I’ve been looking into experimenting with queen rearing for a while, but haven’t got much further than splitting hives during swarm season, and being selective about which queen cells I leave and which I knock down.

However, I’ve always fancied trying to raise queen cells to get better quality queens, and so looked into ways of doing this which were simple, and didn’t involve anything too fancy, good eyesight or a steady hand.

I read about the Hopkins method of queen rearing, and what struck me was the simplicity of the system - so much so that I’m getting round to trying it this year.

Simply put, you take a frame of eggs/larvae from the hive you want to breed from, scrape away the comb to leave a few single cells remaining, spaced apart, and put this frame horizontally on top of a queenless ‘breeder’ colony. The horizontal aspect allows the bees to draw down large, well-spaced queen cells, rather than building cells on the face of a vertical frame, which can sometimes be smaller, or hindered by the surrounding cells.

You can then cut out any queen cells once they’re capped over, and use them in other hives, nucs or even mini-nucs.

Some important points:

  • Use a super frame for the eggs - it requires less energy from the queen to fill with eggs, and will fit more easily onto smaller breeder colonies such as a 5-frame nucleus.

  • Raise up the horizontal frame by an inch or so to allow space underneath for the queen cells to hang down. I used a super frame with no foundation in it, as they stack well together (especially for Hoffman frames, if the empty frame is rotated 180 degrees).

  • Don’t let the larvae get more than 3-4 days old before putting the frame i the breeder colony - older larvae will make poor queens.

  • Scrape back 3-4 rows of cells horizontally, and remove 3-4 cells between each ‘good’ cell to allow plenty of space to expand the queen cells.

  • Keep an eye out for queen cells developing on the vertical frames, and destroy these (you don’t want an unwanted queen hatching and destroying your cells, or swarming with your workers).

  • Make sure to inspect after 8-9 days to see how many capped queen cells you have, and re-home any suitable ones within 7 days, as once a queen hatches, she will either destroy her sisters, or swarm.

  • Remember to keep at least one cell back to re-queen your breeder colony at the end of the process, if you want to keep it as a viable colony.

There’s a really useful guide to the whole process, with pictures available as a PDF. I hope to upload some of my own pictures once queen cells have been drawn out on the frame in my breeder nuc.

I’ll also write up some notes on various options for all these nice new queen cells that you’ve raised, with an example increase plan for an apiary, very soon.

UPDATE: It turns out that my queenless breeder hive was not as queenless as I suspected! I took a nuc from a split where I believed that the new queen had failed (hatched queen cell, but no sign of queen, eggs or larvae 3 weeka after the split, and very noisy bees). On inspection today the hopkins frame was untouched, and there are eggs and larvae in many frames. Will have to repeat the experiment again with a ‘definitely queenless’ breeder hive.

Matthew Richardson