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%.

Colony Inspection – 11th May

Weather continues to be on the cool side.

Decided to perform queen rearing with colony A and will try and use a Cloake board method for the first time. First step was to make up the Cloake board using one of the varroa slides as the dividing partition.

  1. Day 1 a.m. – Moved brood frames into top brood box and kept queen in lower box below QE. Added Cloake board between 2 brood boxes with the slide removed.
  2. Day 1 p.m. – Added grafting bar frame and full frame feeder into top box. opened bottom entrance at 90 to original (no room at back for 180), put slide in  and opened up Cloake board entrance facing front.
  3. Day 2 – Took out grafting bar and grafted 10 larvae. Replaced in top box and topped up feeder.
  4. Day 3 –  9 out of 10 grafts taken. Filled frame feeder for 3rd time. Took out Cloake slide and closed bottom entrance.

Mid May – Home After 2 weeks

Well the weather has been changeable. But looks like after the warm Winter that everything is flowering 2-3 weeks ahead of normal. The weather is set to be settled and very warm for the next week. My bees have certainly been active and bringing in quite a lot of stores. However my swarm avoidance and queen rearing hasn’t gone to plan.

Only one of the Apideas survived, but the resulting queen that is laying is very small. Not sure why the other Apidea didn’t survive, all the bees seem to have perished, maybe the entrance was blocked.

Update: Saturday, 17th – Moved Green 5 frame nuc to out apiary and transferred to full size National box. Also moved Apidea created yesterday with sealed queen cell from Cyan to out apiary.

Currently Chesnut and Hawthorn in flower

Weekly Colony Inspection – Late May

Well the weather has finally started to improve and the bees are much more active. Not much stores added but at least they are foraging and starting to bring in the nectar. Fortunately no other colonies have taken advantage of the more favourable conditions to start swarming activity, hopefully I haven’t spoked too soon!


The Wilson queen rearing was kicked off last week and is going OK, but it’s early days. About 10 sealed queen cells – most were small and so took them out.


Forage: horse chesnut coming to the end, lilac still out, hawthorn is now in full flower

Queen Rearing – Wilson Technique

Split Board made from solid floor

Split board with two entrances

One of my colonies has reached the stage where I expect it might begin its own swarming activities if I don’t intervene. The colony, Aqua, was on a double brood box with 12 frames of brood and 1 super. So I decided to carry out a variation of the Wilson technique (see for the full description).
The only extra piece of equipment I need at this stage is the solid floor that I have modified to act as a split board. The photo on the right shows the 2 slots covered with mesh and the entrance cut into the back of the floor with the normal entrance block narrowed down slightly. This technique is similar to one using a Snelgrove board, but it’s simpler with less manipulations required.

Modified brood box

Queen raiser box with division board

The brood box for the queen raiser portion has also been modified so that it can be split into two halves if a division board is inserted enabling me to raise 2 nucleus size colonies (my current plan).The split board and the modified brood box can be clipped together with toggle clamps to make subsequent inspections of the parent colony easier. I can just lift the queen raiser box and floor off in one go.




Wilson - Day 1 a.m.

1st manipulation on Day 1

Manipulation 1 – On Sunday a.m. 13th May – I split the colony up as follows:
1) Queen raiser – 8 frames of brood with as much unsealed brood as possible. 2 frames of drawn comb “filled” with syrup and placed at each end.
2) Parent colony – 4 frames of brood, 6 frames of stores and drawn comb
I built the colony up as follows: the parent colony (with the queen) on the existing floor, queen excluder, queen raiser, super.

The purpose of this manipulation is to get as many bees as possible to cover the brood in the upper box as this will become the queen rearing one.



Wilson - Day 1 p.m.

2nd manipulation with queen raiser on floor


Manipulation 2 – On Sunday p.m. 13th May – I swapped the positions of the 2 brood boxes around and replaced the queen excluder with the split board. The bees without the queen should start to raise queen cells from the eggs and larvae. The top box with the queen is now on the split board with the 2 side entrances open. The majority of the flying bees from the queen-right top box will return back to the original entrance and boost the queen raiser colony.





I will inspect the colony in a week to check that the queen is continuing to lay and that the queen raiser has built queen cells. I only need to perform one further manipulation in 10 days time before the queens emerge in the queen raiser. I will split the box into 2 halves with the division board and take out any excess queen cells leaving just one sealed cell in each half.

