CHAPTER IX Edit
RAISING QUEEN BEES Edit
HOW TO INTRODUCE A QUEEN Edit
IN the keeping of bees, there are many occasions when extra queens are required, notably when colonies from one cause or another become queenless, or when increase is made, and the general practice is to send away to a queen-breeder for the same. While in the majority of cases queens arrive in good condition, and apparently none the worse for their journey, yet some beemen have contended that the queen is hurt more or less from her journey and is not as good as before. Again, it costs a considerable sum to buy queens, especially if a large number are required, and, as they can be raised at home at a ridiculously low figure, the matter of expense has induced an ever increasing number of beekeepers to rear their own queens, as they are able to breed from only their best specimens, whose offspring have shown remarkable qualities of gentleness, and are great honey-gatherers. With the advent of a number of new systems of queen-rearing, which will be explained, one can easily see that this part of the profession is not so mysterious as some will suppose, and with a little experience the novice will soon be able to raise as good queens as the professional breeder, and not be compelled to pay from $1 to $3 apiece for them. If left to follow their own natural impulses, the bees would build only a limited number of cells at the swarming time, but by the use of a few simple and inexpensive appliances, the beekeeper is able to rear them in almost unlimited numbers and thus always have them at hand when needed.
It is a known fact that in the breeding of all kinds of stock, the quality can be greatly improved by selection and restriction in the specimens that are to reproduce their kind, and bees are no exception to the rule. By breeding queens only from best mothers, the beekeeper will be able in a short time to secure a strain of bees in his apiaries that will be marvels of gentleness, to say nothing of gathering record crops of honey.
A good many apiarists advocate the requeening of all colonies with young queens of the season's breeding, as this insures every colony beginning the next season with vigorous young queens able to produce a large amount of brood, and such colonies are not so liable to swarm as those with old queens at their head.
There are three natural conditions under which colonies will of themselves raise queens, such as : at the time of swarming, when made queenless, and when about to supersede an old queen that is worn out. When about to swarm, the bees will begin to build a number of queen cells, usually at the bottoms of the combs, and in many instances the queen will deposit eggs in them for this purpose. While these cells are of the very best, yet the fact that they have to be cut out of the combs in order to isolate them in cages, has led to the adoption of little wooden cups in which eggs are grafted by the beekeeper, by which means they can the more easily be handled without the danger of injuring their occupants, as will be described later.
When a queen begins to show signs of failing through old age or injury, the colony will at once begin to build cells, and when the young queen begins to lay, the bees will usually kill the old one. If a colony has its queen taken from them, or should she be killed through the careless handling of the frames by the beekeeper, the colony will also build cells in order to replace her, and under the conditions outlined above will build from five to fifteen cells, though in the case of Carniolans and Cyprians colonies will often build as many as fifty cells at a time. While the cells reared by the bees under normal conditions are the very best, yet their production is uncertain, and does not always occur when the beekeeper needs them, and this has led to the almost universal adoption of artificial methods. As far as is known, such queens are equal to those reared at the pleasure of the colony.
Nursery case for queens and virgins. Perhaps the best system in vogue is the Swarthmore System, originated by the late E. R. Pratt of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and, with the few inexpensive appliances purchasable at almost any supply house, one can raise as many queens as are needed. This system requires a number of little wooden cell cups which are filled with melted beeswax, and with a small hand press made for the purpose, the rudimentary of the queen cell is made.
Into each one of these little cell cups a larva must be placed, and a small piece of wire is made for this purpose. While a colony will accept these little cells, and supply the larvae with the necessary food, yet it is best to make a colony queenless several days before the larvae are grafted, and from the natural cells a small quantity of the royal jelly can be placed in each wooden cup with the grafted larvae, as the bees more readily start on such cells than on those that are not so supplied.
The larva is taken from the worker cells of the colony from whose queen you desire to rear queens, and must be not more than about three days old, as such larvae alone can be depended upon for good queens. If you secure a larva that is only a day old, so much the better, and in lifting it from the worker cell in the comb to the artificial cup, use great care not to bruise it, as it is very tender. The age of the larva can be easily determined by its size, and the smaller it is the better. Before you are ready to graft cells, make your swarm box ready ; the Swarthmore swarm box is a box that has the bottom side covered with wire gauze and holds just five frames of comb. About ten o'clock in the morning, go to some strong colony, and, having previously placed in the box three combs filled with honey and pollen, but no brood, lift the lid from the box and shake into it the bees from three or four frames taken from the strong colony, put the lid on securely, and stop the entrance with a large cork or piece of wood. Remove the box, bees and all, to the house, and place it in a dark, quiet place, moderately warm, and wait until about four o'clock in the afternoon before you begin tc graft the larvae.
