Queen Rearing

Spring Inspection

Early Spring Inspection – Looking for the Queen

Controlled Queen Rearing to Raise European Honey Bee (EHB) Queens

In June of 2005, I went to Meade, NE for a Queen Rearing Workshop, taught by Dr. Marla Spivak and Gary S. Reuter. This page represents a list of notes and a table. I raised queens in the Fall of 2005 and during 2006 with great fun and success. View the QueenClass2005 newsletter with photos. The article was authored by Kristen Trainer. I am in a few of the pictures as well as are several beekeeping friends. It was really a great opportunity. The 2017 class will be offered later this summer.

When: Summer 2005
Where: University of Nebraska, Meade, NE
More Information

The 2017 University of Minnesota Queen Rearing short course teaches one method of rearing queens that works consistently for both hobby and commercial beekeepers.

Topics covered include queen and drone biology, timing of queen rearing in northern climates, stock selection and breeding for hygienic behavior, setting up mating yards, and record keeping. Everyone will have a chance to try their hand at grafting larvae and raising their own queens. A unique feature of the course is the section on queen rearing equipment designs that will allow you to build your own!

It’s now 2017 and this will be my 13th season in rearing & raising my own queens. I have since adopted my practice in doing this task in describing it as “Tricking the Bees”. This is my simple definition of the process: grafting young worker larvae into queen cell cups, placing a frame of these into a ‘cell-starter’ colony for 24-36 hour period, moving to a ‘cell-builder’ colony until 1-2 before anticipated hatch-out time, when I can then move to a modified incubator and then place for hatching into a nucleus or regular colony.

My goals for 2017:

  1. Looking for hatch time in the 1st week of April, followed by several success weeks for additional queens.
  2. Supply a few beek friends and club members.
  3. Teach my experience – I have a few lined up already!
  4. Raise queens again at the end of the spring honey flow for summer increases

For beekeepers who have mastered basic hive management and who want to learn how to rear their own queens. Main qualifications are genuine interest and basic beekeeping experience.

The obvious question, “Why not rear your own queens?”

Why? — Why not?

  • Ease of making summer increase Nucs after the spring honey flow
  • Local stock improvement
  • Replacement queens
  • Save money and time
  • Learning this skill will change the way you manage your apiary

There are three critical essentials

  • Rearing – a queen larva needs to receive a large amount of quality feed.
  • Selecting – queens ONLY from colonies with desirable traits.
  • Mating – improve the odds that reared queens will mate with drones from hives of desirable traits.

Controlled Queen rearing has 3 parts to the operation

  • Preparation – getting the cell raising colony in the right condition to raise the queens.
  • Cell raising – raising the cells you want.
  • Completion – making nuclei, installing the cells.

Controlled Queen rearing is one of the key skills in becoming a better beekeeper

  • choosing good stock
  • grafting larvae
  • rearing queen cells and drones
  • managing queen rearing nucleus hives
  • basic biology of caste determination and mating

Below is a table I created in MS Excel that outlines the EHB-Queen stages of development. Be sure to harvest sealed cells at the 11th day from when the larvae were grafted. Otherwise, queens emerge and you have a problem on your hands.

EHB (European Honey Bee)- Queen Development Stages
Event Day Stage R. Burns handout Table 1.1
Egg is laid 1 egg  
  2 egg  
  3 egg egg hatching
  4 1st larval 1st instar (molt)
  5 2nd larval 2nd instar (molt)
  6 3rd larval 3rd instar (molt)
  7 4th larval 4th instar (no molt)
Cell is sealed 8 larvae gorging stage
  9 larvae / pre-pupa  
  10 pre-pupa 5th molt
  11 pupa  
Red eye development 12 pupa coloring of the eyes
Yellowing of thorax 13 pupa  
Adult   pupa  
Pupa moult 15 pupa 6th molt
Emergence 16 adult emerges from cell
Orientation Flights 18-23 adult queen takes flight
Mating 24-31* adult  
Egg laying 2-5 days adult begins life of laying eggs

In March 2017, I updated my Queen Development Stages, if you’d like a .pdf copy of this table to print for your own use.  It’s essential to also understand the drone and worker cycles. I have updated those in spreadsheet format as well.

You can access the Drone Developmental Stages and the Worker Developmental Stages as well. I updated these sheets with some of what I have learned about genetics as a personal resource. I hope you will find the notes useful, and not too confusing.

Why you can raise your own queens for use and also sell them.

A local queen rearer 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 friends or customers will tell you, if you are on the right path or not.

A well bred queen — one that lays well and produces a lot of brood.

A queen that produces gentle bees — Aggressive bees are not fun.

A honey queen: greater honey production from her bees.

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

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 colony, they will find each other and fight until there is only one left.

The virgin queen will mate usually within 5-10 days of emerging, and begin to lay eggs several days later. This can vary a bit due to weather conditions. Researchers point out that virgin queens mate more than once and that usually between 12 to 30 mating occur with an average of about 15. Thus, one needs a large drone population for young virgin queens. A good strong healthy hive may have between 300 and 800 or even 2,000 drones at peak periods.

I like drones.

