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Beekeeping has fast become one of the most popular hobbies in the world. I’ve seen a lot of famous faces taking up apiculture and posting about it all over social media.
Now, don’t get me wrong, beekeeping isn’t just something you should take up on a whim because it’s the trending thing to do. You’re essentially taking care of thousands of living creatures so there’s a good degree of responsibility involved. You’ll need to be committed.
But if this is something you’re keen to get started with then you’ll probably have wondered how to breed bees.
Breeding bees is a continual process that shouldn’t be confused with queen rearing which is the act of producing new queens through a method selected by the apiarist. The easiest method of breeding bees is to keep a beehive.
When you’re breeding bees, you have to keep in mind that your colony will do most of the work. As the beekeeper, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the bees have favorable conditions and are well looked after as well as think about selection in order to breed the most robust and healthy bees.
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If there’s one thing that frustrates me, it’s seeing new hobbyist beekeepers diving in at the deep end. Doing this is never going to be a fruitful venture because there is something of a knack to keeping and breeding bees.
Before you go out and buy your equipment or start making an attempt at breeding, I’d strongly suggest doing a LOT of research.
Did you know that there are tons of beekeeping courses available online? Some are free but there are more in-depth courses that you can pay for. While this does require an investment, it’ll be worth it to gain the knowledge you need, especially if you’re looking to start a business breeding and selling bees.
Moreover, it’s unlikely that any newcomer to beekeeping would be able to successfully breed bees right away. Look at any literature on the subject and you’ll see time and again that this is something to be accomplished by experienced apiarists. For this reason, it’s best to start small, familiarize yourself with beekeeping, and get to know the ins and outs.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be much more likely to be successful in what you’re doing.
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One of the most essential things to think about when breeding bees is queen selection. Here are some important things to consider.
Having a gentle temperament is an important trait for a queen and it’s something that is inherited. If you’re selling queens to beekeepers then the last thing they want is to get stung so selecting gentle queens is a must.
But how do you know which ones have a calm temperament? It’s pretty simple, you just alarm the bees and see how the colony reacts.
You can do this by taking a wand that has a black patch of leather over the end and waving this over the opening of the hive. The bees will instantly go into a state of alarm and their natural reaction will be to sting. While this is a trait in all bees, some colonies are calmer than others. So, take a look at the patch of leather after a couple of minutes and count the number of stings.
Gentler colonies will sting less and this tells you which has the best and most gentle temperament.
If you’re selling to beekeepers then you need to feel confident that the bees aren’t going to be susceptible to disease. It’s true that there are certain parasites, pests, and diseases that affect honey bee colonies but it’s also true that some hives will be more resistant than others.
When breeding and raising your colonies, just take note of which ones require fewer treatments and are generally more robust. Then you can raise your queens from these hardy colonies.
If you look back to those first few years of beekeeping, you’ll likely remember a time when you lost a hive over winter. This is a really trying time of year for beekeepers of all levels especially if you live in an area where the winters are pretty harsh.
In conditions where there is a deep freeze that lasts up to or beyond 12 weeks, then things can be even more difficult. In order for a colony to make it through this period, they need to be healthy, robust and resistant. This means that they’re able to produce enough food for the duration of winter and be able to control their brood in the lead-up to the cold season.
There are some beekeepers that will tell you that honey production isn’t a reliable trait when it comes to breeding queens. That’s because there are a lot of external factors that could impact this such as the weather.
However, while I wouldn’t suggest it as a main selection consideration, it can be something that you think about. If you have a particular colony that consistently has higher honey production rates then it goes without saying that it’s worth considering for a queen. Of course, the colony will also need to have the other traits I have discussed in this section.
While it would be possible to allow bees to go about their mating rituals naturally, there are indeed benefits to instrumentally inseminating the queen. What’s more, bees are the only insects with which this is possible so it’s worth doing since you can.
What’s good about this is that you can take your breeding in one direction or the other. You may choose to mate the queen with a single drone which better allows you to control inherited traits. On the other hand, you may choose to mate queens with several drones which allows for better genetic diversity.
As I discussed above, it is possible to artificially inseminate a queen but this requires a good amount of know-how and experience. If you’re new to breeding bees then there are some other methods you can use for queen rearing that are a lot simpler.
The easiest and most common for newcomers is simply to move a queen cell from one colony to another. You’ll need to choose a ripe queen cell from an active and thriving colony and place this into a new mating box with a brood and nursing bees. It’s so easy and gives new beekeepers a good introduction to queen rearing.
Once you’re a little more experienced, you might opt for a no-graft or a graft system which are as follows:
- No-graft systems require the beekeeper to provide the queen with manmade cups into which she can lay her eggs. Once she does this, the beekeeper can then remove them and transfer them to their new home.
- Graft systems are a little more demanding so probably something I’d advise trying after a no-graft system. Here, you will need to choose appropriately aged larvae and move them into their own queen cups in order to develop. The problem that most beekeepers face with this method is that moving the larvae requires a delicate hand. What’s more, you will need to learn to identify them at the correct age.
If you have recently started beekeeping, you might be thinking about where your journey will take you. While some people are happy to take care of their bees and reap the rewards of honey and being close to nature, others want to turn their hobby into a business.
This may require knowing how to breed bees but it’s worth keeping in mind that you will need to gain some experience first.
If you simply leave a colony alone, it’ll breed by itself but if you’re looking to raise and sell queens then the information in this guide will help you.