This year, my goals were to raise a few more queens than last year, raise them without grafting, and raise them in a way that will produce individual queen cells. To that end, this year I am trying the Nicot system (also called the Jenter system). In this system, the brood queen is confined to a plastic cassette with 110 holes into which she is able to lay eggs.
On the back side of each hole is a small, removable plastic cup which is where each of the eggs the queen lays ends up.
Each of the plastic cups is removed using a cup holder which is then attached to a prepared cell bar and placed in a queenless cell builder colony. Just before the queens are ready to emerge, a plastic cage can be slipped over the cup holder, and the virgin queens emerge caged and ready to be moved to mating nucs, sold, etc. The kit that includes all the necessary parts (the plastic cassette, 110 cell cups, and 10 each cell holders, cell bar attachments, and cages) is not inexpensive; about $70 for enough materials to raise 10 queens. But most of the component parts are reusable; only the removable plastic cups that the queen lays into need to be new each time (the instructions indicate that acceptance decreases dramatically if you reuse the cups).
So, queen rearing here at Fallen Oaks Apiary (the name I have bestowed upon my beekeeping operation; it makes the whole operation sound much more impressive than it is!) is underway. Here is the what and why of my queen rearing activities so far:
May 1 – I introduced the plastic cassette into my breeding colony and began feeding 1:1 sugar syrup.
The instructions that come with the Nicot system indicate you should introduce the cassette to the bees a few days before confining the queen to allow the bees to investigate and get used to the odor. The cassette fits snugly in a medium frame; if you were to use deep frames, you would have to attach it to the top bar with nails or screws. The sugar syrup feeding is supposed to stimulate brood rearing by the colony, although this colony did not pay much attention to the syrup (probably because by this time there were plenty of natural sources of both nectar and pollen available).
May 3 – I added a super of drawn comb to the broodstock colony. I keep my bees in all medium equipment, and coming out of the winter, the brood chamber of all my colonies consists of three medium boxes. A fourth super was added to the broodstock colony to allow me to subsequently divide the colony (in an upcoming step) while still providing plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs.
May 4 – I confined the queen to the upper two boxes of the broodstock colony by inserting a queen excluder between the lower two and upper two boxes after locating the queen and making sure she was in the upper half. This step accomplishes a couple of things. It limits the queen to two boxes, making finding her much easier when it comes time to put her in the cassette. The other thing it accomplishes is that it eliminates any new egg laying in the lower half of the colony. This means that in about 5 days, there will be no eggs or brood of a suitable age for rearing queens remaining in the lower half of the colony, making the lower half a good cell builder in a future step.
May 10 – I confined the queen to the plastic cassette; divided the colony at the queen excluder; and moved the lower half of the colony to a new hive stand. The plastic cassette has a plastic queen excluder over its face, allowing workers in and out to tend the queen. The queen is restricted to the 110 holes in the cassette for her egg laying activities. She will spend 24 hours in the cassette. By moving the lower half of the colony to a new hive stand, all the field bees will return to the half containing the queen, leaving just young nurse bees in the queenless half that is destined to be the cell builder. Having installed the queen excluder 6 days previously, there should be no brood suitable for rearing queens in the cell builder, allowing all queen rearing efforts of the bees to be directed at the eggs I will be giving them in 24 hours.
May 11 – I inspected the cell builder colony for queen cells; I found one and destroyed it (it was occupied but hadn’t been sealed yet). I released the queen from the cassette back into the colony (and added a third brood box). I loaded 19 of the cell cups (I lost or misplaced one cup holder, hence 19 rather than 20 cell cups used) onto two prepared cell bars and installed the cell bars into the cell builder colony.
At this point, the cell builder colony has been queenless for 24 hours, so they should be primed to raise new queens, and the only suitable brood at this time are the eggs I supplied. In 16 days, I should have adult queens emerging!
So far, I am very impressed with this system. It has performed as good or better than advertised. After confining the queen for 24 hours, there were eggs in 88 of the 110 cell cups; two cups had two eggs in them.
The amber cups made it relatively easy to see the eggs, even from the underside of the cups when removing them from the cassette with the cup holders. Of the 22 cups without eggs, two were packed with pollen. All the parts fit well and were easy to use. As long as the bees accept the cell cups and draw out queen cells, I give this system an enthusiastic two thumbs up! Going forward, I will leave the cell builder colony undisturbed for a couple of days (the eggs should hatch on May 13 or 14) and will then check to see how many of the cells are being constructed. I’ll keep you posted!