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Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Decision Has Been Made

Last night I was toying with the idea of forcing a swarm in order to obtain queen cells for my new packages. The idea was just not sitting well with me though. After sleeping on it, I had an infinitely better (and in retrospect, totally obvious) solution this morning -- just raise some queens.

After watching a queen-rearing demo last year, I've been leery of getting into that. It seems like a lot of steps, time, and equipment. However, maybe as a result of some REM, my brain retrieved some long-buried info from Mangum's book about grafting queen cells and a Mike Palmer video in which he discusses sustainable queen rearing for a small operation.

This afternoon, I plan to hit the books again to refresh my memory, but a new plan is emerging. Since I only need 2 or 3 cells, I'm thinking of making a small split to encourage some queen cells which I'll graft into the package colonies.

Has anyone ever done this? Any thoughts? Suggestions? I'm wading into uncharted territory (for me), so I'm looking for all the info I can get!!! Cheers!


9 comments:

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  2. Sounds like a good plan! Everyone who grows queens always says how easy it is and I think you have enough hives/equipment to pull it off. Keep us posted on your progress. I'm still going back and forth on whether to let the split build their own queen or buy an already mated one. I'd hate to have them spend too much effort on queen rearing and not on building up stores for the winter.

    Glad your hives are building up nicely, even if Hippolyte was a little testy. Maybe she needs to be usurped! ;-)

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    1. Yeah, I can see how that would be a tough call for you considering that the bees haven't been able to forage with your non-stop and that you have a number of appointments coming up.

      If you were to requeen, where would the queen come from? Can you get a local one? I guess, that would be one of my considerations, too. You could always feed to help them build up, but I guess they still need pollen, too. Good luck deciding. It never seems to be an easy choice (at least not for me because I think and rethink and second-, third-, and fourth-guess).

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  3. Raising a few good queens is relatively easy but success is largely driven by bee number. You need a LOT of bees to make good queens. My question though isn't how but why? What is wrong with the package queens?

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    1. Dewey, I can't tell you how jealous I am that you can catch swarms at the drop of a hat. :-) In my area, there are very few feral colonies, and most local beeks tend to be Lang people who treat their bees with every chemical they can find.

      For someone like me who wants TBHs and treatment-free, small-cell bees, packages are pretty much the way to go. Unfortunately, most packages are produced in the South or in California. Package bees are notorious for being poor-quality because 1) they are bred in a southern climate that is far warmer, and they can't hack the extremely cold, long winters in my area 2) package bees are notorious for having poorly mated queens that frequently fail/are superceded within a couple of months.

      I purchased from a very reputable seller, but the issue of the bees' ability to weather my winter remains. Package producers select for bees that build up early in the spring (usually they start building right after Christmas), but that won't fly here in New England where we can have snow until April (like this year). Packages tend to use mostly-Italian bees, too. Unfortunately, Italians eat a lot of honey in winter, and they're more attuned to changes in light when it comes to building up. The Russians/Carnies are much better suited to my climate because they are more frugal in the winter, and they don't start building up until the nectar flow begins.

      Mike Palmer is a beek from VT and has a climate similar to mine, and he gave a great talk about sustainable beekeeping at The National Honey Show that is on Youtube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nznzpiWEI8A) Once you get past his outline of his yearly calendar, he talks about the type of bee that does well here in New England and why package bees just don't cut it.

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    2. All my queens in the past two years we're created from swarm cells, all of them, thankfully, mated in my own bee yard when I had a fair number of hives on the go. Apparently the queens from swarm cells are the best quality queens you'll get. They're not difficult to manage (you basically leave the swarms cells where they are and move the queen to a new location), but the timing is critical. I've gotten very good at it, though not by choice. My point is, if all else fails and you end up finding swarm cells, at least you'll get the best queens from them.

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    3. I know exactly what you're saying Julie and with regard to local queens I am with you all the way. I would always go with swarms, and splits from locally established colonies. Having said that I still don't think I could bring myself to stamping out a queen that has provening themselves to not perform. The secret to success in any population is genetic diversity. From what you are saying that is something sadly lacking in your area. These queens "might" not make it through winter but their genes "may" have something they can contribute to the ultimate local mix you develop. I am not saying you won't have overwintering failures, you will. It will take a long time for the genetics of a population in an area to stabilise but you are only just starting out so it will take that time anyway. Rather than squish them how about giving them a nuc for the winter and seeing how they do :)

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    4. I'm right there with you, Dewey. Actually, as of last week, I'd already had a change of heart and had decided to install the package queens into nucs. I just don't have the guts for two regicides, so it looks like my weekend will be taken up with more construction.

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  4. Phillip, I completely agree -- swarm cells give the best queens. I got a bunch of them last year, and I couldn't have been happier! Look like it will happen again this year. :-)

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Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!