Queen rearing is a vital part of our operation. Like the dairy farmer, the beekeeper depends on good breeding to improve the stock. Our season begins early in South Carolina. Actual grafting of queen cells started March 7, in 2002. Here is a photo diary of the process:
1. First Selection: Through the fall and winter, hives that appear outstanding are marked for possible breeding stock. We look for productivity, good pollen gathering, maintance of a clean hive (hygenic), freedom from tracheal mites and chalkbrood disease, resistance to varroa mite and foulbrood disease, and gentleness.
2. Final Selection: In the spring, all selected bees are evaluated. Any flaws are reason to discard them from the breeding program. The "cream of the cream," which may be only a half dozen hives are then selected for queen mothers, from which to graft. The runner-ups are used as drone mothers.
3. Set up for grafting: Modern queen rearing takes advantage of the instinct of queenless bees to raise queens. "Cell builder" colonies are created, using frames of brood, frames of pollen and honey. These colonies, though small, are very powerful, and are full of young bees. They are fed syrup constantly. And they have NO queen.
Special frames are made with about 16 plastic cell cups already on them, as a starter for the bees.
March 7: Chuck is working at dusk, so is using a flashlight to see clearly. With a stainless steel grafting needle, Chuck carefully selects a larva, less than a day old from the young brood in the uncapped cells. You can also see capped cells of brood in the center of the frame. These are pupating, and much too old for queens. A larva can become a queen, if selected within a couple days of hatching from its cell. By the third day it is destined to become a worker if it does not get the special treatment and diet afforded young queens.
Gently the larva is scooped from the bottom of the cell. He must carefully transfer a larva, about the size of a pinhead, without injury, into the cell cup.
Oops, this one's too big; too bad, we can't use it.
The cell cups have already been in the hive for awhile so they are polished and moistened with royal jelly (queen food secreted by young bees).
Not only must he not injure the larva, he must place it in floating position on the film of royal jelly, without turning it over and "drowning" it by wetting all the breathing pores.
Chuck then places the finished frame of cells into the cell builder colony. They will nurture the young larvae, and begin construction of the beeswax cells, in which they will eventually pupate.
March 8: Presto! Twenty four hours later, the bees have begun wax building on 100% of the cells. That is a good "take" for the first graft of the season.
Now the frame is placed into a much larger "cell finisher" to complete cell building and nurture of the baby queens. They will literally float on their food, thick, sweet royal jelly that will cause them to grow larger than workers, and stimulate their sexual organs to develop, so that they can become mothers of legions of workers.
Kutik's Honey Farm