I am an avid proponent of not anthropomorphizing
bees. I tire of hearing about Ďthe
girlsí. They are not girls, they are
bees. They are sexually immature hive
minded insects. In the same way, the queen
is not the Ďqueení. She rules nothing.
She has no power. She holds no sway.
Her orders mean nothing. In fact, when the
collective notices her obsolescence, she is replaced and when
that happens, she is often dumped unceremoniously
on the front step of the hive.
Here is a picture of some queens I found dumped
outside their hives.
These particular queens were unmated virgins,
which is why they were easy to find. I can
only assume that they are dumped there because
workers find them too heavy to fly away with like
they usually do with dead workers.
Queens are simply a caste of honey bee. They
are exactly the same in that regard as workers and
drones. The only difference is that their
job is to lay eggs which become workers and drones
and that each hive contains only one of
them. We use them to carry genetic material
from one generation to the next. We make new
queens from queens we like. Even so, queens
still mate with many drones from all over, so the
process will never be perfect.
If have seen it written in beekeeping books that
one should replace ones queens every year. I
find this laughable especially for the home
beekeeper, hobbyist, or sideliner. If a
backyard beekeeper who has only one hive tries to
replace his queen, there is a healthy chance that
the changeover will fail and the hive will be left
without a queen altogether. He will then get
all nervous, needing to order another which is
often not available since he was on a waiting list
to get the first one. This is a wholly
I think the cause can mostly be traced to the idea
that a hobbyist often wants or has a subconscious
need to 'do it like the commercial guys.' It
doesn't really work that way. If you are
reading this website, you are not a commercial
guy. Let me repeat that, you are not a
commercial guy. There is no need for you to
do the same things they do. Their methods
are done on a large scale to make income.
Trying to imitate them in a small scale, as a
hobby, often making no money or even less, is an
avenue that leads to discouragement. It will
cost you more and yield you less.
So, why do we need to replace queens so
often? On one hand, weíre told that the
world record holder was over eight years old when
she died, and on the other hand weíre told that we
should replace queens every year. There is a
In truth, a queen should lay eggs quite acceptably
in her third year if the hive is healthy and free
of chemicals and residuals. In fact, Iíd
rather not purchase queens bred of stock that
didnít last at least two winters. Of course,
that stock is rarely available but itís something
to think about.
It is also suggested that queens must be replaced
every year to avoid swarming. But why on
earth would we want to avoid swarming so badly
that weíd kill a queen who has survived a local
winter and replace her with a queen of truly
unknown capabilities? Healthy hives
swarm! Swarming is not a sickness, it is the
sign of a hive that has grown so big and powerful,
it must leave and start anew. Itís the
reproductive urge. From what I've seen, much
of the 'problem' of swarming can be traced to poor
management of colonies, things like using queen
excluders, limiting the broodnest, stimulative
feeding, and not rotating comb.
You do not need to replace the queen to avoid
swarming. You can either manage to reduce
its likelihood, or take advantage of it when it
happens (see Queens
from Swarm Cells below). I have had a phenomenally low swarming rate in my time as a
beekeeper. "How do you do it?" you ask,
well, I can't trace it to a single source but I
hope to write an article on it soon. I think
it has to do with keeping quite large hives (five
deeps) year round, placing new foundation in the
brood nest every spring, and I'm not sure what
else, but I can't discount anything without doing deeper research.
Something Iíve been told is that I canít learn how
to raise queens without working under a commercial
beekeeper. Iíve actually been told
this! This comes from the same kind of
anti-intellectual who shuns Ďbook learniní and
says things like ďI ainít got no college degree
butÖĒ This is a simple concept though
complex in implementation. More knowledge is
better. More education is better, no matter
where it comes from. Itís the same kind of
person who thinks teachers make too much
money. It's absolute and utter nonsense.
Sorry, got on a soapbox there.
There are legitimate reasons to replace your
queens as a hobbyist. The first one is if
you have a hive that is mean. You shouldn't
suffer mean hives, they are a liability both to
you and your neighbors. Neighbors are
usually quite happy to know that there are
beehives nearby, but not if they get stung all the
time or even occasionally. Another reason is
if you have a hive that has been given all the
chances to thrive as all your other ones and is
simply unable to do so. I am hesitant to
remove any queen that has survived over the winter
treatment-free, you never know if she has
something to offer or if she is superseded that
her daughter will have something to offer.
