Caught in the middle with bees!
Starting out, the first two or three years, it seems easier, safer, and more financially prudent to simply buy queens from the local association prior to making spring splits. If you have 2 or 3 hives that need splitting it’s not too costly and ensures a greater degree of success to buy the queens and make splits installing the purchased queens. It almost always results in a good outcome.
Then, if your bee fever grows, you begin to have more colonies and the check for those queens adds up to serious cash – cash better saved for other beekeeping toys. Additionally, aren’t we suppose to be selecting breeding stock and rearing our own queens that survive our climate and the mites? Plus, raising my own allows me to drop that cool word, “sustainable.”
I’ve been resistant to rearing my own queens for the past couple years although I know I should have been doing so. I’m not quite sure if I’m just lazy, busy with other bee projects, afraid of failure, or just not interested in queen rearing. But, at last, it’s time.
I’m not sure if my eyes are good enough anymore for grafting. I thought about buying some of those jeweler’s or watchmaker’s glasses. But then I’d also be buying more dedicated queen rearing equipment as well. Cell punching helps and I’m waiting for a class which may convince me to adopt a simple grafting method. Regardless, most all the grafting methods neccessitate multiple boxes, transfers, more bee stuff and can be a bit pricey. Simplier (non grafting) equipment like the Nicot or Jenter systems are also costly.
On the other extreme is the walkaway split, making sure the queenless split has larvae of appropriate age and allowing the bees to make an emergency queen. Additional methods of cell crushing can be added to improve the outcome but making multiple walkaway splits is a bit scary – what if half of them don’t make it? I’m a little OCD and looking for a little more control and perhaps even better outcome.
So, remembering the low tech methods of our forefathers, and with a mind to keeping costs at a minimum, I decided on using one of the throwbacks like the Miller or Hopkins methods. A mentor once suggested the Hopkins method to me and it sounds easy enough and promises to raise more queens than I’ll need. Basically it involves taking a frame of appropriately aged larvae and placing it horizontally over a densely populated queenless split. It’s low risk as well, if all goes poorly, such as a sudden change in the weather, the worst that can happen is I re-unite that split with their parent colony. So that’s what I’ve decided to attempt this year. Another adventure in beekeeping! Above are pictures of the 2″ shim I’ll be using to place the frame over the colony. Also a link below if you’re interested in reading more about the Hopkins method of queen rearing.