Evaluating New Queens...
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  1. #1
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    Default Evaluating New Queens...

    In my little bee club we are putting together a bee and queen breeding project to begin running in the 2017 season.

    We have limited space, resources and manpower, like most small clubs/groups. But we are looking at breeding around 100 queens a year, then keeping only the top 20 to overwinter, rinse and repeat. One objective is to come up with a template for other small groups to use with the idea of gradually breeding up better queens for their area.

    Has anyone any advice to offer on grading the queens? When, how and what for? We have some ideas but would like to hear what has worked for others.

    Merry Christmas all!
    Janet

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Watching this thread

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Greetings Steve!

    Just to give everyone something to comment on, we are thinking of a double weighted grading system, a very simple algorithm:

    Grading on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent),

    A: Overwintering (weighted by a multiplier of 2)
    B: Heaviness of spring brood up (weighted by a multiplier of 1.5)
    C: Honey yield for size of colony (a bit subjective that one)

    Demerits: one point off for disease, ditto for bad temper.

    So each queen will be graded with the formula

    (A x 2) + (B x 1.5) + (C) = Grade minus any demerits

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    I don't grade any queens the first year either, I let them overwinter first then see how they build up etc....

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    We do not have the resources to overwinter 100 queens, so we will have to do some form of evaluation on the queens in the season they are bred. I have found in my own limited experience that there tends to be a discernible bell curve to queen quality...25% are pretty awesome, 50% are so-so, and 25% are duds.

    We are only going to be able to overwinter our 20 best per season, then we will evaluate the survivors the following spring and choose the best 3 for our queen castles (which will generate eggs for queen cells and the next season's new 100 queens). The next best populate the cell builders etc., all the suppport and honey hives.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    How soon after emerging the queen starts laying. I like 14 days. Up to 21 days is OK, but I like 12-16 better.

    How vigorously she lays the first brood cycle or two after mating. I love it when she lays up all available space with gusto. This will also depend on how many young bees she has with her to tend brood and other hive duties.

    Good brood patter. I check the egg pattern and the sealed brood pattern. Good egg pattern but spotty sealed brood pattern can indicate hygienic behavior with high varroa mite loads. A good and expanding egg pattern is great to see. With spotty sealed brood then treatments may be warranted.

    A nice size and shape of queen. Some say this doesn't matter so much, but I disagree myself. I want a good size and shape to my queens. If nothing else, it's good insurance to longevity of laying from good mating.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Quote Originally Posted by JRG13 View Post
    I don't grade any queens the first year either, I let them overwinter first then see how they build up etc....
    Good point.
    Mark Berninghausen

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Sqjcrk, point well taken. We are going to rely entirely on open matings.

    This of course will be an issue during blueberry bloom, as whatever drones are in the mobile pollination hives are largely NZ carniolans, and the new beekeepers in the area will ALL be running this year's imported queens and bees. So one of our challenges is that every year we are awash in the drones from this year's NZ shipments.

    Past that time, over time, we should be able to impact our local DCA's. Not only will we run drone mother hives, we hope by distributing queens to all local takers we can also help elevate the DCA's.

    We also want to bring in a few queens each year from promising lines to keep our local bee gene pool diverse.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    My only concern if you grade the first year, is sometimes the splits come out unequal cuz of capped brood emergence drift etc.. so some queens seems super some seem like duds but only because one may have had a big head start.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    JRG13 we are just going to have to try to grade fairly, based only on fecundity, to choose our 20 best of the year's queens for overwintering. You are right that if a queen gets more support troops to begin with, she will look better than an identical queen with fewer bees in her colony. We are going to have to try to give each queen roughly equal starting resources.

    Those 20 will be graded for overwintering and spring buildup after their first winter. Then we have to decide who we'll be breeding from in that season, which will be the top 3-5 of those overwintered 20 queens.

    Every year I have bred queens, two or three really distinguish themselves. These are girls who seem to grow their colony and lay up stores at a noticeably higher rate than the other queens in the apiary. Often the surprise is they are better at everything in spite of having a smaller colony. These are the rock stars we'll be looking for.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    I asked a similar question on Pearl Harbor Day in this thread in the Beekeeping101 forum:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...count-the-ways
    It may have some relevance to your question, being about assessment of queens/colonies.

    Seems like a good question all around. How does one grade bees? It can't be much different from how does one "grade queens," given how tightly the queen is tied to her progeny and can't add to what paternal influence she's already stored up.

