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The business of grafting queen bees, and the rewards

Holding a tray of bees

By Brett Kent / For the Enterprise

Welcome back to The Beehive. In this week’s edition, I am going to wrap up my discussion about my Texas Beekeeping vacation. I will also talk about how my bees are surviving the winter and when the new bees will be arriving.

One of the things I want to mention about the Texas trip is the time spent learning how queen grafting works. I was introduced to the lady in charge of the queen grafting, Juanita Ybarra. Juanita has been grafting queens for Jerel’s bee operation for over 15 years. You could tell from the get go, that Juanita was very proud of her job, and it wasn’t long before it became obvious, that she was very good at it.

Every morning Ethan and Juanita would walk down to the grafting yard, where all the breeder queens and builder hives were. Let me explain. In this yard, there are a number of nuc boxes that have breeder queens in them. These queens have been selected because they are descendants of queens that are proven to be extraordinary honey producers. Let me explain just a little more.

Beekeepers have been grafting queens for many years. During this time, the beekeepers have identified some traits that certain bees possess. Some of the more desirable traits that the beekeepers breed for, are bees that are easier to work with, or less defensive, or in basic Brett terms, less likely to sting you in the throat, ( LOL). Beekeepers also breed for queens that are more disease resistant. These bees would be better able to deal with the bee mites and other parasites. Other queens are breed to have hygienic behavior. These bees are able to identify problems while the young bees are in the brood stage, and before the troubled young bees hatch, the nurse bees seek out the sick bees, and boot them out the front door.

Now every morning, Ethan and Juanita would get the builder hives ready to accept frames of one-day-old larva that had been placed in queen cups. Juanita would spend hours every day, removing one-day-old larva, one cell at a time and placing them into queen cups. These cups look like little sewing thimbles. The cups are placed on a bar and then mounted onto a frame. This frame is then placed into the builder hive, where the bees have been fooled into thinking that they need to make a new queen. So instead of making just one new queen, the bees decided to make as many new queens as you have queen cups. Remember as I have explained in the past, the only difference maker in determining whether the larva will turn into a queen bee or a worker bee, is the food that the nurse bees feed the larva. Once the larvas are placed in the queen cups, they are considered to be queen candidates, and are feed only royal jelly. Ten days after the larva are placed in the queen cups; new queen bees will emerge from the peanut shaped queen cells. Now that’s one of mother nature’s miracles.

Grafting larva Just one last thing about the Texas trip, I want to thank Jerel and his boys for allowing me to spend some time with them. I have written three columns about this trip and only touched on a very small portion of what we did. I have to say, I came away from this experience, more than impressed with this huge undertaking.

I commend the boys for their strong work ethic that they no doubt received from their parents. It also was nice to see a family beekeeping operation that has lasted three generations, and as I watched the two young grandsons, I was wondering how long before they too would learn how to tie the bee veil correctly.

Now, on to the current status of my bee hives. As of yesterday, I have nine beehives that are still alive.

This may sound terrible, but if you consider the length of the winter, I think it was very predictable. I have ordered several new nucs from the boys and anxiously away their arrival. Jerel called me just yesterday and informed me that the bees will be here on May 3. I will have my camera in hand and get some pictures of the bees arriving on the truck, for you folks. Thank you, and take care.