… and its only July!
I’ve been keeping bees for five or six years now (I don’t remember exactly, it is all a blur), and this summer is the first time that I actually tried to make my own queens. I have made some “by accident” in the past, but this is the first time I actually tried to make queens.
And I did it! Of course, I had lots of help… help that made the difference between success and something less than success. I can tell you right off the bat, it is an amazingly rewarding experience.
The first thing I’ve learned is that the bees do a very good job of planning ahead. Beekeepers are inherently behind the curve with their bees. The bees know well before you do if they need another super, and often times you don’t find out until half of your colony is hanging in a tree looking for new, larger digs. I found out early (comparatively) and turned a burning hot productive hive into a three-way split. The day before the new queens emerged, I was rewarded with piping from both of the new queens.
Another thing I have learned is that you need reading glasses and a very steady hand to graft queens. Or, as I have discovered, an interested and capable friend with steadier hands and better eyesight.
The batch of queens I raised didn’t immediately have homes, so I took the finished queen cells and put them into a queen cage with an attendant or two, and some queen candy. The queens then emerged into the cages. There were lots of lessons here:
- When the new queen starts to emerge, the attendants get pretty interested in the cap on the queen cell. I couldn’t see what the attendants were doing, but I assume they were assisting the new queen chew out the cap. They make an impressively circular hole in the cell. And when I say chewing, I mean it… it sounds like they are eating potato chips.
- Marking queens that have hatched into a cage with attendants is tedious, and sometimes frustrating work. Again, good eyesight helps a lot here. You have to get the queen out of the cage (ideally leaving the attendants in the cage), mark her – bad enough when you’re using paint, even more challenging when you’re putting plastic numbers on them, and then get her back in… along with all of the attendants. I am proud to say that I was only stung once, by an attendant.
- I noticed something interesting – when I was able to get the queen out of the cage, but leave the attendants inside, the attendants immediately began fanning to get her back. As soon as she was again nearby, they stopped. Very cool.
- Queens have a different personality than workers. Virgin queens are pretty good at running, and when motivated to move around, they like to run… but nothing like workers. Queens are also more secretive, which works to the beekeeper’s advantage when you want to get them back into the cage… they will often go in on their own, thinking you’re giving them a place to hide.
- Even in a cage with just a single attendant and some queen candy, queens grow pretty quickly. When they emerge, they’re only slightly larger than a worker. In a day or so, there’s no mistaking them for a worker.
- In order to accommodate the new queens, I made a couple of hives queenless two days before introducing the new virgin queens. When I went back to put the new queens in, the queenless hives were doing exactly what you would expect… fanning their pheremones from the front porch. Not a surprise, but a rather “textbook” response.
All in all, I’m learning a lot this first summer. I’ve built an incubator (it works very well), and we’re perfecting the the process.
More to come!