On the other hand, if you have a large number of
hives, you will be much more likely to requeen her
as you have many more better performers with the
same survivability trait.
Finally, I want to impress upon you the reader
that with even a little effort, you too can make
queens on purpose. And thereís no reason why
your queens wonít be just as high quality or even
better than those you pay way too much money for
raised in the south early in the spring.
Your queens will do better in your area.
Theyíre already doing it, why mess that up?
Donít let anyone tell you that thereís something
wrong with your bees. If theyíre surviving
without treatments, thatís the first thing that needs to be
right with them.
So, letís make some queens.
Queens of the
Simplest Methods, Walkaway Splits
The easiest way to take one hive and make it two
is to do whatís called a Ďwalk away split.í
The method is very simple, the mechanics can be a
bit more complex. Basically, you take one
hive and make it two. All you need to be
assured of is that both hives have eggs. You
donít even need to find the queen. If both
hives have eggs, then whichever doesnít have a
queen will make one. Thereís no need to
divide the hive exactly in half. It may be
useful to shake quite a bit of the bees into the
new hive due to the fact that many will return to
the original hive location.
If, when Iím doing walkaway splits, I want to make
only two hives and want to maintain honey
production as much as possible, I will try to
locate the queen and place her with about five
frames of capped brood into the new hive.
Since I know the new hive has the queen, thereís
no need to put open brood in it, and the hatching
workers will bolster the population of the new
hive. Additionally, itís better for the
queen to be in the new hive because fewer bees
will drift back to the old one.
If you place them exactly next to each other on
the same stand, the one with the queen will most
likely be the one that ends up with more of the
bees within the first few days. One way to
help this in such a case is every couple of days
to switch the locations of the hives so that
returning foragers will end up in the opposite
hive. Doing this should help to equalize the
After a few days, you should easily be able to see
the developing queen cells, and on day 14, they
should be nearing time to hatch. Right then
would be the best time to cut out a few cells if
you want to make some nucs or mating nucs.
Using eight frame mediums, Michael Bushís method
is to locate the hive to be split, place two
bottom boards near it somewhere, place some
unoccupied boxes on those bottoms, then simply
deal the boxes from the original hive back and
forth onto the new hives. With medium frames
and eight frame boxes, he can be assured that
there are eggs and open brood in at least two
boxes of the stack. Itís an extremely
efficient way to split as far as labor goes.
For those of us accustomed to stopping and looking
at frames, itís mind-blowing how fast it goes.
Tip here, become intimately familiar with the
daily development of queens if you plan on raising
some. I made a spreadsheet to keep
track. Pay special attention to the time
when you shouldnít touch the queen cells.
All you need to do is input the date you are
starting the queen making process and the
spreadsheet will adjust to show you the dates upon
which all the events are to happen. Iíve
included a couple different sources where
One of the very best ways to obtain a few queens
for your own hives as a backyard beekeeper,
hobbyist, or sideliner involves simply taking
advantage of your circumstances. By keeping
a keen eye out and having nuc boxes handy, you
should be able to supply yourself with more than
enough queens. There are two methods to work
from Supersedure Cells
The hive will naturally replace a queen from time
to time. It is important not to stop this,
but to take advantage of it when it happens to
obtain high quality free queens. See if you
can spot the queen cells, there are two.
When inspecting a hive, if you notice supersedure
cells, take immediate action by locating the queen
and placing her to the side in a secure
location. You can do this by placing the
frame upon which she was found in a nuc box and
setting it aside for a few minutes. Then,
search out all the supersedure cells you can
find. With each, make a nuc of one or two
frames of brood with one or two frames of honey
and the rest empties. You can do this by
cutting out the cells with a thin sharp knife and
very lightly squeezing them between two brood
frames so that the queen grub is not
If you are using plastic frames youíll just have
to go frame by frame and lose some of the new
queens to each other because you wonít be able to
cut out the cells. (See Queen Castle
below.) When you are done with this process,
you should figure out what to do with the old
queen. If you donít want to bother with her,
you could just kill her, but you might keep her in
a nuc or reseat her in the original hive which now
has no queen cells, and probably little
brood. At this point, the bees may attempt
to supersede her again, or she may be lost to old
age without being replaced leaving you with a
queenless hive. In that case, you can use
one of the queens from the new nucs to replace her
by combining the queenless hive with the
nuc. You don't need to harvest all the
cells at all, or you can leave some to supersede her
Queens from Swarm Cells
Swarm cell queens may be of even higher quality
than supersedure queens because the hive is
healthier and perhaps able to feed the queens
better. The best way to tell that youíve
gotten your moneyís worth is to find unused royal
jelly in the recently vacated queen cell, but
that's just an extraneous bit of information.
