I would suggest,following the decision to raise ones own queens,the next thing to consider is how and how many. Next, what specialised equipment, if any, will you require.The equipment you will need will vary to some account, as to the method you decide to adopt but I would suggest, at the very least, you will need some form of mating nuc, that is, if you are planning to raise queens in quantity, and on a regular basis. My mating nuc’s are basically a brood chamber with a removable central division board. With the board installed the chamber becomes two five frame nuc’s and without the board, is once again a brood chamber.
As you will know, queens must at all times be kept apart, should they come together, however that may occur, the result will invariably be one queen. To prevent this happening, I have locating pegs set in the rim of the floor and the crown boards,
these to prevent any part sliding to one side while I’m having a look or removing the contents of one nuc. The crown board is simply a sheet of ply-wood,the same dimensions as the brood chamber, cut in half. The join meets on top of the partition.
The holes in the crown boards are closed off when the chamber is in use as a mating nuc, feeding is done using frame feeders. I use mesh floors constructed in such a way as keep both nuc’s entirely separate with a floor slide under. The floor has two seperate entrances. So, there are my queen mating nuc’s, they are very simple to make and work very well. The locating pegs make manipulations an easy matter without the worry of one half being exposed to the other.
There are many ways of rearing queens and as I said earlier, equipment will largly be dictated by the method one chooses to adopt. All methods however, rely upon the fact that bees must have a queen if they are to survive. A colony, the moment it realises that it is queenless, will seek out larvae less than three days old and and start the process of producing queens. If you present a queenless colony with cups containing eggs or young larvae, they will immediately begin the same process. To simplify the process , they don’t have to actually be queenless, only to believe that they are and this is the basis of all queen rearing. Which ever method you choose to adopt, relies upon that fact. On the subject of methods, don’t be tempted to fill a nuc with bees and brood and let them get on with it. To expect your bees to colonise a new home and to produce and rear a new queen is to ask too much and although they will probably succeed in rearing a queen, she will undoubtedly be of inferior quality or as is termed, “a scrub queen”. In my opinion, the best queens are those from eggs laid in queen cups or from larvae grafted into cups and thereby selected and reared as queens from birth. Referring to a previous paragraph when I warned of “buying a pig in a poke”, I know of one “beekeeper” who breeds and sells upwards of thirty queens a year by putting frames of brood in a queenless colony and letting them do the work for him, so “Caviat Emptor”, buyer beware.
Last year, after reading about and having many discussions on the best way to rear queens, I concluded there is no definitive method, you just have to follow your nose, as it were. I decided that the Cloake Board method was the one I would try here at Mendip.* For no reason other than the amount of control it allowed over the whole process, appealed to me.You graft your most promising larvae from your best colony and give them to the colony that you have decided is best suited to rear them.You know exactly when your queens will emerge which in turn enables you to prepare your nuc’s accordingly. I’m sure there many other methods which offer all of this, but as I said, it was the Cloake Board method which appealed to me, that was the one I decided on and this is how I went about it. Firstly, I select the colony to rear my queens, it will be well populated and occupy two brood chambers. I then re-arrange the chambers so that the queen is in the bottom box and unsealed brood with nurse bees are in the top one, leaving space for one more frame between the brood frames.Turn the hive floor through 180 degrees before inserting the Cloake Board between the brood chambers. Have the entrance facing the original direction. At this stage the floor slide is omitted, the board comprising just the frame with the entrance block fitted with the queen excluder below.
The entrance block at the top is inserted when the floor is removed.
Bees leaving by the original entrance re-enter the top box by the entrance in the Cloake Board. It takes them a day or two but they do get used to it.Time now to prepare for your grafts. I know artificial cups are available but I like the idea of using wax, it seems so much more natural and I use the Doolittle method. I have pinned a cross bar to a Hoffman frame and it is to this that I affix my cups. The cross bar can be tilted on the pins making fixing and grafting easier. I first put a little wax in a small jar and melt it in a baine marie.To make the cups, take a short length of 5/16 ” dowel with the end rounded off, wet it and dip it into the melted wax,to a depth of about 1/4″. Do this three times and then ease the cup off of the dowel.
The cups can then be fixed to the cross bar using a little melted wax.
Next, replace the floor slide, place the frame of cups in the gap in the top brood chamber and leave there until the next day, this is supposed to let it take on the hive scent. The day following , retrieve the frame, take a frame of eggs and young brood from the hive that you intend to breed from, the youngest brood will usually be nearest the eggs. Bear in mind the brood must be less than three days old to be viable, about the size of a lower case comma. Take the grafting tool of your choice, graft your larvae into the wax cups and return the frame to the brood chamber, firstly checking for and breaking down any queen cells that may have been started. As soon as the bees have started working on the cups, the floor slide can be removed. The day after the queen cells are capped the frame can be removed and the best cells transferred to the mating nuc’s. Unless you want to produce more queens, the Cloake Board can now be removed and the hive re-instated. It was long before this point where, sad to say, it all fell apart for me, all bar one of my grafts were immediately rejected, and that one followed suit the next day. I know it was my grafts that let me down, a combination of shakey hands and failing eyesight I think. I fully intend to have another go this year, the Cloake Board method is well tried and tested so don’t let my failure put you off. I did find having to revolve the hive floor a bit of a nuisance so for this year’s attempt I’ve modified a floor to include an adjustable entrance opposite the original.
Modified floor,see adjustable opening The floor reverts back to being a hive floor when the aperture is closed, as does my Cloake Board so no unnecessary costs are incurred. So, that’s my first attempt at queen rearing, warts and all. I’ll let you know if this year’s attempt is any better, if not , it’s back to the drawing board. * An in depth description of “The Cloake Board” method of queen rearing can be found on David Cushman’s excellant web site. It makes good reading.