Requeening the Apiary
requeening plan
Plan for Year 1
Four new pure bred black queens were brought into the apiary in early June from different sources (ensuring a genetic mix) and introduced into nucs. After allowing the queens to get established, these became mother queens and breeding from each was started at the beginning of July using a Jenter kit with Ben Harden's method. The object was to produce a sufficient genetic mix of newly bred queens to requeen all the original colonies by September. The queens would be crossbreeds after mating with drones already present in the apiary. It was not the object to breed from these only that these queens would produce pure bred drones the following year.

Plan for Year 2
All drones in the apiary were now pure bred and each colony was given drone comb in spring to ensure the apiary was flooded with these. The mother queens were once again used to produced new queens again using a Jenter kit with Ben Harden's method. These new queens now mated in the apiary with the pure bred drones to produce pure bred queens. All colonies containing crossbred queens were again requeened in September. These newly mated queens produced progeny - workers, drones and queens which were now all pure bred.

Plan for Year 3

Together with knowledge gained in Year 2, reassessment of all the colonies takes place. After which new queen mothers are chosen with a view to further improvement. The new queens, produced in the year, again being used in the autumn to requeening those colonies deemed to be inferior.

What qualities to assess?
Defensive behaviour: this is top of the list. The whole objective of this requeening exercise was to produce gentle bees.
Calmness on the comb. This makes an inspection much easier if the bees are calm and non-runny.
Brood pattern. A typical pattern as expected from the black bee would be marked up. Not one that filled the frame.
Brood combs occupied. Compared to the norm at each stage of the season gives an indication of the fecundity of the queen.
Lack of disease. The absence of chalk brood would be seen as an asset.

Those qualities above are made at each examination whilst those below are made at the end of the season

Honey yield. How does each colony compare to the apiary average?
Swarming vs Supersedure. A superseding colony would be preferable to one that was excessively swarmy.

Theory and Practice

The theory as described above is all very well, but dealing with bees what of the practice?
Now at the end of the fifth year and up to 13 colonies and yes this exercise has been a success. The bees on the whole are much gentler than before although there are variations how they behave on the comb.
I am now in the position with 14 colonies to start to cull queens that are deemed to be inferior.
One queen was culled early in the season because her brood area was very disappointing and the colony was not expanding as expected.
A second queen was culled because she was producing bees with yellow tergites. Clearly the result of her mating with a drone(s) from some apiary nearby.

What was very surprising this year was the varroa count after treatment with formic acid in September. All colonies had a very low count except one where the count was exceptionally high. This particular colony was the most active during the year producing the highest honey yield.

After many years of trying to improve the temper of my bees, I finally decided some years ago that life was too short and another approach was required. There was nothing for it but to requeen all stocks with gentle pure bred black queens.
So an initial two year requeening plan was embarked upon; the plan is set out in the diagram below.
The yellow box indicates pure bred bees, and the pink boxcrossbred bees.
Next page: Introducing a new Queen
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