HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — According to Gary Carns, president of the Capital Area Beekeepers Association and an eighth generation beekeeper, two thirds of our food we eat are pollenated by honeybees.

That’s why keeping beehives healthy and productive is important. At Strites’ Orchard, members of the Capital Area Beekeepers Association are working on their queen improvement program, using larval queen bees (bred by Carns in this case) to replace older queens in their hives.

“What we are doing, we’re trying to do here is improve the quality of our honeybees here in Central Pennsylvania.” Carns said. “We took one of my very productive colonies, and it’s already produced over 250 pounds of surplus honey this year. It’s more than seven feet tall.”

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That hive produced queen bee larvae, which were transferred to other beehives for initial rearing by their worker bees. These will be used to replace older queen bees already in hives.

“A queen bee,” says Carns, “Can live one to five years. The productivity of the queen in her first year is her best year. Her second year she greatly declines. If you really want a strong colony you’ll want a one year old queen in there all the time.”

The queen bee larvae are taken from the beehives shortly before hatching, and taken to a more isolated area of the orchard, where they are transferred to units called nucleus colonies – nucs for short (Yes, it is pronounced “nukes”). The nucs contain worker bees without a queen. The queen larvae (one per nuc) will hatch out within a few days, be cared for by the workers, then make their mating flights in five to seven days. The queens will mate multiple times; the drones die after mating. One of the reasons this project is being carried out at Strites’ is there are 40 hives on the property, which provides the queens with lots of genetic diversity.

“There’s plenty of drones,” explains beekeeper Deborah Buckfelder. “Those are the males that they can mate with, and hopefully within three weeks we’ll come back here, and we’ll see signs that she’s laying. It’s to improve the genetic stock of our own bees that we have.”

But Deborah Buckfelder had a surprise in her nuc. Somehow, one of her queen bees had hitched a ride. If left in the nuc, the old queen would probably kill the larval queen.

“Luckily Gary has a queen cage, so he put her in there,” says Buckfelder. “When I go home, she’s going right back into her hive.”

Long term Gary is hoping to produce more productive, disease resistant, and “gentler” bees, ones not so likely to get riled up when you open their hives.

“But our purpose on this day is not to start new hives but replace older queens, so they can go through the winter strong, and come out in the spring ready to create a nice strong colony and produce lots of honey.”

“They really are an amazing creature.” he adds. They’re the only creature that makes food for man, they’re also the only thing that doesn’t harm another living organism. They secrete their nest, they secrete the wax, they build their own nest, when they visit a plant, the plant’s better off than before they came, so the honeybee’s very important to man.”