Hot weather is not fun in a bee-suit. But you don’t get much choice – timing can be critical, so sometimes you just have to don your suit and get on with it. Queen rearing is one such example. It’s been a fascinating but very hot experience.
G chose to use a Jenter Kit, which is a good way of raising a number of queens without having to go through the fiddly process of grafting. It is also much more accurate regarding the stages of development. But timing is key.
A Jenter Kit comprises various components including a Plastic Comb Box (Jenter cage), which contains a sheet of plastic foundation, with pre-drilled holes and a removable back to allow cell plugs to be positioned. The front is covered with a queen excluder with a small opening for introducing the queen. Cell Plugs are fitted into the pre-drilled holes and these are where the queen will lay eggs. They are removable, as once laid up and larvae hatched, they are then fitted into Queen Cell Starter Cups. These small open-ended cones fit over the cell plugs. They form the beginning of the queen cell. Yellow cup-holders are open-ended cones hold the cell plug and queen cell starter cups in place on cell bars, which are held in a full size brood frame.
As timing is critical in this procedure, it’s not something to be started without some forward planning. Nucs/mini-nucs need to be prepared in advance of Day 14.
In preparation G selected an egg-laying colony – it was strong, productive and good-tempered. A drawn brood frame holding the Jenter cage was placed in the centre of the brood box.
Day 0 .The queen was placed in the Jenter cage. The time was recorded as midday.
Day 1. (24 hours later) Eggs had been laid in each of the starter cups and the queen was removed and released back into the colony.
Day 4. The eggs hatched (larvae 0-12 hours). The plugs holding larvae were transferred to the Bar Frame and fixed in place using Queen Cell Starter Cups and Holders. This frame was then placed into the chosen queenless cell-raiser colony. This colony was selected as it was strong with plenty of brood and therefore lots of nurse bees and wax builders.
Day 9. The queen cells were sealed.
Day 10. All brood frames were carefully checked for queen cells – had they been found would need to be removed.
Day 14. Transferring cells into min-nucs. It turned out to be phenomenally hot and we drove out to the beautiful Surrey Hills to a different apiary where G has a number of very strong colonies. Despite the extraordinary heat and despite the fact that I spent most of the day in a bee-suit, it was thoroughly enjoyable and very informative (if a little sweaty). G and I transferred 18 sealed queen cells into 18 apideas filled with bees from these colonies (we had left one cell behind in the now queenless cell-raiser colony). It was time-consuming and hard work as each colony had at least three supers and in the middle of the whole process we discovered that the queen had managed to get above the queen excluder in one hive and had been very busy! Not what was wanted, particularly as it took quite a bit of time to sort out. Days like this are so much easier with two people. The apideas were taken back and I put my treasured little box of bees in a cool dark place for a couple of days – and then put it in my garden and opened it.
Day 16. The queen emerged.
Day 20. The queen matured. A few days after this she ventured out on her mating flight.
Despite the bees not behaving and making a phenomenal mess with all their comb in my apidea, the queen mated successfully and started laying eggs. I took two frames from a colony in my garden and made up a nuc. She started to lay well and I have already united her with a queenless hive back in the original apiary. The next task is to mark and clip her – but I’ll do that another day!
Lesson to self. Some procedures look very tricky but they are generally possible with planning and patience.