Queen breading

The breading of strong performing queen bees as a prerequisite for success.

The prerequisite for breading is founded knowledge of the biological conditions of the colony of bees on the one hand and of their history, their origin and their becoming on the other, combined with the respective working methods.  The Carnica originates from the Balkans and possesses a variety of good qualities in its genetic material as a result of the environmental conditions in this area.  In order to survive it was necessary for the bee to be able to put up enormous resistance to disease by keeping to the smallest community possible, being extremely sparing (in terms of keeping stocks of honey and pollen) and being able to develop in an explosive way in order to use often only short nectar flows.  Whereas in the past nature dictated breed selection as those who were not able to resist and therefore not fit to survive died out, it is not the breeder who decides which is used for breeding.

This is where the first question arises: When is a queen suitable for use for breeding?

The basic prerequisite for the choice is a minimum number of colonies – it is only possible to choose when a suitable offer is available.  In my opinion, this minimum is 100 colonies of bees.  The most important indicator for the performance of a colony of bees is the amount of honey produced.  When the amount of honey produced is correct, then most of the other criteria for the breeding selection are normally also correct.  A colony which swarms, which is not able to adjust suitably to changes in environmental conditions (stops in nectar flow, restriction of brood rearing), which is not able to resist disease will never be able to produce a suitable amount of honey.  If a colony is above the average honey production level in the second year, it is then subjected to further tests if it appears to be suitable for breeding.  The first year is the so called “adjustment year” for the queen and is a building up year (the queen does not hibernate with its own bees if placed in the colony in the autumn.  This year cannot be seen as a test of performance.
This is where the similarities between honey comb bee keepers and breeders cease.  The honey comb bee keeper finds the best locations for their colonies (good location, good source of nectar flow)., whereas the breeder must check different variants.
The colony selected must be the best of it’s class in areas of good nectar flow and environmental conditions, medium nectar flow and environmental conditions, and also bad nectar flow and environmental conditions (e.g. bad place for hibernation, north facing slope, moist valley conditions, use of only one nectar flow).  It is decisive not to make any contact which could influence objective assessment.  Each colony should be seen as being individual.  The breeder should never carry out colony strengthening (union in spring) or prevention of swarming.  Clipping the queen should also not be carried out as the bees recognise this quickly and tend to requeen.  Furthermore there is no need for the use of drugs, prophylactics or medicines.
However, since the occurrence of the varroamite it has become necessary to carry out demiting to an extent which the bees can tolerate.  It is of extreme importance to be able to control the mite remains as this makes it possible to determine and set differences in the level of varroa tolerance. For demiting we only use formic acid – and it has been successful!
The dream of a varroa resistant Carnica bee still requires a lot of testing, observation and selective breeding.
In these tests it is of the utmost importance (especially when breeding bees) to have a simple but exact method of documentation.  All of the important information for the queen is documented in its origin card – which is the identification card for the queen.  It is then possible to draw all other important criteria related to breeding from this card.  These are swarm inertia, placidity correlated with a fixed location for the comb, the enormous drive to clean which is seen in together with the use of the propolis which is the key to long life.  Long life is anchored in the genetic material of the Carnica and is directly linked to the harmony within the colony of bees.  The advantage of the long life of the Carnica queen, bees and drones must not be underestimated (comp. Cordovan trials by my father).
If the queen is able to pass all of these tests (which can be practically carried out in three years), the morphological conditions are now merely routine.  Using the cubital index of selective breeding of species it can be proved that the origin of the queen is correct and that it is a pure breed.  It is not advisable to remove the Carnicas’ “corners” through breeding as they are a sign of particular vitality.  After all of these tests the five year old queen (comp. long life) appears to be suitable for breeding.  In our business 10 elite colonies are selected each year – this is 2 % of all colonies and therefore no further implementation is necessary.
How does breeding now take place and does breeding have an influence on the quality of the queen?The basic prerequisite is an optimal colony for queen rearing.  In our business there are 100 colonies selected purely for queen breeding.  Combs are then removed from these colonies with bees and placed on a queenright colony above a queen excluder.  A suitable provision of feed is then necessary. The combs are then removed from these bee towers (my mother’s “creation”) after 10 days and placed on a free stick at the same location.  This has the advantage that the foraging bees are able to return to the parent colony so that only the young and bees for queen rearing remain in the queen rearing colony.  When carrying out this move it is important to check for and, if necessary, remove any queen cells.  On the same day the previously prepared queen saucers are placed into the colony for queen rearing in order to clean and filling.  Through optimal conditions in the colony and an increased presence of royal jelly producing nurse bees it is possible that royal jelly can also be put into the saucer.  After an hour the frames are removed and then filled with fresh lava (approx. 10 hours old) (comp. dry grafting).  It is important to supply the colony for queen rearing with the correct amount of honey and pollen, although it is important to note that collecting fervour outweighs the breeding and the environment in the colony for queen rearing.  It is important to find the correct middle ground.  2 days after the larva is placed into the frame the so called “varroa cases” occur within the colony.  An open comb is placed directly next to the breeding frame where the varroas are collected so that the queen cells remain varroa free.  After 8 days the 12 day old queen cells are placed in the incubator with great care.  The incubator temperature is 35°C +/- 0.2° at a humidity of 70% which is achieved using cooking salt solution which is controlled using a hygrometer.  On the 15th day the queen cells, which are about to hatch, are placed into cages with four bees in each.  The queen hatching into the presence of bees is extremely important for further development.  The first instance of feeding occurs before hatching (my father has made some tremendous recordings) and the bees help the queen to hatch.  A queen which hatches in the presence of bees is more sociable for the whole of its life (there are seldom fights with bees) which is a decisive factor for long life.  Further processing is carried out as soon as possible after the queen has hatched. In order to do this we use a three comb case (the “Singer” case which was developed by my father and first produced by the Schade company) which is filled with young unused bees taken from the colonies provided.  It is not necessary to remove drones as these are selectively bred colonies which were produced in our separate area “Ötscher”.  The three comb cases which are equipped with three middle combs and have a syrup supply of 1:1 represent an optimal minimal colony.  The queen is then sprayed with honey solution and passed through the fly hole into the casing filled with bees (1/4kg).  After three days of temporal darkness the casing is set upright (the middle comb is removed and the feed stored away) and the rest is down to the queen – provided that the bee keeper has make all the necessary preparations for a colony of drones!

