Easy Queen Rearing

Many beekeepers believe queen rearing is a very technical and difficult process. Actually it is easier than you think.  There are a lot of good ways to do it.  Harvesting swarm cells in the springtime is one way, but to be in control of the process and get queens when you want them, the beek has to intervene & get the bees to do it on command. Moving the queen out of a strong colony by forming a nuc and keeping her in it is one way to get the bees to go into emergency queen rearing mode.

A modified approach is Mel Disselkoen’s On-The-Spot (OTS) queen rearing methodMel Disselkoen

that essentially is removing the lower part of cells where eggs have just been laid.  Every 2nd or 3rd cell can be left intact and the bees will be able to quickly build the queen cells downward, as opposed to having to float the larva out to the edge of cell and then start the downward queen cell building.  Check out the OTS method at OTS Queen Rearing

Grafting is easier now as result of the cool work done in 2014 by Maryann Frazier

Maryann Frazier

and team in 2014 at Penn State University.  Sometimes it is called cell scraping.  The team there figured out that beekeepers can get direct access to newly hatched larva for grafting by scraping the wax off of black plastic foundation.  This really works, but I would like to offer some tips on the procedure.

black plastic foundation freshly drawn - eggs newly laid
The process is a bit temperature sensitive.  Later in the season when it is warmer the wax can melt into the cell base and obstruct access to the larva.  If it hot you can sit in your car or truck with the air conditioning on and still graft.  (My buddy Steve Rapasky taught me this trick.  He is the author of Swarm Essentials.)

Rite-cell black foundation from Mann Lake is my favorite because the plastic cell bases are a little deeper than that of other manufacturers.

Newly drawn comb on clean foundation works best.  When I am ready to make queens I find the queen and put her on the target frame and put a rectangle of #5 hardware cloth over her.  This allows the workers in and out but keeps her confined to the target area for egg laying.  This frame is kept in the center of the brood nest where she has been laying.  3 1/2 days later I come back and remove the frame.  Taking the frame to a safe place I scrape the wax off cells leaving the larva (of exactly the right age) which can be scooped up quickly and deposited in queen cups (conditioned in advance in a hive).

Keep a damp cloth over the cups and work quickly to keep the larva from drying out.  The cell frame is then placed in the cell builder hive for the initial build.  One day later the frame is either: 1) moved to a cell finisher colony or 2) the hive is converted to a cell finisher by removing the solid panel from the Cloake Board.  Bees tend to tear down capped queen cells over time if they are not protected or moved to an incubator. An inexpensive chicken egg incubator works well.

Frazier, Nino and Grozinger outline many of the details of the cell scrape graft method in “Grafting” , on pages 38 & 39 of Bee Culture Magazine, February 2015 edition.

For more encouragement in making your own queens be sure to read this Scientific Beekeeping article:  Queens For Pennies by Randy Oliver .

Randy Oliver

Grafting is fun and confidence builds with practice.  My friend Dr. Larry Connor told me during a 2008 queen rearing course: “Just go out and find a hive and practice grafting everyday, even if you don’t plan to use them!”

3 thoughts on “Easy Queen Rearing

  1. Thanks for this article. Through the years I have traveled the path from taking frames with cells, to cutting cells, to making colonies queenless and “notching” cells. This year it’s time for full on grafting. It’s a wonderful journey the bees take us on. Yay, spring is here!

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  2. Insight info Joe. I just grafted today after a seven day prepping period with capped brood in a queen right starter box. The nurse bees were overflowing from the box.

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