Thursday, May 27, 2010

Raising New Queens

Honey bees usually reproduce their colonies in the spring of the year by division. As a part of the preparations for dividing the colony, the bees produce new queens. In keeping with the honey bee’s natural tendency to readily produce queens in the spring, beekeepers find that they have the greatest success in raising queens at this time. This is also the time to replace colonies that died over the winter and to increase the number of colonies if more are wanted for honey production or pollination service. To produce the new queens, very young larvae are removed from the colonies having the best traits and grafted into artificial queen cell cups. These grafted larvae are placed into hives specially set up in a manner similar to colonies preparing to swarm. The worker bees feed the larvae a diet of royal jelly, an enriched food that causes them to develop into a queen rather than a worker. The queens develop in beeswax cells that the workers build around the artificial queen cell cups. The queen cells are the size, shape, color, and texture of a Virginia peanut. Queen bees emerge as adults after 16 days, but they don’t begin laying eggs for about two weeks. During this time they make a series of mating flights and their reproductive system continues to develop.

Click on the photo to can see a young queen that has not yet begun to lay eggs. She is the bee in the center of the picture with the black-colored thorax. Her abdomen is a little longer than those of the worker bees. To produce a good queen, we need to graft a larva from a colony with desired genetic traits; she must make an effective series of mating flights and mate with high-quality drones; and she must be fed a nutritious diet. To ensure good nutrition, her queen mating nucleus hive must have plenty of young worker bees to produce royal jelly and feed the queen.


  1. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your incredible information. I look forward to your blog entries.
    Maybe one day I will have a hive. Someone near me recently must have gotten a hive as I have hundreds of little visitors that were not here in such numbers previous years. They are always welcome in my garden. (I offer them a water source and try to plant so they always have something to forage!)
    Thank you again. :)

    ~ Anne

  2. Oh.. if you could help with a question.. they are in all of my containers drinking from the soil. Someone told me they may be attracted to the minerals in the soil (vs drinking from the fresh water source that even has areas for them to land.) I don't mind as the soils are homemade composts and have no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. so it is safe... but is there something else I could put out for them that would be preferable? (Although they are incredibly gentle bees.. there are so many they are making a small cloud on my patio that can be a bit unnerving to walk though, especially with kids and pets around.) I don't want them out of my yard by any means... just would prefer they scooted their bee hang out a few feet away from the door.

  3. Anne,
    Honey bees bring large quantities of water into the hive. Bees need water for metabolism, for cooling the hive, and for diluting honey. You described it accurately; they search for trace minerals that they need. They prefer to collect water that is flavored over fresh, clean water. I suspect this is related to the way scout bees share a sample of nectar or water with surrounding bees when they dance to recruit new foragers.

    Sometimes honey bees foraging for water can be an unwanted guest. They often frequent swimming pools, dog watering bowls, and bird baths. Some of my urban bees are foraging for water at a restaurant’s patio fountain. I have tried to give them a water source closer to the hive. I placed a large rubber tub with a cypress ramp for the bees to walk on in a sunny location. I flavored the water with sugar and essential oils. Later, I added salt to the water; bees like salty water. So far, this arrangement hasn’t worked. Once we find an alternative water source for the bees it may take three weeks for the individual bees to quit using their old watering site. Three weeks is about the maximum time a forager would live. Fortunately, honey bees are quite gentle while they are foraging. Rarely are people or pets stung by bees foraging for water.

  4. Thank you Richard :)

    These aren't going after open water or water with something to stand on (I collect rainwater for my plants) but they are all over the pots that I used mostly vermicompost soil but not the ones with regular compost from yard scraps. I guess I will slowly scoot the trays a few inches every night closer to the yard until we can get to the BBQ.

    I will let them keep their favorite drinking spot as it is so very dry right now.