Grafting Technique – My Queen Rearing and What Works

I don’t do a lot of grafting but I get quite good results by doing the following:

  • Use a brood frame that has been laid in a few times, i.e. not a new frame of drawn comb or one completely black. I found that new drawn comb is too soft and the Chinese grafting tool pierces the wax rather than curving around the larvae. When it’s too dark I can’t se the larvae at the bottom even with a torch.
  • I take the frame indoors to do the grafting. As my shed is next to the apiary it’s only a minutes walk so I don’t need to cover the frame or use a damp cloth. Working indoors means I can take my time and work at a nice height with the right lighting conditions. Just makes it easier and less fiddly, with no distractions.
  • I use a head magnifier with a built in light to select the smallest larvae I can. Ideally no bigger than an egg. To get it on the grafting tool I insert the tip of the grafting tool at the back of the C shaped larva. I don’t use the magnifier to help me with the actual graft as I find it gets in the way.
  • I transfer the larvae to the brown plastic cups, similar to those with the Jenter or Cupkit systems, and just ease the larvae off using the release button on the grafting tool. My grafting frame holds 10 cells, in 2 rows of 5, and I wait until I have filled all 10 cups before transferring them on to the frame. This way I find I can get into a rhythm and can do the grafts in a couple of minutes.
  • If I have any slight wobbles as I do a graft I reject it and start again and select a fresh larva.

Working quickly and getting into a rhythm make the process less fraught. My last attempt resulted in 9 of the 10 cells being accepted. Typically, I only want 3 or 4 queen cells and so having double the number means I can select the best looking ones to be hatched out.


I have started using the Cloake board system for raising the queen cells and will put an article up soon on how this works. But I have found it easier than the Wilson-Pagden method I was using before.

Apideas – Tips to Improve Success Rates

When I first started with queen rearing I had limited success with using apideas for raising new queens and by trial and error I have improved my mating rate using the following approach:

  • Stock the apidea 2 days before introducing a sealed queen cell. I am lucky to have 2 apiary sites so I use bees from one site and then place the stocked apideas in the other apiary. This seems to eliminate losing all the bees back to the parent colony.
  • Fill it with a cupful (around 300) bees. To try and ensure I get nurse bees rather than foragers I lightly shake 2 brood frames into a box and leave for 30 seconds to allow flying bees to “escape”. Obviously having made sure the queen is elsewhere in the colony!
  • I lightly spray the remaining bees with water to get them to clump together. Then turn the apidea upside down, remove the bottom slide and tip the clump of bees in. Close the apidea up and place it in a quiet spot in my shed.
  • At this stage I fill the feeder with 2:1 syrup as I want to encourage them to draw out the wax foundation strips – hence going after nurse bees that have active wax glands.
    Whilst the bees are in the shed I spray the front grille with water twice a a day.
  • After 2 days it’s time to introduce the sealed queen cell, usually 9-10 days after grafting. As I am grafting this is just a case of inserting the the cell holder and lodging it in place by closing the flap in the Perspex cover. I check the feeder to see if it needs topping up. I have drilled a 4 mm hole in the perspex cover to allow me to do this with a syringe rather than having to open up the apidea completely.
  • 24 hours after introducing the queen cell I place the apidea in it’s permanent spot in the apiary. I open up the entrance in the evening to let the bees start to get acclimatised to their new location.
  • Then I leave alone for 10 days before inspecting.

Using bees from a secondary site and concentrating on filling with nurse bees are the main reasons for my success rate going from 25% to 80%.