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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,

First-year keeper here located in Massachusetts, USA. I have 5 colonies overwintering, and my queens are Italian, Italian locally mated, Carniolan, Saskatraz, and possibly Russian (didn't plan on such a variety, just happened that way). The Saskatraz colony is booming and the locally-mated Italian and Carniolan colonies have almost the same size/activity level. The possibly Russian colony is an overwintering nuc; small but hanging in as far as I can tell.

I'm going to give queen rearing a try this spring via grafting. My queens will be mated with unknown local drones. Assuming all my colonies make it through the winter, which queen do you think I should use for eggs? I'm sure any of them will work; I'm curious not concerned about the queen choice as my goal this year is to learn/experience queen rearing, not to make the perfect bee. Except for the Russian they were all laying okay going into the winter. As for pattern or quantity they produced, eh..... (first-year = just happy they were laying and keeping colony numbers up).

Thanks!
-Kevin
 

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You should be noticing a difference in brood build up and use of winter stores in at least the Italians, Carnis and Russians. All other factors being equal come spring (like mite loads, etc), if honey is the end game for your beekeeping endeavor, graft from the box that has the right amount of worker bees for your primary nectar flow.
 

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5 colonies, 5 different genetic lines - that then presents you with the problem of way too much choice ...

You don't say how you've come to have such an assortment - but as you did say that choosing won't really impact long-term breeding goals as queen-rearing is only for practice at this stage - what I'd be inclined to do in the coming season is raise a few queens from whichever (if any) of those lines might be difficult or expensive to replace during the next few years. In other words, try and figure out which of them is the most valuable to you right now - as I can't see how you're going to make a really sound genetic choice based on just one colony of a particular line in one year. Assessment of several similar colonies over the longer term will prove much more valuable.

When asked how the small operator should go about making this kind of breeding decision, Brother Adam's advice was to divide the apiary in two, and simply to breed from the 'better' half. 'Better' being undefined - having whatever qualities you're looking for. In other words, making a broader choice from within the better half of the WHOLE apiary (i.e larvae from several queens), and not just a narrow choice from one outstanding individual colony. Sage advice, imo.
Good luck.
LJ
 

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Pretty hit and miss in your situation. For a proper breeding program, potential breeder queens should be tracked over time. More than one summer and on winter. Two summer/winter time periods would be better.

But since you don't have that...I would look at...

Colony size and production last summer, and honey stores going into winter. Did they require supplemental feeding for winter? Tells you who built up well after installation, and went into winter well supplied by themselves.
Colony strength early spring. Tells you whose bees winter well.
Do they need supplemental feeding early spring...before flows?
Brood diseases...Any eliminates a colony for breeding purposes.
Colony strength at beginning of dandelion bloom....Shows whose building well. Those starting early swarm preparations should be eliminated from breeding purposes.
Temper.
Then of course....There's always the gut feeling.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks all!
I realize it is a pretty open-ended question. Honestly, I also kind of forgot that I'd have some time in the spring to judge as well.
A bit of beginner exuberance.
-K
 

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Out of the lines you have I would pick between the Carniolan or Saskatraz. The qualities of the lines would be my choose while thinking of the future of the queens. Are you going to raise the queens and keep them or get rid of them. That's what I'm looking out. Good luck.
 

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if you really have your heart set on doing some grafting for the fun of it or the learning experience then go for it. it's a really enjoyable part of the beekeeping experience.

my first thought was that grafting is usually done when large numbers of queen cells are wanted or needed. the thing is you have to place those queen cells somewhere and with so few hives (assuming you weren't planning to buy queenless packages or have friends who could use the cells) you would really have to do some aggressive splitting to make grafting worthwhile.

the other thought i had was most folks in their second season don't have a surplus of drawn comb making swarm prevention a real challenge, so...

i would consider performing artificial swarms on all your colonies, i.e. after the build up is well underway and there are drones present or at least close to emerging then split out the overwintered queens into small nucs of bees and resources.

leave the donor hives strong and allow them to make their own queens. in some cases you may have queen cells on more than one frame and can make additional splits if you want to.

it's possible if not probable that the overwintered queens will get superceded during the season. eventually you will have all queens that have hybridized with your local population.

as time goes on it won't be too hard to figure out which colonies are your best ones to choose breeder queens from.

if you get up to a dozen colonies or more by 2020, and/or if you have friends who you can provide surplus queen cells to, then grafting a bunch of cells would make sense.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
if you really have your heart set on doing some grafting for the fun of it or the learning experience then go for it. it's a really enjoyable part of the beekeeping experience.

