2.1.4. Queen rearing methods and management of nurse (or cell builder) colonies

A few queens can be reared very simply by utilizing the natural reproductive impulses of colonies (swarming, supersedure or emergency). For example, in the Alley method (Ruttner, 1983) a strip of cells containing one day old larvae is removed from a comb and placed in a frame with the cells pointing downwards. Every 2nd and 3rd larva is destroyed, leaving adequate spacing for queen cells to be started and finished without having to surgically separate the cells once they are sealed.

However, large scale, systematic production of high quality queens relies on grafting methods and the application of specific colony management schemes. There are several methods available to stimulate colonies to accept newly grafted queen cells and to rear high quality queens. In starter-finisher systems, the queen cells are started in special colonies and transferred to queenright finisher colonies after about two days. In other systems, the queen cells remain in the same colony for the whole rearing period. The most popular methods are listed in Table 1.

If there is no nectar flow available, all nurse colonies or bees in swarm boxes need to be fed with a 50 % sugar syrup or candy (powdered sugar with honey, ratio 4 : 1 by weight) at least three days before grafting during the whole rearing season. The nurse colonies always need to have a good supply of nectar. If necessary, additional pollen combs are put in from other colonies. In any case, the nurse colony needs plenty of young and well fed bees to ensure a rich royal jelly supply for the very young larvae.

Table 1. Methods to stimulate colonies to accept newly grafted queen cells.






Swarm box

Artificial swarm with plenty of young bees and feed in a 5-6 frame box or a 9-12 frame hive without a queen or open brood, as described by Laidlaw (1979)

Gives perfect starting results independent of the weather conditions

The swarm boxes can easily be transferred and used to transport queen cells

Many manipulations

Confined bees in the box are stressed and less active compared to free flying colonies


Free-flying queenless starter colony

Queenless colony without open brood as described by Laidlaw (1979) or by Morse (1979)

No extra hive equipment (like swarm boxes) needed

Achieves necessary number of queen cells at any time of the season

Is necessary to cage the queen

Works only with very strong colonies

Requires extra colonies for queen cells finishing

Need to be supported by the addition of sealed or emerging brood at 7-10 day intervals. Bees should be collected in the morning from open brood of support colonies in other apiaries. The bees should be fed sugar syrup and left caged in a cool dark place until late afternoon before they are added to the starter colonies.

Free-flying queenright  colony

Several very popular procedures (Mackensen, Ruttner, Sklenar, Mueller) as described by Ruttner (1983)

Excellent queen quality (Cengiz et al. 2009)

Used for starting and finishing the queen cells

Possible to graft every day

Swarm prevention necessary

Queenright starter-finisher

Queenright, two or three story colony as described by Laidlaw & Page (1997)

Achieves optimal cell and queen quality at any time of the season

Needs very strong colony


Queenless starter-finisher

Queenless two or three story colony, as described by Laidlaw (1979) or one story as described by Morse (1979) or Woodward (2007)

Reliable results widely independent of weather condition and period of season

Needs support of brood and bees from field colonies


Maintained by the addition of about 300-400 g of bees in the evening before each new graft. A frequent addition of this amount of bees is preferable to adding more bees at less frequent intervals. If almost all brood is gone, emerging brood combs are given as well.