The stages of bee improvement

I believe the improvement of our stock is an important and interesting part of beekeeping. There is very little taught about bee improvement, certainly not at the level that is suitable for the ordinary beekeeper with only a few colonies, or beginners. I think that is unsatisfactory and is why I have added information to this website. I have studied widely on the subject, so if you have questions, please Email me.

Bee improvement isn’t difficult. If you think about it most beekeepers are probably doing most of the work anyway, they just aren’t piecing it together in an organised way. I hope this page will help do that.

Before you start…..

Mental barrier. Many beekeepers don’t do things because they think they are beyond them. Quite honestly I think some teachers/speakers/writers make things far more complicated than they need be and it discourages people. Try breaking things down into smaller bits and tell yourself you can do it.
Understand the process. Bee Improvement relies on a little knowledge of several topics, most of which all beekeepers should know. The “basics” should be understood by even the fairly raw beginner. Rearing queens is simple, but you need to know their life cycle. If you have queen cells in a colony you need to know what will happen in different stages of their development, otherwise you may have a colony swarm, or queen cells destroyed.
Know your bees. This can only be learnt by you handling your bees on a regular basis. With experience you will be able to compare them with your other colonies and those of other beekeepers.
Now for the interesting bit…..

Criteria. Decide a few simple traits you would like to see in your bees. In the early stages these could be temper and calmness on the comb. Bad tempered bees are unpleasant to handle and can sting other people. “Runners”, although not usually bad tempered make queen finding and inspections difficult. Both increase the time it takes to inspect a colony.
Assessing colonies. I think this is one of the most neglected areas of beekeeping, yet most of us are doing it without noticing it. How often do you close a colony after an inspection and think “they were a joy to handle” or “they were a bit stroppy”? All you need do is to have some sort of measurement and record the results.
Recording. Many beekeepers have colony records and all that is needed is a slight extension of them.
Queen cells. They are obviously needed and can be “natural” or “artificial”. Natural queen cells are built by the bees and are probably most suited to the beekeeper with a few colonies. The most likely source are swarm cells, but with a bit of management, emergency cells can be produced. Those who want more queens, or from a particular colony, will probably use artificial cells that will be built in specially prepared colonies.
Mating. Queens will need to get mated from some sort of hive. The usual options are mini-nuc’s, standard frame nuc’s or full colonies. This will depend on the needs and situation of the beekeeper.
Assessment. You will need to know if what you have bred is an improvement on what you already have. The assessment of every colony at every inspection will tell you this. Although some queens are good, they don’t always make good breeding material, so you will know if you should breed from her again or not.
Culling. I think culling is one of the most important parts of bee improvement. I am looking at requeening 50% of my colonies all the time. If you keep poor stock you will be releasing poor drones to mate with other queens in your area.
Continuous improvement. Once you have improved to a good level, don’t give up. You will still need to keep on top of things. Don’t forget that other people’s drones are mating with your queens and you will still have some culling to do.
The above might seem daunting, but look at each item and ask yourself if you are already doing it. You may find you are, but are not seeing the significance, or are storing the information in your head and doing nothing with it. I hope I can encourage you to take those extra few steps and improve your bees. You may find you enjoy your beekeeping more.

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