Getting Started with Queen Rearing
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Getting Started with Queen Rearing  

  By Dana Stahlman

Why raise queens?

    • You have some superior characteristics in the stock you have.

    • There is money in it!

    • A small producer can raise better queens and provide better service.

    • Almost anyone can do it!

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A queen that is not superseded -- This is a common complaint.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.
  1. Shipping conditions - Hot over heated in transit or chilled at some point.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 honey-producing queens.

A queen should be disease resistant, mite resistant, and anything else resistant.

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 not.

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 bees]
    • 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.

Getting Started

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.

The Procedure

Cell building Colonies:

    • You will need one or more depending on the number of queens you want to raise.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    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 dry).
    • I go into my bee yards and shake 10 to 12 pounds of bees into package cages.
    • 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, & 3               

    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 cell builder.

Day 5

Larva is now clearly visible and growing rapidly. 

Day 6

Larva fills Cell -- Too old to graft.


Day 8-9

Cell sealed over



Day 9 - 12

Larvae begins spinning stage of development. Pre-Pupa stage



The Pupa Stage

Time period (days 12 - 16)  Approximately 120 hours

Day 12 Day 13 - 15 Day 14 Day 16
The queen can now be clearly identified as bee like.  Color is white Nymph but no wings developed. The queen pupa begins to darken with the eyes developing color.  The wings are the last to develop. It is at this time that cells can be moved into nuc's. Nuc's must be ready. Adult Virgin Queen emerges.

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.