"Thinking Inside The Box"
I guess the easiest way to get around this is to ALWAYS have a sugar water feeder going, as well as some type of pollen substitute. Not only while the cells are being drawn out, but a few days or even a week before hand, to ensure really healthy nurse bees.
I've had almost the exact same experience this year. I've mostly been using a queenless nuc starter/finisher like Joseph does. Although I haven't "I also shake in a few extra pounds of nurse bees I've harvested from several large colonies." didn't know about that step until now.
I've also tried using a queenright finisher a couple of times, double grafted, primed with royal jelly that I harvested from 3 day old grafts (very high acceptance), primed with yogurt (rather poor acceptance), primed with 2-1 sugar syrup (works pretty good - probably the best return for the effort) but alas, no monster cells. Some nice queens though, even a few really big ones - once they've been laying a while.
So far I favor the queenless nuc starter/finisher - results for me have been at least as good as anything else, and it is so much easier that I graft more often.
I'm thinking a good accessory might be another queenless nuc just like it, but instead of using it to start cells, just swap out the brood frames every week, keep it over fed, and shake bees out of it into the actual starter finisher when it's time to graft.
If you need RJ go to Russell's website. As far as I know, he sells RJ for grafting...
>So letting them lay within the mating nuc for three weeks AFTER they have mated, correct?
Let them lay uninterrupted. It doesn't matter if it's the nuc or the hive they will end up in, but they are best if they aren't caged or banked before at least three weeks of laying. They are better at 2 than at 1. A typical commercial queen gets caged as soon as they see eggs. A few places go longer, like Russel.
Nutrition is the key... Spring is a completely different world than Summer is... Keep in mind that the northern flows and southern flows are completely different as well, so while we get our flows much earlier and they drag on until mid-late summer, the north has their flows all sort of kick in at once... Most breeders raise queens during the strong flows, then stop... so there is not a lot of teaching about how the different climates and seasons change the way you produce queens... You may have seen where I have advised people to "Keep yourself and your operation [B][I]flexible[I][B]" this simply means that what works for one place and time, may (will) not work the same for another... So we adapt to fit the situation... Mike was exactly right about giving them plenty of time to lay, not just let them start, then cage them... but one thing that he said that may have slipped past most and is truly important is the Undisturbed part... one of our greatest struggles while dealing with so many public sells this season was that we could not do the "predictive caging" that the common commercial breeders do because we never open the nucs until they are supposed to be ready... a queen can shut down from being disturbed, causing them to stop laying for a period and the first period of time is the most important in her development... So when a breeder "peaks" in the nucs to see how they are doing, they are risking the queens most important development period... True enough, any nucs that do not get their queen back after a mating flight will be hurting by the time you come through to cage the others, and that can cause a lot of heart ache for a commercial operation... but "peaking" is just another word for "pushing" in the sense that the breeder wouldnt need to "peak" if they were not being "pushed" by the demand... this is where the thin line between quality queens and quality service is drawn, so keep in mind that "peaking" can leave you with an unhappy ending...
The following is a few cuts from the Summer Queen Rearing thread on my website, some of you may have seen it already, but I will post them here for those that have not... The intention of this thread was to show the change in the methods of queen rearing as the season changes... In the spring, you have a nice flow, so you have lots of open honey, and fresh pollen, moisture, and most importantly.. instinct... in those conditions you can raise cell easily, and I prefer the swarm box method with a strong finisher for that time... however, summer brings high heat, dryer honey, less incoming pollen, and the bees are much more spaced out throughout the hive... So I prefer the following method to address those changes and continue to produce awesome cells and queens straight through the summer months as well...
"""""""""""""Ok lets start discussing the pains of summer queen rearing... First hurdle to leap is the heat... The heat can effect your grafts by drying them out, your mating nucs by causing the bees to quickly abscond as well as causing them to become beetle food...
