Earlier this year I headed up to Shasta County to photograph Stayer’s Quality Queens, Matt Stayer’s family run queen bee breeding business. I followed Matt and his workers around one day at the height of the queen bee demand in the April when beekeepers need queens for their hives to pollinate orchards and farms. In nature, worker bees create a queen by feeding the larvae “royal jelly” when a queen dies or if the hive gets too big.
Matt and his employees raise queens by transferring or “grafting” freshly hatched larvae from a donor colony into man-made cell cups. The bees feed the larvae “royal jelly” and then after the queen hatches she’s moved to a small half-hive out in the field to make sure she’s is capable of laying eggs. Once she’s checked, she’s collected along with other queens and mailed to beekeepers all over the country where they will start hives and get to work pollinating. Then the process is repeated. Matt keeps track of the lineage. It’s an insect/farmer partnership- I love the science!