Bee-utiful northern Queens!

Bee-utiful northern Queens!

I am pleased to say that I managed to produce a handful of bee-utiful northern Queens from my overwintered honeybee stock. What a rush to behold these long, elegant, dark beauties─not only for the marvel of nature that they are, but also for what they represent to my operation.

Note: If you missed my last apiary-update I invite you to go back and review that post: “Queen-rearing: if at first you don’t succeed“.

When we left off I had recently installed a third round of Queen cells. The bees chose 8 of those started cells to raise as Queens, and once they were capped I was able to install them into mating nucs I set up in my divided deeps. Because I didn’t use the grafting method I did not have the handy-dandy Queen-cups that commercial beekeepers like to use, so rather than plucking the cup with the Queen-cell off the frame I used a piece of dental floss to carefully free the cell. Then, with a sewing pin I stuck the cell to a frame in the mating nuc, careful not to pierce the Queen within.

successful queen cells
Successfully produced Queen cells ready to be removed from the frame and installed into mating nucs.

Once the Queen-cells are installed the beekeeper must practice restraint and leave the mating nucs alone lest he disturb the process. 10 days is the guideline I’ve been adhering to, but it’s 10 days of anxious nail-biting for me hoping that things are going well inside the nucs.

With those Queens installed I was feeling like I had finally figured out the process. The nectar flow wasn’t over and I wasn’t anywhere near my goal of 40 Queens, so I decided to try for a fourth─and final─round. I made up one last cell-starter and prepared the frame with eggs for the production of Queen-cells. I left the thing for 24 hours before installing a frame with a number of started cells of started Queen-cells to my designated finisher hive. I was really pleased with that fourth batch of started cells.

potential queen cells
Eggs in comb cut into strips and adhered to a Queen-cell frame, ready to go into the cell-starter.
queen cells
There are started Queen-cells under all those bees!

When I went back 8 days later to rotate brood as scheduled, I was dismayed when I pulled out that Queen-cell frame to find that the bees had apparently decided they were done raising Queens for the season. Instead of finishing the Queen-cells I’d given them, they tore them down, built honeycomb and had begun filling it with honey. Such is the nature of beekeeping that you can set everything up to the best of your ability and in the end the bees─as a collective─can decide to do something totally different.

wax not queens
The bees either tore down the existing Queen-cells or built comb right up around them, and then began filling the comb with honey.

While I wasn’t able to produce the number of Queens I’d hoped for, I did learn the process and worked out the kinks so that I can be better prepared for next year. That in itself is a success to celebrate.

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  1. Patrick

    Hi Samantha I was so happy to see and read your story about foundation less bee rearing. I’m always looking to get away from any commercial aspects of the business, and this makes total sense.
    I see the reason for big commercial business to use foundation.

    So with that said you stated in your blog that it took a bit of time to have a frame full of comb, how long roughly was that?
    Thanks Sincerely Patrick

    1. Samantha Burns

      Hi Patrick! Thanks for stopping by. How long it takes to draw out a frame of comb depends upon the strength of the colony, and whether or not there is a nectar flow on, but I’ve seen the girls fill out the better part of a frame in as little as 7-10 days under the best conditions. Other times they won’t finish it, and I’ll have to remove the unfinished comb for the winter and bring it back for them to complete the following season. 😀

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