Ask a dozen beekeepers the correct way to keep bees and you’ll probably end up with a dozen different answers.Ask how or why they produce queens and the answers will probably vary similarly.Some will make use of the odd queen cell to populate a nuc.or two.This is great because they  are then in the enviable position of always having a spare queen or two and we all know how useful that can be. If the queens are not used as replacements during the season, the nuc’s can be united with the weekest colonies at a later date, or, of course, they can sold or passed on to help some other beekeeper. There is undoubtably a case for always having a spare queen or two at your disposal. Some will seek to produce sufficient queens for their own needs with a surplus to sell and others will go a step further and produce and sell nuclei with mated queens. To my way of thinking, more important than methods or motives is to try at all times to be prepaired for the inevitable, and that is, at some time you will lose one or more of your queens, that is when the importance of having a populated nuc standing by is fully realised.

Here at Mendip, as previously stated, my aim is to breed the best queens that I can, when I say best, I don’t mean better than yours or Fred in his apiary in the next County. I mean the best for me, queens that best fulfill my idea of what a good queen should be, that will head colonies that will behave as in my opinion, a good colony should. We all have our own ideas as to what constitutes a good colony, and as I said previously, for some it will always be by the amount of honey produced. I want my bees to be produce honey, of course I do, but I also want them to be placid and not to run about all over the comb while I’m examining them. I haven’t plucked up courage yet to handle them without my gloves on but that is one of my aims, and hopefully sooner rather than later. I believe a good colony grows well in spring and peaks some time between July and August. It will be strong enough to over winter the worst extremes and will naturally develop a large degree of disease resistance. Of equal if not more importance  than any of these, is, in my opinion, a reluctance to swarm.

It is my aim for queen rearing here at Mendip to become an integral part of swarm management, and this is how I intend to try to achieve this.With the exeption of hive 1, 2012 sees all my colonies headed by queens less than one year old and hive 1 has a queen less than two years old.So,with the exeption of 1,and I shall be keeping a close eye on her, the prime cause of swarming, namely ageing queens, should not in itself, be a problem. Next, overcrowding, as I said earlier, I shall go into this year with three colonies on two brood chambers, three on brood and a half and one, hopefully two on one brood chamber. So, with what in my opinion, are the main causes of swarming, eliminated, I will hopefully have the ideal oportunity this year to observe and compare.

With the possible exeption of hive 1 and unless anything unforseen occurs, it is not my intention to re-queen any of my colonies this year. However subsequently, I do intend to re-queen at least half of them on a yearly basis. What follows are my aims and thoughts on how best to achieve this.

I currently have two double queen mating nucs and I intend to have them fully populated by the beginning of July. I shall again attempt the Cloake Board method of queen rearing and intend to use colony one as my breeder, provided of course, they have not displayed any inclination to swarm themselves.If all goes according to plan, and yes, I’m sure miracles do sometimes happen, so,for my Spring re-queening, I want to have my best queen cells in the nucs by the 2nd week in July. There the resultant queens and their little colonies will over winter. Any queen that isn’t strong enough to over winter in this way will have no place in this programme anyway.The following April, the new queens, having been marked and clipped, will be introduced into four of the hives, with the other four hives being re-queened the following Spring. The encumbents will be removed to the mating nucs where they will remain until the next batch of queen cells are ready in July. These are now my back-up queens.

I said earlier that I wanted queen production to be a part of swarm management and this is what I have in mind. Firstly, I intend to breed only from a colony that has displayed no inclination to swarm. Secondly, any colony which produces queen cells will in the first instance, have them broken down. This will also happen if it occurs for a second time. If they still persist then, provided there are no other known causes of swarming present, the queen will be culled and replaced. I just wonder if, by removing queens from the breeding cycle, which have exhibited a pre-disposition towards swarming, it might just be possible develop a strain of bees for whom swarming was the exception rather than the rule. It’s gotta be worth a try hasn’t it ? It seems to me that this was the basic philosophy behind Brother Adam’s queen rearing at Buckfast and if it worked for him…….I’ll try to report back in about twenty years from now, that is, if I’m not contributing to the fertility of the meadow myself by then.



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,

Floor,see pegs


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

                                       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.


I stated earlier that honey production was for me just a small part of the fascination of keeping honey bees. I am far more interested in the general husbandry surrounding the keeping of bees and nothing more so than queen rearing. I think most would agree that it is the queen that dictates the behaviour of the colony, the speed of spring build up, foraging ability, temperament etc. It must therefore be to the benefit of all of us to have the best available queens heading our colonies. So, where to find such a queen? Well, as I stated earlier, like any other commodity in high demand, there are always plenty to be had “off the shelf” as it were, and like so many other items aquired in this way, these will essentially include good and bad. So surely, rather than take a chance, on buying “A pig in a poke” as it were and bearing in mind, that if you do, and she turns out a failure, you will have probably wasted a whole year before you find out. Unless, as do so many, she fails to see out a whole year.

 So as I started to say, rather than take a chance on buying what just might be one of someone else’s rejects, why not have a go at rearing your own queens. By rearing I don’t mean taking a  frame of brood at random,just because it has a queen cell on it and popping it into a nuc., I mean selecting your best colony which has your best queen heading it and taking from that the larvae to head your queen rearing program.Surely if you can do this year on year, always selecting from your best colony,then ultimately, you are going to end up with a bee that is infinitely better suited to your needs than anything you may buy in. And what could be more satisfying than having not just one or two colonies performing well, but all of them, and why, because they are all headed by the best queens, queens that you have produced, and not by some accident, but by design, your design! That is my aim here at Mendip. So those are my thoughts and aspirations on the subject of queen rearing, next I’ll tell you how I intend to try to turn them into a reality.