What affects queen quality?
Everything affects the quality of the queen. This is why I'm obsessive about the process of queen rearing. I want THE best quality queens possible. For now we're leaving genetics out of the equation to focus on physical development. Genetics are quite an important factor, don't get me wrong. From day one, larvae intended to be queens are fed royal jelly. Worker larvae are fed a diluted mix around 24 hrs of age. This is where the developmental path diverges and the larvae will be either a queen or worker. Often beekeepers graft larvae that are too old and have consumed worker mix. This results in poor queens that do not perform, and have under developed ovaries. It happens often in walkaway splits, emergency worker comb queens from accidental queen death, or when larvae older than 24 hrs are grafted. It comes as a surprise to many that someone would speak negatively about walkaway splits, which are still a popular method of queen rearing. To me, this is old news. GM Doolittle, the father of modern grafting noticed and articulated this issue in the 1800's. (reference his book "Scientific Queen Rearing" for further info) If older larvae are used, the queens development and performance is quite compromised. Queens are obviously vastly different than workers. Their entire function and physiology are changed by their diet. This epigenetic change in diet, literally alters her DNA. Wrap your mind around that. When a bee's development towards becoming a worker, or a queen begins, it needs to be unimpeded. Be certain to graft only newly hatched larvae to avoid queens which may have already been fed to develop into a worker. The general consensus from my queen courses is, "if you can barely see the larvae they're the perfect size." Secondly, nutrition is a factor. If you pay attention to when bees naturally raise queens, you will notice it always occurs during nectar and pollen flows. The workers' glands that produce royal jelly are swelled and productive, stimulated from incoming nectar and pollen. Take notice that colonies that throw nice swarms typically have large populations. When setting up a cell builder to produce queens, we need to replicate these ideal conditions. Only attempt to raise queens when the bees are attempting raising queens. This takes care of the often overlooked portion of the equation as well, drones. Nectar and pollen flows stimulate not only worker hypopharyngeal glands, but also drone production. If you follow their lead, they will let you know when the time is right. I use large queenless cell builders to produce queens. When the population is large, they have much more resources to devote to this vital endeavor. I also feed my cell builders constantly while they are constructing the cells and feeding my queens. It's not unheard of to have several days back to back of rainy weather in spring. Since I feed consistently, they have ready access to food. When you have queens that are well fed, their ovaries are fully developed and capable of laying large quantities of eggs. Small under developed queens lack fully developed ovaries and are incapable of laying enough eggs to produce a large population of bees. Small bee populations are worthless. They won't produce surplus honey, there's not an abundance of brood frames to make nucs. They are much weaker and less capable to fighting off pests and diseases as well.
Queen quality obviously can affect your entire operation. After you have raised quality queens, be sure to protect your investment. Don't bank queens unless absolutely necessary. Often banked queens are neglected, or their tarsi (foot pads) are chewed. This causes a much higher rate of supercedure. Introduce them to their new colony asap. Shipping is also a huge stress on queens. They're tossed about with varying temperatures, and are out of the care and warmth of the hive. She is cooped up and not able to lay eggs as she would be doing if left alone in her colony. If you're raising your own queens, you've eliminated that risk as well. Don't skimp on anything when it comes to your queens. They are the foundation our operation is built upon.