Chris Rogers from Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham was the guest speaker at our April meeting. Chris, a master beekeeper, and his wife Vanessa keep about 80 hives and mainly focus on queen rearing. Chris shared his strategies for producing queens that project desirable genetic qualities.
Chris explained that the queen mandibular and tergal glands produce pheromones that are attractive to young worker bees and is spread quickly throughout the colony. Within 2 minutes every bee receives information about the queen. The health of the queen impacts hive health and even affects foraging. A healthy queen can produce up to 1500 eggs every day.
What is a good queen?
We want queens that project good genetic material. Such queens have good brood pattern – consistent, cohesive togetherness with few skips. Her colony will produce bees that survive, overwinter, are gentle, have the ability to minimize mite treatments, and have good honey production.
Where do queens come from?
Beekeepers who do not produce their own queens have 2 sources for queens: commercial apiary queens or from local queen producers. Consider the sources. Commercial queens are used for monoculture pollination and with that comes a whole array of problems associated with mass production. Local queens, however, are generally a better choice as the bees become regionally adapted over time, are selected for certain traits, and may be variable, depending on the beekeepers goals. Local queens are usually only available from June to August. Chris’ advice: keep nucs and raise your own queens!
Normal Hive Queen Replacement
Hives will replace their queen for several reasons. Swarming is a natural occurrence for reproduction and the bees will replace a queen in a swarm cell. If the queen is old or sick, the workers will create a supersedure cell and create a queen to replace her. In emergency situations, such as the queen was accidentally killed, the workers will create an emergency queen cell from an egg or larvae less than 3 days old.
Swarming is a good place to start queen rearing.
The requirements for raising queens are a queen, a field force, and nurse bees for the brood. Swarm management requires manipulating one or more of these factors. Most manipulations involve moving or removing the queen. You can produce some queens for your operation from queen cells. If your favorite hive has cells, take advantage of them. Swarming colonies produce many queens of differing ages. You can make a split and a nuc easily from a strong hive. keep nucs to avoid ever having to buy new colonies. Chris says, “a nucleus colony is a good queen with a support team.”
Warning from Chris: a hive that swarms and is allowed to continue to swarm will get even swarmier. Avoid letting them swarm!
How do I know if my hive needs to be re-queened?
It is important to keep good records to determine if your queen needs to be replaced. How did they come out of winter? Did I have to feed lots of candy and they had honey? How does the laying pattern look? Are the bees aggressive? If possible, Chris likes to re-queen in July.
Chris offered several techniques for queen production: utilizing swarm cells, variants of the Miller method and other non-graft methods to transfer eggs, including a method for getting queen in 20 days. It is possible for a beekeeper to make 6-8 queens from a 10-frame nuc. He recommends removing the old queen an hour before introducing a new queen. Chris demonstrated using both the introduction cage as well as a push-in cage.
Once introduced, a queen that has been shipped will take about 25 hours to recover from atrophy before she can lay an egg, whereas a “proper queen” can lay an egg immediately.
We would like to thank Chris for his very interesting, comprehensive presentation about queens. I will always remember to make my hive “hopelessly queenless” before I give them their new matriarch.
By: Julie Hundley
Photography: Beth Goodwin