Getting Started with Queen Rearing
Why raise queens?
Some background into the history of queen production over
the last 100 years.
If you read the beekeeping literature of the past 100
years, one thing stands out -- we have been trying to create the perfect
queen and article after article complains about queens. Just what does a
queen buyer expect from a queen?
A well bred queen -- one that
lays well and produces a lot of brood
Not always a genetic factor:
Weather is a big factor -- cool, wet breeding
days during the first 15 days of new queens life has more to
do with proper breeding than anything else is.
Ample drone populations -- Each virgin queen mates
approximately 15 to 20 times. According to USDA experts, a
drone population of approximately 50 drones per queen is
needed for excellent mating results. Excellent drone mother
hives are a must -- The drone provides 50% of the genetic
material for the new bees.
A queen that is not superseded -- This
is a common complaint.
Bees seem to know if something is wrong with a queen. They set about
replacing her. Many things can happen to a queen.
- Shipping conditions - Hot over heated in transit or chilled at some point.
- Injury -- often time's bees will chew at the feet of a new queen
introduced into a hive while she is still in her introduction cage.
- A handling injury by the queen breeder when caging the queen.
A queen that produces gentle bees -- Aggressive
bees are not fun.
This is a genetic factor; it can be controlled by selection of
breeding stock and drone stock. This
is where the queen breeder really does his/her thing in selection.
A queen: greater honey production from her bees--
A new queen should pay for herself in greater honey
production: At current honey prices an increase of 15 to 20
pounds of additional honey is required.
Again this is genetic breeding -- select from only the best
A queen should be disease resistant, mite resistant, and anything
Again this is genetic breeding, introduction of new bees such
as Russian queens and their genetic pool into breeding programs
and critical selection of current bee stock.
So much attention has been made of the superior qualities of certain
queens. Be sure you are not falling into the "hype" of these
advocates. Consumers always want the newest, latest, most improved model
of anything. If someone were to advertise their queens as "Guaranteed
to survive from year to year, produce 500 pounds of honey per hive;
completely resistant to AFB, and all other diseases
-- thus no chemical or treatment ever required; her bees born with no
stinger -- so no fear of stinging; and best of all: the bees will stack supers on the
hive and empty the honey supers when the season is over into your buckets,
drums, or even your one pound jars."
How many of you would run out an buy a queen advertised
by a breeder as described above? Pretty outrageous claims
wouldn't you say!
Why you can raise your own queens and they will most likely be just as
good as those you buy!
First, there is no mystery in raising queens. The bees will do
the job for you. Second, if you select from the best queen you have
then you will be making improvement in something you already have!
Most queens sold are assembly line queens and both good and bad are
produced in the process. No one can sell a queen that has just
started to lay eggs and tell you what that queen is going to do!
Some queen breeders have established a reputation for good
queens and for the most part, you can expect good queens from them
but once in awhile a bad one gets through. The bad queen
breeders will not get your second order.
Why you can raise your own queens and sell them!
A local queen breeder has the following advantages:
- Reputation among local beekeepers
- Queens face no stress in shipping in the mail
- Immediate follow-up with queen problems
- Feedback from your customers will tell you if you are on the right path or
Queens provide a good second income -- but the business is time-consuming.
Basic Queen Rearing
Queen rearing is based upon scientific fundamentals.
The following fundamental facts are:
- Queens are raised only from fertilized eggs [eggs that produce female
- A queen lays an egg the development time from the time until the time a
new queen will emerge is 16 days +/- a few hours.
- Young larvae must be well nourished.
- An adequate population of young bees is needed to feed and care for the
young larvae and provide the necessary temperature in the hive.
Conditions under which queens are raised naturally.
- The most common condition is when a colony is about to swarm.
- If a colony becomes queen-less and eggs or larvae are present, the bees
will attempt to raise what is called an emergency queen.
- If a queen becomes old, is injured, or for some other reason -- the
honeybees will try to replace the old queen with a supersedure queen.
Select a breeder queen
-- she is going to be the mother of all the queens you raise!
