Queen Rearing – 1st Attempt

Well, as promised, I will share my failures with you so hopefully others can learn from my mistakes and shorten their learning curve.  I recently tried to raise some queens.  My method of choice was (and will be for at least several more attempts) to use the Cell Punch method for queen rearing.  Many people use grafting, and at some point I may try it, but for now I’ll stick with the Cell Punch method.  To me, grafting introduces more variables that as a beginner I want to avoid.  Things like – changing the orientation of the larvae which could drown the larvae in royal jelly, accidentally slicing or harming the larvae with the grafting tool, which will make the bees reject the larvae, or not scooping up as much royal jelly which could contribute to an underfed queen and hence a not-as-healthy queen.

I don’t intend to get into raising a bunch of queens for sale, but rather for re-queening in my own apiary and to have a couple extra queens on hand to help out other local beekeepers if they’re in need.  Using the cell punch method for raising queens solves the potential pitfalls I mentioned above, because with this method the whole cell is removed from the comb.  Therefore the larvae orientation is preserved, no tool touches the larvae, and ALL of the royal jelly that is in the cell goes with the larvae to hopefully keep the future queen fed well!  The real issue I found with the cell punch method is the need to keep the tool hot for punching and the wax molten for gluing the cells on.  This would be prohibitive in the cab of my truck, where it could potentially stay warmer for the larvae.

I set up the cell builder hive as follows:  I took 2 frames of capped brood and 2 frames of honey/pollen.  The frames of food were placed the furthest out in the 5 frame nucleus hive body, and the capped brood frames just inside of those, leaving enough room for the queen cell frame to be placed in the middle of the hive.  There would then be plenty of soon-to-emerge nurse bees on each side of the cell punches and they would, knowing they were queenless, immediately begin building queen cells using the perfect age larvae which I’ve supplied them with.  I also shook nurse bees off of a couple other frames to ensure there were lots of bees to build queen cells and feed the larvae.  All was good until I did the cell punching.  I failed to set up the proper environment in which to do the grafting/punching.  Since I’d never done it before I had no idea how long it would take, and consequently it took 45 minutes, waaaaayyyyyyy too long for the larvae to be without proper heat and humidity.  I did keep a moist paper towel over the larvae to help keep them moist, but the prolonged lower temperature almost assuredly is what did them in.

Here’s how I set up my cell punch station

I kept a pan of hot water to keep the punch tool hot enough to melt/punch through the comb, as well as keep the beeswax melted so I could use it to “glue” the cells to the wooden blocks and glue the wooden blocks to the cell bar.  A small paint brush worked well to paint the beeswax around the cells.

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7 cell punches on the bar at this point.

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After I’d done all the cell punches, I put the queen cell frame into the cell builder hive and waited 4 days to check on progress.  The bees had torn down all of my cell punches and instead built queen cells from some of the open brood I’d overlooked when placing the frame into the cell builder.  As of today there are a few queen cells in the hive.  I’ll keep 2 in there to hatch out and start a colony, and give the other 2 to a local beekeeper friend.  Then I’ll regroup and try again once I’ve figured out how to keep my cell punch station appropriately uncomfortable for me(90 + degrees and humid) but perfect for the larvae.  More to come….

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