Queen rearing miscellany

Synopsis : Queen cell selection by the beekeeper or the bees – which is more reliable? Nectar collection  and comb building by requeening colonies. Three miscellaneous queen rearing topics this week.

Introduction

May to July are the busiest months of the beekeeping season for queen rearing 1. We’re fast approaching the halfway point so I thought I’d write about some related topics, rather than rehash previously covered areas, or pen a magnum opus on just one subject.

This forces me to be a bit less expansive. It means you can skip over less intervening text in the (vain?) hope of finding something of interest … 😉

Marked queen surrounded by a retinue of workers.

Here’s one I made earlier …

It also means I should deal with things in less detail.

Alas – I’m writing this introduction after completing the majority of the post – I’ve failed and wrote a lot more than originally intended on the first topic so the miscellany will spill over to next week as well 🙁 .

A loyal listener reader asks …

Fans of Tim Harford’s incomparable More or Less will be familiar with the concept of loyal listeners 2. Since this isn’t a podcast 3 listeners is clearly inappropriate.

Unfortunately, I’ve singularly failed to come up with a synonym for loyal starting with an ‘R’, so losing the all-important alliteration with ‘readers’.

Never mind … let’s get back on topic.

One of the pleasures of writing regularly – other than forever playing catch-up with my bloated email inbox 4 – is corresponding with beekeepers around the country 5. Sometimes this is in the comments section, but it also involves a considerable volume of email … including many questions or requests for help.

As I’ve previously mentioned, sometimes these exchanges are short and sweet.

Q. What’s the recipe for thin syrup?

A. D’oh! 6

In these instances that might be the only correspondence 7 but in other cases there’s a bit of to and fro.

Regular readers 8 will recognise some names repeatedly appearing in the comment sections. Many of the questions asked are interesting and some are challenging 9, forcing me to do some thinking and/or reading.

A few allow me to expand further on a topic that I’ve covered, explaining something I either ‘meant to, but ran out of space/time/caffeine’ … or ‘completely forgot’.

And Maccon Keane, a regular reader 😉 from the West of Ireland asked just such a question in the comments to the post last week about beekeeper vs. worker selection of queen cells.

Does beekeeper selection of emergency cells reduce quality?

Here’s the question in full:

Thank you for a really interesting post. My question is this. Using the nucleus method of swarm control by queen removal and induction of the emergency response the beekeeper has to select a queen cell to head the original colony. From these data there is a one in 20 chance (5%) that the chosen cell will not emerge. This is a problem but low risk. However there is a one in two (50%) chance that the beekeeper will select a cell that the bees would have torn down and therefore actively select a lesser quality queen. For an individual colony this may not be particularly significant but over a few generations this negative selective pressure (50%) against the best quality Queens will rapidly lead to a deterioration in stock compared to that which would have happened had the queen been chosen by the bees themselves. Can you think of any way to avoid introducing this systematic negative selection pressure to ensure we let the bees choose the queen because as you title the piece ‘the bees know best’?

This is something I’d thought about, but I’d run out of space to discuss it.

Let’s agree from the outset that the 5% non-emergence rate is an acceptable failure rate. It will be compounded by a small percentage of queens that fail to mate 10.

The beekeeper can’t do very much about either of these.

But what about the beekeeper having a 50:50 chance of selecting a queen cell that the bees would have torn down?

Will this lead to a deterioration of the quality of the bees over time?

It’s an interesting question.

Why do the workers cull about 50% of developing queens?

If you remember, 50% of emergency cells were torn down and these generally contained lighter and smaller queens.

I suggested, or hinted strongly, at three reasons why the bees might favour large queens 11 :

  • higher fecundity i.e. laying more eggs and/or laying over a longer period
  • increased polyandry (and hence colony fitness)
  • more likely to survive fights with ‘sister’ queens during polygyny reduction

Fecundity

The researchers addressed this by counting the ovarioles and the volume of the spermatheca. There were no differences between the chosen queens or those that would have been culled. This suggests, though it’s not definitive, that all should have been equally fecund (assuming similar numbers of matings etc.).