    Michael

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    You got a lot of good advice in that thread Michael! But the one that caught my eye was the statement that honey production is a good metric for evaluating both queen and bees. To put up a good honey crop, the colony needs to provide many things, all of them good: a large worker force laid at max rate 6 weeks before the honey flow, health, low to no pest levels, good foraging propensity, good queen, ability to take care of the brood she lays along with all that means. Honey production is the United Way of bee metrics, an umbrella of goodness.

    You will do well to watch Michael Palmer's youtube offerings on sustainable apiary techniques, and also the Billy Davis video on his version of Queen Castles and their management....both offer the possibility of creating that storehouse of drawn comb, along with other resources (bees).

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Been following this thread, so I'll add my thoughts.

    I've been selecting breeding stock since the 90s. I have an advantage as I've had between 650 and 800 colonies from which I can choose breeding stock. I also don't requeen by the calendar. I have lots of colonies that haven't bee requeened or propped up in any way for many years....only treated for varroa. In a way, these colonies are self selecting for stock that performs well in my area and under my management. I have a breeder queen that I used in 2015 and 2016. I pulled her from a colony that I set up in 2001. That colony has been a top producer in its yard since setup. Because I keep records on every colony, I can see that colony has never had a drop in annual production...which might be caused by swarming, or queen failure, or poor wintering, or disease, etc. Of course that colony's queen has been superceded a number of times.

    That's one example. There are plenty of others. The question is, how to find them.

    When I address a group, I often ask who has a colony that is always the best in the apiary, never needs any help, top producer, and this goes on for years. Those are the colonies that should be investigated further. Trouble is, most beekeepers now a days have been keeping bees for only a few years, with only a few colonies. But there are always some who raise their hand...they do have a colony like that in their apiary. So for you new at this stock improvement deal...look there, to beekeepers in your club who might just have what you need.

    Once you find possible breeding stock, and you raise daughters from those colonies, how do you evaluate those daughter queens? Keep good records over time.

    When I first started raising my own stock, I tried using the yard sheet published in Laidlaw's book, Contemporary Queen Rearing. Columns for numbered colonies, rows for selection criteria. At first I tried to use all the rows, but soon realized there were so many criteria that I was swamped, tracking things that made no sense to me and which took too much time to judge. How fast colonies enter the supers, or how much pollen the colony had on hand, etc. So I decided to reduce the number of criteria.

    Basically, if a colony is among the top producers in its apiary, it must be wintering well, have the ability to store ample pollen for colony use, enters supers quickly, etc. So, don't over think this. What are the 5 or 6 most import and criteria to you? Keep track of those. They might include,

    Ability to Winter Successfully...How do you measure successful wintering?
    Diseases Present…Chalkbrood is a good marker for hygienic bees
    Temper...Propensity to sting, runny on combs, head butting, etc.
    Honey Produced...Adjusted by how much feed the colony needed during the year
    Propensity to swarm
    Varroa Count...Change in population

    I see WW has overwintering, heaviness of spring buildup, production, with demerits for disease present and bad temper. But, how do you measure those, and aren't some related and results are being repeated. I mean, wouldn't a good producer have a heavy spring buildup and good wintering?

    I measure successful wintering by:

    Size of cluster when inner cover is first opened in the spring...late March/early April here
    Number of frames of brood when the colony...when the colony is reversed in early May

    Spring buildup by observing relation between early cluster size, brood count, and production.

    When selecting good stock, the possible breeder queen colonies must be tracked over time. At least one production year, one winter, and one spring buildup. The more seasons you can track a colony the better. To me, queen longevity should be considered too. Hence several years of record keeping.

    Now, about WWs formula. I don't think that will tell you all you need to know. And, I don't think you're giving disease present and bad temper enough weight. If a colony shows any disease at all it should be removed from the breeder list. Same as a colony with bad temper. Not just given a demerit, but removed.

    As far as mating 100 queens and only attempting to winter 20%, I think that a mistake. You should winter them all, and the following season begin the selection process, looking for reasons to remove them from the breeder list. How are you mating and summering these 100 queens? In mating nucs or standard nucs? They should all be set up in standard nucs and wintered. Either in yours, WW, or in nucs setup by the beekeepers in your WA and BC clubs. There must be enough folks that can setup and winter a few. Then, teach them how to keep records, and share what you have found.

    That all said, you can still do some selection in the first summer. Things like disease present, brood patterns, temper can be looked at the first summer. But a final determination takes longer. You'd be surprised how obvious it is the summer after mating how easy it is to find the exceptional stock you're looking for. The daughters of that queen I used first in 2015 so out shined the daughters of the other 2015 breeders, that I used her again for 2016. Half my new queens came from her in 2016, and I shipped them all over the US. I would be interested to hear back about their performance.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    Been following this thread, so I'll add my thoughts.
    Nice write up Mike. Not complicated and very workable.