During this time the imprisoned bees will discover that they are hopelessly queenless, as there is no brood present from which they can raise one, and it is this condition that induces them to accept the queen cups you give them and work on them at once.
The top of the swarm box is so cut out that a couple of cell bars are fitted to it, and in each of these bars are sixteen little waxed cups which close the holes, and in which you will place the transferred larvae, about four o'clock. At four o'clock, go to some colony whose queen is a choice one and lift out a frame that has a lot of larvae not over three days old, shake off all the bees, and carry it to the house. See that the room in which you are to do the grafting is heated to at least eighty degrees so as not to chill the larvae when grafted. Lift out one of the cell cups and place a dummy cell cup in the hole it occupied in the cell bar, Cutting open a cell taken from the colony that was made queenless to rear them, transfer a little royal jelly to the base of the artificial cell, stir it a trifle with the little metal spoon, and then with the wire grafting needle, gently lift a tiny grub or larva from the frame of the brood at hand, place it in the bottom of the cup right in the midst of the royal jelly, and put it in the hole occupied by the dummy cup. Proceed in like manner with the other cups, and when all have been attended to, the frame of the brood can be returned to the colony from which it was taken.
Now cover the swarm box with a blanket for warmth, and leave it in a warm room until the following morning, and when, on the morrow, you lift out a cup to examine it, you will be surprised to find that the imprisoned bees will have accepted the majority of larvae given them and will have fed them liberal allowances of royal jelly, and will have buili down the cell to nearly an inch in length.
As soon as the little cells have been started, they should be given to some strong colony to complete. Formerly, the custom was to make a colony queenless before grafting cells, and to give the started cells to that colony to complete, but since we now have the little incubating cages, and perforated zinc queenexcluders, we are able to give the started cells to a queenright colony for completion, as the zinc allows the workers free access to the cells, and at the same time excludes the queen from destroying them. If your colonies are occupying but one body for the brood nest, it will be necessary to use a holding frame fitted with an incubating cage in its top; this frame can be placed in the centre of any strong colony having a queen, the cell bar holding sixteen of the started cells can be slipped into the top of the cage, and the frame put in place in a strong colony. In about ten days the cells will be all sealed over and ready to be transferred to individual cages in which each virgin will hatch by herself and be safe from being destroyed, as would be the case if they were ah permitted to hatch in one compartment. If the colony to which the cells have been given for completion is a strong one, and is occupying two brood bodies one above the other, it will be a very simple matter to place the queen down in the lower brood body, and between it and the upper story a queen-excluding zinc, which keeps her below; in this case as many as three bars of cells can be given to the upper story, each bar being put in the holding frame without the incubator cage.
When the cells are about twelve days old from the time the egg was laid, remove them, and put each one by itself in one of the little nursery cages. As many as forty-eight of these little cages can be secured firmly in an empty frame, and the frame given back to the strong colony to keep warm until the virgin queens shall hatch, which will be in sixteen days from the time the eggs were laid. There is a little compartment in each of the nursery cages in which should be placed a small quantity of candy made from mixing pulverized sugar with honey until it makes a stiff dough, so that the virgins will be provided with food when they emerge, in case the bees refuse to feed them through the wire netting, which they often do.
After the cells are completed, the only thing the bees do for the cell is to maintain the proper temperature of about ninety-eight degrees, and again and again I have hatched choice queens in an ordinary chicken incubator by keeping it at the required temperature. The cells taken care of by the bees, however, show a larger percentage of hatch, as the bees will gnaw the ends of the cells given to their care until they are as thin as paper, which is a great aid to the virgin in getting out. Going back to the time of taking the cells from the swarm box, after the cells are removed, the imprisoned bees can be shaken at the entrance of the hive from which they were taken, and they are glad indeed to join their fellows. By the Doolittle Method, the breeder has to make his own cells by dipping a wooden rake tooth in melted wax, and sticking it to a bar of wood with more or less danger of its becoming detached, and it is difficult to handle such cells individually.
The Swarthmore System is superior to either the Alley or the Doolittle System, as they compel the queen-rearer to permit the bees to start the cells on a strip of brood comb under the Alley Method, and the objection to this is that there is more or less risk in injuring the queens when cutting the cells from the combs, to say nothing of the nuisance of having each cell all ragged at its top in handling. The Swarthmore plan has every advantage, as each cell is fastened in a little wooden cup, and can even be handled roughly without fear of injury, and as for cell-starting, it is more convenient than any other system. Now that your virgins have been hatched, the next thing is to mate them, and the small mating-box does this effectually, and does away with the old method of having to use a full colony for each queen mated. Virgins may be given to a queenless colony and allowed to mate from them, but great care will have to be exercised in introducing them, as a colony will not accept them as readily as a queen that has mated and begun to lay. Then again if the beekeeper is rearing queens with which to supply the trade, the demand is for mated and laying queens, and it becomes a necessity to have them mated before being sold.
