Feb. 17, 2022

Raising Non-Graft Queens (061)

Raising Non-Graft Queens (061)

A good rule when raising a few queens is to keep it simple. And not having to graft larvae from one cell to another is as simple as could be. So, how can that be done? The Hopkins method is one way, where you simply put a frame with eggs and larvae in...

A good rule when raising a few queens is to keep it simple. And not having to graft larvae from one cell to another is as simple as could be. So, how can that be done?

The Hopkins method is one way, where you simply put a frame with eggs and larvae in a queenless colony and let them do their thing. You even have some controls of the genetics that way, depending on where that frame comes from.

Or you can simply do a split, remove the queen from one or both and get out of the way and let them raise a queen in one or both.

Commercial queens are expensive, but it costs to control all the variable costs of a big operation, the drones, the labor and all that. Those costs are passed onto you… plus overnight shipping, usually making it a $60 queen.

Using non-graft queens, such as in the Hopkins method, you can depend on the bees knowing what they want, probably better than you do. One thing you do have to control is the timing. You want that new queen producing full tilt before winter, so the bees that go into winter are the bees you want next spring.

Raising a queens can be fun and having a couple queens available throughout the season is good insurance. Listen today, as Kim and Jim discuss raising non-graft queens!


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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 61 – Raising Non-Graft Queens


Kim Flottum: Hey, Jim, good to see you. Say, are you going to raise any queens this year?

Jim Tew: Oh, you should have prepared me for that, Kim. I'm not going to raise a lot of queens and I won't raise them by the Doolittle Method, but I will probably raise a few queens just as simply as I possibly can. You say I'm probably going to just do the technique where you lay a frame on the side, let them draw out the cells themselves. Of course, an even simpler thing to do is just take the queen out and make the split, let them raise their own.

Kim: I'm going for keep it simple. I don't do any of those things, I just let the bees do what they want to do. Hello, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew. I want to welcome you today to Honey Bee Obscura, where Kim and I are talking about probably the simplest way we can raise some queens if we have to raise a few queens.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behind beekeeping today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explores the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in engaging an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees

Jim: Kim, I wonder if you could call this technique Brain-Dead queen production.

Kim: Well, that would fit me pretty good.

Jim: Tell me what two old guys can do on a podcast system on one dreary, snowy blustery day that's truly going to help someone raise queens.

Kim: I don't produce a whole lot. I haven't done much along the way of raising queens, I've always kind of taken a half step back and let the bees do what they want to do, but you mentioned one easy way. Then there was that thing about the frame on top, what was that?

Jim: Kim, there's all kinds of techniques. I have, first of all, to you and the listeners, I am not putting myself out here as a Master Queen Producer.  Through the years I've raised queens a lot using different techniques, but I've never tried to become a master at it. Kim let's just keep this as a conversation, and not as a lecture.

Kim: [chuckles] Okay.

Jim: This is what happened with that frame laying sideways. One of the techniques Alley and others have all variations on a theme. You cut down cells that have eggs or young larvae in it and then you turn those cut-down cells sideways to the way they were, (they were vertical) so that they're facing downward, and then this is critical. You give it to a bunch of young bees. It doesn't have to be pounds and pounds. It can be two to three pounds of young bees that are healthy and well-fed, and you make that this is the only option that they have for a queen and they'll begin to grow cells on that for you.

Kim: Well, if you've taken all the other opportunities away from them, you're offering some kind of control of the genetics by the frame that you're putting on top of the colony that's going to raise them, right?

Jim: That is perfect, Kim, it’s like we rehearsed this. That's exactly right, I chose the bees, I chose the colony that I modified the comb with the eggs, so I had that control over it.  I gave them that breeding stock more or less. This is just as simple as it gets. Other than just removing the queen and letting them decide which breeding stock to use. If I want to control anything about this process, this technique is about as easy as it gets.

Kim: Well, then you are introducing some-- I'm not going to say foreign genetic, alternate genetics to that hive. That hive will not be the same as it was when that queen has been laying for a while.

