English for beekeepers queen rearing

Wednesday words: queen-rearing terminology

Before you begin queen rearing, it helps to understand the lingo. Authors of queen-rearing instructions often use a variety of synonyms which make a confusing subject even more difficult. Below are some of the most common terms—and their synonyms—I found in recent publications.

Artificial insemination (or instrumental insemination): The manual transfer of sperm from drones to the genital organs of virgin queens.

Banking box (or holding box): A queenless colony used to hold caged queens until they can be used to re-queen different queenless colonies. With plenty of nurse bees, honey, and pollen, queens can be banked for several weeks.

Banking frame (or queen cage holder): A special frame designed to hold multiple queen cages in a banking box.

Breeder colony: A colony having desirable traits that a beekeeper will use as a source of eggs for queen breeding.

Breeder queen: The queen of the breeder colony that will lay the eggs used for raising new queens.

Cell (or peanut): To a beekeeper, a cell is the peanut-shaped structure that contains a developing queen. It is short for “queen cell” and should not be confused with the normal hexagonal cells found in wax combs.

Cell bar: A horizontal bar made to fit inside a regular frame. A frame may hold two to three cell bars, each designed to hold 15-20 cell bases. Once fitted with cell bars, the frame is called a cell holding frame or rearing frame.

Cell base: Cell bases are made from plastic or wood and are permanently mounted to cell bars. They are designed to hold cell cups.

Cell cup (or queen cup): This is the beginning of a queen cell. It is called a cell cup when it has a spherical shape—before the bees start to build it into a peanut shape. The term “cell cup” is also used to refer to plastic or wax artificial cups that are used for queen rearing.

Cell finisher (or finishing colony): A very populous queenright colony used to grow queen cells that have been started in a cell starter colony. The growing queen cells are separated from the queen with a queen excluder and kept in the cell finisher until they are capped.

Cell holding frame (or rearing frame): A regular frame fitted with cell bars for supporting cell bases.

Cell protector: A plastic or wire covering for a queen cell used to protect it from attack by other bees or the resident queen.

Cell starter (or starting colony or cell builder or swarm box): These are queenless colonies containing a large number of very young bees and brood. When the beekeeper is ready to “start” a new batch of queens, he removes the frames of brood and replaces them with frames of queen cups containing young larvae. The nurse bees will feed royal jelly to the larvae and thus get the queens “started.” The queen cups are removed after 24 hours.

Cloake board: A Cloake board is a piece of equipment that allows one populous hive to be used as both a cell starter and a cell finisher with minimum hive disturbance.

Grafting: The manual transfer of young larvae (12-24 hours old) from brood comb into cell cups.

Laying box (or comb box): In no-graft systems, a laying box is a plastic box in which the queen is confined with a series of plastic cell cups in which to lay eggs. Once the eggs are laid in the cell cups, the cups are removed to a cell starter and the queen is released.

Mating nuc: Each capped queen cell is put in a mating nuc, which is a small queenless colony. Here the queen will emerge and eventually take her mating flights.

Swarm cell: A swarm cell is a queen cell that was built in preparation for swarming. Multiple queen cells are usually found hanging from the bottoms or sides of combs in the heart of the brood nest. The old queen will leave with the swarm and a virgin queen from one of the swarm cells will become the new queen.

Virgin queen: an unmated queen. Virgin queens hatch 15-16 days from the time an egg was laid, or 11-12 days after grafting. A virgin makes her first mating flight about 7 days after hatching and will mate with about ten drones.


Plastic cell cups and the back of a laying box.


    • This will be only my third year. My first year was mostly about understanding the process, the equipment, and the schedule. Last year I didn’t do too many because of other commitments in the spring. Still, I was giving away queens by the end. Let me know if you want some; I’m setting up my cell starter now.

      • yes, of course i want some. your bees are delightful. is that how you ended up with so many nucs? wait, your nucs were last summer’s splits.

        • Right, my nucs were last summer’s splits. I used reared queens to re-queen some of my hives toward the end of summer. I hate to admit this, but I actually lost of bunch of queens when an errant queen cell I hadn’t noticed hatched above the queen excluder in my finisher colony and killed them–“finisher” being an apt name. I felt pretty incompetent, but it was a “learning experience” as they say.

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