Failing Queens

headshot Rauschby Andrew Rausch

I had the privilege of participating in the first meeting of the SCBA local queen-rearing project held at Clemson this past summer, and have been asked to share with you some of what I learned there.

Let me start by reiterating the main problem that beekeepers have been experiencing since a well-defined problem is also a half-solved problem. The biggest complaint has been that queens are failing in a matter of weeks or months after being introduced–not that they are not mite resistant, not that they are disease-susceptible, not even that their colonies are poor honey producers–simply that they fail almost immediately.

The three primary causes of queen failure are age, poor mating, and being poorly taken care of early in their development. We can obviously rule age out which leaves poor mating and poor quality. These are the problems that the queen-rearing project is seeking to solve.

One of the few questions you can ask any beekeeper and get an almost uniform answer is, “Which do you prefer, a locally-raised queen or a (possibly) cheaper queen from someplace else?” But if you follow it up by asking where to buy a locally-raised queen, most beekeepers are stuck. Even if they know of a source, the source is almost certainly sold out. So the SC beekeeper has been sort of trapped for many years, wanting locally-raised queens, but because of a lack of availability, being forced into buying whatever is available.

So the first step in solving our problem is to train more queen-rearers in our state in how to raise the best possible queens — and we have been blessed with some impressive leadership in the Queen-Rearing Project….they really do stress quality. And of course much, much more could be said on this topic of queen sources and quality than the scope of this article is able to address so I’ll move on to the next point.

If we’re going to take on this really quite formidable problem, it is going to require teamwork. As the president of my local club has pointed out, SCBA is different from any other statewide agricultural association in that very few state beekeepers make their living exclusively, if at all, from beekeeping, and those few who do, make it from their honey production, not from queen rearing. I am happy to report that I have already been approached by a fellow beekeeper just wanting to know how he can help and there is definitely room and need for that in each local club, but on a state level, it is going to require a major paradigm or distinct thought pattern shift among state beekeepers which I will address next month.



Blog failing queens 2015-02