So first lets address the grafting issue... Most use a warm damp cloth or paper towel over the cell bars as they graft to keep the larvae moist enough to prevent them from drying out... The time of day that you graft will have a lot a effect as well... In the 100+ degree days and 85+ degree nights of MS summers, I prefer to graft in the twilight hour so that the sun is not beating down on my grafts or my starters when I place them in... this also gives the bees enough daylight to accept the graft before dark and the starters (open flying for summer) are packed extra full at this time of day because the foragers have been returning home... So there is fresh pollen and nectar in many bellys in the starter... To graft, I prefer using one of our grafting trailers or the small shops that we have at some locations... and I prefer to prime my cells with pure royal jelly, fresh from the syringe right before I start to transfer... when transfering is complete, the grafts go straight into the starters...
Cell bars primed with royal jelly...
Summer Cell Starters... usually 8 frame or 10 frame hives that are split down from double deeps to create singles that are overly packed with bees, but no queen... Simply take a double deep hive (doesnt have to be deeps, any brood configuration will work, just adjust the number of mediums to equal the same space as the deeps) that has one or two drawn and filled supers on it... set the supers aside and go through the deeps to locate the queen... place as much of the capped brood as you can into the bottom deep leaving one honey/pollen frame on the outer edges and one blank space in the center of that chamber... the queen and all other frames go into the top deep and that deep is set on a new stand facing the opposite direction... a full honey super is placed back on top of the original deep (which we will call the "starter" from now on) and another super will be set on the new hive that was started by the top deep (if you dont have a full super, you can feed to help them handle the large amounts of open brood)... You can not let the starter sit overnight without getting a graft into it... they will make e-cells if you do, and chances are, they will make e-cells no matter what... so be sure to thoroghly inspect for them on the 4th day and completely destroy each one that you find (if your take looks terrible, e-cells are the number one reason, so dig through and clear out the competition)... Now your starter will catch all of the foragers, and has tons of new bees constantly emerging, plenty of honey to feed the queen cells only, since you have removed the majority of open brood, and they will be a bit angry while they pile up everywhere and festoon everywhere... There is no need to reduce the entrance of a summer starter... that would just be cruel.. lol. Set this up in mid day, then graft and place your graft in the blank space that you made in the center sometime close to dark... I call it the twilight hour, the time period when the sun is not actually shining on you, but there is still plenty of light. Here is a few pics of Summer Cell Starters...
Here is an 8 frame that was just set up the way I described above, only there are no supers in this configuration and the "split" side of the hive is facing the same direction as the original... the left side is the original, the right side is where the queen, open brood, and a feeder are... in the left there is one blank space in the center, two frames of honey and pollen on the edges, and five frames of capped brood... and of course a TON of bees...
Continued in the next post...
Next are Cell Finishers... These are the same in spring and summer... They are simply very strong hives (if you have to, gather frames of capped brood from a few other hives to make the cell finishers as strong as you can... we use Sunkist for this, so they have plenty )... The best configuration for this is a double deep with a super of honey on top (or the equivalent in mediums)... You will need to locate the queen and once again move the capped brood to the bottom deep, However, this time you will want the queen to go down there as well... Put an excluder on top of that deep, and all of the open brood and honey should be in the top deep... pull two of the honey frames out and create two blank spaces in the center separated by one open brood frame... these two holes will allow you to finish your first grafts and your second graft... that is important... you always make your grafts at least two days in a row...
Here are two cell finishers...
Now lets go over just how many cells can be started at once with this method... I would say that you can start anywhere from 1-88 cells in this starter... but since this is such an easy setup and you are going to be getting a few more colonies out of it anyway... I would recommend that you set up 2 starters and one finisher (unless you need a TON of queens)... let me break down a simple schedule that will allow you to produce extremely high quality queens in a very timely manner... You will need 4, 3 bar deep frames (mediums will be a bit different due to the frames only holding two bars at once)... graft 2 bars on the first day and place one on the top run of each of the two frames that you will place into your starters... the next day, ease those frames out and carefully transfer those to frames over to your finisher (one frame in each hole)... make the second graft that same day one two more bars and place those two bars in the other two frames that you have and slide them into your starters... the next day, ease those frames out of your starters and carefully pull the bars out and place them into the second grooves on the graft frames that were in the finisher... repeat this process one more day and place the last bars on the third groove of the graft frames in the finisher... this will have given you up to 126 excellent cells in 3 days... then you can take entire bars off when its time to plant the cells or hatch the virgins into California mini cages if you would like to visually inspect them before you plant them...
