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Queen Bonanza & Queen Sounding

We had a nasty bit of beekeeping weather the last couple of days in Richmond, Va, temps dropping to near freezing. It’s no sweat for the established hives, but it can be very tough on the little guys (aka Nucs) coming along. I had only created one Nuc over the weekend, primarily due to the VSBA Spring Conference. I stocked her with nurse bees, so I do not have much doubts. I am a firm believer (I should translate this – I do not have a ton of experience doing this, but it is my current beliefs based on my knowledge of bees and successes (and failures) last year) that March Nucs in Richmond, Va (especially early ones) actually need a bit more nurse bees and frames of brood then late March or April Nucs.

In March, it can get really cold (we’ve really only had a couple of days like that this year), so the bees need to be able to create some kind of cluster. Drop one frame of eggs and some resources into a Nuc and you reduce your chances of a good queen, in my opinion. Later, in April, I start most of my Nucs with only 3 frames from a hive and they do great. But, I’ve had some failures with 3 frames of Nucs in March (specifically in 2011). The other benefit of taking a bunch of bees from a strong, full grown hive, in March is that it acts like swarm prevention (in my opinion). It frees up the space in the hive without setting it back very much. Usually, they can recover in a couple of weeks (brood-wise). Based on my inspections today, it looks like it paid off.

Of my 3 February Nucs, 2 raised their own queen and I gave a queen cell from Nuc 2 to Nuc 1. I think the problem with Nuc 1 was that I didn’t confirm eggs – I only confirmed 1 Day old larva. That was a good lesson, as I didn’t know what one day old larva really looked like (now that I have used the Nicot system, I am certain what they look like.) I think that Nuc ended up with 2 and 3 day old larva and simply never tried to start a queen. But, they took care of that queen cell and I found her walking on the frames today. In two of the Nucs, I can already see a nice pattern (eggs and larva – nothing capped). I am not ‘sold’ on them yet, but all signs point to green at the moment. I’ll check again in a week and hope to find 3 solid Nucs, ready to go.

I finally went back to the ‘cut out’ that I did from the old hive a few weeks back. I had decided to put in SHB traps (hangers that you put oil in). I do not have a ton of faith in them, but I figured every bit could help. The hive appeared full of the things. To my surprise, I found very few SHB on the inspection. I do not see them in my other hives, but only time will tell. I did find where a new queen had hatched. I am not so sure that I killed the old queen, as they had capped cells when I moved them (which I squashed under my foot by accident, like an idiot!) I think they had swarmed the day before I picked them up. A few frames later, I found the little queen. She was amped up, like a typical young queen, and bouncing around the frame. The really cool thing about this was what happened next. As I moved to put the frame back in, she let out the queen bugle! She was issuing a challenge! Of the dozens and dozens of new queens that I have seen, I had never heard this call before. It was really cool. But, it also got me to wondering ‘who is she challenging?’ Three and Found frames later and I found out – 2 more capped queen cells! I both frames and put into one of my queen breeders. They will need another frame of brood/nurse bees, but I didn’t have time to go get one. I’ll probably do it tomorrow or Friday.

So, I have around 25 Nucs started and I haven’t even gotten going good yet! Good times. I am really wondering what I am going to find in my queen rearing system this weekend. I am going to have to construct some more queen mating boxes asap!

2 comments to Queen Bonanza & Queen Sounding

  • Are you making all of these nucs to expand your numbers or to sell? Do you think you’ll have enough drones to have all of the queens well-mated?

  • Nucs that have to raise their own queen fall into two categories:
    1. Parent hive queen is proven and solid – I sell these
    2. Parent hive queen is from a late season cut-out or swarm, which is unproven – I keep these for myself

    I am pretty confident that I will have enough Drones for her to be well mated. That question always centers around ‘time of year’, when it should really center around ‘what control over the drone population do you have’.

    For example, the best time to raise a queen, based on ‘drone numbers’ and available resources is May/June, in Richmond, Va. But, if all of your drones are from packages, how good of a mating is it really? I’d wager ‘not very good at all’.

    On the other hand, in my 4 mating yards, I control as many as 17 (and as few as 11) hives on all 4 compass points, between 2 and 4 miles away. When I see my drone yards with ‘walking drones’, I am raising Nucs in my mating yards for sure.

    Is there risk? Absolutely. But, I consider it minimal (but, this might be taken with a grain of salt – it’s not like I have been doing it for decades. Only a couple of years.) But, it has worked out exceptionally so far. I may sing a different tune in the future.

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