breeding queen bees


Queens are bred based on three factors:

    •    Swarming impulse
    •    Queenlessness
    •    Supersedure

Queen Mother  -  Purebred-  First cross

Queen Father  -  Drones from selected hives spread throughout the apiary. These need to be started at least 6 weeks before queens fly to mate.

Starter Bees  -  Gauze box – dummy bar

Finisher Hive  -  Queen right hive with queen below queen excluder, plenty of fat nurse bees

Mating Nucs  -  4 Frame – 3 Frame – Mini Nucs

Conditions  -  Must be a good supply of nectar and pollen coming in

Conditioning  -  Preparing hives for all the upcoming operations by feeding light sugar syrup and pollen if necessary

Plastic Queen Cells

Size 00 Sable Hair Paint Brush – Chinese Grafting Tool

Book Australasian Queen Rearing by WS Pender


When all is ready and prepared and the weather is right prepare the gauze box with young bees shaken off frames of larva.  These frames should be prepared the day before by shaking all bees off frames into bottom brood box then putting on a queen excluder the day before you need the young nurse bees so as not to have to look for the queen.  Give bees a spray with light sugar syrup and put the gauze box with the bees into a cool dark spot, such as the garage, late in the afternoon and leave them overnight.

They will cluster and cry and will be in the position that you want them in.  First thing next morning when the temperature is not too hot, and the air is not too dry, is the time to start the process of grafting.

The previous afternoon after shaking the bees off the larva and putting the hive back together an outside frame should be left out and the remaining frames spread out leaving a gap.  In that gap place the cell raising bar with the empty plastic cell cups for the bees to warm and clean.
Open the hive with as little smoke as is needed, get out the frame that you have selected from the hive you have been preparing to be your Queen Mother.  The cells you need to be grafting from need to be three days old.  To get these you need to put an empty frame, preferably with dark cells, meaningthey have had a few cycles of brood raised in them, this makes it easier to see the white larva in the base of the dark cell.  This frame you put between two frames of eggs and larva four days before you want to graft and then the larva will all be the same age for grafting.

Using the size 00 Sable hair paint brush lift out a couple of larva from one of the frames on either side of the grafting frame and lift out a couple of larva that are at least six days old.  They will be big and underneath them will be plenty of royal jelly.  Dip your brush liberally into the royal jelly and fill the brush with it.

You are now ready to start grafting.

Take your grafting bar with the warmed cells, place it across your frame you intend grafting from, and with the sun over your shoulder to illuminate the bottom of the cell (so you can see the larva)  slide the brush down the side of the cell.  It will slide under the larva, lift it out and put the tip of the brush containing the larva into the bottom of the cell cup and with a twisting motion deposit the larva into the bottom of the cell.

You need to be quick and repeat the above process until you have grafted all you queen cell cups.  You can have 18-20 cell cups per bar.  Speed is of the essence as the longer the grafts are open to the air the quicker they dry out, the more chance they will dry out and not be accepted when you put them into the crying bees in the gauze box.

These bees feel all is hopeless and are in the depths of feeling all is lost, then voila the dummy bar is lifted out by giving it a gentle shake and then carefully replace it with your bar of grafts and hey presto instantly all is bright and the bees start to groom and feed the larva that has just miraculously appeared.  Any larva that have been damaged or dried out the bees will drag out. 

All cells that have been accepted will have wax added to the sides of the plastic cells.

Come afternoon, all the accepted cells will have the wax drawn onto the edges of the cells and you will see the larva just swimming in a sea of white royal jelly.

Now is the time to be looking at your queen finishing colony which is just a queen right colony with the queen confined below a queen excluder and frames of eggs and larva above the excluder like the box that was prepared to get the nurse bees for your starter bees.

If you want to start more cells give your starter bees in the gauze box a spray with light sugar syrup, leave them overnight and they are ready to start another bar of grafts the next morning.
Repeat the above steps.

After raising one or two bars of cells you need to shake those starter bees out in front of the hive that you took them from with a judicious use of smoke to help them into their hive.

Now, as is well known, it takes 15 days from an egg to a queen.  Three days from an egg to a larva which has been grafted.  So, ten days later the cells are ready to put out into your mating nucs, where two days later they hatch out.  The bees feed them and look after them and several days later they fly and mate.  They will do this as many times as is needed to fill the spermathea with sperm and lasts her lifetime and she either runs out of sperm or eggs.  

Do not look until at least ten days after the new queen has emerged.

It takes 21 days for worker brood to hatch so after 12 days the queen can be caught and the young bees to care for her and put them into an introduction cage ready to re-queen the hive needing a new queen.
If breeding a lot of queens just do the maths so that when you catch the queen out of the mating nuc it needs to be queenless for two days and then it will be ready to accept a ripe queen cell that will hatch out in the next two days.  Just follow all the steps outlined from conditioning to preparing starter bees – cell finishers – mating nucs and so on.
This all sounds mathematically easy but if there is an extended bout of inclement weather then the virgin queens don’t get to mate and you have to start all over again as well as having to find and kill all those unmated queens.

When making up mating nucs do not forget they have to be moved at least 4-5 kilometres from where they were otherwise the bees will just gravitate back to the hives from whence they came.
If they have to be moved to an out apiary you can make them up and lock them in and move them the next morning.  The ripe queen cells that you are going to put in them can be carried in a small polystyrene six can esky half filled with sawdust.  Make hollows in the sawdust and place the ripe queen cells standing up supported by the sawdust.

On arrival at your out apiary you can open up the nucs with a few puffs of smoke at the entrance.  Wait 15 minutes then you can place the cells between two frames, the plastic being held by the top bars or the comb at the top of the frames.

If nucs need to be made up and moved straight after making them then put ½ plastic hose sleeves over the cells only leaving the end poking out the bottom of the plastic sleeve.  This stops hostile bees tearing down and stinging the queen inside the cell thus killing her.


Stuart Garske