So as you can see it’s a fairly easy technique to use to raise one or two queens with no interruption to the colony’s foraging activities.

Apidea – Trials and Tribulations

My endeavours with queen rearing in the two Apideas doesn’t seem to be working out.

Eggs laid by a worker

Drone Laying Worker

They have drawn the frames out very well and seem to have enough stores. The apidea with a ripe queen cell seems to have hatched out but I can’t see any sign of the queen and it’s probably too soon for her to be mated and laying eggs. So given presence of multiple eggs in the cells I can only assume that it’s a drone laying worker rather than a normal queen. I’ve never seen so many eggs in individual cells.

The apidea that had a laying queen in it for a day has developed a nice looking queen cell. Not sure whether I will get a viable queen but decided to leave it and see what happens. Hopefully the weather will improve for her to stand a chance of getting mated.
Apidea Raising Its Own Queen Cell

Queen cell built by bees in the Apidea

Weekly Inspection- wet, wet, wet April

Well the weather has continued to bucket it down – apparently wettest April for 100 years! Bit concerned about stores as the bees couldn’t get out to forage. Fortunately all appear to have sufficient and not require feeding.

Also the weather is likely to have an impact on the mating of the queens that I am currently raising. In fact the apidea with a ripe queen cell seems to have a drone layer – so will need to get rid of this fairly soon. The other apidea which had a mated queen in it for a day has raised a rather nice queen cell. Not sure if it is viable, but decided to leave it and see what happens.

The Plum colony split doesn’t seem to have stopped the parent colony with the old queen raising more queen cells. There were a lot of bees and looked to be short of space. So swapped some frames around with the other half and reversed the entrance around to bleed off some brood and bees.

Cistus, Horse Chesnut, Apple and Lilac now starting to blossom

Weekly Inspection – April Rain

Well the bad weather has continued this week, lots of rain and temperatures only reaching 12°C. The rain meant that I put off doing the last stage of the queen rearing but only by a day. Noticeable that the bees haven’t been able to forage much and have been eating through their stores this week. Transferred sealed queen cells into the two apideas. Replaced one of the sealed queen cells with a spare laying queen I was given from two colonies being united (not my bees). I set up a nuc with brood and bees from Aqua and Cyan – dusted with icing sugar to prevent fighting and put the queen into a Butler cage between two frames. So I’ll see how she gets on over the next few weeks.

On Thursday, 19th whilst doing the transfer of queen cells in the Plum colony I examined the Maroon colony which had shown signs of swarming last week. There were more new charged queen cells so I took out the queen and four frames of brood and stores and put into a nuc and brought it back to my home apiary. I will let the parent colony raise a new queen.

So I currently have 2 new nucleus colonies(Green and Lime), each with laying queens.

Took out the varroa slides at the Mole apiary and only found a total of 3 mites, so nothing to worry about on this front.

Flowering: Pear and horse chesnut both coming into bloom.

Swarm Control – Using a Modified Snelgrove Board Part 2

The split seems to be doing well. The colony looks to be balanced with more bees in the queen rearing half. This is to be expected as the flying bees are returning to this colony. Both entrances are being used.

  1. There are no queen cells in the lower parent, didn’t spot the queen but there were about 3 frames of eggs out of the 6 brood frames.
  2. In the queen raiser half there were about 6 unsealed queen cells, none on the frame I gave them from the lower box. I will go back in 3 days to select one cell to remain and take 2 for my apideas.

The apidea frames that I put into the super hadn’t been drawn any further than when I visited on Tuesday. So I just took them out and stocked the apideas with bees from the other 2 colonies. As I hadn’t added any feed I was able to use the bottom slide and it’s certainly easier than trying to get them in past the frames and push the lid on quickly.

I brought the apideas home and fed with syrup. Normally I find this to be very messy and lose a lot of bees taking the lid and cover off. But this time I drilled a small 4mm hole in the acrylic cover and used a syringe to squirt the syrup into the feeder. Certainly a lot easier than my past experiences. Finally I sprayed some water in through the front grill and put in a quiet spot to acclimatise and hopefully draw out the wax in the next few days.