diseased or failing queen. As the queen ages her pheromone output diminishes.
Supersedure may be forced by a beekeeper. For example, by clipping off one of the middle or posterior legs from the queen, she will be unable to properly place her eggs at the bottom of the brood cell. The workers will detect this and will then rear replacement queens. When a new queen is available, the workers will kill the reigning queen by "balling" her — clustering tightly around her until she dies from overheating. (This overheating method is also used to kill large predatory wasps that enter the hive in search of food and may be used against a foreign queen attempting to take over an existing colony. This is often a problem for beekeepers attempting to introduce a replacement queen.)
Ref 1: Bees for development Trust UK