To better describe the frames and the term "cell bars", here is a picture of two deep cell bar frames... each has three cell bars on it... I strongly recommend color coordinating your grafts, so in the case that this picture shows, the first graft would be in amber (yellow) cups, second day would be Red cups, and third day would be smoke cups... again, this method would be using two bars each day and the two bars would be started in different starter, and then finished on different frames in the finisher...
I do not recommend returning the starters to a queen-right condition until after you are certain that you have all of the queens that you want... remember that there are many variables that will come into play here... you may get a perfect take on your graft and every cell may hatch perfectly, but then the queens get eaten by birds while trying to mate... This is the chaos factor of queen rearing... if it can go wrong, it will... So tomorrow's posts will be geared more towards being prepared for the unforeseen, as well as setting up mating nucs in a way that keeps you from having to get new equipment and keeps you from having to use up your bee resources...""""""""""""
Returning to your original question, did you move the open brood up and the capped brood down in your finisher?
Hope this helps!
Nice posts Robert. I especially like that summer starter idea, how long do you keep using that starter?
"Thinking Inside The Box"
On a side note, what's the last date that you would recommend someone in central NC graft? I was thinking about doing one last batch (I ordered some Royal Jelly off your site today, as well as some pollen substitute from Brushy Mountain) but I'm afraid I wouldn't have enough time to provide proper nutrition, graft, start, finish, and mate all the queens as well as giving them enough time to get a few cycles of brood out in order to overwinter. I wouldn't be concerned about starting now if I was going to re-queen with them, but i was hoping to let them start their own 5 frame nuc.
I'm going to spend the rest of the day sitting down and thoroughly reading this thread again, and then hopefully I'll compile a day-by-day analysis of what I should be doing.
So I made a "Calendar" so to speak. It's basically a rip off the website one, only I added a little bit of information that I gathered from this thread (and Russell's, on his site). Tell me what you guys think:
Day 0 - Start feeding hives that the nurse bees for the starter come from with 1:1 sugar water with HBH and Pollen Substitute
Day 1 – The egg is laid by the queen mother
Day 2 –
Day 3 –
Day 4 – Graft 12-24 hour-old larvae into cell cups (primed with a drop of royal jelly). Spring: make up a five frame queen-less nuc, with two frames of un-capped honey and two frames of pollen. Add pollen substitute (if needed) and a wet sponge. Pack in four pounds of nurse bees. Add grafts and let sit overnight. Summer: Add grafts to a queen-less full hive, which contains no open brood. Add a feeder and pollen substitute if needed.
Day 5 – Check your grafts: the bees should have started to draw out the cells and feed the larvae with royal jelly. If not, re-graft. Move grafts into a cell finisher (full hive with capped brood and queen on bottom under a queen excluder). Add 1:1 sw and ps if needed.
Day 6 –
Day 8 – Cull all cells that are capped (too early), those that are not 100% filled with RJ, or are mis-shapen or small.
Day 9 – Queen cells are capped
Day 10 – Sensitive developmental phase – do not move cells and be very gentle when opening the hive
Day 11 – Sensitive developmental phase – do not move cells and be very gentle when opening the hive
Day 12 – Sensitive developmental phase – do not move cells and be very gentle when opening the hive
Day 13 – Move the capped queen cells into mating nucs
Day 16 – Queens hatch
Day 18 – Discard any un-hatched cells
Day 21 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 22 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 23 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 24 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 25 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 26 – Potential Mating Flights
Day 37 – Check Nuc for eggs/larvae
Last edited by Specialkayme; 08-16-2011 at 02:30 PM. Reason: Adding more Mating Flight dates . . . thanks Oldtimer
It's pretty good. Only I'd add a few more days for the mating flights. How do I know that? There can be solid rain on those two days, and they'll still mate.
"Thinking Inside The Box"
Lol, I thought I'd get called out on that.
I know the flights occur on more than those days. It's more like an approximation. It's what was on that on-line calendar and I didn't feel like typing "Potential Mating Flights" about 6 more times. But hey, in the interests of completeness, I'll go back and change it.
