Raising Queen Honey Bees

Thursday 13 May 2021

This week we are kicking off a series of blogs around the topic of raising queen honey bees! Local queens are special, as most Canadians acquire their queens from Hawaii, California, Australia, and New Zealand. There are challenges around raising queens in Canada and there are also key advantages. In this blog series, we will provide you with a glimpse of how you can begin raising queens, yourself!

Raising Queen Honey Bees

Raising queens requires planning and organization. In Atlantic Canada, you can begin raising queens in June, when the weather becomes warmer and drones become available for mating. This late start on queen availability is the primary setback for local production in our region, because beekeepers typically want queens earlier in the season to have hives at top productivity during blueberry pollination.

A queen honey bee takes 16 days to develop from the time she is laid as an egg until the time she emerges as an adult. After this, she requires another 10-12 days to become sexually mature, mated, and laying. This means that when you begin raising queens, you can expect the total process to last approximately 28 days and will need to plan accordingly.

There are two major steps to queen rearing: obtaining larvae and encouraging worker bees to raise that larvae as queens. It is best to obtain your larvae from a strong hive, called your breeder colony, because the larvae that you take from this colony will bring with them some of the genetic traits of the parent. If you are raising more than ten queens, it is recommended to start with several different breeder colonies to ensure your apiary has genetic diversity. After you have your larvae, you will need strong hives, many bees, brood, and lots of food to create conditions in which your workers will raise strong queens.

The next step of queen rearing progresses in two distinct stages. The first stage occurs within a strong, queenless hive – the starter colony. Here, the workers will be triggered to raise many queen cells with haste, because they have no queen, themselves. The second stage is to transfer these cells into a strong, queenright colony – the finisher colony – with the queen excluded into the bottom super, away from the developing cells. In this queenright colony, the queen cells can be raised with more resources and less stress, resulting in stronger queens. These steps will be elaborated on in following blogs, for now the take home message is that raising queens requires resources and careful planning.

So why bother? Raising queens – or buying local queens – is a rewarding endeavour. Locally raised queens will be better adapted to our Atlantic climate. There is also less risk of transferring pests and diseases between regions, and your queens will not have to endure the stresses of being shipped over great distances. Another major reason that honey bee operations prefer raising queens for themselves is because it is less costly and more reliable than buying from abroad.

In the coming weeks we will explore the process of raising queen honey bees, so that you might be tempted to try for yourself!

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