We just returned from this weekend full of bee learning. The event was held at Penn State and put together by Dr. Christina Grozinger's lab and featured a mix of hands-on bee activities and classroom discussion.
We heard reports on the research efforts of the graduate students in the lab whose projects are focusing on drone mating behavior and drone congregation areas, nosema and its effects on drones and swarming. Of course, perhaps nothing can make beekeepers go off like swarming. We also had talks on bee biology and things to consider when starting a breeder program.
Beek extraordinaire, Warren Miller, provided plenty of good practical information from setting up queen rearing colonies and overwintering nucs to the status of the PA Queen Rearing program.
Queen Rearing Methods
The hands-on activities included a look at alternative queen rearing strategies, like the Hopkins and IMN methods. Mary Ann Frazier demonstrated both.
Below is an image from the Hopkins method demo.
Select cells of eggs or very young larva are protected by Q-tips (or a .22 caliber bullet as shown above) while powdered sugar is poured over the rest of the frame. That will kill all but the protected larva. Then you take that frame and place it face down over the top of a queen-less colony. The bees will draw queen cells from the the cells you protected.
More information on the Hopkins method.
IMN or On-the-Spot Method
Popularized by Mel Disselkoen, this method involves simply removing the bottom of the cell of a likely candidate and perhpas gashing a bit of the comb below that wth your hive tool. That gives the bees room to draw out a queen cell.
More information on the On-the-Spot Method.
The frame below shows a few cells that were created within about 18 hours after removing the cell bottom.
The highlight for a lot of us was actually getting to graft. This involves removing the smallest larvae you can find and putting them in queen cups. That frame of queen cups is put into a starter colony for the bees to create queen cells. The next day we were able to see which larva were accepted. The bees start drawing a queen cell around the cup that holds the grafted larva.
Here, Nancy holds our frame of grafted cells.
We each had 6 of 15 successful grafts. Not good, but not bad for rookies; the experts get nearly 100% acceptance. The second day we grafted daughters from known good queens including Carniolans and some PSU overwintered stock.
Here's Nancy working on the frame of Carniolans.
A close-up of the focused grafter.
Our plan is to re-queen a hive or two with these queens -- if they get successfully mated. It really depends on how many nucs we can make up given our limited supply of bees this year.
We also had the opportunity to test some hives for hygienic behavior. The idea here is that you freeze kill some brood and come back 24 hours later to see how well the workers have cleaned out the dead brood.
Here, Maryann is pouring the liquid nitrogen into the tube to kill the brood contained within the 3-inch PVC ring.
Once the frozen tube thaws, you remove it from the frame and place it back in the hive.
This is a technique developed by Dr. Marla Spivak of the U of MN. If a hive removes 95% of the dead bees, Dr. Spivak would consider them to be hygienic and likely breed from this queen to select for that trait. This helps the hive control disease and Varroa mite infestation.
The freeze killing is important because it leaves the cells basically undisturbed. So, the bees have to somehow be able to detect that the brood in those cells are dead. I'm surely oversimplifying her complex research, but that's the basic idea.
More is available info at the U of MN Bee Lab site.
While we don't have a big enough operation (yet?) :-) to participate in the PA Queen Rearing program in the immediate future, we do plan to do our small part to help with the northern queen rearing effort and are grateful that we were able to be a part of this weekend. We will certainly apply what we learned in our future beekeeping endeavors.
It was an excellent weekend and time well spent. Many thanks to Christina Grozinger, Maryann Frazier, Warren Miller, Elina Lastro Nino, Bernardo Nino, Holly Holt, Jessica Richards and Gabe Villar.