Each spring along with us our beekeeping family Steve & Sharon Park and Daren & Alissa Wooters gather together to produce and ship a line of queens we call “Homer Park Italians.” Homer started queen rearing in Palo Cedro in the 1940’s and passed down his knowledge to each generation. We are all involved in our state and national beekeeping organizations for the “continued education”. Believing in keeping our business’s up to date with the latest and most informative materials available to beekeepers and queen breeders. We also proudly support the University of California, Davis Bee Biology facility and the Harry Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Endowed Fund as a permanent bee research funding source to insure healthy bee hives for pollination and honey production for years to come.
Queens are reared in the farthest north section of Northern California’s central valley for the purest mating grounds. Drones are equally important. Many of our hives are selected to rear drones to supply the virgin queens with ample semen for a lifetime. “Drone Mother” colonies are placed near the mating apiaries located in isolated valley areas. We are founding members of the Bee informed Partnership and work closely with them throughout the year to test our bees. Breeder queen’s bees are dissected and tested for tracheal mites with the priority to use only non infested stock, then grafting from these selected queens creating a tracheal mite resistant line. Varroa mite tolerant queen stock is selected from monitored non treated hives. Top quality gentle queens are perfected that perform well in all areas and have large clusters of bees for almond pollination. From years of close relationships with researchers, Dr. Harry Laidlaw and Dr. Eric Mussen, we have learned the health of the drone is just as important as the health of our queens. For every queen we have raised, we have raised 20-40 times as many drones. We plan to continue working with researchers in an ongoing effort to stay educated with the latest discoveries.
Wooten’s Queens & Bees, Inc has about 4,000 hives moved to Chico, California, around February first for almond pollination.
Wooten’s Queens & Bees, Inc, produce 3 frame nucs, with no frame exchange building 15,000 new frames every year, these nucs are kept in a 4 frame unit from June until offered for sale in March. These nucs produce honey in the summer and pollinate almonds in the spring to prove themselves. The nucs when sold, have their queen and 3 frames of established hatching brood. When an ample food supply is provided either by natural gathering or syrup and pollen substitute added, population growth increases rapidly. Honey production has been reported to be very substantial the first year. When placing these nucs into the customer’s boxes and by working indoors, truck load lots can be made under any weather conditions.
From the standpoint of industry visibility, the queen production side of the business is by far the best known. Both Robert and Amanda play an active role in this, from breeder selection to shipping. Wooten’s ship about 60,000 queens every season. Most are sold directly, plus many more go to requeening their own colonies.
Robert is the breeder selector, a task he relishes. Breeder stock are selected queens that are top quality producers and proven Varroa and Tracheal mite resistant.
Our breeder queen bees were dissected and tested for mites with the priority to use only non-infested stock, which created a tracheal mite resistant line. Working closely with the Bee Informed Partnership our bees are tested on a regular bases to enhance our Italian stock.
For a brand new breeder queen, special care is taken to insure her offspring meet the standards of the operation. Some are kept as breeders themselves if they prove worthy. “Looks” is the first test from a new breeder which includes color (very important) and size.
During the main honey production time, queens are evaluated for the traits important to the line they produce – honey production, brood production (both amount and rate) and gentleness. Promising colonies are marked for further evaluation. After a year’s observation her progeny will prove themselves, or not, relative to production, build-up, gentleness, mite resistance, hygienics and overwintering ability.
Wax cell cups are put into the incubator before grafting. This makes them less brittle, warms them to near colony temperatures, insures they are dry and results in increased acceptance.
Cell bars are put in queenless cell starter colonies that are fed every other day with watered down HFCS55 (liquid sugar blend) with just a touch of bleach added to keep bacteria under control. The cell bars are moved to queenright cell builders in the same yard. Cell builders or finishers are two-deep colonies with the queen on nine frames below, an excluder between and three frames of cells, two honey and the rest bees above. Young bees and brood are added every five to ten days to support this many cells. A 90% acceptance rate is the goal, and anything less than 75% is investigated.
Honey is extracted where it is produced in California. All honey goes to a bulk packer. Wax cappings are used mostly for foundation trade since they sell between 15,000 frames a year in nucs. Some wax is used as wax cell cups for the cell bars in the queen operation.
Modern, commercial beekeeping is a complicated business. It requires the skills of a plant and animal biologist, a mechanic, a tax expert, a woodworker, truck driver, salesperson, bookkeeper, and personnel director. You can hire some of these skills, and most operations do. Wooten’s however, employee Robert & Amanda for these tasks.