The best mating-box is the Root twin mating-box, which is so divided in the centre that each compartment contains two small combs that have been built in a strong colony; and as there are two small entrances to the box, each little nucleus of bees has the spirit of a colony.
When the virgins have hatched, take the small mating-boxes to a strong colony, and into each compartment of the mating-box brush about a teacupful of bees, being careful not to secure the queen; securely close the entrance of each compartment and remove the imprisoned bees to a shady place. About four in the afternoon run a virgin in at the entrance to each compartment, and if the bees were shaken in about ten o'clock in the morning, fully realizing their queenlessness, they will gladly accept her. Toward night, the entrance can be opened, and in the morning you will find that the miniature colony will have the spirit of a full colony, with their sentinels posted at the tiny entrance. In a few days the virgin will fly from this box and mate, and when you find that she has begun to lay, she can be used or sold as an untested queen. An untested queen is one that has mated and begun to lay, and can be sold as a tested queen only after she has been kept laying long enough for some of her eggs to have hatched ; and if the young bees prove by their markings that their mother has been purely mated, then she can be said to be a tested queen.
These little nuclei need encouraging, and it will be necessary to feed them a smali quantity of syrup every other day in the little feeders that are a part of the hive. The syrup should be made of equal parts of hot water and granulated sugar.
Many queen-rearers, when they put a virgin into the mating-boxes, also put another A queen's egg under the microscope. in on its floor, imprisoned in its nursery cage so that it soon acquires the odor of the little nucleus. When the first virgin has mated and is removed, the caged virgin can be liberated at once, for the bees will accept her, as she jba the proper odor. This procedure can be carried on all through the season, a caged virgin being placed in each compartment as soon as a mated queen is sold and anotl er virgin liberated.
At the close of the season these little swarms can be brushed into some weak colony that has been well smoked, or several of them can be united and given to a queenless colony and a queen provided, and the little boxes set away for use the following year. Just a word of caution : Don't begin queen rearing too early in the season, or else you will fail. Wait until fruit bloom, when the wreather is warm and the bees are flying nicely, and if you should need queens for your own use before it is time to rear them, remember that the better plan is to secure them by mail from some southern breeder whose warmer climate enables him to start breeding before it is possible in the North.
The next thing is to introduce a queen to a colony that needs one, and whether the queen to be introduced is one of your own raising or has come by mail from a distant breeder, the method is the same. The queen to be introduced is enclosed in a small introducing or mailing cage, and one end of the cage is filled with the honey dough previously described. Open the hive to which she is to be introduced, and after tearing away the little piece of wire or paper that covers the hole to the compartment where the dough is stored, pry apart a couple of frames in the centre of the queenless colony and slip the cage with the queen in it down between them with the candy side down, and leave the colony undisturbed for three or four days.
During this time the queen will be acquiring the odor of the colony, and the wall of candy will prevent the bees from getting at her to kill her, which they would do if they could the first day or so, but by the time the bees have eaten their way through to her and made a passage for her to get out, she will usually have become so impregnated with the odor of the colony that they will accept her. In rare cases, however, they will destroy her, and sometimes even if they do not do this, they are sullen about accepting her, and will upon your opening the hive "ball her," in which case you will find a large ball of angry bees, trying to kill her; but this can be broken up at once by filling the smoker with tobacco and sending clouds of tobacco smoke through the hive and at the cluster, and this seems to have the effect of making them all smell alike, thus averting all further trouble.
Every colony has its distinctive odor, and it is by this the bees recognize each other, as well as their queen, and the reason we cannot liberate a strange queen at once is that she has an odor from the hive or mating box from which she was taken; for this reason we are compelled to let her hang in the colony to which she is introduced for a few days until she has the odor of her new home. It may seem strange, but you can take a laying queen from her bees and hold her in your hand for a few minutes, and, when you will put her back in her regular hive the bees will ball her at once, thinking she is a strange queen simply because of her contact with your hand, and the odor she derives from it.
Whether you keep few colonies or many, make it a point to raise some queens if only for the fun of the thing, for it is intensely interesting work; and should you need a large number of queens as your colonies increase, it will prove a considerable saving to raise them yourself.
Those of us who keep a large number of colonies know that every year or so we find that we have a queen of rare worth, whose offspring are beautifully marked, remarkably gentle, and as honey-gatherers are hustlers, and it pays to breed from this queen, and in time make all the bees of this strain.