I encourage the drone-rearing in my hives by providing a limited opportunity for the bees to make drone comb. To do this, I remove one deep frame and replace it with a shallow frame in the 2nd, 3rd or 7th, 8th frame setting-on the edge of the brood nest. Later on, I found that it was just as easy to give them a deep frame and let them build the drone comb themselves. I observed that in Germany, they do this practice as part of mite control, whereby they cut out the capped drone brood and toss it away. Personally, I find this a terrible waste.

I over-winter my deeps in Northeastern Kansas with a full 10 frame count. I use 9 frames with frame spacers in my honey supers. My experience since 1999 has shown that the bee colonies WANT drones.

If a colony is not provided with the opportunity to build drone comb, they will build excess burr comb to make drones in the hive between the frames as well as as on frame bottoms and in any space available. Besides, if you are not creating an opportunity for plentiful, healthy, strong drones from your own proven stock, just whose drones will be mating with your queen(s)?

Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter, University of Minnesota, say we should re-think drones as “studs.” There have been other studies that show bee make more honey when drones are around. Guess it’s because drones eat more?

Queen Cells

Queen Cells only a Few Days after Grafting

Perfect Brood

Great Laying Pattern means a Well-mated Queen


Beautifully sealed worker brood in the pupa stage. This pattern indicates a well mated queen and diversity in mating.

Recommended Source for Bee Books:

Quality Bee Books at  http://wicwas.com

Titles for training in speciality classes: Queen Rearing Essentials, Bee Sex Essentials, and Increase Essentials.

Another fantastic book that I had just completed in December 2016 that I highly recommend for your bee library is Mating Biology of honey bees (Apis mellifera). You can read my blog about it from my personal website.

Successful Queen Rearing Manual  Spivak, M.; Reuter, G.

Results in May 2007.

In spite of severe set backs due to unseasonably cold and extended freezing weather during the 1st few weeks in April, I’m finally experiencing the results of my queen rearing. I had selected larvae from 3 different hives, which had exhibited a number of the desired characteristics I had been looking to propagate. At the top of my desires is honey production; I was also really keen on a couple of other desired exhibited behaviors from hives whose bees had been extremely gentle to work with and also had excellent winter storage.

From hive #1, my most important quality was gentleness. Mean bees are no fun! Why have them around?

From Hive #2, it was the way these bees have packed food stores and over-wintered now for several years.

From hive #3, I was looking at race. I don’t have any pure Italian hives, so 1/3 of the larvae I grafted came from Italian bees -from a hive that I’ve been taking care of for several years now.

Of all the desired traits, honey production is at the top my list. I’m also looking at gentleness, and better packing for surviving our Kansas’ winters.

Finally, my hive populations are a real mixture but seem predominantly Carniolan, Italian, residual Buckfast, SMR, hygenic and a few other varieties of queens that I cannot remember, which I have bought and that have survived and mixed during the last 7 years. About 1/3rd of the queen larvae that I grafted were of the Italian (Apis Mellifera — the common western honey bee — Ligustica or Italian) race. I grafted nearly 60 larvae and had 50+ mature cells to use for split-making and re-queening.

Picture #1 (below) taken May 26, 2007 showing marked queen (this year’s marking color being yellow). What I consider success.

I am impressed. It has been a very long time since I have seen this kind of brood pattern as this (below), filled nearly side-to-side and top-to bottom with very little ‘blanks’. I checked 16 hives today and nearly all have this superb laying pattern. What have been missing all these years? 🙂 So far, it’s been a wonderful success. It will take more time to see if the other desired improvements take hold.

Bottom line is that I am thrilled! This will go a long way toward stock improvement and additional colonies.  An amazing benefit I’ve already experienced this year is swarm control — that’s because I split nearly every hive that I had. If they were in preparation for swarming, I did not hesitate to split that hive down as I had queens waiting for homes. As a result, I a have a shortage of bottom boards and lids — yep, running out of equipment.

Marked Queen

Nice Looking Queen Honey Bee – a Product of my Experience with “Tricking the Bees”

1 thought on “Queen Rearing

  1. I much appreciate reading your web site. I am interested in producing queens. I have been a beek for 35 years, starting 41 years ago. I got out of beekg for 5 years because of losing 15 colonies to varroa, but couldn’t stay away because of love for bees. I have ten colonies now, but I have a big problem: not enough forage for bees due to the building around me of condos, duplexes, houses, office buildings plus lawns, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, all of which remove the prairie wildflowers which once supplied my bees with their sustenance. My goal for 2015 is to increase my apiary to 30 colonies. To do this I have started a flower, tree and clover-glowing mission by begging, thru persuasion and reasoning, free flower seeds from seed producing companies. Can I do this? To start with, I am a persuasive man and to finish, I have learned over a lifetime that there is nothing I cannot do. I am now engaged in building hive bodies, lots of them, as inexpensively as I can, along with bottom boards, inner covers, top covers. I can build an entire hive, with two supers for $45, with tight corners, because of two secret methods I discovered, make that three.
    I would like to ask please, are you related to Robert Burns who was a volunteer Shawnee firefighters in the 70s and 80s?
    Best regards and sincere thanks,
    Ross Murphy

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