Raising Your Own Queens
I’ve been asked to elaborate on my spring
work and in particular my queen rearing methods. I live in N.E.
Iowa not too far from Prarie du Chien, WI and I tend about 900
colonies a year. Maybe I should first talk about why I’m
raising my own queens. I’ve been raising queens for the
last few seasons and prior to that I was continually becoming
more dismayed at the amount of caged queen rejections, or accepted
and then supperceeded.
I’m not going to blame the queen producers
so much. They want to put out a quality product but the pressures
on the to fill orders are tremendous with the weather maybe not
cooperating, mites, viruses, diseases, chemicals and on and on…
you just can’t always be sure that the queens you’re
getting were raised under good conditions and were properly bred.
So one of the things that drives a person to raise their own stock
is control. The same negative factors can affect your own queen
rearing experience but with practice, you can determine what things
are important and what you need to pay attention to in order to
achieve good results.
The 2002 and 2003 seasons were good honey years
for N.E. Iowa and I produced lots of good looking cells. I was
quite proud of myself for getting a high percentage cell cup acceptance
in my builders and growing nice large cells. But I’m not
sure I really knew why I was having good luck until 2004 came
along and showed me the importance of having builders that are
busting with bees.
In my area, May of 2004 was a cold and rainy
month with very little dandelion flow getting into the hives.
I had a very hard time getting my builders strong enough. With
plenty of good weather in May the two previous years, my builders
were always hanging out due to high population. Last year I don’t
remember any ever hanging out. I would add brood to them from
other colonies to bolster their population but it just seemed
to be a losing battle. The time came to graft, so I said “good
enough” and hoped for the best. My cells, for the most part
were sub standard and quite disappointing. I wasn’t quite
sure why things weren’t turning out. Then I talked to someone
who told me of a different way of manipulating your builder to
get the maximum amount of bees in the box where the newly grafted
cells are to be placed.
I used to put my newly grafted cells into a starter
hive, a queenless very populated single story hive or 5 frame
nuc, for 24 hours prior to placing them into the builder but they
took time to maintain so I started not using them anymore. Instead
I would put the newly grafted cells directly into the strong cell
Good acceptance and beautiful cells can be grown
this way but you shouldn’t give them more than about 25
newly grafted cells at one time whereas you could give them 35-40
cells that were started in a separate starter.
With this new way of manipulating the builder
– it’s like utilizing a starter and builder on the
same hive. You start by finding the queen in on of your stronger
colonies and placing her in the bottom box under a queen excluder
with honey, pollen, several frames for her to lay eggs in, and
the youngest brood frames. It really doesn’t matter what
the old queen is like, just so she seems healthy and is not on
her last legs. Put the other brood box over the queen excluder
with the oldest brood frames in it.
This year I’m going to concentrate on getting
the cell builders built up early. Maybe about April 15th I’ll
start adding frames of brood from other hives to the second box.
Keep adding a couple frames every 2 or 3 days. Then by the first
week in May, after having filled the second box with capped brood
you add a third box on top with more frames of capped brood. The
hive will be quite populous. If you were not going to raise queens
until later on in May, then you would probably not need to bolster
the hive with extra brood.
When the time comes to graft, check the bottom
box that has the old queen for swarm cells. Move some of the old
frames of brood up to the top box along with a frame or two of
young larvae and give the old queen empty frames to lay in. The
top box should now have a couple of old frames of brood on each
side, then the open frame of honey and pollen, and young brood
frames toward the middle. The grafted frame should go between
a young brood frame and a honey/pollen frame. You can either have
one grafted frame with 3 cell bars of 12 or 13 cups on each bar
or have two grafted frames with 2 cell bars on each and about
ten cell cups on each for a total of 40 cell cups.
With your builder ready to receive the newly
grafted cell cups you perform the following maneuver. First, you
already have made up a bottom board with a regular front entrance
but it’s totally flat on the underside. In other words,
no cleats. Put an empty deep box on the ground for a stand and
lay this bottom board on top of it. Then take the top box of the
builder and put it on the bottom board. Then take another empty
deep or medium box and put it on top of that box. You then take
each frame from the second box still sitting on top of the queen
excluder and shake the bees off into the top box with the empty
shell on it which is to catch the huge amount of bees being shook
into that top box. When this is done and all the frames are back
in the second box, you place the specialized bottom board with
the top box full of bees, on top of the second box. After removing
the top shell and coaxing the bees down into the top box.
That special bottom board now acts as a lid for
the bottom two boxes and with the entrance pointed in the same
direction as the bottom of the hive the older bees in the top
box can freely fly back down below if they want.
You now do your grafting and place the grafted
frame or frames into the space that you left between the young
larvae frame and the hone/ pollen frame and then put the hive
lid on. In 24 to 48 hours you can then take out the upper bottom
board and reunite the second and third stories.
I was having poor luck with my queen rearing
last year, but when I did it the way I just described on my last
graft of the season my results were much better. I put a frame
of three bars with twelve cups on each bar and I got 34 out of
36 really nice looking cells. Although this was done when the
weather was warmer in later May, it still gives me hope that I
can get started earlier in May so the new queens get going.
These new cells can be installed into newly made
up nucleus colonies or used in splitting strong hives that you
feel are going to swarm. I realize you can’t expect surplus
honey from a small nuc started in May from a queen cell but it
really works nice to raise queen cells in late May or early June
and put them with weak singles you’ve made up with one or
two frames of brood. They’ll grow into nice hives for next
But splitting a strong two or three story in
May and placing a queen cell in each split can yield a lot of
honey. I always seem to end up splitting into June but then it’s
always a battle to be organized and stay ahead of the game. Most
of the time I started out behind and never catch up.
Submitted by Dave Fassbinder