The process is much the same as making nucs with
supercedure cells with a key difference.
Like with supersedure cells, the queen needs to be
removed, but she should not be replaced into the
original hive. Doing so may not keep her
from swarming. She sould be kept in a nuc by
herself. Sheís obviously still able to
function well so you might as well keep her.
In the original hive, make sure to remove some
brood and bees to make the new nucs and donít
leave more than a couple of queen cells in case
one of them decides to swarm. You want the
general condition in the hive to approach a
post-swarmed hive as much as possible. You
want less bees, no queen, and queen cells soon to
hatch. Less brood couldnít hurt either.
in Greater Numbers
The difficulty with walkaway splits and the
favorable happenstance methods is that you get
more limited returns from the investment of the
hiveís time and resources. With a walk away
split, you get one queen for a monthís worth of
queenlessness. With swarm cells, at least
queenlessness is kept to a relative minimum, but
the number of queens is still limited to under a
dozen or so, and youíll never know exactly how
many youíll get.
This is the method I will be trying out this
following year (2012). With this method, the
point is to graft (scoop up with a spoon thing and
place) into artificial queen cups, either wax or
plastic. Iím going to try wax because Iíd
like to be able to make my own. I bought a
pound a while back and I'm going to try to make my own when those run
out. Iíve heard plastic cups work quite
well also and I will probably try them at some
There is much talk of methods of queen production
on the forums that do not involve grafting.
It seems there is an undercurrent of thought that
says grafting is hard and only for the
professionals. They say try the Jenter or
Nicot systems if you want to produce queens.
Let me first say that I believe both those systems
to be fantastic for the purpose for which they are
intended, but I have different needs.
Besides the practice and precision of grafting, I
see no reason why most anyone canít do it with a
Hereís a couple YouTube videos which will show you
how doable grafting can be with practice.
First, hereís how to make wax queen cups.
There are also silicone molds to make queen cups,
but I havenít found a source for them in the
Then hereís how fast you can graft if youíre
So, why have I decided to
graft rather than other methods? Well, the first reason was because
itís harder. Iím the kind of person who wants
to learn hard things sometimes. I donít want
to shy away from things that might be a little
more strenuous. I probably could have spent
a year or two less in college had I learned that
lesson sooner. I had briefly considered the
Nicot system, but as with the Jenter system,
youíre limited to a certain number of queens and
only from one queen at a time. Having too
many is no big deal as in the beginning, theyíre
just eggs, but as a hobbyist myself, I donít want
a hundred queens with one mother. With
grafting, I can make six grafts from each of four
queens and finish them all in the same cell
When I first wrote this, I realized I didn't
include any 'how to' information for grafting but I
have quite a bit more experience since then and have written a
companion page to this one which gives you my main method for raising
queens. Follow the link to the Queen Rearing page.
There are a number of methods for cell builders,
but Iím only going to delve into one for the time
being because I havenít had the benefit of
actually trying all of them yet and I prefer not
to comment on things I donít have much experience
with. I do have my own method which is a
queenright cell building and finishing method, find it in the link
The purpose of a cell builder is to take the queen
larvae weíve grafted into cups and turn them in to
full grown queens. They do this in the same
way as usual, by feeding them a royal jelly only
diet. However, the bees will typically
choose only to make a dozen or fewer queens when
they do it on their own. We want them to
make more. How many more? We want them
to make as many as they can and still make top
quality queens. We want each queen to be
well fed, and kept the right temperature and
Michael Bushís method is to start with an average
hive in the yard and remove the queen and make a
small nuc with her leaving most of the brood and
bees in the hive. Then, he removes the upper
boxes, shaking off the bees from the frames and
reducing the hive down to the equivalent of one or
two deeps. The purpose of this is to create
the most useful condition within the hive for
queen rearing and that is both overcrowding and
queenlessness at the same time. Both
conditions are prime reasons for bees to build
If thereís a flow on, fantastic. If not,
feeding will probably be necessary to assure
proper nutrition for the new queens. Jay
Smith said that cell builders must be fed with
honey as sugar syrup is simply inadequate for
Into this hive are placed the grafted larvae and the hive is allowed to
raise them to completion. It's as simple as that. However,
queenless cell builders are more volatile, more prone to absconding,
swarming, or raising their own queen from their brood.