You could probably measure this (with sufficient energy, time and money) but it’s not a trivial thing to determine 12. I think the similarity in the number of ovarioles and the capacity of the spermatheca is compelling enough 13.

My assumption is that all, or at least the majority, of queens would be sufficiently fecund to successfully head a colony.

There’s a recent paper on genetic and phenotypic variability of queens that might be useful here, but I’ve not had time to read it properly. If and when I do – if relevant – I’ll update things.

Increased polyandry

I suggested that larger, heavier, queens might fly more strongly, and so spend longer in drone congregation areas or visit more DCAs … and thereby mate with more drones. David Tarpy hints at this in one of the papers cited last week (quoting unpublished results.).

However, I don’t think the work was ever published in a peer reviewed paper as I’ve been unable to find it.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong 14. Again, it would be a time consuming thing to determine. Queen mating numbers are quite variable so there would have to be a very large number of repeats to get statistically compelling results, but it is doable given sufficient time, money and energy.

Of course, larger/heavier queens might fly less strongly. This hasn’t been tested.

Polygyny reduction

I think this trait is essentially irrelevant in the context of our beekeeping.

By definition we cull all but one developing queen, so the one that is selected should never have to fight another queen. However workers may select for this – perhaps to avoid the risk of two queens fighting and both being damaged/killed – but if they do we can safely ignore it.

Are these ‘lower quality’ queens quantifiably worse for beekeeping?

So, of the three potential differences suggested I’d argue we can rule the last out as being irrelevant (for managed colonies), and we can perhaps safely assume that fecundity will be sufficient (assuming the queen mates with enough drones).

Increased polyandry remains an open question.

So, one possibility is that any queen cell should result in a queen that will be good enough, assuming the queen emerges and mates successfully.

A second possibility is that any differences between the ‘high’ and ‘low’ quality queens – selected from a single colony – are so minor that they have little or no material effect on our beekeeping.

Similar, but not quite the same thing.

It’s worth noting that the only size characteristics (measured) that differed were weight and either thorax length or width. Other dimensions e.g. wing length, were similar.

Is there other evidence to suggest that differences are likely to be minor (with regard to beekeeping)?

Capped queen cells

Capped queen cells produced using the Ben Harden queenright queen rearing system

In support of this I’d suggest that grafting day-old larvae would not be so universally (successfully) practised if it routinely generated sub-standard queens.

It doesn’t.

When you graft you’re making the selection after less than 24 hours of larval development. The majority of larvae that develop fully, emerge and mate, make perfectly acceptable queens.

But, from a beekeeping perspective, good quality queens are often defined using alternative criteria.

In fact my definition of a good quality queen might well be different from one that the bees would ‘choose’ … or, for that matter, that Maccon would favour.

Selection of good quality stock

And this is where I think selection does have a big influence.

The traits I favour in my bees – steady on the comb, good temper, no following, frugality etc.vary between my colonies.

I score these traits and preferentially rear queens from the colonies that I consider are my ’best’.

I do this by thirds:

  • My ‘worst’ third are always requeened – as soon as is practical – with queens from larvae from my ‘best’ third.
  • I similarly requeen my ‘middle’ third with similarly-sourced queens if I have enough spare, but am happy to requeen the ‘middle’ third from the ‘middle’ third (so to speak).
  • The ‘worst’ third are never used for queen rearing (or allowed to rear queens from their own larvae). The ‘worst’ third are also discouraged from rearing drones.

If the ‘worst’ third need swarm control I allow them to rear emergency cells, knock them all back a week later – leaving them hopelessly queenless – and then add a frame of eggs/larvae from a better colony.

It’s a guaranteed way to easily improve the quality of your bees.

Which I think pretty much brings me to the end of my answer to Maccon’s question.

In summary … I suspect the difference between queens culled or not by the workers is either irrelevant for our beekeeping, so minor as to be unmeasurable, or swamped by other variables in the mating biology of honey bees (e.g. number of drones available, age of those drones and consequent sperm viability).

Over millennia many factors have resulted in the evolution of the worker selection of developing queens, but over a few ‘honey bee generations’ of managed beekeeping I think we can safely ignore them.

