Comb Honey Corner

July 2014

by Ray Nabors

All beekeepers need a source of queens for several reasons. The most obvious is to increase their number of colonies. This can be done by making splits or creating nucleus colonies. Replacing a poor quality queen or and old queen are other uses for new queens. Queens are available from numerous excellent queen breeders in warmer areas. Even if you decide to make a few queens yourself, you will need quality mother queens from which to propagate a few new ones. The best source of these will be our good queen breeders.

In the March issue of the American Bee Journal we had two interesting articles concerning the making and uses of queens. It is easy to produce a few good queen cells and make up your own nucleus colonies. Dr. Lawrence Connor went into great detail about how to make up a nucleus from existing colonies. This action can help restrict swarming and make additional strong colonies for comb honey production.

Dr. Connor recommends the Doolittle method and I agree with him. Doolittle was famous for understanding the actions and talk of bees not mammals. His method goes something like this: Remove two frames of capped brood from one or two strong colonies. At this point I would replace a capped brood frame in two strong colonies with a sheet of foundation. Placing a sheet of foundation in the middle of the brood nest will decrease swarming tendencies. The bees clinging on the two frames removed can be shaken or brushed off. Place these frames of brood in a deep hive box with enough empty combs, foundation and two frames of honey to fill the hive body.

The two frames of brood are placed above a queen excluder over a strong colony. House bees will cover the frames in one day. The following day this nucleus colony can be removed with attending house bees, from the queen excluder, and all placed upon another hive stand in the same apiary. A mated queen or queen cell can be placed in this nucleus the following day after placement upon the new hive stand. The queen cell may be the more economic of the two as house bees and emerging brood are very accepting of the queen they release.
Frames of capped brood can also be used to support a weak colony. Often the weak colony has a weak queen. She should be replaced. The poor colony will accept a frame of capped brood. The queen can then be located and removed. After 24 - 48 hours a new queen cell or mated queen can be used to replace the failing queen of the weak colony. In these days of CCD knowing how to preserve your strong colonies by preventing colonies from swarming is a great economic asset. The art of making up nucleus colonies and producing queen cells to load them is another economic asset. It can also add another interesting aspect to your beekeeping avocation. A nucleus started before the honey flow can produce comb honey in the year started.

If you look on page 273 of the March 2014 American Bee Journal, there is an article by Randy Oliver about producing queens for pennies on a dollar. I suggest you read this article carefully before you follow my suggestions. Randy has written as good a synopsis of the steps necessary to raise a few queens as any I have read. This article was inspired by his excellent step-by-step system. If this were a class, his article would be the required reading for the hobby beekeeper to raise those few queens. We will be concentrating on queen cells rather than mated queens. We will take up where he left off and this is not a repetition of his steps.

The one part of producing a dozen queens that strikes fear into the hearts of beekeepers everywhere is grafting. The method we are going to learn does not require grafting. Does that get your attention?

The first thing that must be done is selecting a strong colony with a good queen mother candidate. A queen that has survived through a winter and is producing another strong colony this season is a candidate. One that has made it through two winters is even better. A first-year queen installed in spring that has a strong colony may be the only thing you have available. Queens and nucleus colonies are better than no nuclei or queens cells, regardless.
As a side note, my preference is to use Carniolan queens. The Carniolan race of honey bee can overwinter in a smaller cluster than the Italian. They also build up a little slower. This helps make swarm control easier for comb honey production. For those interested in extracted honey, hygienic Italians may be better. Caucasians are the most gentle if you can find them. Each race of bee has its attributes and drawbacks.
Once you have located that chosen queen mother, it is time to ....