Thursday, July 26, 2018

Producing Honey Bee Queens

Twenty-four beekeepers attended my queen rearing class at Bemis Honey Bee Farm as part of our continuing beekeeping educational program. The beekeepers expanded their understanding of honey bee biology and bee colony reproduction. They learned the conditions under which bee colonies produce queens, including preparation for swarming. Before a bee colony divides itself and swarms, it produces a new queen to continue reproducing bees in the original hive. The hive conditions that lead to swarming are the same as beekeepers create to encourage bees to produce queens. The beekeepers learned the importance of record keeping and colony evaluation in producing high quality queens. By carefully observing a bee hive’s characteristics, beekeepers evaluate the queen’s traits. They then select hives with desirable traits to become “drone mother hives” which produce high-quality drones to mate with virgin queens. Hives that the beekeeper determines to be the best-of-the-best are designated as “queen mother hives” producing larvae to develop into high-quality queen bees. The beekeepers learned that to produce these high-quality queens three conditions are necessary: First, we must select from parent queens with good genetic traits; next, the queens must have good nutrition throughout their development; and finally, the virgin queen must successfully mate with a large number of high-quality drones. The beekeepers learned the actions to take to develop a queen-rearing program for continuous stock improvement.

The beekeepers followed the procedures involved in producing queen bees using the Doolittle Method of Queen Production, the method most widely used for producing queens throughout the beekeeping industry. G. M. Doolittle developed the techniques over one hundred years ago. Two beekeeper students employ the Doolittle Method in today’s photo. They are grafting tiny day-old larvae into queen cell cups that they will place into hives filled with workers selected for their ability to produce queens. The beekeepers move the grafted cells from a “cell starter hive” and then to a “cell finisher hive” and finally to a “queen mating nucleus hive.”