I had a somewhat exciting week, this past week, Spring Break. I grafted for the first, second, and third times.
Sunday night, I made up some cell bars using wax cell cups I purchased from Rossman. Monday morning, I put them in the hive so the bees could get used to them. I put 12 cups on at first.
On Tuesday, there seemed like there was going to be a break in the rain after it had rained for two days. During an actual break in the rain, I ran out to my chosen hive and did the manipulations for the Ben Harden Method, acquired the frame to be grafted from, grafted, and placed the cell bar frame back in the hive. I added six more cups just for fun.
The Ben Harden method is one in which you use a queenright colony to raise new queens. To do this, you make two dummies, frames that are just solid wood which kind of concentration the action in the hive to just a few frames in the middle. You put this setup above a queen excluder. You then place a frame of pollen, a frame of young brood, and the cell bar frame in the box and nurse bees are supposed to come up from below and care for the new queens. They are not supposed to reject them because the queen has never set foot on that cell bar frame and thus her scent is not there. It's managed kind of like an engineered supersedure.
Later in the week, I checked. Every single one had failed. No takers. I had a few ideas why, the rain was on the top of the list. I should have had more patience. Instead of nurse bees coming up to tend the brood, they stayed in the main brood nest as it was probably too cold to go meandering about the hive. Fortunately though, I had placed an empty comb in the broodnest to replace the one I put in the upper box. But I'll get back to that later.
So I left the cell bar frame in the hive and waited until Saturday when the weather should be excellent. I made up some more cell bars, another frame with 18 and decided that I would retry the Harden Method and also do a batch with a regular queenless hive. That frame that I had put in on Tuesday was now the perfect frame to graft from and to use to bait nurses up from below. All the larvae were pretty uniformly on their first day out of the egg (some eggs remaining) and were the perfect age to be grafted. Add to that the fact that the cups had been in the hive for half a week and were well polished and ready to go.
It's hard to tell in this picture, but the bees have begun to raise 17 out of the 18 grafted larvae. Quite a good run. Remember, this is in a queenright hive which can go about its business with no disruption in brood rearing or queenlessness.
I took pictures of the queenless hive cell bar this morning as well, but my phone focused on the grass in the background rather than the bees so the picture is out of focus. But it looks almost the same except that they only took 12 of the 18 grafted. I reason this is at least partly because the cells were not allowed to be polished by the bees before grafting. You can be assured I will not make that mistake again.
Overall, this was a very successful excercise and one from which I learned greatly. More updates soon. In a week, it will be time to make up mating nucs and that is likely to be a monumental task.
As you can see in the picture at the top, the yard looks markedly different. I've removed most of the real estate from the hives that are not doing what they should be doing at this time of the year. The middle hive in the left row is the one wherein the Harden Method is being used, and the very back corner one is the queenless one. Its queen is in the nuc behind the bricks to the left of it. All the honey stored from last year in the puner hives is being stored on the big nasty hive in the front. This year, it is the designated honey producer. It is a very active and healthy hive, but a little too mean to breed from. Such a shame.
29 mating nucs is going to be a marathon!