This summer I got a chance to learn more about raising queen bees by instrumental insemination. It is my seventh year of owning an apiary and raising queens in Slovenia and as a target group member of the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia in the BeeConSel project, I was able to be a participant in the workshop on Instrumental Insemination of honey bee queens which took a place in Poland.
From Ljubljana to Krakow is almost 820 km and I went there by car with Jernej and Manca, amazing colleagues from the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia. Since I was not the driver, I could say It was a relaxing ten-hour drive, with the main topic of conversation being, you guessed it right, bees.
We were accommodated at the hotel in Krakow from the 6th to the 10th of July. The training course was arranged in the mating station Pasieka Szeligow at Wielkie Drogi, near Krakow. It covered 32 hours of classes, including 15 hours of theory and 17 hours of practice.
Every day during the workshop we were picked up in the morning and driven to the Wielkie. It was always a fun ride where we got to see the town and locals in the rush hour. I was also able to get to know, other participants a little better. It really felt like I was a part of a big international beekeeping family from Macedonia, Norway, Slovenia, and Croatia. Even though I am not a morning person I could say I was enjoying every bit of conversation about bees in the morning.
The driver who was also employed in the apiary was getting to know us about Polish culture, the natural features of Poland and the problems which are facing beekeepers.
It was only the first day and my notebook was already 4 pages full.
Each day of the course we started in the classroom with different discussions about bee breeding in Poland and Europe, we were getting to know the standard equipment necessary for artificial insemination, available options, and selection rules. When I look back at it there was a lot of information. Still, we had an amazing teacher Małgorzata Bieńkowska, a lady who knew how to wrapall those facts into simple instructions, so it was easier for us to use them later in practical work.
She was able to make you feel confident about the instrumental insemination like you know exactly what you are doing. After the theoretical part, of the course, we went to the apiary. There we got to know Monika; she reminded me of the queen bee of the apiary we were training at. Besides the great beekeeper she is, Monika also organised the workshop. During the queen rearing season (which lasts only 12 weeks), she takes care of 7 locations (queen breeding stations) and gives instructions/work to up to 16 employees. I got the chance to talk to a few of them and I must say they were one of the happiest hard-working people I ever met. I guess you could say they are happy with Monikas’ workand the pheromones she emits.
In the following days, we got to know the anatomy and physiology of queen bees and drones, factors influencing the quality of artificially inseminated queen bees and different techniques of insemination.
For an easier understanding of how difficult it is to successfully inseminate one queen bee; Małgorzataand Monika can take the semen from 7 to 10 drones, inject it into the queen and repeat the process with up to 100 queens in one day. Compared to my second day of instrumental work where I needed
132 drones to take the semen for one queen bee, on which I later inseminated only half of her ovaries. Long story short, it takes lots of time, patience, and practice to become a good inseminator. As if the process is not challenging enough, you also need to prepare the family to receive the queen bee. It is just fascinating how many factors affect the performance and later subsequent satisfaction of the beekeeper.
I do not know when the next time will be I will be able to hear so many different international phrasesfor the word “screwed up”. But I must say towards the end of the workshop we were getting betterand better.
I am really thankful that I was able to be a part of the Instrumental insemination workshop in Krakow. Not only that I learned so many new things which I will later use in my apiary, but I also got to meet people with so similar yet so different beekeeping lifestyles. It was a one-in-a-million experience that I will never forget.