Bee improvement can only be achieved by assessing your colonies to see what you have, selecting the colonies you want to raise queens from, raising queens by whatever method is chosen and culling what you don’t want. To reach that point there are a number of things you need to understand or be able to do, some of which I have listed below:-
Life Cycles. The life cycles of the three castes should be learned, in particular the queen. Although these times are only approximate there can be disastrous results if you get them wrong. An emerged queen could mean the issuing of a swarm or the destruction of all other queens in their cells, that could wreck a whole round of queen cells.
Finding Queens. The finding of queens is necessary for a number of reasons. You will need to find the queen if you wish to replace her and if you want to make a colony queenless so they can raise queen cells.
Clip and Mark Queens. Clipping and marking queens is something many beekeepers don’t like doing, often because they are frightened of damaging them. This is understandable, but if you don’t do it, you won’t get any better. Marking isn’t necessary unless you want to use the mark for recording purposes. There is no need to use the international queen marking colours, what is more important is to be able to spot the queen a lot quicker. I think clipping has become much more important, certainly since we have had problems with queens, where the colonies can build supersedure cells soon after the young quen has come into lay, allowing the colony to swarm with your young queen.
See Eggs and Young Larvae. Not being able to see eggs and young larvae is a common problem with beekeepers and has been for a long time. There are usually two reasons, firstly an eyesight problem and secondly a mental block, where they have made their minds up they can’t see them and they are beaten before they start. The answers are simple – with the former, try using a magnifying glass or Fresnel lens and the latter simply tell yourself you are going to find them – and do it!
Know the age of Larvae. This comes with experience and if you can’t work out a way of doing it yourself, then seek help from your local BKA. You will need to know within a day how old larvae are, so you can guess when queen cells are likely to be sealed and the age of larvae needed to raise queen cells from.
Assess Colonies. You will need to know which colonies you should rear queens from and which to cull. This is best done by assessing colonies against a set of criteria that you set yourself. This allows you to make comparisons with your own and other colonies.
Records. You will need to devise some form of measurement so you can make records of your colony assessments. These could be fairly simple.
Positive Attitude. In beekeeping you often have to make decisions and quickly. Probably the most difficult decision will come when you may have to cull a queen. Very often if you think there is something wrong there is and there is no point putting it off. Why keep a queen who produces bad tempered workers, run around on the frames making your inspections difficult or they cost you a fortune in food?
You may think the above are good sensible measures, but in my opinion all beekeepers should be doing these anyway, whether they are trying to improve their bees, or not. Quite frankly I come across many beekeepers who consider themselves experienced who can’t or don’t do some of the above.