Ask a dozen beekeepers the correct way to keep bees and you’ll probably end up with a dozen different answers.Ask how or why they produce queens and the answers will probably vary similarly.Some will make use of the odd queen cell to populate a nuc.or two.This is great because they  are then in the enviable position of always having a spare queen or two and we all know how useful that can be. If the queens are not used as replacements during the season, the nuc’s can be united with the weekest colonies at a later date, or, of course, they can sold or passed on to help some other beekeeper. There is undoubtably a case for always having a spare queen or two at your disposal. Some will seek to produce sufficient queens for their own needs with a surplus to sell and others will go a step further and produce and sell nuclei with mated queens. To my way of thinking, more important than methods or motives is to try at all times to be prepaired for the inevitable, and that is, at some time you will lose one or more of your queens, that is when the importance of having a populated nuc standing by is fully realised.

Here at Mendip, as previously stated, my aim is to breed the best queens that I can, when I say best, I don’t mean better than yours or Fred in his apiary in the next County. I mean the best for me, queens that best fulfill my idea of what a good queen should be, that will head colonies that will behave as in my opinion, a good colony should. We all have our own ideas as to what constitutes a good colony, and as I said previously, for some it will always be by the amount of honey produced. I want my bees to be produce honey, of course I do, but I also want them to be placid and not to run about all over the comb while I’m examining them. I haven’t plucked up courage yet to handle them without my gloves on but that is one of my aims, and hopefully sooner rather than later. I believe a good colony grows well in spring and peaks some time between July and August. It will be strong enough to over winter the worst extremes and will naturally develop a large degree of disease resistance. Of equal if not more importance  than any of these, is, in my opinion, a reluctance to swarm.

It is my aim for queen rearing here at Mendip to become an integral part of swarm management, and this is how I intend to try to achieve this.With the exeption of hive 1, 2012 sees all my colonies headed by queens less than one year old and hive 1 has a queen less than two years old.So,with the exeption of 1,and I shall be keeping a close eye on her, the prime cause of swarming, namely ageing queens, should not in itself, be a problem. Next, overcrowding, as I said earlier, I shall go into this year with three colonies on two brood chambers, three on brood and a half and one, hopefully two on one brood chamber. So, with what in my opinion, are the main causes of swarming, eliminated, I will hopefully have the ideal oportunity this year to observe and compare.

With the possible exeption of hive 1 and unless anything unforseen occurs, it is not my intention to re-queen any of my colonies this year. However subsequently, I do intend to re-queen at least half of them on a yearly basis. What follows are my aims and thoughts on how best to achieve this.

I currently have two double queen mating nucs and I intend to have them fully populated by the beginning of July. I shall again attempt the Cloake Board method of queen rearing and intend to use colony one as my breeder, provided of course, they have not displayed any inclination to swarm themselves.If all goes according to plan, and yes, I’m sure miracles do sometimes happen, so,for my Spring re-queening, I want to have my best queen cells in the nucs by the 2nd week in July. There the resultant queens and their little colonies will over winter. Any queen that isn’t strong enough to over winter in this way will have no place in this programme anyway.The following April, the new queens, having been marked and clipped, will be introduced into four of the hives, with the other four hives being re-queened the following Spring. The encumbents will be removed to the mating nucs where they will remain until the next batch of queen cells are ready in July. These are now my back-up queens.

I said earlier that I wanted queen production to be a part of swarm management and this is what I have in mind. Firstly, I intend to breed only from a colony that has displayed no inclination to swarm. Secondly, any colony which produces queen cells will in the first instance, have them broken down. This will also happen if it occurs for a second time. If they still persist then, provided there are no other known causes of swarming present, the queen will be culled and replaced. I just wonder if, by removing queens from the breeding cycle, which have exhibited a pre-disposition towards swarming, it might just be possible develop a strain of bees for whom swarming was the exception rather than the rule. It’s gotta be worth a try hasn’t it ? It seems to me that this was the basic philosophy behind Brother Adam’s queen rearing at Buckfast and if it worked for him…….I’ll try to report back in about twenty years from now, that is, if I’m not contributing to the fertility of the meadow myself by then.


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