Jim: Right, and to some extent that would have happened when they replaced the queen anyway. I mean, the genetics and that colony has always waxing and waning and flexing and fixing depending on what queen is there and then depending on what queen she was replaced with when she had to be superseded just a short time later.

Kim: Then you get into the drones so that new queen is going to meet with it you have no idea.

Jim: Yes, and you say in the wild, they’re swarming like crazy. Seeley and others have said that these bees are swarming all the time, so it's just us. It's just beekeepers who want to keep that same queen in the same box for a long time. That doesn't happen anywhere except in our apiary most of the time, and we have a hard time making it happen in there, too.

Kim: Maybe I'll have to try one of those ways this year just to see what it's like. I haven't raised a lot of queens in my life intentionally. I've always pretty much taken half a step back and let them do what they want to do.

Jim: Yes.

Kim: And/or I'll buy one of those really expensive queens because somewhere I read somebody said that this line of bees was impervious to death,  or something.

Jim: Yes, made out of cast iron. I had a good attitude all the time. I know. I love queen producers. Don't get me wrong. Hey, anybody producing queens who are listening, I admire you for doing it, and I want you to keep on doing it. For the rest of us, there's a lot of tedious work to do that to pull that off.

Kim: If it doesn't work, you can kiss that colony goodbye.

Jim: You got to take it apart. You're right. If you made a two or three-pound split, five-frame split, let them raise their own queen didn't work. You're going to have half the bees left. They're going to be old and not worth much, but you tried. Tell yourself this, you know, every colony doesn't recreate itself in the wild, it's always “hit and miss.” For a queen to be replaced can only be described as major surgery on that colony.

Kim: Yes, well, I think my beekeeping philosophy has evolved after or over 50 years to back to letting the bees do what they're going to do because they probably are smarter at it than I am.

Jim: Yes, they are to some degree, they oftentimes are playing a different game that we're playing. They're looking at excessive swarming. Smaller population sizes, probably feisty or more stingy bees. We're looking at bees with a good attitude, nice personality, make crazy amounts of honey, and never want to swarm. There are multiple game plans going on here. The thing about this whole queen thing that's changed. I don't want to walk down memory lane every time you and I talk. When I first started this, it was a different world, queens were a buck-75, no more than 2 dollars and a half.

This is laughable, I've said it before, I've written about it. If you were dumb enough to kill that queen introducing her, you could write the producers and say, "She died", and within reason they would send you another one. They would not send you 10, but that send you another one.  Producers don’t ship if that happened now. I mean, queens cost too much. They're too hard to get. The responsibility for requeening is too great. My opinion - the basic fundamentals of queen management has changed. If you've got a queen that's just okay, and the rest of the colony is in pretty good shape -  anymore, just stay with that queen.

Whereas 15, 20, 30 years ago, I would have thought, "Boy, she's not up to this. To the job, I'm going to replace her." To take the chance to get her replaced now to deal with varroa, to control small high beetles, and take on this objective case of replacing a just “okay” queen. I want to reconsider that now. That's the things that have changed.


Better Bee: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See it for yourself at betterbee.com.

Kim: I've been to enough commercial queen operations over the years to know that the queen that they're going to send is worth the money they're asking probably from the perspective of what it cost to produce her. Is she going to be worth the money they're asking for that queen in terms of how much better that colony is going to be than if I had not replaced her? I don't have that answer.

Jim: I don't know how you answer it. Because it's not just replacing that, is, what if I'm making a split, if I'm making a divide, maybe the queen is fine in the colony. I just want more colonies. The big thing about letting them raise your own queen. My dad always said, "Let them raise their own, there know more about it than I do", and you've said that. It's going to be about 50 days. It's going to be about 52 to 53 days from the day that you make that decision until the day there's new workers coming from that queen.

