Note! This is just a guide and is providing a viewpoint your decisions are your own. These are my notes taken from a recent Bee Improvement course run by BIBBA. BIBBA is the acronym of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders' Association. The notes jump about a bit but followed the course.
The Origins of Bees
Bee Improvement Document
Why the native bee is best for the British climate:
Use 1 hive per 4 as a “support hive” for the others.
Put a brood box above a queen excluder on the support hive and do it early in the season. Use undrawn comb and the bees will draw this comb out. They will put honey in but this can be extracted or placed with the honey in into another hive to top up with food. Once they have used the food the drawn comb can be used for eggs. If you take the honey off then the wet super can be put into the brood chamber. This freshly drawn comb can be used to refresh old comb.
- Access what you have
- Select what you want
- Cull what you don’t want
- Propagate what you want
Common Queen Problems
- Queens Disappearing
- Young Queens are superseded
- Young Queens failing
There is lots of information on poor mating and laying here:
Queen Cells mean opportunities
Test a Queen Cell by touching the tip and see if it falls off. A young Queen Cell will be smooth and an older one will have more dimples. The more Queen Cells they produce the smarmier they are. If you just cut out the Queen Cells they will build more. If the Queen is removed emergency queen cells will be built. 10 Queen Cells is the dividing line.
Swarming Queen Cells
4 – 30 Queen Cells
Can be found anywhere on the comb
They will be started over 6 – 7 days so the age will vary
Can use Queen Cells from a good colony
Reject Queen Cells from a poor colony
Can Induce swarm cells
Bees build for us
Can be cut out (Always leave plenty of room around the cell)
Best bet for Queens
Supersedure Queen Cells
1 – 3 Queen Cells on the edge of the Brood nest
Causes for Supersedure could be Queen failing, Reduced Laying, and Irregular brood pattern or drone cells in and around the worker cells.
Number not position
Usually 1, often 2 occasionally 3
On edge of the brood nest
Not when you want them
Note! Warning, Colonies can swarm still on Supersedure cells
Emergency Queen Cells
On existing worker brood
Artificial methods are emergency Queen Cells
Difficult to cut out
On old frame
Advice on Managing the hive
Clip and mark all queens
Inspect All Brood Combs at every inspection for Queen Cells.
Don’t cut out a Queen Cell until you know the full situation in the hive
Try and Identify what type of Queen Cell it is
Keep spare Queens in a Nucleus Hive
Life Cycle of the Queen
Egg for 3 days, Sealed for 8/9 days and will emerge after 15/16 days although it can be up to 20 days.
Once the Queen has emerged from the cell it will be a further 5 days before she is sexually mature. She will then get mated which will depend on the weather and a further 3 days before she starts laying.
Bee Improvement Culling and propagating
Group your hives “mentally not physically” into “Team A” and “Team B”
“Team A” should be used to raise new queens and to pass them onto “Team B”. Whereas “Team B” Queens should be culled and replaced.
Access your colonies for what group they belong to looking for the following traits:
- Quietness on the comb – runners jumpiness increases inspection time
- Prolificacy of the bees
- Colour (Darker Better) http://www.bibba.com/best_bee.php
- Swarming Characteristics
- Brood Pattern
- Bees to Brood ratio
- Pollen diversity – Look at the colours of the pollen
The larvae that will develop into worker bees are first fed a brood food, also called worker jelly, which is produced by the hypopharyngeal gland in the head of a nurse bee. Nurse bees utilize pollen to produce brood food that is provisioned to the growing larvae in the colony. Diverse pollens are beneficial to better overall nutrition.
Colony Temper F2 Aggression
- Full Brood Chamber
- More Bees means more food
- More bees does not necessarily mean more honey
- Prolific bees are generally imported queens or early crosses
- You will need a larger hive with more room
- No food in the brood box – just above the Queen Excluder
- They like a Good Summer and will do well if the summer is good
- Yellow Colour Italian Bee
Non Prolific Bees
- Bees and Queens live longer
- Frugal with stores
- Winter well
- Food in the brood box all year round
- Suit the climate
- If it’s a poor summer they still do well
- Generally more local bee (not imported)
- Darker Colour – North European Bee
Some hives look like they are doing well but they might be just good robbers and they are robbing out other hives, usually in the evening. You can tell a robbing bee as it generally flies straight into a hive entrance whereas a foraging bee from the hive would land on the wall or landing pad and may do a dance before going in. Normally a hive that is being robbed is a weaker hive or is low in numbers and they are not able to fully defend themselves. Some robbing is carried out so secretly that it escapes notice. Most of the time, when robbing is going on, one can see bees from the opposing hives fight.
The Queen will mate with 8 – 10 drones and therefore the sperm for 8 – 10 different fathers will be present which means that the offspring will have up to 10 different fathers. Each father has different characteristic meaning that worker bees will have different advantages for different jobs.
Chalkbrood is caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis and it affects both sealed and unsealed brood.
At first, larvae are covered with a fluffy white fungal (mycelial) growth that looks like white mould on bread or very fine cotton wool. Larvae become swollen inside the cell. Later, the dead larvae dry out to become hard, white or grey/black chalk-like mummies.
This is a Fungus that thrives in damp conditions and is encouraged by poor nutrition and stress. A way to combat this is to keep the colony strong. Some say this can be caused by a failing Queen but it’s not that simple.
