Queen Rearing Best Management Practices

Buckeye Queen Producers


Best Management Practices for Queen Rearing

(Revised 2/22/2013)

The Buckeye Queen Producers presents this Best Management Practices for Queen Rearing as a guide for it’s members to help insure that queens are given the best chance to be good quality, productive queens.  It also serves as a guide as to what beekeepers should be looking for in a queen producer.  It does not intend to promote a single method of queen rearing such as grafting or the cell punch method, but is intended to be a list of best practices that should be followed when raising queens by any method.

Queen Mother – Grafting Stock

The Queen Mother must be of known stock to avoid introducing unknown and undesirable genetics into your own bee yards or your customers.   Acceptable queen mothers would include instrumentally inseminated queens from known stock, or queens that have been tested through a full season and have been found to have no undesirable traits.

 Cells Per Starter/Cell Builder

It is difficult to recommend an exact number of cells that can be started in a hive given the variation in hive strength and age of the bees in the hive.  Queen cells require many more visits by nurse bees than worker cells.  Laidlaw Page recommends 300 workers per cell.

The best measure to determine if the hive can raise a given number of quality cells is by checking the amount of royal jelly at the time the cells are capped.   If the cells have a surplus of royal jelly then there were an adequate number of nurse bees to take care of the cells. 

Available nectar and pollen can also affect the amount of royal jelly placed in queen cells.  Feeding of both syrup and pollen may be necessary at certain times of the year depending on local conditions.

Mating Nuc Size

Mating nucs should have at least 2 medium frames (6 ¼”) or the equivalent surface area (2 deep frames, 4 half size medium frames, etc.).   A minimum nuc size helps insure that queens are well cared for during the critical 48 hour period after mating.   It also gives queens enough space so that the beekeeper can evaluate the brood pattern before she is caged and sold to a customer.    In addition the queen can be left in the nuc for a prolonged period of time to eliminate the need for banking queens until they are sold.


A minimum of 1 production hives per ?X? mating nucs is recommended to ensure an adequate supply of drones.  Production hives may be located up to 2 miles from the mating yard and will still contribute drones for mating.   Drone production and subsequently the number of nucs can be increased by adding drone comb to the hives or moving drone comb from other out yards to the local production hives.   Early in the season and during periods of dearth it’s important to monitor the number of drones to make sure there are enough mature drones for proper mating.

Hives contributing drones for mating should also be of known or tested stock so as not to introduce unknown genetics.

Production Time

While a queen may start laying as soon as 12 days after placing a ripe cell in a mating nuc, this assumes perfect conditions both in the hive and weather for mating.  A minimum of 3 weeks is recommended to allow the queen to develop a brood pattern that can be evaluated.   Queens that have been laying longer before introduction into a new hive typically have a better rate of acceptance.

Neighboring Apiaries

Queens will mate with drones that come from other bee yards and feral hives that can be several miles away from the mating nucs.  This means you won’t have complete control of the drone population.  If at all possible encourage your neighbors to use good quality queens from known sources to improve your drone population.   

Avoid placing mating nucs near known commercial yards that have hives moved from southern states, particularly those known to have africanized bees.


Banking of mated queens should be avoided.  Banking queens increases the time the queen cannot lay before she is introduced.  The queen will lose weight, may be slower to start laying and the rate of acceptance of the queen into a new hive is generally decreased.   For the same reason queens should not be caged significantly before they are shipped or sold to customers.

Banking of virgin queens for a short period of time before introduction, shipping or insemination is a necessary practice but should be minimized wherever possible.

Allowable Treatments

Comb that has been exposed to Checkmite or Apistan should not be used in cell builders, cell finishers, mating nucs or drone colonies.  Contamination from these treatments have been shown to negatively affect the viable sperm the queen receives even at very low levels.

Queen Candy

Honey should not be used in queen candy to avoid the chance of spreading disease.  Marshmallows also make a very poor queen candy and should not be used.

The ideal queen candy should remain soft for many days and should be somewhat hygroscopic.  A suggested recipe for queen candy is:  Corn syrup, powdered sugar and glycerin.   Use 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of corn syrup and mix enough powdered sugar in so that the mixture is solid enough that it doesn’t stick all over your hands when kneading it.    When placed in a container it should hold it’s shape, but eventually slump if left overnight.  A thicker mixture may be necessary during warmer months  than in cooler months to avoid having it run in the cage.

Queen Cages

There is no recommended queen cage.   All commercially available cages are acceptable including  Plastic JZBZ, traditional 3 hole cages and,  California style cages.  

Shipping Queens

While picking up your queens from a producer will minimize the stress on the queen, it is often not practical.    Queens can currently be shipped by Priority Mail, Express Mail and UPS Next Day Air.   Shorter shipping times are preferable however it can be cost prohibitive and it’s typically the choice of the customer if they wish to pay for faster shipping.

Shipping queens in a box with suitable ventilation holes are recommended over envelops with a few holes punched in the edges.   The box provides better protection for the queens, better ventilation and minimizes temperature swings reducing the stress on the queens.   In no cases should a mailing label be attached directly to the queen cages and the cages shipped without an envelope or box.

Marking Queens

Marking of queens is not required but it is encouraged.  With practice, marking queens is a quick and simple task that can be done when caging queens for sale.  It can be a good service for your customer and a sign of pride in your queens.   

Clipping wings is not recommended as queens could be considered damaged by the hive they are introduced into and clipping does not reduce or prevent swarming.   Clipping may be used with instrumentally inseminated queens as a secondary mark, but then only the very tip of the wing is clipped to help determine if the queen is inseminated in the case the marking would fall off or be worn off.

There is not a recommended method of marking queens.   Several different brands of paint markers or model paint are suitable and provide long lasting marks.   Marking disks may also be glued to the queen, though these are typically reserved for instrumentally inseminated queens.

The international queen marking code is recommended in order to help customers quickly determine the age of the queen.   The colors are:

  • Years ending in 1 or 6 = WHITE
  • Years ending in 2 or 7 = YELLOW
  • Years ending in 3 or 8 = RED
  • Years ending in 4 or 9 = GREEN
  • Years ending in 5 or 0 = BLUE

Using different shades of each color to aid in visibility is acceptable.  For example, light blue instead of blue or pink instead of red may be more visible on dark queens.   It is also more visible for those who are color blind.

Health of Queens

Queens that are lame, injured, deformed, have wings damaged, or have not established a good laying pattern should not be sold.


Incubators may be used to hold capped queen cells until shortly before the queens emerge.   Incubating queen cells does not have a negative effect on the queen and can help minimize loss of cells and help the beekeeper manage inclimate weather.