After collecting the larvae, putting them in the plastic queen cups ( the process is called grafting) and then putting the frame into a queenless hive, we waited 10 days for the larvae to develop. The nurse bees sense that they are without a Queen, so they take good care of the potential queens, feeding them lots of royal jelly. Queen bees take 16 days from egg to emergence. It was important to take a very young larva… perhaps only one or two days old , so by day 10 ( about 8-9 days after we grafted the larvae into the plastic cups) the potential queens will have formed a pupa and the queen bee cell is sealed over for protection. The queens will emerge about 6 days later. I went back to the hive with Steve to check on their development. Out of the 60 larvae that we grafted we counted 24 capped queen cells. They look like large peanuts. 6 of the larvae that I grafted were successful! I was pretty excited about my success until Steve said that he usually gets a 75-80% success rate and the big time professionals get 90 – 95%! Takes lots of practice and a keen eye.
Successful queen cells
The day before we checked on the queens, Steve had prepared special hives…small units with just a few combs and no queens. Steve calls this a mating nuc. We took the queens ( still in their cells) to the hives and put one into each hive by pressing the wax cell into the comb. When the queen emerges, the bees will hopefully accept her and begin to feed her. A week later she will be mature enough to leave the hive for a mating flight. The workers will escort her to an area where a large number of drones congregate each day ( the bee equivalent of a singles bar) and she will mate with up to 10 different males. Hopefully she will find her way back to her hive and within another week, she will begin laying eggs.
Attaching queen cell to comb
Placing comb back into the mating nuc
We will leave all this up to the bees, returning to the hive in about three weeks to see if this whole process has been successful. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.
Posted in Queen Rearing | Tagged grafting, mating nuc, Queen rearing | Leave a Comment »
I spent the afternoon with my bee mentor, Steve Wall who showed me how to begin to raise my own queen bees. Queen bees can live 3 to 5 years, but they are the most productive in their first two years. The bees in the colony are sensitive to the strength of their queen and as she gets older or dies, they will naturally replace her. It is the worker bees that produce the queens. How do they do that? Well, all fertilized eggs that the queen lays are female and therefore are potential queens. For the first 3 days after the egg hatches in to a tiny larva, it is fed a special substance called “royal jelly” . This stimulates the development of the larva. After three days, however, larva destined to become worker bees are no longer fed this royal jelly and instead are given a lower grade food of pollen and nectar. Their reproductive organs do not develop and they turn in to into sterile worker bees. . Only those larvae that reside in specially built “queen cells” continue to get royal jelly . Being fed royal jelly will continue the development of their female reproductive organs and the result will be a fertile queen bee.
We can use this knowledge then to get the bees to make a number of queens for us.
And this is how to do it:
1. Select a comb that has a lot of open brood ( larvae ) in it. This is where the queen has been actively laying eggs.
Comb with open brood
2. With a special tool…like a thin pen with a flexible blade at the end…. gently scoop up a very young larva…it must only be 1 or 2 days old. ( see how small it is? This takes a lot of patience and good eyesight and practice!
Steve looking for larvae
3. Carefully place the larva into one of the “queen cups”. This mimics the special “queen cell” that the workers make to hold the special egg that will develop into a queen. We used commercial plastic cups.
Plastic “queen cups”
4. Once all the cups have been filled ( we transferred 60 larvae…. Steve did the first 40 and I followed with the other 20) the bars are placed back in to a new hive that has had the queen removed from it . The workers now will sense that they have no queen and will begin to feed these new larvae royal jelly , as they are in what the workers think are “queen cells”in order to produce a new queen for their colony.
5. It takes 10 days for the larvae to develop and form a pupa( cocoon) . That will be May 3. At this time we will open up the hive and see how many of the 60 larvae have made it to this stage. If we are lucky we may get 10 – 15 . Fingers crossed!
I’ll report on our success and the next series of steps to take. Stay tuned!
Good reference books to read if you are considering this:
“Successful Queen Rearing”: Dr. Marla Spivak and Gary S. Reuter. University of Minnesota Extension Service publication.
Queen Rearing Essentials. Lawrence John Conner
The Beekeepers Handbook, 4th Edition. Diana Sammartaro and Alphonse Avitablile
Posted in Bee supplies, Queen Rearing | Tagged Buckin' Bee Honey, Queen rearing, raising queen bees | 8 Comments »
Apricot blossoms and bees
The apricot trees have just finished blooming and now the cherries are starting to bloom. ( Apple trees will bloom later) There are so many bees that the the trees are literally humming! Walking past a low branch I stopped to observe the bees as they busily climbed in and about all the flowers. I was startled to see 4 different kinds of bees on just a few flowers! Besides the honeybee, I recognized the small Blue Orchard bee, one of the most common native bees around. But the other two? One was a bit smaller than the honeybee and the other, about twice a large. What were they? I did a search of native bees in the area and found out that there are over 500 species of bees just here in New Mexico!
