A new queen rearing group will need someone to lead and coordinate the members and plan group activities. This person does not have to be the most experienced beekeeper in the group but should be a person with good communication skills who is familiar with email and group mailing. The coordinator will need to set up a new e-mail account in the name of the group to use for mailing the participants. There are many free options. Google-mail is very good and has all the features you would need. Don’t try and organise a group by telephone as it takes far too much time once the group has increased in numbers.
In an ideal world you will find a project site which is independent of the association apiary as some association members will want to keep unsuitable colonies on a site which should be exclusively dedicated to a bee breeding project. Some beekeepers with very aggressive colonies prefer to keep them at the BKA apiary rather than the home garden for obvious reasons! Try and find a site far away from other beekeepers or a site where the beekeepers in the area work with Apis mellifera mellifera.
Dealing with obstacles / vested interests
It is best to try and encourage all your local beekeepers to get involved with the queen rearing group. Get them on board with regard to requeening poor colonies as soon as is feasible. Don’t forget that anyone outside of the group can keep colonies which produce the wrong sort of drones for your queen rearing project. A confrontational approach is likely to be counter-productive. Don’ t make unnecessary barriers to group entry.
Most associations have someone who de facto is the provider of nucs to new beekeepers. These nucs may be of questionable quality made up of any old queen cell which becomes available, as opposed to using queens selected from the best stock available. You may find resistance to the group from those who see it as a threat to their nuc sales. In fact, you could encourage this person to work with the group as he can then access better quality queens to head up his nucs.
Curiously, some beekeepers believe that grafted queens are inferior, or that queens mated from Apideas are inferior. There may also be negative comments about the native bee but the quality of queens and nucs produced by a queen rearing group should speak for itself.
In an ideal world the queen rearing group would position itself to provide nucs headed by quality queens to the new beekeepers coming through and this should be of great benefit to them as currently many start out with poor stock.
Running costs and equipment
In the Belfast Minnowburn group we charge £20 to group members at the start of the summer. This provides a kitty for the purchase of all the queen rearing bits and pieces.
Queen rearing can be time consuming but it does not have very costly overheads. Group members should buy their own Apideas or mini-nucs.
The main equipment needed is:
Cell bar frames
cell cups, inserts, holders and roller cages
snips for queen wing clipping
disposable nitrile gloves
Make sure to start with a pure race Apis mellifera mellifera queen.
If you don’t have a good quality native queen, consider buying one from one of the established breeders in Ireland such as the Galtee Group, Keith Pierce, John Summerville, Pat Deasy etc. A locally sourced native queen will cost you around 30-40 Euro but you can graft dozens of daughters from her so the investment will pay for itself many times over. Mail order queens from further afield typically cost almost double this amount and are unlikely to be Amm. NIHBS will be able to recommend reputable local breeders. In the North there are bee breeding groups in Dromore, Killinchy, Armagh, Fermanagh and Belfast working with native stock and new groups are starting up in 2015.
The daughters of a pure race native queen will produce 100% Amm drones irrespective of the drones they mate with, so it is a good idea to requeen any dubious colonies with these as soon as possible. If you do this, graft from one or more unrelated queens the following season to avoid possible inbreeding problems. Keep careful records.
There are excellent queens available from various NIHBS members so do not compromise on this issue. It takes many years to select and develop good stock and you can benefit from the selective breeding work which has gone before. It is highly unlikely that you will have stock which is superior to that which has been developed over many years as part of an organised breeding programme.
Drone producing colonies
There will need to be strict control of the colonies located on the project site as any drones produced will be mating with the virgin queens. Some well intentioned beekeepers will offer colonies to the project which are not suitable due to being hybrid/mongrel. Colonies like this would need to be re-queened first before being moved to the mating site. Bear in mind that many beekeepers have little or no understanding of bee breeding or bee genetics.
Cell raiser colonies
There are various possibilities.
• queenright system as described by Wilkinson and Brown. A variant of this is known as the ‘Ben Harden System’ in Ireland.
• A colony which is making swarm preparations makes an excellent cell raiser, after the queen and existing queen cells have been removed. In this case you know the bees are already geared up to make queen cells
• Remove a queen from any strong colony. Six days later remove all the queen cells they have made and introduce a frame of grafted larvae.
You can safely ignore a lot of what you read about preparing and working with Apideas. They are much simpler to use than many would have you believe. They do not have to be filled 3 days in advance and left in a dark place for example. You can fill them and insert a ripe cell a couple of hours later without problems. You don’t need to use a cell protector either as it is rare for a cell to get pulled down. When you remove a mated queen from an Apidea you can put a ripe cell in immediately. Check a couple of days later to ensure the virgin has emerged and destroy any additional cells which may have been started from larvae in the Apidea.
When a cell is inserted, check that the virgin has emerged 48 hours later. If she has not emerged, replace the cell. Check for eggs 10 days after queen emergence and thereafter at weekly intervals. After 4 weeks from emergence the queen is unlikely to mate and should be replaced if not laying. Keep a record sheet under the lid of each apidea or use a notebook.
If you want to introduce an emerged virgin queen rather than a cell, spray the queen first with water to stop her taking flight and tip her into the apidea. Quickly add a scoop of wet bees on top and leave closed for 48 hours before allowing the bees to fly freely.
Support and networking
The NIHBS reps can provide some support and guidance about issues to do with setting up a queen rearing group.
Grafting works on a 12 day cycle with the queen cells inserted into Apideas on day ten or day 11, ie shortly before the emergence of the virgin queen.
If an incubator is used virgin queens can be introduced to Apideas just after emergence, usually day 12.
Bear this in mind when you graft larvae as you will want the cells to be available when the beekeepers are around to take them.
The Belfast group meets every Monday evening from mid May. If you want ten or eleven day old cells available on a Monday, you have to graft them on a Thursday or a Friday.
Coordinating the availability of filled Apideas with the availability of queen cells is a key part of the group organization.
Psychology of the group
Make sure the participants get fair reward for their contribution. Resentment can kick in when people work hard for little or no reward. Don’t give queens away. It suggests they have no real value.
Some people who join the group will do so with a view to getting free queens or queen cells and will have little interest in working collectively. These people need to be quite actively managed if they are going to stay in the group as they can cause resentment among those who work for the team. Apideas need to be checked on a regular basis and each group member should take charge of his own. Some will drop off apideas and expect others to look after them. They will then claim that the group is not working if they fail to get a few mated queens several weeks later! Also, you will find that the group attracts many enquiries from beekeepers who expect to be given free queens simply because they know you have some. These are usually described as ‘spare’ queens or ‘spare’ nucs. These people need to be discouraged unless they are prepared to turn up weekly and do some work for the group!
Check the bee breeding references and papers on the NIHBS website. These are regularly updated
Bee Equipped – good price on Apideas, £19.50 each.
Paynes Bee farm. Wait for the January sales and the polynuc will be on offer for around £24 as opposed to over £30.
Swienty (Denmark) will work out cheaper for bulk purchases of cases of 18 Apideas.
Local Irish suppliers include Thomas Ellis at Donegall Bees, Paul Sullivan, Ben Harden and Mary Hyland at Mill Lane Beekeeping.
There are many videos on Youtube if you search on terms such as ‘grafting’ ‘queen rearing’ or ‘apideas’
Michael Palmer a US beekeeper has some good videos and presentations.
Online discussion Forums
Scottish SBAI forum.
This is the best online forum for discussions on Apidea management, native bees and bee breeding.
The Irish Beekeeping Facebook group also has lively discussions.
J Getty February 2015