    (what is WW?)

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Western Wilson

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Yes, I am WW. Been pestering Mike with questions.

    We have a special issue with our clubs here as we straddle the border and I am on the Canadian side. We are not allowed to move bees across that border. Most of our members are on the USA side, and some are in Pt. Roberts, a peninsula tip you can only get to through Canada. The rest of the USA members are in Bellingham WA. So we are fractured into three separate areas. This severely limits our ability to move bees/share bees/adopt out bees, but the bees can mate in the air and thus mix the different genes we have on each side of that border.

    In addition, the Canadian land prices are now into the stratosphere, and that area is increasingly urbanized. We are guests on the land there, but are working on more secure tenure.

    We think we have the drive and commitment to get this all started and set up: something that is not always present in the largest of clubs. So we will just have to do the best with what we have...our finest asset is that we have a great rapport among a nice core of cooperative beekeepers.

    Mike, thanks for the comments on the grading...I will revisit that formula with your advice in mind and agree, that temperament certainly gets a queen booted from the program, and disease as well although that is not entirely the fault of the queens... we do have high incidence of area brood disease thanks to high bee density, new beekeepers setting up survivor yards, and unfortunate management of some of the bees brought in every spring for pollination. We have talked for a couple of years about putting on robbing screens while the fields are being pollinated, to prevent drift and attendant disease. This year we will have to do that.

    I have certainly noticed those stellar performers in my apiary. We will poll club members to see if anyone has had similar queen experiences, and ask for daughter queens.

    But we are not in a position to run out 100 nucs at present, much as we'd like to. We are in the process of discovering just what we can handle, and where. But I do see that grading a queen in her second year would be more informative. We will have to noodle on that one.

    Thanks much for all the thought and advice. We are open to all the help and good suggestions.

    Regards,
    Janet

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Quote Originally Posted by WesternWilson View Post
    We have a special issue with our clubs here as we straddle the border and I am on the Canadian side. We are not allowed to move bees across that border. Most of our members are on the USA side, and some are in Pt. Roberts, a peninsula tip you can only get to through Canada. The rest of the USA members are in Bellingham WA. So we are fractured into three separate areas. This severely limits our ability to move bees/share bees/adopt out bees, but the bees can mate in the air and thus mix the different genes we have on each side of that border.

    What a hassle. But, you could raise cells in each area and provide them the the club members for making their own nucs...this is an educational project, yes?

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    As far as mating 100 queens and only attempting to winter 20%, I think that a mistake. You should winter them all, and the following season begin the selection process, looking for reasons to remove them from the breeder list. How are you mating and summering these 100 queens? In mating nucs or standard nucs?
    Wintering, and how to, is a climate thing. WW is in Tswassen, so similar climate to mine, a bit warmer as she's a little farther south. In our climate, if you have the resources to mate the queens, then you have the resources to winter them.

    A couple years ago I was at the British Columbia Honey Producers AGM, and somewhat intrigued by a presentation from a long time queen producer in the interior of the province, where winters are much colder than they are here. She talked about an experiment they did many years ago, back in the early 90's I believe was the timeframe, they ran an extra late round of cells into the mating nucs. They were using medium depth 4 ways. Instead of catching the queens, they stacked the boxes all into a lean-to for the winter, 250 boxes for a total of a thousand queens. They caught queens out of those boxes in late March or early April. She said survival surpassed expectations by a huge chunk, so much so, they started doing it every year, then about 10 years ago winter caught up with them when the boxes weren't in the lean-to yet. Survival that year was just as good as when they were in the shed, so they stopped doing that too. Then she looked at the crowd and asked 'Do you know how much 700 queens are worth in the first week of April?' and then muttered something about 'Enough to put 2 kids thru university....'

    For the last 5 years I have wintered numerous colonies in 5 frame boxes, some single high, some two high. This year I have an experiment running, I built a 4 way out of a deep using half size deep frames, and put 4 young queens to bed in that one this fall, each quarter has 5 half size frames, and I fed them as much as they would stuff into those little combs during late September and early October. Reading this thread got me to wondering, I dont normally look at or open hives this time of year, but I went out this afternoon and checked. That box has bees in all 4 compartments, looks like we still have live queens in all of them. Ask me in March if the experiment turns out to be a success, but so far it's looking good. We are about 6 weeks from first pollen here now, that'll come with the hazelnuts, over the last 3 years its been around Feb 10, and our bees normally have brood at that time.

