Small Scale Queen Breeding

The Northern States Queen Breeders Association is not a closed association. While we have minimum requirements for membership, we also want to encourage beekeepers to raise their own queens. And hopefully, some of these beekeepers grow to a scale that they also can contribute to the northern queen industry and become a NSQBA member. Below is advice and information for beekeepers wanting to raise queens.

We can not possible cover all the details of queen rearing on this website. We encourage all beekeepers to read as much as they can on queen rearing. If ever the chance, attend a queen rearing course. And of course, ask questions and work with another beekeeper from the local club on starting out. Queen rearing has become a lost art to most beekeepers, yet is one of the most important tasks a beekeeper can master. The rewards and enjoyment of raising your own queens is one of the most satisfying adventures you will have in beekeeping.

Small Scale Queen Rearing


Many beekeepers never attempt to raise their own queens. This may for a host of reasons. But the main two reasons are: 1) Lack of knowledge 2) The thought that they can not graft or that it is too complicated to attempt. But reality is that queen rearing can be one of any number of procedures that can be effective with little experience or involving the grafting process. Any beekeeper can raise their own locally produced queens with the basic knowledge they already have.


We will cover some of the easiest ways to produce a few extra queens for your own operation. The information found below is to help you with some of the basics and encourage you to start rearing a few queens.




Using Swarm Cells

Even with the best swarm prevention procedures, most beekeepers will find swarm cells. Removing extra swarm cells and making up small mating nuc colonies is a very effective way to raise your own queens. Some will suggest negative swarming traits being passed on if you use swarm cells. But almost all hives will swarm every year if left to their own devices. Bees naturally perpetuate their species by swarming. Using what honey bees naturally produce is cost effective and the queens produced can be some of the best you will ever see. Honey bees swarm in time of peak flow, and under ideal hive production and strength.


To use swarm cells, put two or three frames of bees and a frame of honey in a nuc box. One of the frames must have one or more swarm cells. Use these queens to build replacement hives for winter dead-outs, or using them later in the season to requeen old queens or failing queens. Having an extra queen or two throughout the summer allows you to be flexible in your beekeeping management. And you may find out that your locally produced queens are higher than the last queens you bought elsewhere.


There are many topics of queen rearing regardless of the scale of your queen rearing efforts. And we encourage you to do some research in queen rearing. The information we provide is to encourage you to get started in queen rearing. But we just simply can not cover every detail of the queen rearing process. What we want to pass along is the idea that using your own swarm cells is an effective and easy way to raise a few of your own queens.



Forced Emergency Cells


Some beekeepers will force colonies to raise queens by removing the queen. Although good queens can be produced in this manner, you must pay attention to the seasonality of this process and the bees needs within the hive. Honey bees naturally make cells (swarming) at the optimal timing in regards to flow, hive population, and other factors. When a beekeeper forces hives to complete this process by removing a queen, a hive must have the same ability to raise, feed, heat, and produce quality queens.



Nuc Boxes

To raise queens, some basic understanding is required. One is the requirement of having one mating colony for each queen raised. Good advice is for beekeepers to have one nuc box for every 2-3 hives. Some beekeepers use full size hives for queen rearing. And although they will produce good queens, it is not the most productive way to raise queens. If you are going to raise queens and allow yourself the ability to be flexible and productive, purchase a couple nucs boxes.


In any queen rearing program, whether small or large, quality control and selection protocols should be utilized. Mini-nucs, or what some call "baby" nucs are not recommended. They do not provide the needed interchangeable frames that northern breeder need for quick spring setup, utilizing queen cells on standard frames, or allow easy combining efforts after the queen rearing season is over. Mini-nucs also do not provide adequate comb area to properly monitor the new queen's laying pattern and full ability.


Understanding the Queen Calendar


The queen calendar is used for grafting scheduling, completing steps in the production of queens such as pulling cells, and other factors. Even backyard beekeepers raising a few queens need to understand the basic timing of a queen calendar.


1) An egg is laid in a queen cup.



4) An egg becomes a 1 day old larvae. This is the optimal larvae size for grafting.





9) The queen cell is capped.


11) Movement up to this day may result in damage to queens.


13) Move queen cells to mating nucs.



16) Queens emerge from cells


18) If not emerged, discard queen cells.



21) Mating flight

22) Mating flight


34) Check for eggs


41) No eggs discard queen.


Please note that these days are approximate. Some queens may emerge on day 15, while some queens will start laying well before the date indicated above. These are the dates that something should of happened. But many times, dates are sooner than suggested. Patience many times is rewarded.