Fifty-days now first of February, February- March. Sometime the first week of April, second week of April or so, I'd finally be having worker bees coming from that new queen. When I'm making the decision to let them raise their own queen, I need to look ahead about two months to see where that colony season it's going to be then. Where they have enough time to prepare for winter. Would they have enough time to get honey stores laid by……If I make them take 55 days off, 50 days, whatever it is to install this new queen.

Kim: I'm sitting here with a calendar in my head looking at this and thinking one of the concepts of control now is to have good control in middle - late fall last year. If I'm going to do that, why wouldn't I be requeening then, so that I have a good queen going into winter? My 50 days of getting a new queen is going to be last summer, not this spring. That makes sense?

Jim: Right. It does. This fall, you know fall requeening? That's the topic for a different time, but basically any time the bees are flying freely and are collecting and working and there's no winter cluster, you can work with the queen within reason. I've gotten off the subject to some extent, so have you, you lured me off the subject.

Kim: Yes, I did.

Jim: The thing is it worked out well, I had fun doing it because it was so easy. I accidently left out a frame. How many times do I do this? How many times before I stop leaving out a frame saying, "I'll come back tomorrow and replace this frame"? Well, I didn't. Of course, by the time I got back five days later, there was burr comb there in that slot where that frame was and in that nice, brilliant white burr comb that the bees had just drawn was eggs, and the very first install larvae. I replaced the frame. I picked up four spent queen cages and I laid that piece of burr comb on its side, and then I put shim around it to give me some space, and I just left it because I knew the colony was queenless.

Now, that's important. I knew the colony was queenless when I removed the queen from that colony. I used that piece of burr comb on that queenless colony laying sideways, and just within the next day you could tell which cells they had picked out of the several hundred that was there - they had picked out eight or nine of them, and then made some ugly-looking scruffy queen cells, but they were queen cells, and then I was able to use those to make a queen or two out of it. I'm just playing, Kim. This is not commercial beekeeping.

This is not a recommended procedure. This is an old guy beekeeper who needs more to do out on his own bee yard with a unique opportunity, taking advantage of it, just to watch bee biology at work. I did make a queen using that burr comb with those fresh eggs in it. The combs are so fragile - so delicate. Crushing it is so easy. It's so hard to handle. It's easier just to handle the whole piece that it is to try to use a cell punch system or something.

Kim: Well, it's snowing. It's 18 degrees out, and it's going to be snowing for the next 24 hours. I'm told. I guess I'm not going to have to worry about this for a little bit yet.

Jim: No, you're not. I want to aggressively say it's a very enjoyable aspect of beekeeping to raise these queens. You have a very parental feeling.

You're my offspring. I was there the day that you were just a three-day-old larva. You were the cutest little thing I'd ever seen.

You have a real sense of being involved. I want to tell you how this story ends. When it comes time to crush that old queen’s thorax a year or two later and replace her, you have those same feelings. "I was there the day you were born. I put this yellow mark on your thorax. I know you well".

It's a pretty heartless person that can say, “Okay, good job. You're done." It's as hard ending it as it was starting it, but just from the easy standpoint of raising your own queens, and tinkering around with them, it's an enjoyable aspect of it. Now, if you're serious about it, you're making splits, you're requeening, you're trying to control swarming, and you go and pay the big bucks for a big queen. That's a different game. We're not talking about that game.

Kim: Yes. Well, at least not today. I'm going to end this with one quick thought here is that queen of the yellow spot, I had to put her in the nuc in the back of the bee yard and kept her around for a while just in case. That way, just in case that new queen that I was going to replace her with doesn't work I've got her in the background, and I know she where she is.

Jim: Yes, but you're talking like a retiree now. You're trying to give her some useful post-retirement job. I know what you're doing. It's a good idea. I rarely kill a queen.

Kim: Yes. I got to run, so I will catch you next time.

Jim: I want to talk more about this with you and I want to encourage others to try. Thanks to everybody for listening. Give this a shot. Start reading now. Get ready. That's it. I'm done.

Kim: Yes. See you next time.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.