Accelerated Rearing

The Idea

Virgin queen cages.

Accelerated rearing using a single nuc to both mate and mature caged virgin queens at the same time. It almost doubles the number of queens that can be mated out of a given set of nucs.

Accelerated rearing is an ideal method:

  • for producing a moderate number of queens
  • when equipment/bee resources are limited
  • or when a queen rearing/mating season is short

And it’s a perfect match for anyone who is setup to graft and handle cells on a weekly basis.

The Details

How it’s done

A newly hatched virgin or ripe queen cell is put in a mating nuc. During the first week, this virgin matures and prepares for mating. One week after inserting the first virgin, a second, caged, newly hatched virgin or rip cell is put into the same mating nuc. This second, younger virgin matures, in the cage. While the older virgin, who roams freely throughout the hive, mates.

Although the bees show no hostility toward the younger virgin, a cage is necessary to keep the two virgins apart. Or they would fight and only one would survive.

By the second weeks end, the older virgin begins to lay. Starting the third week, before any eggs hatch, the newly mated, laying queen is caged and removed from the nuc. The younger caged virgin, who is now mature enough to mate, is released from the cage, and allowed to freely roam in the nuc for mating. At the same time a new caged virgin/cell is placed into the same nuc.

A week later this process is repeated. The mated queen is removed. The caged virgin is released. And a caged virgin or ripe queen cell is inserted into the nuc.

Equipment

A cage for virgin or ripe queen cell is needed. A Nicot type cage, pressed deeply into the comb’s surface works. I use ripe queen cells with Jzbz plastic queen cell cups and protectors. With a little reaming, the open end of a protector is inserted in a Jzbz plastic queen cage or a California wooden queen cage.

Liquid honey must be available for the caged virgin queen. There’s no problem when using a Nicot type cage. The cell or virgin can be confined over some open honey. If a cage is used, partially granulated honey is placed in an old plastic queen cup. The cup is inserted inside the plastic cage or in the other hole in a wooden cage.

Scheduling

Accelerate schedule.

Here’s an example of an accelerated queen rearing schedule. Days are along the top line. Grafting cycles are read horizontally. Each character, in the line, represents one day.

Why it works – Biology

After a virgin queen hatches, an additional seven days passes before she is mature enough to mate. Then she mates for about three days. And then she begins laying toward the end of her second week.

During this time, most bees don’t treat a week old virgin queen differently than any other young bee. They tolerate and care for multiple virgins. But the virgins, themselves, won’t tolerate queen cells, mated queens, or other virgin queens.

But after a virgin mates, the bees become intolerant toward other queens.

It takes three days for bee eggs to hatch. When a mated queen’s first eggs hatch, the bees become hostile to other queens.

In the schedule above, notice how the C R and N are aligned vertically under one day. The combinations of timings and bee behavior make it possible to use accelerated rearing.

Disadvantages

A few disadvantages exist:

  • can’t evaluate a mated queen’s brood pattern before caging her
  • this method isn’t extensible
  • queens must be harvested on time. They can’t be left, in the mating nuc, for more than an extra day or two without loss

Musings

Some types of bees are easy bees and others are hard bees. When working easy bees, a queen rearer can’t do wrong. But when working with hard bees, they test every skill a beekeeper has. So, try this method out on a small scale.

It’s interesting to note, Russian bees, who have a notorious reputation for hard queen introductions. But they are one of the easiest bees I’ve used for accelerated rearing.

Research has show the longer a young queen stays in the nuc, the more reliable and long lived she is. Accelerated rearing isn’t a good method for raising queens that are caged, held and shipped through the mail. This treatment is rough on a young queen.

Larger nucs are required for accelerated rearing. They must be big enough to care for two queens at the same time. I use five frame mating nucs. They have many bees and can take care of several virgins, or keep a cell warm. In some climates or situations, a mini mating nuc might not have enough bees to nurture more than a few accelerated cycles.

Nucs used though an extended time need a young, motivated work force. And they are better motivated if open brood is present. A cycle should be occasionally skipped to let a mated queen lay some brood, reinforcing the mating nuc. Otherwise the mating nuc is reinforced with brood from a support hive.

Final Thoughts

I’ve wondered if a mating nuc would mature more than one caged virgin or ripe queen cell at a time. Although the caged virgins had abundant attendants for the first day, the bees quickly selected one or two caged virgins. They ignored the rest which quickly perished.

Accelerated rearing is another way of pushing the bees. It’s useful in climates with limited queen rearing weather.

I first read about it in Steve Tabor’s “Breeding Superbees”. And I’ve use it to produce mated queens during Wyoming’s short queen rearing season.

-dM