beekeeping equipment how to queen bees queen rearing

Using the Cloake board method to raise queens

The Cloake board, invented by Harry Cloake of New Zealand, is a piece of beekeeping equipment used to raise queens. The Cloake board method of queen rearing is popular with newer beekeepers because it allows the beekeeper to raise queens with a minimum of equipment and very little disturbance to the hive.

Cloake boards are available in various configurations, but basically they consist of a wooden frame that provides an additional entrance. The frame is grooved on the inside so a metal tray can be slipped in or out. On the bottom of the frame is a queen excluder. Or, on some types, the queen excluder is separate and is placed below the Cloake board.

The Cloake board system requires the use of grafted larvae, which is a separate subject. But for those who want to know how these boards work, here is a summary.

1. When you are ready to raise queens, select a vigorous colony with two brood boxes:

1.1.    Separate the two boxes

1.2.    Turn the lower box 180 degrees so the entrance is in the back

1.3.    Close this entrance completely

1.4.    Make sure the queen is in the lower box

1.5.    Make sure some frames of uncapped brood are in the upper box

1.6.    Install the queen excluder and Cloake board without the metal tray, with the entrance facing forward

1.7.    Put the upper brood box above the Cloake board

1.8.    Close up the hive and wait about 12 hours

What happens and why: Now you have the queen sequestered in the lower box. The bees will soon reorient themselves to the new entrance, which is just above where the old entrance used to be. Young nurse bees will migrate up through the queen excluder to attend to the uncapped brood.

2. After 12 hours, you will separate this colony into two parts—a queenless upper colony and a queenright lower colony:

2.1.    Start by sliding the metal tray into the slot in the upper entrance

2.2.    Open the lower entrance in the back

2.3.    Allow the bees a day to adjust to the new configuration

What happens and why: Now the foragers from the lower box will leave out the back entrance, but when they return to the hive, they will use the upper (front) entrance. But the presence of the metal tray prevents them from going back down to the lower box. So they stay in the upper box which soon becomes crowded with bees. A very populous—but queenless—hive is exactly what you want for raising queens. The more bees the better.

3. After a while, the bees in the upper box will recognize they are queenless, and they will be eager to build queen-rearing cells:

3.1.    The next day, open the upper box and remove any supersedure cells the bees may have started

3.2.    Remove one of the frames of uncapped larvae and put it in another colony

3.3.    Install a frame of grafted larvae in the center of the box

3.4.    If there is no nectar flow, feed the colony with sugar syrup and pollen

3.5.    Close the hive for 24 hours

What happens and why: During this waiting period, the bees (we hope) will accept the larvae you grafted and start building up the queen cells. This is called a “cell builder” colony. These potential queens need to be well fed, so if the colony is lacking honey or nectar, make sure it has syrup and pollen. If there are many frames of uncapped larvae in the upper box you may want to remove these and replace them with plain foundation so the nurse bees will focus all their attention on the queen cells.

4. After 24 hours, the queen cells will be underway. Rejoin the two colonies to form one large, queenright “cell finisher” colony:

4.1.    Remove the metal slide from the Cloake board

4.2.    Leave the queen excluder in place

4.3     Block the rear entrance of the bottom brood box

What happens and why: The combined populations of the two brood boxes now work together to finish raising the grafted queens.

5. The ripe queen cells are removed from the cell finisher

5.1.    Remove the queen cells from the cell finisher once they are capped and place them in individual nuc boxes or queenless splits

5.2.    Remove the Cloake board and queen excluder to fully re-join the original colony

What happens and why: Once the cells are capped they no longer require attention from the nurse bees. The queen cells need to be separated from each other before they hatch, or the first one out will kill the rest. Queens hatch about 11 days after grafting.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Cloake board showing tray and queen excluder. Photo by the author.

49 Comments

  • Thank you for this very informative posting! I have read about Cloake boards, but this is the first time I’ve seen a step-by-step description, and more importantly, the “why’s” involved.

  • Since I am so lazy, I built two new bottom boards with entrances at front and back. Just switch the entrance 1 X 1 block from the back to the front and viola, reversed entrance.

    For a Cloake board, just lay the queen excluder between the bottom and top deep, and lay an open front shim on top of it, with a rabbit cut, so you can slide a 1/4 inch piece of plywood, or whatever, in, when it is time.

    I’m doing two Cloake systems this spring, to rear queens from my Minnesota Hygienics and my Carnies. I’ll open breed my M.H. with wild survivors all over the valley, and my carnies will breed with drones from six of Tabors Yugo Russian/Carniolian stock that I will place in a remote area, up in the mountains.
    Hey, this is some really fun stuff!

    • Doug,

      Experimentation is one of the best parts of beekeeping. I love to read all the ideas that come in–as well as all the problems. It keeps you thinking.

  • The main thing I have found with the problems is this:

    Don’t PANIC!! Don’t do anything, til you know for certain what has caused it. Don’t PANIC!!

    As far as experimentation:

    Only within the parameters that the bees will allow.

  • Hi Rusty!

    I’m planning to include this method in a new version of my IOS App iQueen. I would like to include your photo of the Cloake in the illustration of the method. Is this OK with you?

    Kind regards,

    Walter

  • Great explanation Rusty, many thanks!

    In step 3.5, when you say close the hive for 24 hours, do you mean close the entrance to the upper box?

    • No, I meant to put the lid back on the hive and leave it alone for 24 hours; the bees will have access to the outside. Sorry for the confusion. I will clarify my post.

  • Thanks for the clear explanation.

