The health and productivity of any bee colony is dependent upon the condition of its queen. A productive queen that lays a large number of eggs per day usually produces a large population of bees capable of maintaining a healthy hive environment while managing many bee hive pests. Managing queen bees has always been at the center of beekeeping. To maintain honey bee colonies, beekeepers must be able to produce queen bees as needed. However, only honey bees can produce queen bees. For beekeepers to encourage bees to produce queens, they have to simulate the conditions in which bees naturally produce queens on their own. Honey bees will produce queens when the colony has lost its queen or when they are replacing a failing queen through supersedure or when they are preparing to swarm. The beekeeper can produce some queens by simulating the hive conditions that lead the bees toward producing queens. One commonly used method uses a starter and a finisher hive to produce a number of queen bees.
Bees produce new queens in the spring when the colony is crowded with young bees, queenless, and well fed. These are the conditions used in a starter hive to accept grafted larvae. Queens can be produced by grafting very young larvae during the first 12 hours of the larval stage. The queen cells in today’s photo have been cared for by the bees in a queenless starter hive for one day. During this time, the bees have begun drawing down the beeswax cell to house the developing queen, and they have begun feeding the larvae large amounts of royal jelly which will cause the larvae to develop into queen bees. After this first day’s development, the queen cells are moved to a queenright finisher hive to continue their development. Nurse bees in the finisher hive continue to feed the developing queen royal jelly while other workers extend the queen cell downward. Twelve days after grafting, a virgin queen emerges.