Low tech queen rearing
Today, at the Indiana Bee School seminar, I was talking with a beekeeper who mentioned that she lets her bees raise queens without any grafting or the use of any special cages. She explained to me that she selects a frame from a "desirable" hive that has fresh eggs ( I guess she meant eggs younger than 3 days). She said she then makes several vertical nicks a few inches apart on cells with young eggs, as many as she wants queen cells to develop. She puts the frame into a nuc, fills up the nuc with capped brood frames and frames of honey and pollen and "stuffs" the nuc with nurse bees. She claimed that the bees will build the nicked cells into plumb queen cells and rear the eggs into queens. She described it as fool proof and her preferred method of raising new queens. Has anyone heard of this method, or tried it? If so, what do you need to keep in mind? TIA.
I'm guessing you meant larvae "less than three days of age" as the age of the egg has little consequence.
Yes, I've done this. My method is to take a double brood box hive and place the queen in the bottom box, then separate the two boxes with a queen excluder. For the next six days she lays eggs in the bottom box, and the eggs in the upper box hatch and grow into larvae, and any larvae currently present in the upper box will cap into pupae.
On the seventh day, I move the queen to the top box and let her lay eggs. Replace the excluder between the brood boxes. Over the course of the next three days, all of the old larvae in this upper box will have capped into pupae as they are now at least ten days old. The fresh eggs she just laid are ready to hatch into larvae.
So on the tenth day I place the queen below the excluder and slip an inner cover over the excluder (and under the upper brood box). The upper box contains three-day old larvae, capped brood and emerging bees. They sense their lack of a queen and will build queen cells quite readily.
This is a variation of the "Cloake board" method. The benefit? No grafting and you have what I call "age-appropriate" larvae. There's no "shaking" nurse bees into a box either.
The downside? You'll get clusters of multiple queen cells on each frame. If you used wired foundation or plastic foundation, it's impossible to cut them apart. To me, this is a waste of resources. I've had my best luck using a medium super for the upper brood box and I've used frames of unwired wax foundation for about a week to ten days prior to moving the queen below the excluder. With unwired foundation, you can cut out and separate the queen cells with the surrounding comb and transfer each one to an individual mating nuc.
Another down side is the weather. You have to stick to a tight schedule.
You will also benefit with a marked queen. On the days that you absolutely have to find her, she becomes quite elusive. The real obstacle to this method is that you have to know how to count. And once those queen cells are capped, typically 9 or 10 days after you move the queen to the upper brood box, you have four or five days to assemble your mating nucs. Queens hatch 16 days from the day you move the queen to the top box.
Remember, you let the bees raise the queens. All you have to do is count.
well you can get even less 'high tech' than that. timing then becomes the issue (most programs of queen cell production are confronting the timing issue more than anything else).
really all you need to do is take your very best hive and feed, feed, feed and don't add a single box to the stack. when the hive gets fairly clogged the girls will begin to make lots of cells themselves which you then split apart into whatever size nuc you desire.
you can kind of do the same thing and as the unit approaches maximum capacity (you likely will see some degree of bearding at this point) simple remove the queen to accomplish the same thing (although now you have some idea as to the time line when cells will be ripe and hatching).