Furthermore, in my opinion, the importance of using a good quality colony as the source of larvae for queen rearing far outweighs the inherent variation in the queens reared from any one colony.

It’s a bit like computing … rubbish in, rubbish out.

Queenless colonies – honey and comb

To close this post on miscellaneous items about queen rearing I thought I’d end with an anecdote and an observation.

The former is supported by little more than my dodgy memory and the latter is backed up by some real science 🙂 .

Foraging efficiency and queenlessness

In Fife the spring honey supers are ready for recovery and extraction. I collected the first batch on Monday and have more to get in a couple of days.

The peak nectar flow seems to have been in the last fortnight of May. Much of it is oil seed rape.

Soon ...

Oil seed rape

Inevitably, some of the colonies have already had swarm control applied before the peak of the nectar flow. All of my swarm control this year has been using the nucleus method.

At the first sign of swarm preparation (queen cells, either sealed or charged) I make up a nuc with the old queen, destroy any sealed queen cells and leave one charged cell. I return a week later and knock back all but the one selected cell (which is now sealed). The queen subsequently emerges, mates and starts laying.

This means that several colonies have been queenless throughout the peak nectar flow.

All of these colonies have more and/or heavier supers 🙂 .

Full super ready for extraction

Full super ready for extraction …

The queenless colonies seem to have doubled-down on nectar collection and done particularly well this season.

I’ve noticed this before, but it’s really obvious this spring.

My increasingly foggy memory has a dim recollection of beekeepers in the ‘olden days’ removing queens during the nectar flow precisely because they were more productive. I can’t remember when or where I heard/read/imagined this.

Hold on, not so fast

Are they collecting more or just using less because there is no brood to feed? Remember, 8-9 days after applying swarm control, there will be no larvae to feed as all eggs will have developed into sealed brood.

I could do the maths 15 but there’s a bunch of assumptions to make about the amount of unsealed brood when the queen was removed etc.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that a queenless colony stores more nectar because the foragers forage more and because there are fewer hungry mouths to feed in the colony.

Perfect … I’ve got a plan for next season.

I’ll preemptively remove the queens 8-9 days before the main flow and buy 20,000 labels and 6 tons of jars in preparation for a bumper honey crop 16.

But, wait a minute … which are the colonies that usually first start swarm preparations?

That’s right … the strongest colonies.

These are the colonies already filling a double brood box, or overflowing a single brood box.

Perhaps they collect more nectar for the simple reason that there are more foragers?

That’s not the impression I have when I compare the performance of what appear to be equally strong colonies with or without queens. However, ’appear’ is a bit of a loose definition and to be sure I’d need to count frames of brood and the number of foragers.

But it’s an interesting thing to think about 17.

Drawing comb

Another thing I noticed is that queenless colonies provided with foundationless frames continued to draw fresh comb. Clearly they don’t need to have eggs or larvae to occupy the new comb to stimulate comb building.

But the vast majority of the comb drawn was drone comb.

Drone-worker-drone

Drone-worker-drone … this frame drawn in a queenright colony

Which, in a roundabout way, led me to this interesting paper:

Smith, M.L. (2018), Queenless honey bees build infrastructure for direct reproduction until their new queen proves her worth. Evolution, 72: 2810-2817.

Michael Smith dequeened colonies and investigated whether they built drone or worker comb. The colonies were provided with frames but no foundation (which would otherwise determine the type of comb drawn).

Comb building in queenless and queenright colonies.

His dequeened colonies built less comb than those with laying queens (A, above), but over 80% of the comb they did build was drone comb (D, above).

Furthermore, they built drone comb even if the colony already contained 25% drawn drone comb (an amount that usually inhibits further drone comb production in a queenright colony).

Finally, he demonstrated that drawing new drone comb only stopped when the colonies contained a new laying queen.

The terminal investment hypothesis

Why should a colony that was queenless or that contained a virgin queen (or for that matter a mated but not laying queen) produce drone comb?

The argument goes something like this.

A colony that is hopelessly queenless can only pass its genes to subsequent generations if it produces laying workers – which lay unfertilised eggs – which consequently develop into drones that mate with virgin queens from other colonies.

