How Do I Harvest Royal Jelly?
Ask the Expert!
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Kristi Cook replies:
To harvest royal jelly in any quantifiable amount, you’ll need several strong, healthy hives and a working knowledge of queen grafting. In a best-case scenario, a single, thriving hive may potentially produce around 500 grams of royal jelly over the course of about 5-6 months. This small quantity is one reason RJ is so costly and generally produced only by commercial operations for the consumer market. However, if you’re looking to produce royal jelly for wet grafting or as a source for personal supplementation, then you may find the small amount more than sufficient for your needs.
Royal jelly is produced by worker bees as food not only for queens, but for worker and drone larvae as well. However, only the queen larvae receive copious amounts of royal jelly. Workers and drones receive small amounts by comparison only during the first few days of life. After about three days, their diet is switched over to the less nutritious bee bread.
For this reason, grafting must be done to encourage worker bees to start several queen cells in a starter hive just as you would when intending to rear queens to maturity. The difference, however, is rather than moving the grafted cells into a finisher hive after 24 hours or so, you’ll leave the grafts in place for up to four days. You will remove the cells once you see they are sufficiently filled with royal jelly and before the queen larvae get too large, causing the amount of RJ to decrease.
Or, if you see the cells aren’t receiving sufficient RJ within this time frame, you may wish to move the grafts out of the starter colony and into the finisher colony. You would then leave the grafts in the finisher colony for around three to four days to allow the workers to continue adding RJ to the cells.
Once there is ample royal jelly in each cell, you’ll pull the cells and remove each individual larvae to avoid contaminating the RJ with bee larva using either a tiny spoon or even a stiff grafting tool. You’ll also need a way to remove the jelly from the queen cup. Many use a small syringe to suck the jelly out or you may find a small craft stick works better. Royal jelly may then be refrigerated for later use or frozen for several months to a year.