Local Queen Programme
About the Local Queen Programme
The purpose of the Local Queen Programme is to help and encourage all beekeepers to
raise their own queens and think about some selection criteria that should help them
improve their bees, as well as their suitability for their own area, rather than rely
on purchased queens that may not. As many beekeepers have only a few colonies it is hoped
that local Beekeeping Associations will make it easier for them by providing facilities
and opportunities either in their own teaching apiaries, or encourage members to work together in groups.
The Local Queen Programme will be operational throughout the area covered by BIBBA,
i.e. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Its success
will rely on beekeepers working together. If you are involved in the running of a local
Beekeepers Association apiary or would like your Beekeepers Association to become involved then register on the programme (no cost).
Why the need for a Local Queen Programme?
With the modern problems affecting beekeepers they have to be much better beekeepers than they were in the past. This involves learning much more about the workings of a colony and the pests and diseases we all have to deal with. It is no longer an option to slap the supers on in the spring and take them off in the autumn, as this will quickly result in dead colonies. This was known as "let alone beekeeping" and those beekeepers were often unaware of the state of their colonies. Queens were replaced by the bees either by swarming, or natural supersedure that normally happens in late summer or autumn. It didn't matter if colonies were bad tempered as they were only inspected twice a year. Any losses were usually made up by swarms the following year.
Responsible beekeepers inspect their colonies on a regular basis, therefore giving the bees an opportunity to show any aggressive behaviour. Many beekeepers now wear fully protective clothing which means they don't get stung, and this often means they are unaware of the aggressiveness of their bees that could mean other people are getting stung without the beekeeper knowing about it.
Many bees are quite dreadful with characteristics such as unprovoked stinging and following. One common and well documented reason for this is the crossing of imported queens with drones of another race.
The Local Queen Programme encourages the ruthless culling of bad tempered bees and their replacement with calm and productive ones.
Why do beekeepers buy imported queens?
They want them early in the season.
This could be to make increase, make good winter losses or for nuclei for new beekeepers just starting. Increase can be made in the autumn so the queens have overwintered, and there are ways of overwintering queens if indeed they are needed early. There is often a supply problem with early imported queens causing problems for those who rely on them.
They want them now.
This may be because a queen has died, disappeared, or the beekeeper has made a mistake during the active season. In general if more than one colony is kept there is no need to buy queens. The Local Queen Programme should show beekeepers how to get over this problem.
They want to try them to see what they are like.
This is said often, but unless the beekeeper has a reasonable number of colonies and experience it does not make sense as an inexperienced beekeeper has little to compare it with.
Local bees are mongrels and aggressive.
It is true that many bees are mongrels and some may be aggressive, but that is partly caused by continual imports. It is aggression that the Local Queen Programme seeks to address. In fact many imports are crosses before they get here, and some of them can be aggressive.
They don't know the possible dangers.
It really is surprising how many beekeepers simply don't know the possible dangers they may be causing by importing queens. Although it will never be proved it is possible that many of the current problems we have were brought in on bees e.g. varroa.
They don't know how to produce their own queens.
This is understandable as many books appear incredibly complicated, especially when many methods are described. This results in a mental block that stays forever, with many thinking it is beyond them. In fact every beekeeper produces their own queens, it's just that they don't realise it.
They don't know other beekeepers who can help them.
There are many Beekeeping Associations who don't offer very much to members including having a social side, so it is difficult for members to get to know each other or their location.
Imported queens are cheap.
It is possibly true that some imported queens are coming into the country cheaper than they can be produced by local queen breeders, but if they are not well suited to their new environment what value is the saving? Cost and value are two different things.
There are no local queens available.
It depends on when you need them, but if you already have bees or know someone who has, there is little work in rearing your own. There are usually plenty of queens or queen cells available during the active season.
They are told native bees are extinct.
This is totally untrue and was put forward by people including Br. Adam who had an interest in discrediting bees other than what they were producing or selling. As with a lot of other things in beekeeping something that is written is often copied by subsequent writers, and if it is seen in print in several places it is considered to be true. Morphometric and DNA techniques have proved that native bees and their genes are still widespread.