The terminal investment hypothesis predicts that the reproductive investment of an individual will change depending upon their reproductive prospects.

Essentially – until there is a laying queen present – the workers pessimistically invest in (i.e. build) drone comb as it offers the only chance of reproductive success should the queen fail to start laying.

Once the queen starts laying they start drawing worker comb again.

As Michael Smith neatly puts it ’When faced with reproductive uncertainty, honey bees may “hope” for the best, but they prepare for the worst’.

And what are the chances of ‘the worst’ happening?

’The worst’ being the failure to replace the queen.

Conveniently Michael Smith also measured the probabilities of successful completion of each of the stages in rearing a replacement queen.

Schematic of the process of rearing a replacement queen, with probabilities of each outcome.

In his studies 98% of queens emerged from the capped cell 18, 95% of virgins returned from mating flights and 95% of those returnees were successfully mated.

0.98 x 0.95 x 0.95 = 0.88 i.e. a queenless colony has an 88% chance of successfully requeening itself, assuming it has eggs/larvae suitable for rearing a new queen.

And the relevance of any of this to practical beekeeping?

  1. Have confidence during swarm control that the bees will predominantly rear good quality queens (so it doesn’t matter which you choose to keep), if …
  2. they are good quality bees. And if they’re not then provide them with eggs/larvae from a better colony. You can easily remove deleterious traits and promote good ones. And, if you’ve not got enough (or good enough) colonies to choose from either a) get more 😉 , or b) ’phone a friend’ and scrounge some suitable eggs/larvae.
  3. Monitor nectar collection by queenright and queenless colonies. Is it different? Many novice beekeepers fret when their colonies are queenless. Maybe at certain times there are benefits 🙂 .
  4. If you want worker comb, don’t provide queenless colonies with foundationless frames.
  5. You should assume ~90% of your virgin queens (0.95 x 0.95) will mate successfully and start laying. Always graft a few more larvae than you actually need.

 

Footnotes

  1. The most fun you can have in a beesuit™.
  2. And, if you’re not, a) perhaps you should be, and b) it’s an easy concept to grasp.
  3. Perhaps it should be? It takes substantially less time to say 3000 words than it does to write 3000 words.
  4. Er … not!
  5. And, increasingly, around the world.
  6. Why ask something that is so easy to look up … you’’ll get the answer faster.
  7. Actually, it almost always is. My emailed reply, however detailed, is rarely acknowledged.
  8. Hmmm … close but no cigar.
  9. Neither description you’ll agree applies to What is the recipe for thin syrup?
  10. Which I’ll return to at the end of this post.
  11. There may well be other reasons as well … and evolution is usually multi-factorial.
  12. I wouldn’t want to apply for the funding to do it.
  13. Particularly since the spermatheca are only filled about 50% during matings – see Tarpy D.R., Keller J.J., Caren J.R., Delaney D.A. Experimentally induced variation in the physical reproductive potential and mating success in honey bee queens. Insectes Sociaux. 2011;58:569–574.
  14. I’ve got a career’s-worth of scientific results that may never be published because they are incomplete, not because they’re wrong (obviously!).
  15. Or I like to think I could … but it’s late and I’m tired.
  16. Which assumes I’ll know when the flow is going to start.
  17. And to understand this more I’m trying to track down Jaycox, E.R. (1970) Honey bee foraging behavior: responses to queens, larvae, and extracts of larvae. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 63: 1689-1694 which I found referenced in an interesting post on Foraging Behaviour by Clarence Collison.
  18. Compared with 95% in the Tarpy studies cited last week.

25 thoughts on “Queen rearing miscellany

  1. Janet Wilson

    Most interesting David! Walt Wright in the USA advocated dequeening prior to a big nectar flow to maximize honey yields, allowing colonies to raise a new queen at the same time. And I was taught to remove all queen cells created in the 2-3 days post queen removal to ensure better queen quality. Now I just go in when all the cells are near to or capped and keep the two biggest, best and most corrugated (degree of corrugation of the cell being associated with high queen quality). One advantage of this approach and heavy feeding during the 4 days the queen cells are open and being fed, is bigger queens. They may not lay more or longer but they are much easier to spot in the colony.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Janet

      Many thanks for the Walt Wright reference. For UK readers, Walt Wright was a Tennessee beekeeper and the ‘inventor’ of checkerboarding. This isn’t something I’ve written about, but perhaps should.

