Since beginning beekeeping I have wanted to try grafting. The idea of creating queens thrilled me. Last year I had planned to do it but my hives became swarmy and I had so many splits to deal with that there was no point. This year I planned things out in advance. I got a lot of help by watching Michael Palmer videos, chatting with people on Beesource, and reading everything I could get my hands on.
I decided to do a ten frame cell starter and queen rite finisher. I demareed a hive that I was afraid would swarm because it’s three year old queen tried to swarm last year. Since I had her in the bottom box. I thought if I put my nice partially drawn black foundation she would lay in it. Of course she did not touch it. This forced me to go to plan B which was to find random 3 day old larvae in the rest of the hive. I do not recommend this because it is time consuming when you want to work quickly. Also the old brood combs are so deep and dark that its almost impossible to get the larvae.
I set up my ten frame box with nurse bees the day before I grafted. I put in some open brood to get the nurse bees going. I also put in my grafting frame for them to polish it.
The next morning I pulled the frame and grafted. I was filled with self doubt to say the least. I thought how can any of the larvae possible live. They were so tiny I could not even see them without a magnifier on. They seemed so vulnerable. And what had I done to my hives. I had to rip one apart completely to get the nurse bees I needed. Grafting is really for folks with larger operations. That said I am already making plans for next year.
So in they went and two days later I expected nothing, instead half of the cups took.
Into the queen rite cell finisher they went. This poor hive already had the queen in the bottom box. I checked the hive for queen cells but not the frames from the cell starter. I had a few days to think about this fact, so I went in a day before the queens would be ready and found queen cells on one of the frames. I put that frame in a nuc a day early. When I pulled the others the next day I noticed that one was empty. The larvae had died. This freaked me out a bit but I put them all in nucs anyway. I waited about two weeks the recommended 27 days + or – 5 days to check the nucs. The cells had comb drawn all over them which I had to cut away. I think this is because I did not put a frame of foundation in the cell finisher. This gives the bees some place else to put the wax.
Ideally I would have moved the nucs after adding the cells and I could see that a few of them had become very weak. I saw a lot of activity at two. One of these nucs had two virgins running around in it. The other had a mated queen. Of the six nucs, one mated. The results were disappointing but the experience was great. I just wish I knew if the cause of the failure was because of how I raised the queens of the mating conditions. Things I would do differently:
-Make sure I have the 10 frame boiling with bees, or better yet try a closed nuc style starter instead. I am doing so few cells the ten frame starter may be over kill.
-Cage the queen on the frame I want her to lay on.
-Make the mating nucs more leak proof by dividing them with wood instead of foam.
-Move the mating nucs to a new location if possible.
I will follow up with a picture of the brood pattern of the new queen. I am sure it will be lovely.