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Queen Rearing on a Shoestring, by Rob Andrews

I had for some time considered rearing my own queens but had been put off by the fairly complicated methods explained in several beekeeping books and the cost of buying special equipment to do the job. However following a disastrous winter I was left with only two hives and I decided that I would need to rear my own queens to restock my apiary.
I decided which stock had the best temperament and from which I was going to raise new queens. This stock was well fed from early spring with sugar syrup and honey. New unwired foundation was gradually added for the brood nest to expand into two brood boxes.

A piece of 3/4" chipboard was cut to fit exactly on top of the hive, a 5" diameter hole cut in the centre and the hole covered on both sides with a beeproof mesh. A rim approximately 3/8" deep was made around the edges of both sides of the board, leaving a gap of about 2" on one side for the bees to use later as an entrance.

A brood frame was adapted by adding two additional horizontal bars. A packet of wooden dolly pegs was purchased from my local hardware store and cut approx. 1" from the top. The horizontal bars were marked using the dolly pegs as guides and cut halfway to accommodate the pegs which would hang suspended by their round tops. I managed to space out 9 pegs per bar.

A piece of " dia. spare copper central heating tube was obtained and cut to 4" length and a steel bolt of similar diameter and length was found to form a plunger within the tube. One end of the tube was filed to give a sharp cutting edge. A saucer to hold some molten beeswax and some good spectacles or a watchmaker's eyeglass was also required.

On a warm sunny day at about 10.00 am the hive from which I was going to rear my new queens from was opened and the queen with unsealed brood together with adhering bees were removed and placed in a spare brood box.
The remaining two brood boxes were reassembled, filling in the gaps with drawn empty brood frames or with frames of foundation and leaving a gap in the centre of the top brood box for the queen rearing frame to be placed later.
The separator board, which had been made earlier, was placed on top of the hive with the entrance gap on the top edge. The spare box containing the queen and brood were now placed on top of the separator board allowing the flying bees to escape and return to the lower brood boxes. This stopped any direct contact between the bees in the lower boxes and the queen, thus causing the bees to realise that the queen was missing and that a new one was needed. The hole in the centre of the board covered by the mesh allows the heat generated by the bees below to pass through and keep the brood warm.

At about 1.00 pm. I opened the brood box containing the brood and queen and removed a frame containing eggs and young larvae and brushing off the bees, I took the frame into the sunlounge where there was good light and it was warm.

I fixed upright the frame made earlier with the pegs and arranged a saucer with some molten beeswax nearby.

Please note that for the purpose of this article (written in mid-winter) and demonstration purposes an empty shallow drawn frame has been used to illustrate the manipulations.

The frame, which had been removed from the hive containing the eggs and brood, was examined and the copper tube sharp end centrally covered a cell containing an egg that had just begun to hatch and was in the shape of a small 'C'. The tube was then pushed through to the other side. The bolt was then pushed through from the sharp end of the tube until the cell selected was pushed out of the other end.
A dolly peg was then dipped into the molten wax and the cell containing the larvae stuck to the end of the peg and the peg then hung onto the horizontal bars. This was continued until all the slots cut in the bars had been filled.
The frame of eggs and brood (now with several holes in it) was returned to the box containing the queen.
The frame with the pegs and suspended cells was placed in the gap left in the upper of the two lower boxes and the whole hive reassembled with the separator board still in place.
After two days I examined the frame containing the pegs and found that the bees had already started to convert the recently introduced cells into queen cells.
On the following day the brood box containing the queen and brood was replaced on the bottom of the hive, the separator board removed and the whole hive reassembled as three brood boxes. The bees did not attempt to destroy the new queen cells even though the queen was now free to roam within the hive.
Ten days later the hive was opened and the queen found and removed together with a frame of brood, pollen and honey.
The frame containing the now sealed queen cells was removed to one side and nucleus hives each containing three frames of bees, stores, brood and pollen were made up and two pegs with queen cells attached were placed in each nucleus between the frames and the hives sealed. In total eight nucleus hives were made up. The nucleus hives were taken to an out apiary and all successfully developed into full queen laying colonies.
The original queen was placed back on the original site and built up into a full colony.

I found this method a success, whether or not it was beginners luck or not I would not like to comment but it was fun and interesting to do, inexpensive and not too difficult and the bees were not confined at any time which sometimes causes them distress. Some of the ideas were my own and some taken from books and modified to suit me. On reflection I would recommend that:-
a) The queen is well marked and thus easier to find, and make sure that no queen cells have already been started.
b) That a good warm day for the cell extraction is selected and that all the tools are handy.
c) That a good light and possibly a watchmakers eyeglass which leaves your hands free is used to spot the eggs and larvae unless you have super vision.

On making up the nucleus hives choose a warm day and preferably when the neighbours are away as by the time you get round to making up the last nucleus hive the bees are not always in the best of moods.
I am not a Yorkshireman by birth but have spent most of my life in Yorkshire and many of the beekeepers I have met have always seemed to be very generous and friendly but a bit canny when it comes to spending cash, so just for the record the cost of this queen rearing system was 1.69 for the pegs.
Good Luck.
Rob Andrews