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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Year at Bees of the Woods Apiary: May

May at Bees of the Woods Apiary seems to be all about trying something new! Read the full year's posts in this series here.

Raising Queens

queen cups blog

This year, we are trying to raise our own queens for the first time. I took a queen rearing class last summer, did a lot of reading, and finally got around to trying out what I learned.

We started out by choosing a hive to graft queens from. We have one hive that we just love. It overwintered well, and built up quickly in the spring. It is gentle, and had good honey production. We knew that we would like to have those traits in more hives, and decided to graft larvae from that hive.

But, before we started grafting, we needed to think about setting up a “starting” and “finishing” hive. This is exactly what it sounds like – hives that are used to start the queen cells, and hives that are used to finish the queen cells.  We decided to go with the Oliver “foolproof method” of queen rearing. We liked this method because you can use just one hive to both start and finish the queen cells.

The grafting takes some practice, but it isn’t as hard as it sounds. You can read about the entire process of setting up the starter/finisher colony (and small-scale queen rearing in general at the Scientific Beekeeping website, a really great resource. Just click here.

Once we had our starter/finisher colony set up, we selected a frame that had a lot of small larvae on it. Ideally, the larvae would be 4 days old when you graft them. At the beekeeping class we went to, they showed us what 4-day-old larvae look like, so we just estimated which larvae would be a good size for grafting. It’s a little tricky, and you definitely will want a good jeweler’s light/magnifier to see the larvae. But after a while, you get the hang of it.

After grafting the larvae, we put the frame into the starter colony. At the beginning of this section you can see a picture of the frame with queen cups that the bees have begun to draw out.

queen cell blog

Two days later, we checked the cells, and found that the bees had starting drawing out about half of them – not bad for our first try!

Four days later we set up nuc boxes. For each nuc box we placed a frame of mostly open brood, one frame of honey and pollen, a “mixed” frame that included some capped brood, and an empty, drawn frame. The next day, we took out our now capped and finished queen cells, and carefully pushed them into the empty frame, and put them back in the nuc.

Now we just had to wait and see if the queen hatches, has a successful mating flight, and returns to the nuc. The successful mating flight part can be trickier than it sounds. The queen has to avoid birds, cars, bad weather, etc., in order to mate and make it back to the hive.

A few weeks later we checked our nucs. All of the queens appeared to have hatched from the queen cells, and while we found the queens in some of the nucs, others appeared to be queenless.

We can now use the queen-right nucs to re-queen a hive with an older queen, sell the nucs to other beekeepers, or keep the nucs to build up our own apiary. The queenless nucs will be combined with the nucs that do have queens to help give them a boost in population.

Raising queens can give you a lot more options for your apiary – I highly recommend giving it a try.

Pollen Trapping

 Pollen pile blog

Our other new venture involved collecting pollen. We had never done this before, but every once in a while someone would ask us if we sell pollen. So we decided it might  be worth giving it a try.

There are are different types of pollen traps, but we purchased a Sundance pollen trap that mounts underneath the hive. Bees go in the entrance of the trap, and through a maze that knocks some of the pollen off their legs as they go through it. I liked this style, because when you have collected as much pollen as you want, you can shut the pollen trap entrance, and the bees would just go in the front of the entrance as they normally would.

I was amazed at how much pollen we collected! It was also really neat to be able to see all of the different colors of pollen that had been collected.  After 4 days, we had over 1 pound of pollen. After we had collected about 5 lbs. of pollen, we closed the entrance to the pollen trap, allowing the bees to enter the hive as normal.

We put the pollen in baggies and froze it to kill any pests. Then we spread it out on white paper to pick out any debris such as bee parts, etc.  We packed it into jars, and stored it in the freezer to help keep it fresh.

This is one of the things I love about beekeeping – there is always something new to try and learn. Happy Beekeeping!

Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York.  Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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