Queen Rearing
Breeding a better bee

It should be the objective of every beekeeper to improve the quality of the bees in the apiary. But what does this mean and how does the beekeeper go about fulfilling this objective?

Every beekeeper is encouraged to keep a record of each colony over the season. The assessment includes such qualities as honey yield, defensive behaviour, calmness on the comb etc. Again the question might be asked what is being assessed?

To answer this question it is necessary to look at the genetics of each colony as a whole. In these pages it has been quoted with good reason the a black queen mates with on average 10 drones. This means that there are 20 subsets of workers each with its own genetic makeup. Thus the colony acts as a macro organism. In assessing the colony the beekeeper is therefore assessing how the subsets of worker bees integrate with one another. It is not necessary the performance of the queen which is being measured even though she is the mother of all the workers.

If after the assessment the beekeeper chooses a particular queen as the next queen mother, it cannot be guaranteed that the fertilized egg which produces the new queen will possess all the best genetic qualities which the beekeeper had hoped for. This egg will be fertilized by one of the 10 drones but it could well be that this particular drone does not have many of the qualities which were required in the assessment. It therefore follows that in order to breed a better queen, the genetic quality of the drone father is all important. (For more detailed information on the genetics of bee breeding, see genetics 2A - 2F in the menu above).

For the small scale beekeeper whose queens are openly mated it is virtually impossible to control the quality of any newly mated queen because the genetic quality of the drone cannot be controlled.

For the beekeeper with say a good number of colonies (5+) there is one possibility which can assist with the mating of new queens; that is to flood the apiary with drones of known genetic quality. To this end it is essential that each colony is provided with a frame of drone comb towards the end of March on which drone brood is produced. It is then quite easy to remove this comb from any colony which is deemed to be undesirable.

My own experience in trying to produce a better bee is further described in 'requeening the apiary' in the menu above.
queen beea chosen breeder queen
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 on the next page in which a one day old lava is used in a preformed queen cup.
Next page: Ben Harden Method
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