How do I achieve the optimal colony of drones?

Colonies of drones are complete colonies which have four year old queens in their third year of testing.  This means that these colonies must also meet the testing and selection criteria.  It is therefore necessary to use the cubital index for selective breeding of species here as well.  The placing of the new queen often takes place by supersedure in the area “Ötscher” – it is a desired criteria and guarantees good colonies of drones. 
The first steering of the drone stakes place at the autumn review. A drone comb is hung directly onto the nest.  In the spring the bees integrate this into their brooding quite quickly (and do not avoid it in the case of bad weather) – this is an important prerequisite in ensuring that mature, vital drones are available in time for breeding (comp. a drone requires 50 days to reach maturity).  It is not only the quantity (the amount) which is a decisive factor for the quality of the drones, the strength of the drone colonies is also significant. A good colony is only achieved with a minimum of 50,000 bees.  This is self explanatory as 10% of the brood is a drone brood.  The honey supply to the colony of drones is also of high importance – well kept and fed drones are vital.  This basically means that the supply of honey should never be cut off.  Only drones that “walk” on honey combs are “superdrones”.  In this case it is important to mention that the proven method of working with drone colonies is in half units without a queen excluder as the drones prefer to be near to the honey.

How is mating of the queen achieved?

Once the bee keeper has achieved all of the prerequisites – queen is in an optimal minimal colony, colonies of drones are in sufficient number and of the best quality – the fate of the queen is no longer in the hands of the breeder.  He / She is now merely an observer of the mating!
After 5 days the queen has reached maturity and provided that the weather conditions are suitable is ready for flight, the mating flight.  All experiences and perceptions of orientation flights and drone gathering places lose all importance with such a number of vital and mature drones.  As soon as the queen leaves the three comb casing she is surrounded by a swarm of drones and mating occurs according to the principle of the best, fastest and most vital being successful.  At this point nature takes over from the bee keepers breeding and natural mating of the artificial insemination should take place. (comp. a “bad” drone won’t get there).

Approximately 3 days after mating the queen begins to lay eggs – a further selection process comes into play here:  every queen which is not mated within 14 days is let fly.
As soon as the queen shows a sealed brood in the form of a closed nest (a further test and selection criteria), it is taken from the casing and sent for further analysis.
As the minimal colonies in the three comb casing are optimal they hatch a further three queens – and the process begins again.


The three prerequisites for strong performing queens are:
1. the starting basis (Breeding material)
2. the breeding ( optimal colony for queen rearing)
3. the mating (the best colonies of drones)

If the bee keeper is able to recognise and put all of these factors and the significant sub factors into practice, nothing can go wrong.

The Carnica is a bee which is not only able to adjust incredibly well, but also one which shows endless potential for positive characteristics, which enables us to enter into a happy symbiosis with this bee.  It is our responsibility to use and develop what has been presented to us sensibly.  Sensibly meaning both for the bee and the bee keeper in accordance with nature and not in the interest of short-lived business.The breeding of hybrids can bring short-lived success in the F1 generation, but contradicts long term rotational requeening.  Combination breeding presents the danger of one sided selection (comp. lack of resistance to disease) and are therefore not worthy of recommendation.
The breeding of strong performing queens as a basic prerequisite for success links breeders and honey comb bee keepers – both want the same thing; the greatest possible success with the least possible effort.
Therefore it can be concluded that the first (breeding) determines and allows the second (the honey yield must be correct).
None of the basic factors – starting basics, breeding, and mating – can be seen on its own, as they determine each other and can only guarantee success when in harmony with each other.

IM Heidrun Singer

Bienenzucht-und Lehrstation
A-3251 Purgstall/Erlauf
Tel./Fax: 0043 7489/2276
E-Mail: carnica.singer@utanet.at