I finally got a good photo to illustrate how I like to do my queen rearing in my topbar hives, so I thought I'd share with the group. My purpose is to encourage backyard beekeepers to feel confident in raising a few queens on their own. I know that many of you graft larvae into queen bars, etc and I have done some grafting and the nicot system, but for the class I teach, this seems to be the easiest for them to understand and copy. No need for a "starter", "finisher", etc.
The premise is that on newly drawn comb, without foundation or wires, the bees can easily rework the wax. And my preference to prevent swarming in the spring is to always insert empty bars in the brood nest in between drawn brood bars. I am pretty aggressive with this (about 4 bars each week) by the time our main flow is hitting (first part of May). This seems to work out perfectly to give me newly drawn brood bars with fresh larvae that can be turned into queen cells once I am ready to start queen rearing.
I make sure the empty bars have been in there about a week to 10 days so they can get partly drawn out and laid up with eggs, and then I remove the queen to a nuc. The big hive senses the queen is gone and starts the queen cells on the newly drawn comb that has the fresh eggs/larvae. (I know many of you say that emergency cells are not as good as swarm cells or supercedure cells, but the cells that the bees drawn on this new comb are very large and also well fed).
The bees in a full size hive will usually draw out a great number of them on multiple bars with the new comb. Making splits is very easy for a newbee as they just remove one of the bars with the ripe cell and drop it into a queenless split. If you date the bars when you add them to the brood nest, counting down until the queen emerges is pretty easy.
For this photo, I actually had the queen in a nicot cassette for 5 days (and then moved those cups over to the queen rearing bar) and then I let her loose in her hive for another 5 days with empty bars that got drawn out and laid up. (The fact that she was caged for some days in the nicot system explains why the brood pattern in this photo isn't slam packed like it was before I caged her)
On this one comb, I have 12 good sized queen cells that I will carve out on Saturday and place in queenless nucs or put in roller cages to emerge. There are additional bars in the hive with queen cells that have been divided with vertical queen excluders between the 3 entrances, so I should end up with 3 mated queens in the remaining big hive, plus these additional queens in the mating nucs. (and if I get lucky, I will snatch up any virgins as they emerge in the hive and move them so none go to waste).
I'm also pulling in a huge honey harvest at the moment since the bees haven't had much brood to tend to while I have been messing around with queen rearing. (I will be adding a bar of capped brood from the nuc that the original queen went into, just to keep the number of nurse bees up to tend to the new queens).
The virgin queens that emerge from these cells look like they are already mated, they are so large. That means they have been well fed by the nurse bees in the hive and have had plenty of room to grow in their cells.
I am going to try your method. I have a medium strength hive. I think there were 6 bars with brood. I placed 3 bars in-between brood bars last Wednesday. In a week or 10 days I will look for the queen and move her to a nuc--a Langstroth nuc, unfortunately, because that is all I have. I have plenty of combs of full honey and a few with honey and stores. When I am done I would like to end up with at least 3 colonies, maybe 4. I have a friend whose top bar hive died this winter and I would like to give one to him. I am unclear on a few things. Queens take 16 days to emerge but I will not know exactly when the eggs were laid that become queens. This seems important because I want to leave the queen cells in my top bar hive--which has the most bees to feed and warm them--as long as possible. (Perhaps the answer is 10 days after making hive queenless, because may use 2 or 3 day larva, which was an egg for 3 days, so that leaves only 10 days left to be safe?) Second, when I remove a bar with queen cells to a nuc, is it okay to use a 5 frame nuc? (That's what I have a few of.) If so, what is minimum amount of bees necessary for each nuc? If I give to my friend a queen and some bees, should he keep them in a nuc for a while or can he add to his hive right away? (If nuc, he will need to build a top bar nuc I suppose.) If to his hive, does he need to create a divider board to keep the area small? Weather at night is still in the 50s here. Thank you!
For the first couple of times you do this, I'd recommend moving an entire bar over with the capped queen cell and not just trying to move the cell by itself. (the cells are very delicate until the day before they emerge). When you move the bar, don't shake off the adhearing bees. Just make a split of the big hive. When the queen cells are being drawn, I like to carefully inspect the colony and mark those bars with cells with a piece of tape on the top. I also move them all together so they are easily accessible. If you note which day the cell gets capped, then you have a better idea of when it is going to emerge, but some beekeepers don't like to be in their colony that much. I usually just note which new combs have young eggs and larvae when I pull the queen. Most of the time, the colony will build the majority of the cells on that new comb.
As for doing this on a hive with only 6 bars of brood, I think that is a very weak colony. I'd recommend that you wait until it has 10 bars of brood so you can comfortably steal 4 bars over to a nuc.
I second the suggestion that aggressively splitting can end up with weak colonies, if not done with care. It is true that if you take 4 Kenyan top bars (equivalent to 3 Lang deep frames), one with capped brood, one with honey/pollen/nectar, and one with both... you can make a split with that. BUT you have to have all 3 bars covered with bees, and STAY covered with bees. This is actually pretty tricky. It's easiest if you put your 4 bars in, close up the hive for 24 hrs, and move it pretty far - like 2 miles. No outyard? Just keep closed up for 24 hrs. Be very careful with this - only do it with a hive that has a screened bottom board, IMHO, to prevent suffocation. And it should go in the shade. Or in your basement! Consider sequential splits instead - do one split, wait for the queen to get mated ( or not). Then another split...
Anyways, for queen timing. The bees will try to use the 4d old bee - a 1 d old larvae - preferentially. They might start some from eggs too. So I plot out a calendar of potential emergence dates.
today's date day of bee life -
6/4 1 or 4 (depending on if the bees use an egg or a larvae to start with); day of split.
6/5 2 or 5 (potentially feeding QC and beginning to draw it out. Need foragers with LOTS of pollen coming in for best results. More on that below.
6/6 3 or 6 (if QC started from larvae, you will see it now. Half done)
6/7 4 or 7
6/8 5 or 8 (potentially QC is capped today)
6/9 6 or 9
6/10 7 or 10
6/11 8 or 11 (all QC capped)
6/12 9 or 12
6/13 10 or 13
6/14 11 or 14 (earliest I would separate QC and put into another hive for a mating nuc)
6/15 12 or 15 (LATEST I would separate QC and put into another hive - cuz she will be out in hours!)
6/16 13 or 16 (out!!! or maybe not, depending on the age used).
Please remember that if you do not have loads of pollen, you will not get good strong queens. The easiest way to do that is with the QUEEN moved out of the hive, and the hive making QCs. Or if you are taking capped brood, honey/nectar/pollen out to make up the nuc, be sure there are not many young larvae. Each queen cell uses as much food as like 50 larvae. Well, maybe not that many. But it is expensive to feed baby bees - you can always cut a section off a bar, use a rubber band to reattach a small section to the bar for the split. So there are like couple hundred larvae (a 7 cell x 7 cell grid of brood cells is 50 cells, so maybe a 20 x 20 grid or so of cells with larvae).
Good luck and remember it is OK to go slow with expanding.
Ruthie and Trish, Thanks very much for your input. Flow is on now but really slows down in July here and no fall flow. So, much to consider. Since I put in 3 bars in middle of brood about 5 days ago, I may not have long to wait until having 10 bars of brood. I will look on Wednesday. You have given me much to think about. Thank you! Kevin.