Breeding a better bee
Queen Rearing
scattergram cubital index discordal shift
In my earlier days of beekeeping my attempts at increasing the number of colonies relied on taking swarms and casts or using queen cells from swarmed colonies. Whilst this was successful in its own way it did little to improve the quality of the bees. I decided, therefore, that a more determined approach was needed if indeed a better bee were to be produced.
What qualities to look for?
Clearly the honey yield must be on the list, but for me the temperament of the bee had to be the first priority. In the literature whenever the black bee is mentioned it never seems to score highly on the temperament scale. On a visit to a beekeeper in Holland who kept black bees, we were able to examine the bees without any protection whatsoever! So a docile black bee does exist.
I have been much impressed by two articles 'My approach to bee improvement' published in the BIBBA Magazine by Roger Patterson (Issues 30 & 33) in which he describes his attempt at producing a gentler black bee; and in which he made considerable progress. With this in mind I took the step toward a more pro-active approach to getting a better bee.
Choice of Queen

All of my colonies could be described as defensive. But one perhaps was a little better behaved than the rest. I chose the queen in this colony to be the queen mother. She came from a supersedure cell and was now in her second year. She was the easiest queen to find always being very sedate on the frame. I thought at least if there were to be no improvement in behaviour some of these qualities might be inherited by the new queens. (Some of my other queens are impossible to find. They would appear to run and hide every time they are smoked.)

The results of a morphometric analysis on the chosen colony is shown on the left. Values of the cubital index (mean 1.70) and discordal shift are those expected for the black bee.

How to make queen cells? I decided to use the method described by Ben Harden and use a Jenter kit.
black bee queen
Next page: Ben Harden Method
Queen Cells
Queen cells are produced by a colony in three situations:
1. under the swarming impulse;
2. during supersedure when the bees decide to replace a failing queen;
3. in an emergency when the queen has been lost or removed from the colony.

In the first and second cases the queen lays an egg in a queen cup. The lava so produced starts life with the intention of developing into a queen i.e. the lava will be well fed on royal jelly from the start.

In the third case the queen cell is built from an enlarged worker cell. There is no guarantee that the bees will choose a larva of the right age. The lava could be too old and thus less well nourished; these queen cells would tend to be smaller and inferior to those described above.

However, the beekeeper makes use of this third situation when the colony is induced to make new queen cells by effectively separating the queen from eggs or very young grubs. The methods described in the bee literature are many and varied.
My success has been with the Ben Harden method described below in which a one day old lava is used in a preformed queen cup.
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