- When one finds superior queens, every attempt should be made to
propagate that stock. Or the beekeeper might purchase a breeder queen.
- A breeder queen is a queen of outstanding characteristics. Special care
must be taken to make sure she does not swarm and thus you loose her. Most
breeders will mark the breeder queen and clip the wings so they can not
fly off with a swarm. In some cases the breeder queen is confined to a
restricted space within the hive by queen excluders and new frames of
drawn comb inserted daily for her to lay in. Other beekeepers use the
Jenter cage to keep the queen confined to select larvae without grafting.
Cell building Colonies:
- You will need one or more depending on the number of queens you want to
- Each colony used as a cell builder should be fed continuously to
stimulate the production of royal jelly and the secretion of wax.
- It should have a large population of young bees and have access to
stored or fresh pollen.
- The Queen-less cell builder:
I have found more success with queen-less cell builders than with
queen right cell builders.
The hive must not have young
larva or eggs in it. The
bees will not be encouraged to build queen cells if the queen is in
the hive and they will not build the cells you want from your
breeder queen well if other larva and eggs are available to them.
You must feed the cell building hive well with sugar syrup or
corn syrup to stimulate the bees into producing good queen cells.
- You have a choice in selecting the hive. It should be one of
your strongest hives, free of disease, and well supplied with
honey stores and pollen frames. And a lot of young bees!
- A single hive body colony is used when only a small number of
cells are to be raised. Most queen breeders use two or three story
colonies to raise queen cells.
Sharing my secret
I have had the best success any time during the year-- although early
spring with swarming season is the easiest by doing the following:
- I always use single deep hive bodies for my cell builder and finisher.
- I build this cell builder whenever I want good strong cells built. It is
not an existing hive in my apiary. (This is critical) The temperature must
be in the 70 degree range.
- I set up an empty shell -- bottom board, deep hive body, inner cover, top
cover and division board feeder (filled with syrup - an never allowed to go
- I go into my bee yards and shake 10 to 12 pounds of bees into package
- I visit four strong hives. I take one frame of capped brood from each one
and a good frame of pollen & honey. No bees and no eggs or larva on the
frames. All brood frames are kept in the center of the hive.
- I add the frames to the "Cell Builder" and I immediately dump
all 10 to 12 pounds of bees onto them.
- I then wait for several hours before adding my queen cell cups with young
larvae. The queen cells can be from a Jenter system or grafted by you using
the Doolittle method. -- There are other methods as well.
You will need a separate small hive for each of the queen cells you raise and
enough bees in each to support the young virgin queen when she emerges from her
cell. And of course, you need a drone population
for her to mate with!
A Calendar for Raising Queen Cells
Queen Production Schedule:
Time period (days 1 -
3) Approximately 72 hours
Days 1, 2, &
The Egg Stage
It takes the honey bee egg
three days before it hatches into a very small larva.
Time period (days 4 - 12) Approximately 192 hours.
The Larvae and Pre-Pupa stage
|Day 4 Larva c sized
Time to graft larvae and place into cell cup and
Larva is now clearly visible and growing
Larva fills Cell -- Too old to
Cell sealed over
|Day 9 - 12
Larvae begins spinning stage of development.
Time period (days 12 - 16) Approximately 120 hours
||Day 13 - 15
|The queen can now be
clearly identified as bee like. Color is white Nymph but no wings
||The queen pupa begins
to darken with the eyes developing color. The wings are the last
at this time that cells can be moved into nuc's. Nuc's must be ready.
Once a virgin queen emerges from her cell, she will destroy other cells
from which queens have not yet emerged. If there are other queens in the
cell builder, they will find each other and fight until there is only one left.
The virgin queen will mate usually within 5 days of emerging and begin to
lay eggs usually within 10 days after emerging. However, it may vary a bit
due to weather conditions. Researchers point out that virgin queens mate
more than once and usually between 12 to 20 mating occur. Thus you will
need a very large drone population for your young virgin queens. A good strong
healthy hive may have between 300 and 500 drones at peak periods.