They are gentle.
This may be the case with some imports, but there are some that can be quite aggressive. The main problem comes a couple of generations away when some can be extremely aggressive when crossed with other bees. Gentleness can easily be bred into bees.
All the above are the usual reasons for resorting to a "quick fix", but as you can see there are other options. With a little planning many of the reasons beekeepers buy queens can be easily avoided.
What can BIBBA do to help?
BIBBA do not want to tell Beekeeping Associations or beekeepers what to do, but are willing and able to help with advise if needed. Different people will have different ways of doing things and it is expected that each BKA will have a different situation or need.
There will be information on this website that will describe many things about queen breeding and rearing, and it is up to the individual to decide what methods they use.
There are a number of people who are able to give lectures and demonstrations, and those taking advantage of these facilities should discuss their needs with the lecturer or demonstrator. Please remember though that in queen breeding and rearing there are many methods and everyone has their favourite, exactly the same as any other part of beekeeping.
How will the programme work?
In its most advanced stage it is expected there will be a pyramid with Breeding Groups, Local Beekeeping Associations and Member beekeepers, with a free flow of material in both directions. It is envisaged it will work as follows:-
Each "area" could have a Breeding Group that may be at a more advanced level than a local BKA. The members would probably be fairly serious about improving the bees in their area, and may have expertise in genetics, selection techniques, morphometry, instrumental insemination etc. They could work in partnership with several local Associations.
If Breeding Groups have a good relationship with Beekeeping Associations and beekeepers it could greatly increase the number of queens to assess and breed from. They could supply breeder queens to their local Beekeeping Associations that would increase the number of desirable drones in the area.
There is a BIBBA Breeding Group Secretary, Jo Widdicombe
groups@bibba who is able to help and advise on the setting up and running of a Breeding Group, and these can be totally independent of local Beekeeping Associations if they wish.
Local Beekeeping Associations
Many have their own teaching apiaries, and it is possible that these can be used for rearing and supplying queens to their members. It is another use for an already valuable resource. It may be this is not possible due to such things as space restrictions or an overworked apiary manager, in which case perhaps another site can be found, or a small group can do the queen rearing on behalf of the Association. Breeder queens could be taken from the Breeding Group and queens or queen cells reared from them for distribution to members.
If BKA teaching apiaries were stocked with good placid bees that have been raised locally they could be used as a good benchmark for such characteristics as temper.
The vast majority of beekeepers are amateurs with only a few colonies and it is difficult for them to improve their bees without help. As members of bigger organisations they have the benefit of having access to good queens, although they may well have good bees themselves they can share with others. Once a member has acquired good queens they can raise their own by any method they want e.g artificial swarm, and their good drones will help increase the local drone population.
The programme is expected to be very fluid with everyone helping each other.
The above can be modified to suit the beekeepers involved. It may be that one element could be left out e.g. there is no area Breeding Group. In that case it would probably mean that selection and breeding may need to be done by several individuals with less facilities.
There may be Beekeeping Associations who have no teaching apiary or perhaps the officials are less than enthusiastic about helping members improve their bees. In these cases BIBBA encourages the members to address the situation for the benefit of beekeeping in general.
There will be several issues that will need to be dealt with at a local level. These could be such things as the funding of the programme, or some beekeepers just wanting cheap or free queens without putting anything back. If something like a draft agreement is required that could be arranged.
There may be possibilities of grants and this approach should be encouraged.
It is hoped the Local Queen Programme will encourage great enthusiasm for breeding and raising good productive queens for everyone, and it is hoped they can work together and share information. In this way the process of steadily improving the quality of bees in this country could begin.
This page has been created for information on the BIBBA "Local Queen Programme" which is soon to be launched.
This will help local BKA's and their members to raise queens from local stock that will suit their own conditions.
This page will be frequently updated. Please return regularly.