Bee Improvement Strategies – Kevin Thorn -part two

More advanced Strategies in Bee Improvement suitable for native bees

Many people find queen rearing a daunting prospect. There is an overwhelming amount of information, methods and advice. For clarity you simply need to select your selection criteria, a method of starting queen cells, a method of mating your queens and a method of introducing your queens. It makes sense to practice one method and mastering this before moving on and to introduce new methods each season to develop knowledge and expertise.

There’s a lot to cover here so I’m breaking this into two sections – part one was Simple Bee Improvement in last month’s edition, here is part two and the final part will be in next month’s edition.

Starting Stock

Once a beekeeper or group has mastered simple bee improvement you may wish to expand your activities and as well as controlling the female lines start to influence the drones they will mate with. The most common method is drone flooding. This is still not 100% effective but you are starting to improve your stock more quickly. Most of the advanced strategies can be adopted one by one as you progress.

You may continue with locally adapted stock or you may want to increase the amount of AMM in your stock or even aim for pure AMM.

Assessment of stock

Winter will help us assess our stock by removing the weakest for us. If there are colonies that need extra support through the winter – there’s no need to let them perish. Better to support them and replace the queen in the spring. It’s kinder and the bees can be useful.

You may wish to start to include more selection criteria like low swarming tendency, calm on the comb, good spring build up, frugal, fly at low temperature etc. Usually best to add these one at a time rather than trying to select for multiple traits. I operate on the basis that I propagate from queens in their third year. The first year they are born, the second they are assessed and the third the best are used as breeder queens.

Having a large number of stocks to choose from means you are more likely to have your ideal stocks so working as a group can help this 60-100 stocks are needed. Having consistent assessment criteria helps and I think in addition to the commonly recommended 1-5 or 1-10 scale, having descriptions of what these mean helps different people assess different stocks in a more consistent way. Otherwise someone’s “4” may be someone else’s “3” and you’re comparing apples with oranges.

My criteria for Temper for example are:

5) Bees remain on top of frames – few in the air
4) Bees in the air not showing interest in the beekeeper
3) Bees in the air flying around beekeeper
2) Bees in the air some pinging off veil
1) Bees in the air some trying to sting beekeeper

(It does help to be able to differentiate and discount orientation flights which aren’t an indication of temper).

I replace “1” and “2” and propagate from “5” sometimes “4” if they have other desirable characteristics.

The descriptions should lead to people being able to assess colonies in different locations more consistently.

A method of selecting AMM queens that has been successful in practice is to produce more queens than you need, hatch them in an incubator and remove any with yellow colouring. While the scientists may say this wouldn’t work there are many examples of where this has been done and after many years the bees have been found to be 70-99% pure AMM (you do need to be able to tell the difference between AMM and Carniolan queens though).

Propagating queens

You can start to introduce more propagation methods too – different methods of transferring larvae, different set ups of starting queen cells and different mating hives. The Key choices are:

1) What queens will you propagate from – Selection Criteria?

2) What method of transferring larvae will you use, Grafting, Nicot, Cell Punch, Miller, Natural (Swarm cell or emergency cell)? To name a few.

3) What set up of starter colony will you have? Queenless, Queen Right or temporarily queenless then queen right e.g a Cloake board (there are several variations of each of these).

4) Will you use finisher colonies and/or an incubator to increase capacity – not needed except to produce a lot of queens.

5) Will you produce queen cells or virgin queens? There are pros and cons of both. Virgins may not be accepted but queen cells may be duds. There are methods of minimising the downsides of both.

6) What mating nuc will you use? Three frame nuc needs more resources in terms of bees but is more successful. Mini nucs require fewer bees but are less successful and need more attention.

7) What method will you use to introduce your queens into their final colony?

In the next article on (Advanced) Bee Improvement Strategies I will cover what you may wish to consider in  Propagating and positioning Drones, Queen Introduction and what equipment you may wish to consider.