      The post last week indicated that the bees preferentially rear emergency queens from 3 day old eggs, not larvae. Assuming your queens are laying when removed, the removal of the first flush of new QC’s might mean it is only the oldest (and now the only remaining) eggs that are chosen.

      I also like nicely – or heavily – sculpted cells, which I usually associate with ample attention from workers. Although I’ve not written about it above or last week, it’s known that queens produced from the youngest larvae – or, even better if I remember – the oldest eggs have the highest ovariole number, and so should be able to lay more eggs for longer. I’ve got some half-written notes on this for a future article.

      I only leave one cell. If, for a specific reason, I leave two (like I did today when doing some swarm control) at least a day or two apart in age. I want to avoid two virgins emerging simultaneously.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Matt Lambon Ralph

    Thanks for another great weekly posting.

    The person I have heard talk about the removal of the queen during a nectar flow in the ‘olden days is Roger Patterson – during several of his BIBBA talks last year, for example. He often says this in the context of advising adding an extra super or two if a queen is removed (e.g., swarm control) or lost during a nectar flow.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Matt

      Oh dear, I’m not sure Roger would like to have his name so closely associated with the ‘olden days’ 😉 . However, thank you for another possible source of where I may have heard about this before, though you’ll also see Janet (elsewhere in these comments) suggesting Walt Wright also favoured, and promoted, dequeening before a strong nectar flow. I suspect, like so many things in beekeeping, that it probably independently arose from good observation (or bitter experience) multiple times.

      The next problem is to be able to accurately predict the peak nectar flow 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Greg

      Not one I’d considered, thank you. Worth also remembering that – although now obsolete – other meanings of resolute include morally lax, weak and feeble.

      I’d prefer not to lose too many regular readers 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Mick

      That’s what a long and distinguished academic career does to you 😉 . I’ve forgotten some of my smaller papers … though not as fast as the readers forgot them.

      You probably also forgot doing the research and authoring the epic Honey bee sting pain index by body location, published in 2014 and freely available. I wrote a post about this a few years ago. It’s a selfless and masochistic piece of science and, quite rightly, resulted in Michael Smith you receiving the Ig Nobel Prize for Physiology and Entomology in 2015 (together with Justin Schmidt, the inventor of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index).

      I hope you’re well 🙂
      With Best Wishes
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Jonathan

      Know your readers is sound advice for authors. I do know some of them. I therefore dismissed the word reliable quite early on in my deliberations 😉

      That was, of course, a joke.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Ivan Marples

    “In these instances that might be the only correspondence 7… Actually, it almost always is. My reply, however detailed, is rarely acknowledged”

    Would you prefer an acknowledgement? I err towards not wanting to clutter your pages, but I have wanted to follow up your response

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Ivan

      I’m really referring to email correspondence in that quote … it’s perhaps not entirely clear from the sentence that follows (which I’ll edit for clarity). I sometimes get very terse emailed questions – some even with a request to ‘please answer today as I am going to the apiary’. Although I cannot always answer on time (sometime I’m in the apiary 😉 ) I do try and answer all my emails. Particularly if the answer is detailed I think it’s courteous to send an acknowledgement of some sort.

      No one benefits from direct emails other than those corresponding – and usually it’s only the person asking the question. Hence the courtesy of an acknowledgement. In contrast, comments after posts benefit all the readers of the post – especially if they’re about the post! In that instance, follow-up thanks are not really necessary and might just clutter the page.