A change in brood-nest temperature can trigger chalkbrood disease. When nurse bee numbers become insufficient to cope with weather extremes, the brood may be left unattended. Usually the first larvae affected are those around the edges of the brood where the brood temperature may be higher or lower. Stress of any kind can cause the signs of the disease to become apparent.
Common causes of stress are:
- high and low temperatures
- wet or dry conditions
- poor nutrition
- failing queen
- poor hive management
- moving hives
Keeping Records are important
Simple Record Sheet
What makes a good Queen?
Colony Characteristics and Performance
Tip! To get a load of nurse bees for a nuke. Shake a load of bees into a hive roof. Wait 15 minutes until the flying bees have flow off. Then shake the nurse bees left from the Nuc into the mini hive.
What happens when the queen is removed?
- They know within one hour
- 8 – 24 hours later Emergency Queen Cells
- They only have 3 – 4 days to respond or the eggs will be too old
- Peek Queen Cell Number PQN of 10 – 12
Use of Queen Cells
Don’t cut out until they are 8/9 days old.
Reduce to one remaining Queen Cell
In Group B colony remove the queen, leave for 8 – 9 days, remove emergency queen cells and then insert a patch from the Group A colony’s.
From a Group A colony take the eggs
Take 5 cells * 5 cells full of eggs and Larvae – Cut out or use an apple corer. Use this as the patch.
You only need these eggs to develop into 1 Queen Cell. If there are more you can remove one.
Sealed Queen Cells maybe damaged
Smooth Queen Cells are younger than dimpled ones, bees add the dimples over the days.
If you are cutting out cells do it with plenty of comb around it so you do not damage the Queen Cell. If the cell is on the wood you will have trouble.
Use one with nice dimples
Mind the wires
Just in time before the queen emerges
The bees will not swarm unless there is a sealed Queen Cell
Find a gap in the comb or make a hole and push the queen cell in
What to do with Queen Cells?
In poor colony remove Queen Cell and leave 2 hours
Give them a ripe new Queen Cell
Protect the Queen Cell and remove emergency Queen Cells
If you surround the Queen cell the emerging queen can be caught and marked, then left to lay.
If there are Queen Cells in a hive from both groups A and B then remove the Queen Cell from the B colony and add one from the A colony. Mark the cell so you know where it is and from.
What other opportunities are there?
Uniting at end of season
Give Queen Cells away
Increase you numbers
Make a Nuc from B group and give a Queen from A
Artificial Queen Rearing
Cell Punch Method
The Miller Method is a queen-rearing process that requires no special equipment and is perfect for the backyard beekeeper who just wants to raise a few queens.
- First, take a deep frame with wax foundation and cut the bottom edge of the foundation into an upside down histogram shape.
- Place the frame with the “histogram shape” foundation in the centre of your queen colony (Group A).
- Let the bees draw it out into comb. Consider feeding the colony some syrup to get them making wax.
- After a week, check every few days. At some point, the queen will start laying eggs in this new comb.
- When the cells along the histogram shape edge have eggs, set up a queenless nuc that will build and raise the queen cells.
- The day after setting up the queenless nuc, insert the histogram frame of eggs into the centre.
- Overnight the bees will have become aware that they have no queen. They will be happy to receive a frame containing just what they need to raise some queens: eggs. If all goes well, the bees will build a number of queen cells along the edge.
- In a week’s time, have a look and see what the bees have made.
- Hopefully, the bees will have built several queen cells in different spots along the edge.
- In a few more days, come back and see how the queen cells are developing. Later, you can separate them by cutting them apart.
- Make up an additional queenless nuc for each queen cell.
- A few days before the queens are due to emerge, go back and remove the frame containing the queen cells.
- Cut the cells apart carefully to put into the waiting queenless nucs. When you cut the comb, take plenty of comb around each cell. Don’t dent or deform the queen cell as the developing queen inside is extremely fragile. Be sure to move those queen cells to the queenless nucs before the queens emerge. If you don’t, the first queen to emerge will kill all the other queens.
- Distribute the queen cells to the queenless nucs.
- Remove a central frame from each queenless nuc and carefully press the comb handle attached to the cells into the comb of this frame. Be very careful as you slide the frame back into the hive. Not denting the queen cell is of paramount importance.
- A day or two after “emergence day” (16 days after the egg was laid), check to see that each queen did emerge from her cell.
- You’ll see the queen cell with a round opening on the bottom. You might be able to find her walking around on one of the frames. If you don’t find her, don’t worry. A virgin emerging from a cell into a queenless colony is very likely to be accepted.
- Bees found on frames of open brood (not capped) are typically nurse bees. You can ensure that your queenless nuc has lots of nurse bees by shaking or brushing the bees off frames of open brood and into your queenless nuc. Just make sure you don’t shake off or brush a queen into the nuc! Return the brood frame to the colony it came from.
Cell Punch Frame
The Nicot "Cupkit", "Copularve" and "Jenter System".
Queens Mate Well
Queen can be left until needed
Can become congested
More Tips on Nucs
Put your hive entrances in different directions
Hives should be in the shade or semi shade
Place hives near markers – like trees
Keep away from full colonies
Keep an eye of stores
Tips on finding the Queen
- Look at the bees
- If the bees are running all over the place the queen could be anywhere
- Use little smoke
- Check the edge of the combs and then the middle and then flip over
- Look on the other side first
- Look on the side of the comb just exposed
- Look on the Dark side first
When you open a hive and take a frame out, the light side is the side that can be seen and the dark side is the side up against the next frame. Check the dark side first when you pull the frame out and look into the hive at the exposed light side to see if the queen is visible.