Itís important to remove the queen cells from the
cell builder before any of them hatches or else
the first one will most likely kill the
rest. Then, the queens need to be mated
before too long or else theyíll only ever be drone
layers. Figures Iíve found suggest before
three weeks. Michael Bush also suggests that
freshly hatched queens need to eat a lot and
quick, so they canít be left in incubators.
Speaking of incubators, I find them to be very useful in holding the
cells so you don't need to get into the mother hive on mating nuc
construction day. I use a chicken incubator.
The best option for mating is the mating nuc, a small hive
where you place the queen cell shortly before it
hatches. After it hatches, the queen will
tool around the hive for a few days while her
exoskeleton hardens and she gains strength.
After that, she will make a number of flights out
of the hive mating with up to twenty drones.
A few days after that, she will begin laying eggs
and business should go on as usual.
Commonly today, mini mating nucs are used.
The prime benefit to these is the ability to find
the queen quickly because the hive is so
tiny. These are tiny nucs made of Styrofoam
often and having tiny frames in them and tiny
numbers of bees. This is a very unnatural
form in which a hive may exist. Hives are
very rarely if ever this small. There are
also hives that use half frames, but what do you
do with the frames at the end of the year?
Mini-nucs may be beneficial on a very large scale
with queens coming and going at very regular
intervals, but with such a small hive, how do you
really know how well the queen is laying
eggs? There may be only a dayís worth of
space in which she can lay.
Another option is a mating nuc with half sized frames. During
other times of the year, these frames are kept in special supers which
hold them end to end to make the equivalent of full size frames, but
this requires more equipment, so in my view, a better option
is to use full sized frames.
One of the really interesting pieces of equipment in this area is the
apartment or queen castle. How it works is
you take one of your standard sized boxes and make
divisions in it so you have three or four small
nucs with in it. For instance, a ten frame
box can be made into four two frame mating nucs,
or three 3 frame nucs. Two medium or deep
frames or perhaps three medium frames should be a
good size for a mating nuc. This will make
these nucs actual functioning hives with more
space for the queen to lay. They may even
graduate to four or five frame nucs or full size
hives given a good growing season. Another
benefit to the queen castle is that you can take
supersedure or swarm cells from hives and simply
place the whole frame in the nuc. Add
another frame of honey and in three or four weeks,
you should have a queen ready to go.
I read about an interesting modification.
Drill ventilation holes up near the top in each
nuc and screen them over on the inside. They
help keep robbers occupied. Robbing is an
important consideration with mating nucs.
I've used these holes in my own and it works great. Here's a
design that I based mine upon: Bushkill Farms
Here's the design I came up with. I cut entrance slots (3/8" by 1/2") in the bottom in the
middle for the sides (one in the front for the middle nuc) so that
the frames or comb won't be able to block the
entrances if the hive gets bumped and water can drain out. I also
drill 1 1/2" holes at the back toward the top and
screen them from the inside to foil robbers.
While the slot to hold the divider is 1/4", the
divider is made from 5mm plywood which is very
cheap. 5mm is just under 1/4" so the fit is
just fine. For lids, I cut a 1x6 to fit over
the middle nuc and use two 1x6s of the correct
length to cover the outer nucs. They are
just short of covering the entire wall of the hive
so they work fine. On top of that goes a
regular telescoping cover. I don't usually
use telescoping covers, so I had to make a batch
just for these nucs.
When mating nucs are needed, place a frame of open
brood, a frame of honey, and a queen cell or two
in the nuc. When mating nucs are no longer
needed, simply return the frames to your hives, or
use one of the leftover queens to head up a new
hive made up of all the mating nucs.
I made ten of these but some jackwagon stole one of them.
Itís a good idea to keep a few nucs around.
First, itís the perfect way to keep a spare queen
around in case something happens and you have a
hive go queenless. By placing the contents
of the nuc in the bottom box and then placing a
piece of newspaper over it, you can do whatís
called a Ďnewspaper combineí. Place the
queenless hive over the top of the newspaper and
allow the bees to chew through it and get
acquainted. This is one of the most
successful ways of requeening a hive.
Another benefit if having nucs is to draw comb,
especially foundationless comb. As the hive
is small, it will want to draw as much brood comb
as possible and so you if you want good brood comb
with little or no drone in it, this is a good way
to get it done. Place an empty frame in the
nuc and remove it when it is completed.