Today I pulled queen cells that I grafted on Wednesday from the starter nuc. I started grafting and raising my own queen bees as a way to break my dependency on buying package bees every year and to breed for a gentle bee, a trait I REALLY value. I took a class from Dr. Larry Connor last year on the method he describes in his book “Queen Rearing Essentials. G. M. Doolittle developed the grafting process taught by Dr. Connor, and it is used by both small and large commercial queen producers. The process is simple enough that any beekeeper can raise their own queens.

It begins by setting up a starter nuc. The starter nuc is made up of a frame or two of pollen and honey, one or two drawn frames for cluster space, a sponge soaked with water (placed on the bottom of the nuc), the grafting bars and frame, and as many young nurse bees as you can shake in the nuc, to the point of crowding – in the case of a starter nuc, the more the merrier (or better). Since the nurse bees are queenless in the nuc, they will naturally begin to produce emergency queen cells from the larvae you have grafted.

Look for a larvae to graft that is just 12-24 hours after hatching. An easy way to find the right age of larvae is to find unhatched eggs, and then look for the hatched larvae adjacent to the eggs. The larvae you are looking for should just be curling into a “C” shape and floating on a bed of royal jelly. The actual grafting involves scooping under the larvae and royal jelly and lifting it out of the cell and then placing the larvae and royal jelly into a plastic queen cell cup on the grafting frame.  There are many styles of grafting tools, it’s a matter of trying several styles and finding one you are comfortable using. So far, I have been successfully using the Chinese grafting tool, which has a thin flexible quill that can be slid down the side of the honeycomb cell and under the royal jelly.  After grafting as many queen cell cups as you want, put the grafting frame into your starter nuc. The nurse bees have been waiting impatiently for these queen cells and will get busy on their new charges.

Within 24 – 48 hours pull the frame with the queen cells out and inspect your success (or failure). If you are successful you should see the start of the actual queen cell being drawn out with a rim of beeswax on the edge of the cell cup and a larger pool of royal jelly under the larvae.  Place the grafting frame into a cell finisher – a hive that is queenless or a hive where the queen is confined to the lower hive body with a queen excluder. I just happen to have a queenless hive, thanks to a recent bear visit to my apiary. The bear turned the hive over and fortunately did not do much damage to the frames or hive bodies, but the queen didn’t survive.  I placed the grafting frame in the hive and in 9-11 days will move the fully drawn out queen cells into mating nucs.

I’ll report back in approximately 11 days on how successful I was with this round of grafting. For those interested, I grafted into 40 queen cups and counted 18 cups that had a rim of beeswax and royal jelly under the larvae.

Queen Cells on a Grafting Frame