We are supportive of grafting techniques to help assist the honeybee populations for a stronger vitality and we have benefited greatly from including grafted queens into our genetics program. However, for a handful years now, we have abandoned using grafted queens and prefer to let our bees choose their own queen, which we call naturally-reared queens. We believe that the bees know best which eggs are most vital and it plays into our program of interrupting the brood cycle for reducing mite populations.
Grafting is the rather simple act of transferring a fertilized honeybee egg, destined to be a female worker bee, into a structure and location so as to imitate how new queens are raised, thereby inducing honeybees to treat it as such and attend to it in ways to produce a queen honeybee. Many great things have been discovered with our ability to do grafting. Furthermore, grafting is the backbone procedure used in stabilizing a known honeybee trait in a population of bees. Through a process requiring several generations, bee breeders can make almost the entire population homozygous (having only that single allele expressing one single trait) for a given gene. A powerful tool no doubt. We, like so many other beekeepers have benefited from obtaining grafted queens reputable for various reasons. Specifically, our interest has always been with bees shown to have an additional level of Varroa mite resistance. We have imported into our operation bees with various pedigrees attesting to the level of genetic purity specific to a particular region of the world. We have obtained Russian bees, Carneolan bees, Caucasian bees, as well as locally adapted crosses between them. Many had distinct characteristics that separated them as different, especially with regards to resistance traits against Varroa. Some were otherwise less fit, less productive, and less hardy in other measures than bees already in my care. Rather than undertake a wholesale conversion of our operation, we have always employed a conservative position with regards to bees with a new genetic origin. We have always introduced these new queens onto only a portion of new colonies being reared, saying to ourselves, that if the traits are truly increasing fitness, then the genes responsible for such will permeate through our breeding population in a natural fashion, so as to become more abundant on the landscape over time. If on the other hand, these new traits do not add up to a bee more fit for survival, than the gene will fall out of the population as easily as it came. As I write this, there are now finally, several sophisticated programs in effect nationwide and even worldwide, with the goal of isolating known resistance traits and breeding entire populations of honeybees for the presence of such. These are lofty goals, and have been the goals of many pioneers in survivor stock for decades. It is good news that some major amounts of research dollars have been put forth in recent years, for these projects when properly done are very intensive efforts, surpassing what one operation can do alone.
Grafting also has the unintended consequence of taking the choice of which eggs are to be reared into a queen, out of the hands of the bees. In a natural setting, when bees are compelled to raise a new queen, they will raise one to a dozen or so new queens from a selection of up to several thousand eggs. Why do they pick this one or that? We know not. We do know that the larvae are picked to be queens at a very young age; the younger the better. Studies show that the younger the larvae that the bees can choose from, the more robust the queen, and the greater chance of her rising to be the mother of the colony. But why bees choose a certain egg or young larvae to rear is still one of many great mysteries. Rudolf Steiner was of the mind that the practice of grafting was an unnatural act and that it diminished the quality of the queen and her relations to the workers that care for her. He even predicted that a continuation along the path of broad scale grafting would lead to a loss of vitality in the honeybee and to the demise of apiculture. Needless to say, any beekeeper intent on beekeeping in accord with Biodynamic standards must forego the use of the grafting technique for the raising of new colonies.