    I read in another article that they wait 7 days until they place the metal tray so temporarily there will be two colonies. In your point 2 you do this after 12 hours. I think this is better so the upper bees can give all their food and energy to the grafted larvae.

    What do you think?

      • I tried this last year and loved being able to have a single hive as starter/finisher, however as soon as I removed the metal tray, the started queen cells were torn down. (I assume because the queens pheromones were strong enough to make them change their mind about new QCs.) I’m going to either put a honey super in between brood boxes or leave the tray in until the cells are capped. Any other thoughts?

        • Terry,

          You can put hair roller cages over each of the capped cells. That way, the cells are protected and the virgins emerge into the cage where they are safe. You shouldn’t leave virgins in the hair rollers for long periods, but the system works well when you keep an eye on things. You can buy them at any bee supply place, and they cost about 80-cents each.

          • The bees started the queen cells, but then after removing the metal tray they tore them down. I believe it was because the queen pheromone made it back to the upper box and they realized they weren’t queenless after all. The queen cells were never capped and ready for roller cages.

  • Thank you for the great article. If you use wax foundation or foundationless, you can let them make their own queen cells and cut them out to move them to the mating nucs. No grafting necessary.

  • I understand most of the cloak board splitting other than one thing, where do I get the grafted larvae? Your answer would be appreciated as I have cloak boards that I made and I would like to put them to use. thank you

  • Hello Rusty. In section 4 you need to add a paragraph 4.3 which says block the rear entrance on the bottom brood box.

  • Thanks, Rusty, for this step-by-step explanation. In comparing it with the instructions received from MANN Lake where I purchased the Cloake Board, I have two questions:
    1. Should the back entrance be closed in step 4?
    2. At what point do you put the colony entirely back to its original state (e.g., rotate the bottom box with the entrance facing the original “front” once again)?

    I am at step 4 this morning — put 30 eggs onto the frame yesterday and am crossing my fingers!

    Thanks so much,
    Sarah Malone
    sarahmalone1949@gmail.com

  • Thanks so much! I am elated to receive your input, which I had already put into practice.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah Malone

  • Muchisimas gracias, Oxidado, por compartir tus experiencias y enhorabuena por la claridad que hasta yo, que soy novato, he entendido.

  • Rusty, These are the best instructions for using a Cloake board I have seen. It is easy enough to parrot back what everyone else has already written but explaining the reasons behind each of the steps makes it really easy to understand. I will be doing my first ever attempt at queen rearing next week and this should really help. Thank you!

  • Hi Rusty- thanks for the great writeup. Question: instead of inserting a graft, can you just let the queenless colony raise their own queen cells from larvae already in their queenless hive? This is assuming the brood has the genetics you want to carry on in your new queens.

    Thanks!

    • cj,

      Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a Cloake board? If you have a queenless hive raising queens, you’re good to go.

      • Thanks for the reply Rusty, but after re-reading my question, I don’t think I was being clear. By ‘queenless colony’, I meant the upper ‘colony’ above the cloake board. We were thinking we’d use the cloake board method, as you described, with a desirable colony in which we want to raise queens from. So instead of using grafts from a donor colony, we’d allow the desirable colony to start their own queen cells in the upper brood box above the cloake board. Then we’d and use the capped queen cells to put into new nucs. This way, we could skip the grafting process since we’re only using the desired donor colony.

        Thanks in advance!

  • […] What I’ve described is similar to using a Cloake Board to raise queens. Instead of raising queens, we are taking a little more time than a simple Walk Away Split to ensure an adequate number of nurse and forager bees in the split. Rusty at Honey Bee Suite (one of my favorite beekeeping blogs!) has an excellent description of a using a Cloake Board To Raise Queens.  […]

  • For those wanting to build this piece of equipment, the only set of plans I’ve been able to locate are from D. Cushman’s site: http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/cloake.html

    Rusty, if you’re feeling generous, perhaps you could put a ruler to the board you have to give some of the dimensions? Primarily the spacing between excluder, dado for the metal, etc. I’m interested to compare those dimensions to Cushman’s plans.

    Thanks!

  • Hello there! Love your site and all of your work!

    Question: while we’re focusing on the upper brood box above the Cloake board, what happens in the bottom box re: swarming potential? Can they/do they/will they have the desire to build swarm cells due to this populated environment, once the metal tray has been removed 24 hours after grafting?

    Cheers!

  • Hola Rusty. Alucino con tu blog. Es impresionante. Discúlpa por que no hablo inglés. Soy apicultor desde hace años y crío reinas desde hace seis. Realizo la cria en Cloake (es el sistema que utilizo) y este año quería probar esa cria en núcleos de cinco cuadros (cinco abajo y cuatro arriba más el tablero de cúpulas). Algún consejo? o es lo mismo pero menos cuadros e igual proporción de abejas?. Vivo en el norte de españa (Galicia) con mis abejas (bueno, y con mi familia). Gracias anticipadas por tu paciencia. Me puedes contestar en inglés (Espero que Google translate ese día funcione bien 🙂

    Google Translation: Hi Rusty. I hallucinate with your blog. Is awesome. Sorry, I don’t speak English. I’ve been a beekeeper for years and raised queens for six. I do the breeding in Cloake (it is the system I use) and this year I wanted to test that breeding in cores of five frames (five below and four above plus the panel of domes). Any advice? Or is it the same but less pictures and the same proportion of bees? I live in the north of Spain (Galicia) with my bees (well, and with my family). Thanks in advance for your patience. You can answer me in English (I hope Google translate that day works well 🙂

    • I have never tried the Cloake board method with cores (nucs), but I assume it would be basically the same, just on a smaller scale as you say. Try it and let us know if it worked.

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