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Raise Your Own Queen Bees

    If you have kept bees for very long at all you probably experienced ordering packaged bees. I have ordered bees a few different times through my local bee supplier who orders from Georgia ( I live in Ohio). My first year I ordered Italians and was happy with the way they build up over the summer. I had split them a couple times since I was not concerned about surplus honey only building my apiary. Then fall came around I had 3 hives now to prepare for winter. In Ohio we have usually have pretty cold winters and can go weeks with snow on the ground. I fed and fed my hives until they reached the desired food stores for winter. I was anxious to see if they would survive till spring.

NOPE they all died! So I ordered again this time trying out Cornolians. From what I had read they were more adaptable to the cold winter climate. So I repeated the season making splits and building up for winter. But this year I had captured a couple feral colonies from my area and now had a total of 5 colonies to prepare for winter. Months of cold and snow went by with me periodically checking the entrances of the hives. Then finally spring came. Hur-ray! I was once again anxious to see how my girls did. Finally got a day in the high 50's and went to check. Out of all 5 colonies I had 3 survive. Two of the 3 was from the feral colonies I removed. So I started to ask myself why? Why are they dying?

What can these feral colonies be doing different then my packaged bees? Well, after chewing on this for a period of time and talking to other beekeepers I came up with.

1. Feral colonies are already adapted to my climate.
2. These feral colonies seem to have mites under control.
3. Feral colonies are surviving winters
4. That's just a few that come to mind now there are more.

In May 2011 I took "Business of Queen Rearing" a 2 day course.
This class changed the way I would get my queen bees forever. It taught me several ways to raise queen bees. I planned to use these new tools to raise queens from feral colonies. Maybe this is the secret to raise healthy bees.

Here are two of the ways you can raise your own queen bees.

Cell Punch Method (Video Link At Bottom)
This method is very simple you just need to acquire a couple
tools to accomplish this.
1. Small pen torch
2. Cell punch ( This can be made )
3. One empty frame
4. Cell cups
5. A frames with eggs and larva

Now lets get started. With this method you will want to find larva that's 1 day old. These will be the ones that have royal jelly and are starting to take a slight curve to it's shape. The queens starts laying in the center of the frame and works outwards so the youngest is on the outside of the frame. As the larva ages it curves into a "C" shape on the 3-4 day.

1 Day Larva
 Once you have found the area on your frame you will want to heat the cell punch tool with your pen torch. I have also held my lighter on punch to heat it but this can be a pain if there is any wind at all. Once the punch is hot relocate the area on the frame with one day larva placing it in the center of the punch then push it through, cutting out the larva and comb.

Now you have removed your larva from the frame leaving a hole in the comb. These holes will be filled with drone cells by the bees once you return it to the hive. This is not a bad thing you need drones to mate with other colonies. Right?

Remove the cell punch from the tool carefully. Already prepared I have wax cups I made placed inside JZ's-BZ's plastic cups. You could use just wax or just the plastic ones alone by their selves. If you use plastic they will need wax around the tips. The wax on the tips is heated and that's how the punch is attached. This acts as a glue and will hold the punch out in place once it's turned upside down.  You have now completed your first cell punch. If your punch is getting more than one cell at a time that's fine let the bee decide which larva they like. Be very gentle with the frame once you have your punches done.

**Now Available**A cell punch queen rearing kit in my Beekeepers Store 

*Cell Starters/Finishers* (Video Link At Bottom)
Place this frame in a cell starter (queen-less) colony for 24 hours. Cell starter should be setup the day before adding grafts or cell punches. This gives them a chance to realize they are queen-less. These bees are more out to raise queens since they are lacking one. These bees are trapped inside the box until you move the cells to the finisher colony. It's best to use a double deep nuc (only thing in the bottom box is a wet sponge) with a screened bottom. I have even screened the side of mine. You don't want to suffocate them.

Cell Starter
A cell starter should contain:
1.Young nursing bees shaken from a colony, lots of them.
2.A frame of honey and a frame of pollen
3. One-Two frames for cluster space
4. A sponge or towel soaked in water for them to drink from.
5. In a 5 frame nuc the 5th frame is the one with the cells.

I was a day late can you tell?
 After the 24 hours move the frame to your cell finishing colony. This is a double deep hive colony that is queen right and she has been put in the bottom box below a excluder. The top box is where the punches or grafts will go for the remaining time. The bees are not trapped in this hive. In 10 days return and remove your cells before they emerge. Always remember the first one out will kill any others so it's always good to get them before they emerge. (See video links at bottom)

Grafting Method
This method is a little more involved and good vision and lighting is a must.
1. A magnifying visor is recommended
2. Grafting tool (Many Styles available)
3. A frame from a healthy colony to graft from
4.Grafting frame
5.Cell cups ( Plastic or homemade)

  There are many grafting tools on the market today. I use the JZ's-BZ's  plastic grafting tool it seems to work really nice for me. I also have a couple others I made, one from a paper clip and an other looks like a dental pick I have flattened the end on. Pick a tool your comfortable with. You may need to experiment with a few to find just the right one.

Good lighting is a must while grafting. Some people graft right under the direct sunlight. This is fine if your careful to not dry out the brood. I like to use a magnified visor that has a light on it. I am able to adjust the angle of the light and see everything I need.

A day before I like to place my grafting frame with cell cups into the colony (You can stick them in the cell starter). The bees will polish up the cups and sometime place wax around the tops of the cups. This seems to make acceptance of the cells high later when they have larva in them. I noticed when this is not done the nursing bee don't seem to respond to as many once the grafting is done.

Now we have went over a few basics lets get started. Always make sure the colony you graft from has the traits you are looking for in a hive. Once this is done remove a frame with 1-2 day larva on it. Brush the bees from the frame lightly. Now it's important for the brood to not dry out or get chilled. If its hot outside use a cool damp cloth over the brood to keep it from drying out,  if it's cold a warm damp cloth will keep the larva warm momentarily  Okay, now we have are frame of brood and have found a place we are comfortable in.

Let's locate the larva we are after on the frame. These will be the ones that have not taken the "C" shape yet. Using your grafting tool scoop it up easily. One very important thing is to make sure you do NOT roll the larva over at anytime during the graft. The larva have breathing holes and only one side is open this being the one that is facing the top of the cell. The bottom is closed because it's laying in the royal jelly. So if you would roll it over it will suffocate and die. Keeping this in mind carefully scoop up the larva and place it in a cell cup just the way you picked it up. You can also cover the grafts with a damp cloth. Now you have done your first graft. Your part is almost done it's up to the bees now!

Always remember if you want 10 queen cells to raise 15-20. My first years at this I learned a lot. You may get 10 cells if you only do 10 grafts but not all of them will get mated or survive. Some of them may not even make it back home once they get mated. Some may be rejected by the colony so you just never know. Never count your chickens before they hatch trust me I learned the hard way.

After you have filled you frame with the desired number of grafts this frame should be placed in a cell starter colony and then the finisher colony. ( Read more about cell starters and finishers above)
Here is a Queen rearing calender
( Click to enlarge )

Video links:
Cell Starter
Cell Punch Method
Cell Finisher
Cell Punch Kit Offer

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