      Perhaps I should write a post about what happens ‘behind the scenes’? In it I should include something on ‘how to use the search facility’ because many questions are inevitably – considering the 450+ posts – already addressed somewhere.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Marina Steel

    Another fascinating and informative posting David.
    Last year’s season was particularly difficult on the south coast with queen issues (admittedly one of my own making 🙄) and poor honey production.
    However, two hives that were queenless for a good part of the summer, were the most productive and one hive this spring that started early swarm preparations and needed intervention (nuc method), produced a couple of supers of OSR while queenless…

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Marina

      I’m recovering more supers from some queenless colonies today. When I added the clearers yesterday they certainly felt encouragingly heavy. I’ll have to look up some science on why a queenless colony does this. If you think about it, it’s ‘investing’ resources (foragers and foraging time) in the future of the colony which – because it currently has no queen – has no future. It’s the exact opposite to the investment in drone comb building to accommodate laying workers wanting to ‘pass on’ genes via drones.

      Maybe they do it because it is ‘the exact opposite’ of producing drone comb … hedging their bets?

      Don’t talk to me about self-imposed queen issues … 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Frazer Munro

    totally unconnected but…..
    Hi David,
    knowing youve invested a lot of understanding in varroa treatment I thought id bring this to your attention….suggesting propolis can be used to treat for varroa! who’d have thought? Homer? doh!

    American-Eurasian Journal of Scientific Research 11 (5): 320-331, 2016ISSN 1818-6785© IDOSI Publications, 2016DOI: 10.5829/idosi.aejsr.2016.11.5.10418
    Corresponding Author:
    Shimelis Mengistu, Haramaya University, College of Veterinary Medicine,P.O.Box: 138 Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
    .
    320
    Major Honey Bee Health Problem with Particular Emphasis toAnti-Varroa Investigation of Propolis in Toke-Kutaye District, Ethiopia
    Shimelis Mengistu, Yared Kebede and Desalegn Begna

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Frazer

      I think a significant amount of development is going to need to take place before propolis can – if ever – be considered a practical and effective treatment for Varroa. They treated mites with a 5 – 20% propolis solution in 55% alcohol. They don’t show any of the control data and the graphs are very difficult to interpret as the axes are not labelled and the key is woeful. Propolis is a variable product – inevitably considering how the bees produce it – and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, they see different effects with propolis from different sources. I presume this means that there’s an active ingredient, present in differing amounts depending upon the source of the propolis.

      The study area was in Ethiopia and they report 80-92% of the colonies tested (n = 70) had Varroa. Mite infestation in much of Africa is relatively poorly documented, but my contacts who have worked there say it is very widespread. What’s interesting is that some colonies (though possibly not those here) are migratory, with a natural brood break when the colony absconds during the wet/dry season (can’t off the top of my head remember which!). During this time they can migrate hundreds of kilometres. This will probably significantly reduce mite levels.

      It’s not a journal I would normally ever see (and, in honesty, I’d never heard of it before). If you were interested in something a little more mainstream you could look at this extensive (exhaustive?) review by Marla Spivak which (in Section 5.2) discusses miticidal activity of propolis.

      However, before you get your hopes up it’s worth noting the final sentence of the above section “found no differences in mite levels between large field colonies with a propolis envelope and those without an envelope over two years of study”.

      Like the magic mushrooms story from a couple of years ago … needs more work to be convincing 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Frazer

        Hi David,
        First, thanks for the extensive reply, and rubbing my nose into the fact that I was never anything other than a lowly (social science) undergraduate 🥴
        Queen cells in Ben Harden bottom box? Yup, found them (sealed) yesterday…thx. That’s a coffee for you…
        A quick Taranov manoeuvre… and problem solved!
        Propolis and varroa…
        Thx for the Marla Spivak link. I also looked at the German experiment which did yield positive results, it may be conjecture on my part, but I wonder if the ‘dirty’ foot printed combs actually have a tHin layer of resin on them?… yes, the propolis envelope is pretty inert, as far as mites are concerned, but a tincture? It’s interesting how thymol is used just to stop mould 😉and not to treat for mites…
        I guess I’m waffling now, but I believe there might be something in it yet…

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Frazer

          Nothing wrong with social sciences … it’s their understanding that helps explain why biologists, physicists and chemists (particularly the last two!) are so weird.

          I’ve not had a chance to read anything more on propolis. However, if you see the prices they charge for the ‘spray or dribble on’ hive treatments that are designed to give a boost to a colony (no names as I don’t want to offend any of the major sponsors of this site) then I’m sure there there would be profit in something that also contained ‘natural products from the hive’, or were ‘supplemented with propolis’.

