I have raised queens in probably one of the worst areas for queen rearing in the US. The season is short, night temperatures are cool and it's often very hot and windy during the day. And the pollen flows are intense but sporadic. I suspect that a poor to average location, for most beekeepers, would be better than our best locations here. So keeping bees here, is not an easy task. And raising queens is even harder. But I've found a queen rearing method that works consistently. I've tested all the others and none are as easy, flexible or consistent as this one. It is based on Taber's new method with a few twists.
The queen is excluded to the bottom box one week before grafting. The day before grafting, a free fly, queenless, starter-finisher hive is setup in the location of the support hive and the support hive is rotated 180 degrees and set behind the cell rearer.
Cells are harvested on day 11(from the egg) at the same time as grafting and are placed in an incubator. These cells must be out before day 15.
For a commercial operation, two breeder hives are used with one for a backup. If enough bees are present, with the queen in a support hive, it could be used as a breeder. If less than a hundred larva are grafted, one of the support hives could be used as a breeder.
One week before grafting starts, the queen is excluding to the bottom box with the sealed brood and empty frames.
Two breeder hives are setup one grafting cycle before grafting actually begins to accustom the queen to laying inside the restrictor. Restricting the breeder queen is not needed if just a few hundred larva are grafted.
Two days before grafting, sealed brood is moved to the top box, larva to the middle box, and empty frames, and frames with eggs are put in the bottom box with the queen. All bees are brushed off any frame going above the excluder. A feeder is inserted on the left side of the top box and another inserted on the right side of the bottom box. A grafting frame filled with cups for polishing and a pollen frame is refreshed and placed in the top box.
One day before grafting, the support hive is broken apart. The top box is placed on a bottom board, in the original location of the support hive. This is the free flying,queenless, starter-finisher. The bottom box with the queen is faced 180 degrees and placed behind the starter-finisher. This is the support hive. Shake additional nurse bees from the middle box to reinforce the starter-finisher. Fill both feeders with 1 quart of 6:4 sugar syrup. Place the middle box on top of the support hive and close them up.
Standard field grafting procedures, are used starting as early in the morning as possible, or just before sunset. Bees are brushed not shaken off a breeder frame which is wrapped in a warm, moist towel and plastic wrap. The towel must be moist and not soaked to prevent water from dripping into the frame and drowning the larva. Grafting is done while sitting in the shade and a headlamp is used to illuminate the larva. A magnifying visor and Chinese grafting tool are used to graft the larva. A finger is moved and used to touch the next cell to be grafted. After 3 or 4 cells are grafted, they are covered with a portion of a warm, moist, towel.
In my location, I graft two bars/hive/cycle. In a good queen rearing location more bars could probably be grafted.
A sealed frame of brood is inserted into the starter-finisher at every graft. It is obtained above the excluder in the support hive. Additional young bees can obtained by shaking them off of the open larva frames from the same box on the support hive.
The pollen frame is refreshed and a honey frame scratched and inserted if needed. An entrance feeder can be used in an emergency.
Spurious cells are cut from the starter-finisher one week after the first graft.
A honey frame is scratched and each feeder, in both starter-finisher and support hive, is filled with a quart of 6:4 sugar syrup and the pollen frame refreshed at each graft.
The support hive is worked in the typical fashion. Unsealed larva are rotated above the excluder. Empty frames/surplus sealed frames are rotated to the below with the queen.
The cell rearer is opened. Each frame is searched for spurious cells. The pollen frame is refreshed.
Once every two weeks, the position of the support hive and the starter-finisher are switched. This is best done when both hives are broken apart during grafting. With some types of bees, a weekly rotation might be needed to prevent laying workers.
I've enjoyed your queen production ideas and I have a few new-bee questions . . .
Is this a 3 deep (or 3 brood chamber) hive to start with?
Two "Breeder hives" duplicating each other?
What is the "restrictor" you describe?
Frame style feeders?
How do you "refresh" a pollen frame?
Any links available for more information on field grafting?
Why scratch a frame of honey?
"Spurious cells" meaning cells on the brood frames instead of the cups?
Out by day 15 to mating nucs?
What mating nucs do you set up?
Thanks in advance for your insight!
>Is this a 3 deep (or 3 brood chamber) hive to start with?
I like a three story hive. The extra box allows the support hive to be worked in a way that easily provides a source of young bees and sealed brood frames without any eggs or unsealed larva.
A two story hive can be used but the queen must be found and frames carefully searched for eggs/open larva before transferring any into the starter-finisher.
>Two "Breeder hives" duplicating each other?
For commercial rearing, yes. A breeder queen sometimes delays her laying when restricted to a frame. It's a bad grafting day, if a guy has to hunt up a thousand properly aged larva from the support hives.
>What is the "restrictor" you describe?
A restrictor is a device that confines a breeder queen to a single frame. Some aka Marla Spivak consist of a piece of queen excluder fixed so that it can be pressed onto the face of a comb. Others consist of a queen excluder covered compartment that a frame slides into in the center of a breeder hive. The queen is restricted on a new brood frame every 4 days. That provides an abundant supply of properly aged larva for grafting without having to hunt them up.
>Frame style feeders?
These are just division board feeders.
>How do you "refresh" a pollen frame?
Pollen pellets, trapped from your bees, are sprinked into the cells of a horizontal frame. Then the frame is sprayed with a very light sugar syrup.
>Any links available for more information on field grafting?
Not, yet. I may just post a note on what I do.
>Why scratch a frame of honey?
Honey is the best substance to feed a starter-finisher. The bees don't have to expend any enery or time to 'digest' or convert it. But it's too rich to raise larva on, hence the feeding of a light sugar syrup.
>"Spurious cells" meaning cells on the brood frames instead of the cups?
Yes. The bees will sometimes move a larva out of a queen cup and stick in on the back side of a honey frame. I think they sometimes sense that their queen rearing efforts are failing and try a more out of the way location.
>Out by day 15 to mating nucs?
>What mating nucs do you set up?
Yes, some will start hatching on day 15.
Lots of possibilities exist depending upon ones needs. Most large queen producers use baby nucs. I like a larger nuc. A deep single can be divided into several compartments and a queen mated from each one.
For just a few queens, a split can be made above a swarm board, given a rear facing entrance, and the queen mated from there.
Or hives can be requeened by inserting a queen cell into a honey super.