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Local Queens in your Area!!!

If you’re a beekeeper, or maybe even just a fan of raw honey, you understand the benefits of buying local. When it comes to honey and other produce, the benefits are immense. For instance, if you live in Charlotte, NC and buy honey in Charlotte, NC you will not only be supporting local beekeepers but also consuming honey that has a pollen index to your region, thus giving the honey antihistamine properties unique to your area. Not only that but you’re contributing to a lower overall carbon footprint by needing less transportation to get your food to you!

Nearly all these rules apply to queen rearing as well. Let’s perhaps start with what is meant by queen rearing. Starting in early spring, almost every hive that has survived through the winter will want to replicate themselves. This is best seen by their desire to swarm. In this process, the hive will make a new queen to replace the queen that leaves in the swarm. More on what all a swarm does and it’s function in future blog posts. Just know that the hives will attempt to make a new queen to replace the one that leaves.

Through queen rearing, beekeepers can manually replicate this process in an attempt to bring younger, healthier queens into their apiary as well as their surrounding area. How does one then replicate this natural process? There are many ways to rear queens. The one we use at Queen’s Orders Honey in Charlotte, NC is called the Doolittle technique. But don’t let the name fool you, there is still lots to do!

The frame in the picture seen below has dozens of plastic cups that act as the queen cup for the queen cell to grow from it. Every queen must come from a queen cell. It is unique to the hive in that, unlike other brood (developing bee) cells, this cell is longer as it has to house a developing queen. The pupal and larval queen will be on a heavy diet of a substance known as royal jelly. While every developing bee will be fed some amount of royal jelly. It’s only the queen that is fed a high amount of it as that’s what gives her all the qualities of a queen, such as living up to 3-5 years!

First a beekeeper will carefully remove larvae that are a couple days old. There is nothing special about this larva at the moment. Once it is placed in a cup on this frame, and all the cups are filled with larva, the frame is placed into a queenless hive. This hive is known as the breeder hive as this is where the queens will develop. At this point the queenless bees will do the rest of the work. They begin feeding the larva royal jelly, building out the cell all the while. In about a week, the now queen cells will be capped and in another few days they will emerge healthy, adult queens! 

In a few weeks the queens will ideally be mated and laying eggs in the hives they’ve  been put into, known as mating hives. These hives or the queens themselves can be sold or shared. So what about all that talk about local bees/queens? By raising or rearing queens local to your area, you are providing a great service to the bee community around you! Every queen that is born from your hives has a mother and hopefully grandmother that has adapted to your region. There are options to buy queens from out of state that might be better in their genetics, but just like honey, it’s always beneficial to buy closer to home.

That’s not to say queen rearing is easy. Most beekeepers experienced with this process find that they only get about 60% of their original queens to be mated and successfully laying. Being new flyers. queens are very vulnerable during their mating flights and can be eaten by a variety of predators or simply swept away in the bad weather. While the benefits of this practice are definitely there, it’s very important not to give up after your first or second round, which will likely end up mostly in failure. Beekeepers and our environment need queens and bees that are better suited to our climate and the challenges bees face. Do your part to keep these genetics thriving in your area wherever you are!

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