    The bottom line is, in our climate, if you have the resources to mate the queens, you have the resources then to winter them.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    I attended that lecture as well, it was by Liz Huxter in Grand Forks...she gets really cold winters!

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Evaluating New Queens...

    Mike, I have a Caspian marked blue from fall 2016. She is in a box in California. Dark bees.
    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Palmer View Post
    Been following this thread, so I'll add my thoughts.

    I've been selecting breeding stock since the 90s. I have an advantage as I've had between 650 and 800 colonies from which I can choose breeding stock. I also don't requeen by the calendar. I have lots of colonies that haven't bee requeened or propped up in any way for many years....only treated for varroa. In a way, these colonies are self selecting for stock that performs well in my area and under my management. I have a breeder queen that I used in 2015 and 2016. I pulled her from a colony that I set up in 2001. That colony has been a top producer in its yard since setup. Because I keep records on every colony, I can see that colony has never had a drop in annual production...which might be caused by swarming, or queen failure, or poor wintering, or disease, etc. Of course that colony's queen has been superceded a number of times.

    That's one example. There are plenty of others. The question is, how to find them.

    When I address a group, I often ask who has a colony that is always the best in the apiary, never needs any help, top producer, and this goes on for years. Those are the colonies that should be investigated further. Trouble is, most beekeepers now a days have been keeping bees for only a few years, with only a few colonies. But there are always some who raise their hand...they do have a colony like that in their apiary. So for you new at this stock improvement deal...look there, to beekeepers in your club who might just have what you need.

    Once you find possible breeding stock, and you raise daughters from those colonies, how do you evaluate those daughter queens? Keep good records over time.

    When I first started raising my own stock, I tried using the yard sheet published in Laidlaw's book, Contemporary Queen Rearing. Columns for numbered colonies, rows for selection criteria. At first I tried to use all the rows, but soon realized there were so many criteria that I was swamped, tracking things that made no sense to me and which took too much time to judge. How fast colonies enter the supers, or how much pollen the colony had on hand, etc. So I decided to reduce the number of criteria.

    Basically, if a colony is among the top producers in its apiary, it must be wintering well, have the ability to store ample pollen for colony use, enters supers quickly, etc. So, don't over think this. What are the 5 or 6 most import and criteria to you? Keep track of those. They might include,

    Ability to Winter Successfully...How do you measure successful wintering?
    Diseases Present…Chalkbrood is a good marker for hygienic bees
    Temper...Propensity to sting, runny on combs, head butting, etc.
    Honey Produced...Adjusted by how much feed the colony needed during the year
    Propensity to swarm
    Varroa Count...Change in population

    I see WW has overwintering, heaviness of spring buildup, production, with demerits for disease present and bad temper. But, how do you measure those, and aren't some related and results are being repeated. I mean, wouldn't a good producer have a heavy spring buildup and good wintering?

    I measure successful wintering by:

    Size of cluster when inner cover is first opened in the spring...late March/early April here
    Number of frames of brood when the colony...when the colony is reversed in early May

    Spring buildup by observing relation between early cluster size, brood count, and production.

    When selecting good stock, the possible breeder queen colonies must be tracked over time. At least one production year, one winter, and one spring buildup. The more seasons you can track a colony the better. To me, queen longevity should be considered too. Hence several years of record keeping.

    Now, about WWs formula. I don't think that will tell you all you need to know. And, I don't think you're giving disease present and bad temper enough weight. If a colony shows any disease at all it should be removed from the breeder list. Same as a colony with bad temper. Not just given a demerit, but removed.

    As far as mating 100 queens and only attempting to winter 20%, I think that a mistake. You should winter them all, and the following season begin the selection process, looking for reasons to remove them from the breeder list. How are you mating and summering these 100 queens? In mating nucs or standard nucs? They should all be set up in standard nucs and wintered. Either in yours, WW, or in nucs setup by the beekeepers in your WA and BC clubs. There must be enough folks that can setup and winter a few. Then, teach them how to keep records, and share what you have found.

    That all said, you can still do some selection in the first summer. Things like disease present, brood patterns, temper can be looked at the first summer. But a final determination takes longer. You'd be surprised how obvious it is the summer after mating how easy it is to find the exceptional stock you're looking for. The daughters of that queen I used first in 2015 so out shined the daughters of the other 2015 breeders, that I used her again for 2016. Half my new queens came from her in 2016, and I shipped them all over the US. I would be interested to hear back about their performance.

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