Further investigation uncovered the fact that there are over 4000 native bees here in the U.S. Amazing. If you want to learn more about these bees, check out this great bug site: http://bugguide.net/node/view/475348
As it turns out, these native bees do most of the pollinating of our trees and plants, as the honey bee is an import from Europe and Asia. Did you know that a honeybee doesn’t know how to pollinate a tomato or an eggplant flower, while some native bees are masters at this? More on this later………
Posted in general | Tagged native bees, native bees of New Mexico | 2 Comments »
Yes, I haven’t posted anything all winter. That’s mainly because there really hasn’t been anything to write about. The bees have been hunkering down keeping warm and protecting the Queen. There were periods of time when it got down to zero and stayed in single digits for days on end….. brrrr! But both hives seemed to have made it through the winter. Now when it gets above 50 degrees, they venture out for “cleansing flights” and I can see them in action. Yay! ( Bees won’t excrete while in their hive, so they have to hold it until it’s warm enough for them to fly out. ) It’s still too early to open up the hive ( don’t want to chill the girls ) and assess the strength of the hive, but so far, so good. I’ll give them another month before I check out the hive.
But I have been busy with bees…. bee art, that is. I have been experimenting with making glass tiles. I cut the glass and then lay a stencil on top. Then I sprinkle black glass frit ( finely ground glass) over the stencil and carefully lift off the stencil. Then it goes into a kiln and is fired until the grit melts and fuses to the glass tile. I think they came out pretty good for a beginner! I have made a couple of them into night lights. Perhaps I’ll fuse a whole bunch of them together to make a large honeycomb!
Glass bee tile
So that’s what a beekeeper does in the winter!
Posted in beehives, general | Tagged bee art, Bees in winter, cleansing flights | 3 Comments »
Went out yesterday to see how much honey the bees had produced and how much I could take from the hive. Both hives had built up 13 combs… a little less than half of a full hive. I inspected the bars from the far end first. The first two combs were incomplete and filled with pollen and uncapped honey. The next four were completely full of capped honey. Just beautiful! Then came the brood comb…with honey at the top and larvae below. Finally ( at the entrance) there were two fully capped comb. I left them there as it not only provides insulation over winter, it’s a natural place for bees to feed from. I took one of the full combs out from each of the hives and placed them on a cookie sheet, as I didn’t want to break up the comb. I didn’t want to take any more, as I wanted them to have a good supply of honey for the winter. They are continuing to make honey, so I will take one last look next month to see if they have replaced the one I took….maybe I can get in a second harvest.
I had purchased jars and plastic boxes from Dadant and Sons, so I got them out, took the combs into the kitchen , and cut out 4″ x 4″ squares to put into the plastic boxes, then threw all the remaining comb and honey into a strainer, broke it up with a wooden spoon and let it strain out into a bowl.
Straining the honey
A few hours later, I poured the honey into small hex jars ( 9 1/2 oz size). And that was it. When I weighed the amount of honey, it totaled almost 9 pounds! Amazing.
9 pounds of honey
Posted in Bee supplies, beehives, general | Tagged Dadant & Sons, Harvesting honey, straining honey | 6 Comments »
It was so hot last month that one of the combs fell off the bar. The bees have been cranking out a lot of honey and this comb was so full and the comb was so fresh that the heat caused it to drop off. I figured something was wrong when I saw a big cloud of bees buzzing outside the entrance…. I had to reach in a pull out the comb. What to do? I figured that perhaps if I made a pouch or out of bird netting I could replace it back in the hive. I stapled one side of the netting to a bar, laid the broken comb onto it, folded the netting back up to the bar and stapled it ….pulling the comb close up to the bar. This way I could lift it up and replace it. All went well. This is one of the negatives of using a top bar hive…. there isn’t as much support for the comb as with the traditional Langstroth hive. Haven’t gone back in to check it out yet, but next week I plan to harvest some honey, so I ‘ll see how they reacted to my emergency repair!
Posted in beehives, general | Tagged broken comb, broken comb repair, top bar hive | 1 Comment »
Two weeks after I noticed capped queen cups in hive #1, I went back in to see if their attempt at requeening was successful. Alas…. no sign of a queen and there was absolutely no sign of any eggs in the cells. All the brood that had been developing had hatched out, and there was no evidence of egg laying. But the workers were still busy doing what bees do…. the newly hatched bees ( from the former queen) were making comb and the foragers were still bringing in nectar and pollen. And the drones were just hanging about, as usual. Without a queen replacing the bees that die, a colony will slowly dissipate. I consulted my manuals and talked with some other fellow beekeepers and got varying answers as to how long a colony would last without a queen….anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks. I had to do something. I contacted my bee supplier, “Honeybee Genetics” out of California and they had a fertile queen in stock…. for $24.95. And then extra for shipping . Hah….That is one expensive insect! I ordered it and it will arrive next Friday (June 8). But there is still a chance that I did not see the new queen in the hive. It takes two weeks for a newly hatched queen to mate and then start laying eggs. So….. before I add the new queen to the hive next week, I’ll check to see if there is evidence of a queen. If I add the queen that I bought to a hive with an established queen in it, then the workers will immediately kill her…. and I’ll lose my investment. Ouch! That would sting. ( pun intended) The bee drama continues.
Posted in general | Tagged Honeybee Genetics, queenless hive, requeening | 2 Comments »