....
Yeah, that one. :)

Thanks much for the detailed reply. My primary goal this season is to make a set of resource nucs, start learning how I can effectively draw from them, and successfully overwinter them. My collection of queens mostly came from queen problems and being at the mercy of my local bee mongers (I say that with smile as they're great people and have been very helpful). Queen costs add up though, so this year I am going to have an abundance of backyard-reared queens for both me and a couple of my beekeeping friends.
-K
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Out of the lines you have I would pick between the Carniolan or Saskatraz. The qualities of the lines would be my choose while thinking of the future of the queens. Are you going to raise the queens and keep them or get rid of them. That's what I'm looking out. Good luck.
Thanks! Queens are for me and maybe a couple buddies if they need one. My Carniolans are not local and I haven't happen to be in that yard on a "warm" day yet this winter, but so far if the sun is out and the temperature is in the high 30s or above, the Saskatraz colony in the back yard is flying. Maybe they're at the top of the list. :)
 

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I have two thoughts:

As you emerge from your first winter, assuming your bees were well-treated for varroa the previous year and never lacked for stores all winter, your biggest challenge will be keeping them all at home and in their boxes.. Doing that without any surplus drawn comb (and it would a rare first year beekeeper that has much, if any. of that) will be a challenge, all by itself.

And, while grafting is the best method to raise a batch of queens from a single queen, it is not, perhaps, the best introduction to queen raising. It requires colonies managed pretty heavily, in a particular way. And it requires a good bit of skill to do - more than you may appreciate just by watching youTubes on the subject.

May I propose something that will combine solutions to these two separate problems, while advancing your bee-knowledge, including the biology of queen rearing, avoiding the need for the heavy management, keep your bees from departing in a swarm, and raise at least one nuc from each colony? And it is quite easy to do and lots of fun as well.

Buy (or make yourself) at least as many double screen boards (often referred to as Snellgrove boards) as you have overwintered colonies. I'd make an extra one or two (if you make them) as spares in case one or more of your splits is strong enough to warrant an immediate re-split. I would also prepare the resources for a queen castle ( a set of four, two frame chambers, or a set of three, three-frame chambers, all contained within one deep box).

Then plan on using a full program of spring-time, anti-swarming tactics simultaneously with early protein/pollen sub to strengthen your colonies as they come out of winter. And instead of holding off and only deploying the screen boards to essentially thwart a swarm at the last minute (if needed), plan on using them to make a split from each colony late in the spring. Unlike a "regular" split, these vertical splits using screen boards are more flexible and more forgiving, so they are a great way to ease into splitting, with its follow-on opportunity of raising your own queens. Unlike grafting, you are letting the comparative experts (the bees themselves) handle the trickiest part of this, your first, attempt at queen raising. You are almost certain to be able to split each of your colonies once this way, and some of the strong ones can be started, then re-split and the extra resources transferred to the queen castle for further development. If you then want to share the extra queens - and just the queens - you can separate them and return the worker and comb resources to your own yard. This may also give you enough surplus bees to set up one queen starter/set-up on which to do a practice run of the grafting technique after you've assured yourself of "safety copies" of each of your queen lines using screen board splits.

This plan will give you locally raised queens and nucs, this year (almost guaranteed because it is so simple). And then afterward with that success assured you can do a trial of actual grafting and getting some queen cells started, without the pressure to be make a success of something which stakes a fair amount of skill. You can raise these grafted queens, without having to devote a lot of resources to getting them through to full adulthood.

Yes, grafting will give you high quality queens. But so will careful splitting using screen boards, and with less fuss, and without overcoming a huge manipulative hurdle at the outset. And after the bees have chosen the eggs to raise - post split - you can follow on in the same way to observe and learn from the subsequent stages of queen rearing which are identical whether you graft or split.

And with a second year's observation of these queen lines you will discover which ones warrant the effort to graft (i.e. make a lot of queens from) vs which ones are just good enough to keep around as honey-makers or bee-makers to populate starter/finishers, etc. Having so many different queen lines, combined with being a novice, it will be take some acute observation skills. But by this time next year you'll be quite clear which of your queen queen lines to propagate.

And you will have some queen raising experience under your belt, additional colonies as resources, and some useful experience with the actual grafting technique itself. So you'll have success and fun this year, and are more likely to have success and fun at a higher skill-level next year.

Don't be daunted (as if a first-year beekeeper planning on grafting within 12-months of starting to keep bees would likely be daunted by anything) by the frequent description of Snellgrove board as being for advanced beekeepers. I don't know where that idea came from. I use them with all of my second year students, with great success and they are thrilled to have raised their own queens, so easily. It's important to learn how to manage a re-queening event, but doing any of the zillions of immediately divide the hive into two sections type of splits adds extra problems to the process. Double screen boards are simple, and very straightforward.

