No matter what stage you are at in queen rearing, you need a lot of nurse bees. These girls, as the name implies, care for young larva, and have yet to enter the world beyond the hive.
A group of stalwart volunteers have banned together to explore the wonderful world of queen rearing at beekeeper Bruce Bowen’s apiary in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Our first endeavor was to collect those bees.
We headed out to one of Bruce’s Skagit Valley bee yards with a shaker box lent to us by bee researcher and breeder Sue Cobey (http://beebiology.ucdavis.edu/PEOPLE/susancobey.html)
This important tool and the number of hives in the bee yard made the task easier.
The shaker box has three components:
1) A metal cage with a sliding door in the side and a trap door on top.
The side door is to remove the bees when you’re done
The cage’s top trap door that is opened by the insertion of:
2) A large funnel that can be sat atop the cage.
Inside of this funnel sits:
3) A “bowl” the side of which are all queen excluder.
When the funnel is removed, the trap door shuts, and the bees are now caged. The cage can then moved to where the bees will be poured, though the sliding side door, into a brood box with some frames of drawn comb and a frame of honey. Not a feeder – that was a oops on our part (the bees got in the feeder and were hard to get out).
A PostScript: Folks have been asking where they can get these boxes:
Sue’s came from:
Greg’s Heating & Air Conditioning
740 East Walker St.
Orland, Ca 95963
To get our nurse bees we:
1) Set the cage up with the funnel and queen-excluder bowl in place
2) Opened a hive. Using no smoke. We wanted those girls to stay on the brood and not move away.
3) Removed an edge frame, then headed straight for the center frames, because that usually where the brood is and where the nurse bees will be found.
4) We took three to four frames out of each hive. Each frame was moved over the shaker box and shook the bees into the queen-excluder section. The foragers fly off. The nurse bees, who have never been out of the hive stay put, for the most part.
5) Now to look for the queen. We did not want to take the queen, only nurse bees. Gentle hands moved the young nurses around. Gentle shakes urged them though the queen excluder’s grill, down through the funnel and into the cage.
6) If the queen were found, she was picked up and placed back in her hive. Then the queen-excluder section would be flipped and the nurse bees poured into the cage. If the queen were not found by the time we had the majority of nurse bees from our shaken frames, we dumped the remaining bees, with, potentially, the queen, back into her hive. It was simply faster that way.
Here’s a bit of us doing it (then my battery went dead).
7) Then on to the next hive and repeat the process until we gathered the 16 pounds of nurse bees we would need to fill 50 mini-mating nucs. To state the obvious, one hive was done at a time so that we would always be assured that the queen returned to her hive before we moved on.
8) Throughout the entire time we misted the caged bees with diluted sugar syrup. This helps calm them and gives them something to drink. After all, this must be a traumatic occurrence in their lives.
9) How did we know we had 16 lbs of bees? We weighed them on a lovely scale which beekeeper Pat Ray let us use.
10) Then we went to go stock the mating nucs.
Was that the end? No – that’s the cliffhanger. The next post will be about stocking the mating nucs. If all goes as planned (I can hear the beekeepers laughing), upcoming posts will follow us though our exploration of the wonderful world of queen rearing.
Happily, we are working under the guidance of bee researcher and breeder Sue Cobey. I The goal of our group is to improve, and for some, learn the proper grafting techniques and timing required to rear queens. We are using a cloke board method, which makes the entire sequence easier. More on that in an up-coming post.
Bruce has been generous to supply the ample bees needed for the project. Without enough bees, no queens will be raised. Altruistic, yes, but also a means for Bruce to examine the material and cost requirements for queen rearing, and potential crew members as he contemplates adding queen rearing to his already packed schedule.