Many beekeepers would like to raise a few queens. Certainly choosing your best queen, based on your own criteria, is best. But how does one go about that?
Most breeders are looking (or should be) at hygienics, in the area that rates how fast bees identify dead or mite infested cells, their speed at cleaning them out, etc.
I think one of the best test for selecting queens is a test along the lines that the Ontario group has use for years now. It involves freezing a circle area of bees and counting the percentage of cells cleaned out in 24 hours.
But how does the beekeeper go about that if you do not have the equipment or freezing agent? What can the average beekeeper do?
You can look at several other items. One of the best items is the bottom board. (This may be difficult for those with full SBB.) Cleaned bottoms are a good sign. Some, will prick an area of cells with a toothpick, and see how fast the dead larvae is removed. Others may use the mite counts as a good indicator. All of these are a good measures.
One of the other things we like to do here, was something we picked up a few years back when we were playing with FGMO. At that time, the protocol (as per Dr. R) called for soaking cotton cords and laying them on top of the bars. We found out there were three type hives. After a few days, we would find....1) This type hive completely ignored the cords. 2) a second group of hives would completely propolize the cords. 3) The third group would shred the cords and drag them through the hives and deposit them out the front entrance.
We no longer use FGMO. But we do test promising hives when looking for breeding stock by tailoring that FGMO experience. We take paper towels and soak them in oil, that has been tainted with a smell trigger such as menthol or thymol, and place them on the top bars of the brood chamber. We then compare the hives (checking on day 3, day 5, and so on) as to how fast and with what conviction they have in ridding the hives of this outside influence. The faster a hive shreds the paper, the better the grade.
This is no doubt different than bees triggering on infested cells with v-mites, and other hygienic behavior. Scientists are isolating different genes that trigger different responses and behavior. One for grooming, one for cleaning out cells, etc. But I think they are all related to hive health and survivability. You want bees to clean out infested cells. And you want good house cleaners that rid themselves of pests such as SHB, etc. And you want good groomers that clean off a good amount of mites prior to them doing damage in cells.
If your going to raise queens, use some criteria for selecting your best. And sometimes that criteria is not about the most bees or honey. How many times have you heard someone mention "I can not believe the hive crashed...it was my best producer and was loaded with bees!"?
Look at traits and behavior in cleaning cells out, grooming mites, and housecleaning. We use a list of items such as brood pattern, spring buildup, running on the comb, gentleness, etc. This gets us down to a few hives, then we test further with such items as soaked paper towels.
Thank you for reading.