The important point is that you discard un-hatched cells on day 18, then don't touch them until the 37th. It's good to keep in mind that they are flying more than just two days though.
So the preparation of the hives, the nutrition, and the feeding all look good?
Looks pretty good... the only thing that I would say is that you may find the bees moving a bit ahead of your schedule during the summer, so again, stay flexible... also, set up you mating nucs strong enough to keep them going if a cell doesn't hatch... like I said, I try not to disturb them for the full cycle, so my nucs have to be strong enough to miss a turn every once in a while... due to high heat, I usually hatch virgins in a hatchery frame, then plant virgins that I have physically inspected.... they are planted in the same California mini cages that they were hatched in... leave them caged for a day, then pull the cell and let them walk out... after that, I don't touch them until its time to cage... the mini cages that are used to hatch them are impregnated with the pheromones from the hatchery... so acceptance is really good... I have sent you a few gifts, so you can try this out for yourself to see if it works for you.
Ps, what is the reason for feeding hbh?
Last edited by rrussell6870; 08-16-2011 at 06:57 PM.
Keeping that in mind, I'm planning on staying VERY flexible, and responding more to the needs of the situation than necessarily my "schedule." But what parts do you see varying, for example?
Once again, thank you so much for all of the help and guidance. By the way, how's that book of yours coming along? Mr. Bush ended up publishing his . . . no pressure or anything, lol.
Great posts everyone. I have been off the forum for a few days, so trying to catch up. I am in the same boat as Specialkayme. I completed two grafts off of a Russell SKC breeder. I should have tought ahead and ordered some royal jelly with the breeder from Robert. I am kicking around the idea of grafting one more time, but I am also concerned with the up coming fall in the mountains of north Georgia. I wanted to use the daughters off of the breeder to head up my drone hives next spring. Keep the info coming. I'm all ears.
Oh yeah, I want to nail down the process of "great" queens by the time I introduce my Moon Beam stock next year. I hope it will be the icing on the cake to my genetic structure.
A hatchery frame is simlpy a queen bank that has openings large enough for ripe cells to fit into them. The cells are placed into the cages and the frame is placed into a queenless hive that has been pumped full of open honey and fresh pollen... the queens can be taken when they are needed, but do not leave them more than a few days... the sooner they get into nucs, the better.
Here is a pic of one that uses california mini cages... it will hold up to 42 cells/queens... very simple to make using a standard frame, piece of 1/4" plywood, and a few divided bottom bars... sure, it could be made much more sturdy, but I honestly prefer them to be as flimsy as possible because it FORCES my staff members to be extra gentle... which is a great skill for any bee keeper to master. lol.
Lol, that's actually what I thought a hatchery was.
I can see how important they would be to a larger producer, or if you were attempting to select queens for a visual characteristic like size or color, but how useful are they for the small producer? Or is their use more beneficial in getting mating nucs to accept a virgin queen, rather than a cell?
High heat in the summer sun, sweat in your eyes while handling cells to plant in the nucs... are just a few reasons to hatch the cells as virgins first... sure cells are easier to get accepted, but when the summer time crunch kicks in, using virgins can save you a few days in each cycle... for the small producer, using virgins instead of cells means that you will not have to check in the nucs to see if cells hatched, or risk the resources that you used to stock the nuc if you do not check the cells... it also means that you can pick the queens that you want to mate using visual inspections before planting (such as size, color, marking, vigor, and even how the bees some as opposed to others)... and you will also have the "reserve" virgins from the consecutive grafts to use in case of an emergency, or to stock a few more nucs with as you go along... when the virgins are too old for your liking, you can use them to create swarm lures, or to keep queenless hives/nucs from starting cells until you can supply another queen, etc... hope this helps...
Yes, actually. It helps alot. I'll read up about hatcheries a bit more, and plan on using them next year. Thanks yet again!
The hatchery frame would also prevent what happened to my last batch of cells - an early bloomer killed the lot of them, and left me with the quandry of finding a virgin in a crowded hive or letting her have it. I chose B.