queen rearing

Queen rearing methods

The easiest method of raising a new queen is to move a ripe queen cell from a busy colony into a nuc or mating box stocked with nurse bees and brood. This is usually the first type of queen rearing a new beekeeper tries and it is both fun and effective. Plus it gives a new beekeeping a general feeling for the queen-rearing process.

The remaining queen-rearing methods can be grouped into three categories: no-graft systems, grafting systems, and artificial insemination. Although many variations and strategies are used, all the systems are very similar. The major difference between the systems is the amount and timing of beekeeper interference.

Moving a ripe queen cell from one colony to another requires very little interference.

No-graft systems require slightly more interference. In a no-graft system, the queen is given artificial cups in which to lay her eggs. Once the eggs are laid in the cups, the cups are moved to a new location.

In grafting systems the beekeeper has an even bigger role because he must select larvae of the proper age and then physically transfer them into queen cups where they will develop. This requires both the ability to recognize larvae of the right age and the physical dexterity to move them without injuring them.

Artificial insemination is a special art that gives a breeder the most control over honey bee genetics. The breeder selects not only the queen mother, but also selects the sperm donors. Then the breeder must collect the sperm and artificially inseminate the queens. After eggs are laid, they are grafted into queen cups similar to other grafting operations.

After the initial steps, however, queen rearing in all the systems is nearly identical. Simply put, queenless colonies are used to begin the process of queen cell building and queenright colonies are used to finish the process. Later, after the queen cells are capped but before they hatch, they are removed from the queenright hive and transferred to mating nucs or queen banks.

Although insemination requires special training, anyone can learn to use both the no-graft and grafting systems. Practiced on a small scale, either of these methods will provide plenty of queens for a hobby beekeeper.



  • This spring has turned out to be so nasty, wet, and cold, day after day, that my big booming queen builder has turned into a donor hive. I’m 2 months behind and still feeding. My bees don’t even want to swarm. They would need a boat to do it!

    • Same here. It’s June 1 without a bee in flight. I can see them all sitting at the entrances waiting for a chance to wing it, but it just doesn’t happen.

  • Hi Rusty, I’m a new beekeeper in coastal North Carolina. I’m trying to get my head around the idea of trying to rear some queens and have a couple of questions that I hope you can help me with. First, if my understanding is correct, a queenless colony is capable of raising its own new queen under the right conditions. If so, what is the reason for finishing queen cells in a queen right colony? Most, if not all, of the queen rearing systems I’ve read about use this method but I haven’t been able to find out why. Thanks.

    • Bruce,

      I have read that queen-right finishers are better able to properly nourish the young queens. Queenless colonies will readily raise queens under the “emergency model.” That is, they raise queens quickly and efficiently using the resources they have, but the resulting queens may not be great. On the other hand, a queen-right colony has ample numbers of new nurses hatching every day and is able to raise queens under the “supersedure model.” In other words, they have a queen but they are now going to raise a stronger, better one. That is the theory, anyway. Think of it as a hack job as compared to a craftsman’s work of art.

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