          Two final thoughts …

          I did buy some propolis screens (not the fine mesh ones, but something much coarser to encourage them to deposit significant quantities of propolis) but used them in the hives when there was very little propolis deposited. Clearly, like nectar, there’s a resin flow that can be on or off.

          Tom Seeley’s Lives of Bees book has a section describing the propolis envelope within the hive and has a picture of a brood box with a specially roughened inner wall to encourage the deposit of propolis. If I remember correctly the inside of the brood box looked like it was lined with one of those plastic queen excluders. I don’t remember any reference to the mite load of colonies kept in these boxes, but it would be a relatively easy thing to look at.

          Cheers, thanks again for the coffee and good luck with the queen rearing,
          David

          Reply
  6. Vince poulin

    A timely discussion David. I was thumbing through a pile of 1960 bee club newsletters and ran across an article that talked about de-queening a hive for increased honey production. It involved placing the old queen in an upper brood box separated by a split board. With her went as many frames possible of young brood. Below the split board several supers and one or two brood boxes containing oldest bees and 1-2 frames having sufficient eggs for the bees to make a queen. All old bees from the queen move return to the original entrance where they continue to fill supers with honey. Reduced young brood reduces the need for the colony to provide food for nursing new bees. That goes into the supers. Being queen-less bees get busy making a new queen. I thought “brilliant” a version of your Vertical Split. A worthy experiment which I performed on two hives. I needed assurance the hives would not swarm due to a work trip that would have me away for possibly 3-weeks. Honey has beed slow this year. I thought nothing to lose. Success will be measured in the honey supers and if the hives have successfully mated new queens in the bottom boxes. Rather a fun manipulation. Replace an old queen with a new one while at the same time forcing the colony to think honey production. I’ll know in a few weeks if it works.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      The only issue I ever had with vertical splits and honey production was all the lifting that’s involved. However, if you’re feeling strong and the timing works for the queen and nectar flow then it’s a good way to keep things together and requeen a colony (or make increase). I’ve got a hive I’m likely to do a vertical split on this w/e, but if I can hold off for a week or two then the timing might work for the lime which always produces good honey.

      But they might swarm on Friday before I get to them 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Reto

    Ralph Büchler from the Bee institute Kirchhain, Germany, also noted more nectar in the colonies when the queen was caged or the brood was removed for varroa control. He gave some interesting talks at the National Honey Show some years ago.

    From my anecdotal observation it is the case that queen-less colonies bring in more nectar, not use less nectar. I had 1 1/2 brood boxes (of 2) filled with nectar this season (and the supers on top) on queen-less colonies. I vaguely remember a study that showed some pheromone induced change which turned nurse bees into foragers quicker than usual when less / no brood was present.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Reto

      Many thanks … I did a quick search for ‘Ralph Büchler and NHS and video‘ and there are a series available on YouTube. I’ve not had time to watch them (and probably won’t until the long winter evenings are back). I’m sure there will be a lot of other good stuff in them as well, so it will be interesting to watch them.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  8. ian Robinson

    Thanks for the recent articles on queen rearing – I am just catching up with the last two on a rainy evening. Possibly a slightly tangential question regaring your comment in this article about requeening your worst third colonies with queens raised from larvae in your best third. I wondered whether you try to maintian seperate queen lines in your apiaries when requeening (assuming they are above a minimum quality) and perhaps select larvae from a number of different queens for this requeening or do you just use larvae from the best colony and not worry too much about their origin. I can imagine that in areas with lots of beekeepers, inbreeding is unlikely to be a problem but I wondered whether it might becoming an issue in NW Scotland?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Ian

      It’s not something I’ve had a problem with, but that’s because I’ve not yet reared very many queens on the west coast. It’s only really my second full season with enough bees to do any queen rearing. However, it’s something I’m acutely aware of and that I will try hard to avoid. There are a variety of things I’ll try to maintain genetic diversity – from importing eggs/queens from friends outside the area, to shipping my virgins off to get mated elsewhere (I’ve already done this once).

      Once I’ve got a bit better understanding of the problems and solutions I’ll probably write something about it here.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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