Nancy
 

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Beepah, I really like the advice Squarepeg and Nancy have given you. Learn to make splits where the bees do all the work first. Then try your hand at grafting. I grafted and raised around 25 queens last year, unfortunantly getting them installed in a hive and mated did not work out so well. On the otherhand, almost all of the queens raised by the bees were sucessful. This year and another $200 in equipment, I will try again. Keep in mind that you would need to split out the existing queen to create a queenless coloniy to use as a cell starter. This is essentially the same as doing a flyback split which would likely net you over a dozen nice queen cells all on it's own. Whatever you decide, best of luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice to help me be successful!

I'll very likely deploy the split strategy Nancy and squarepeg suggest on at least one (probably two) of my colonies, so I'll get a chance to practice those skills. I am quite definitely not counting solely on queen grafting to keep me in the bee game. Probably didn't communicate that well up-front.

Part of year one was a bit of baptism by fire and so I already have one split under my belt. I started with three package last year and the earliest one did so well (dumb luck) that in early June it was two-deep packed and had swarm cells. The cells were capped when I found them so the clock was ticking. I made the split the next day, leaving the Italian queen in one and two of the queen cells in the other. I could hardly believe it worked out; in late June I had a new queen and another colony in the yard!

I got an up-close look-and-try with grafting at one of our state apiary education days. One of the session leaders showed us the basics and even had us give it a try. I can't say my first touch on the mechanics was very good, but it gave me a sense that it was readily achievable with some practice. At a field day I saw a good demo on the Miller method too, so maybe I'll end up on that path instead.

We'll see how it goes. I'm planning big like many first-years before me, and there's probably a bit of Dunning-Kruger in me that I don't want to fully admit. I appreciate the time taken on these replies. Going into this open-ended question I was only expecting responses like "don't use the Russian because hybrids can be mean" or "Carniolans are way easier to graft than any of the others". Nice that you guys are looking out for my overall bee path.
-K
 

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you are welcome beepah.

i actually like the idea of nancy's snelgrove suggestion even better than mine.

(nancy, that's a very cool thing to be teaching your beginners!)

good luck to you and let us know how things turn out.
 

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Beepah, You still have a bit of time to figure out which queen to use. I started queen rearing in 2018 and had the best time doing it. I too started with 5 hives and currently have 15. When spring comes, assess all the factors from each hive and decide then. If you decide which one now, the queen may not be living come spring. The factors to consider are how much honey was made through the year, hive gentleness, varroa tolerance, winter stores consumption, how much did you have to feed to get them up to winter rations, queen color, and any one of a hundred other factors. Mean queens raise mean daughters. Hives that eat way too much in winter, starve before spring or require sugar blocks every spring. I don't worry about varroa tolerance. There are so many other beekeepers in the area with annually imported genetics that I have no control over the drone population and trying to breed varroa tolerance would be impossible except for maybe 1 season. I prefer hives that are gentle and are frugal with their stores with good spring build up. If I had to split the hive to avoid swarming, I did not use that queen or her offspring. The one thing I did notice across the board was that my home grown queens were better than any queen I ever bought. The three frame mating nucs I made all built up to 16 frame hives (8 frame boxes) by the end of the summer. Except for the couple that had queens not return from the mating flights. The two queens I used for queen rearing are both still alive and I am hoping to use them again next year.
 

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Qualities of a good queen mother: gentleness, productivity, strong brood pattern (meaning solid frames of brood without empty cells).
As far as running out of food, my experience is that it is fed bees that do this. Don't feed, rather leave adequate stores, and the bees seldom starve without being fooled by stimulative feeding. Now if the honey flow fails due to drought conditions or bad location, that is another story.
I expect that someone will disagree.:)
 

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Sorry Gino45. "Don't feed...and the bees will seldom starve" says the guy who lives in Hawaii! A tropical island paradise where.flowers bloom year long (and girls in bikinis and grass skirts serve drinks in coconut shells).

Seriously, we had a terrible year here for both nectar and pollen. I have fed my 16 hives over 600# of sugar and probably a good 10# of pollen sub with very little to show for it in many of the hives. But they have not starved to death. And no, I did not harvest all their honey. Only took 30# this summer.

In selecting qualities, I think Michael Palmer got the order right. Temperment yields to productivity and overwintering ability.
 

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And selecting from one year old colonies is still a shot in the dark.
Indeed - and selecting from a single one year old colony is even more of a shot in the dark.

It would appear that this consideration is at the heart of Brother Adam's advice (in my words) to breed from an overall trend displayed by a relatively large number of colonies, rather than gamble on a single high-performing colony, which might be the result of multiple factors coinciding by pure chance during one particular season.
LJ
 
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