We were lucky to have Dr. Juliana Rangel as the speaker at our Metro Atlanta Bee meeting in February. She uses the Doolittle method as her guide for how to rear queens as well as the work of Marla Spivak (Successful Queen Rearing
She reminded us of biology first - that fertilized eggs are "bipotent" - that is, they can be either a queen or a worker, depending on what they are fed. Royal jelly is full of protein and queens are fed royal jelly alone.
Colonies in the beehive rear queens for three reasons:
1. Splitting the colony via swarming
2. Emergency queen rearing when the old queen is damaged or killed (queen cells in center of the frame)
3. Supersedure queen rearing when the queen is failing - shooting blanks, as it were.
Inside the colony, queen rearing is affected by the size of the colony (the volume of bees, the area they cover, the numbers of adult population); congestion of the brood nest; and worker age distribution (if there are lots of young workers, then swarming is more likely to happen).
Some of this, interestingly, is because with lots of bees in the hive, the queen pheromone is not distributed as well throughout the hive so the workers begin to make queen cups.
Queen rearing is best when there is an abundance of nectar and pollen, lots of nurse bees, and reduced queen pheromone (queenlessness).
The younger the egg you use for rearing a queen, the better. Juliana said that if you use four day old larva to make a queen, the resulting queen has a lower reproductive quality than a queen made from a one day old larva.
In our biology review she said something I hadn't heard before. I knew that the virgin queen flies to a DCA (Drone Congregation Area) to mate and may mate with 17 drones over the course of her mating flight(s).
I understood that the mated queen returns to the hive and the workers remove the mating organs of the drones, left in the queen's body at copulation. Juliana said that each drone removes the "mating sign" - the remains of the previous drone - from the queen before beginning his own mating with her!
So in the hive when the queen returns, the workers only have to remove the final mating sign of the last drone to mate with the queen.
Here are the ingredients for queen rearing:
1. A queenless colony
2. Proper space
3. Larvae of the correct age
4. Lots of food and water
5. Lots of nurse bees.
Two hive bodies are needed for this. The first hive box is the Cell Builder. The second box is the Swarm box.
The Cell Builder has no queen, ample nurse bees and lots of food and pollen. You make this box about two days before grafting the larvae to help the nurse bees recognize that they are queenless.
The swarm box is the source of bees. You pick a hive with a good queen and a good ratio of nurse bees/foragers, lots of eggs and larvae.
Step 1. Locate the queen and transfer her to somewhere else (observation hive, nuc, Juliana might use her in an experiment about something else!)
Step 2 Find frames of open brood with lots of nurse bees
Step 3 Shake these nurse bees into the Cell Builder
Step 4 Return the open brood frame to the Swarm box
Step 5 If you pull a frame with capped brood, shake the bees off of it into the swarm box and put the capped brood frame into the Cell Builder
Step 6 Transfer one or two frames of honey and pollen to the Cell Builder
Step 7 Add empty frames to fill the empty spaces in either hive
Step 8 Move the Cell Builder to another location.
It helped to understand all of this to have heard Mickey Anderson in July last year
with his hoe and drain pipe explaining this as well!
Then she explained grafting and I'll try to let you know what I learned.
Grafting is moving one day old larvae from the worker cell to an artificial cell so that the larvae can become queens. There are special tools for grafting that look like tiny spoons. There are special cell frames for queen rearing.
Juliana said it's hard to determine which are one day old larvae. You can take a clear acrylic sheet and mark it so you know where the top of the frame is. Then you overlay the sheet on the frame and mark the cells where you see eggs. Then a couple of days later, you'll know the larva in that cell is only a day old.
You need the queen rearing frame that is designed to hold the artificial queen cups, wet paper towels, the grafting tool, a squirt bottle of water, royal jelly that has been mixed with some water, sugar syrup, a magnifying glass and a flashlight. You pull the frame of young larvae from a hive with a good queen. Keep the larvae moist by covering the frame with a paper towel.
Prime each cell with some royal jelly. Then very carefully lift the larva with a J motion, avoiding contact with the cell wall. Place the larva in a prepared queen cup. Do this as quickly as possible until you've filled all the cups you need. Keep the larvae moist throughout the process by covering the frame with a wet paper towel.
Take this frame to the Cell Builder box (ready and waiting with nurse bees) and place it in the center of the box. Close the box up and wait 9 - 11 days.
The day before you plan to transfer the queen cells to mating nucs, check the Cell Builder box to see how many nucs you need to set up.
It's good to synchronize the emergence of the queens and the natural arrival of drones, remembering that it takes drones 12 - 14 days to mature sexually. You want your new queens to emerge as the sexually mature drones are eagerly heading for the DCA.
Juliana said that if you need ten new queens, graft 30 larvae and maybe you'll get your 10. At this point, you move the queen cells into brood nests, hanging the cell vertically and pushing it into the wax comb.
In 10 days check for the emergence of the queen. If she came out by herself, the tip will be cut open in a circle. If a worker has chewed her out, biting into the side of the cell, the queen might not have survived.
Juliana says you can practice scooping up the larvae by using quinoa (the grain). She also encouraged us to keep good records so that you are sure of your timing. If the queens emerge in the cell builder, the emerged queen will kill all of the other ones.
This whole process is very difficult and I do not know for sure that I have passed it on to you accurately. I've never done it myself, so I don't feel confident in what I've written here. I encourage you to read about the Doolittle method on the web