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  1. #1
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    Default Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    After some discussions on other threads Iíve done this thread to show with pictures a way to raise queen cells without grafting.

    It is called the Cut Cell Method and is based on what Jay Smith did, although is not identical.

    I also want to say upfront that there are many ways to raise queens. This is a way that suits me, after using many methods. But any experienced queen breeder will find parts of this method he does differently / doesnít agree with. Comments / critisizms welcome long as it stays friendly!

    Also this is a bit different to what I did when raising queens as a full time job, it is more to suit a small scale operation, wishing to raise from perhaps a dozen to perhaps a thousand queens per year.

    Also a couple of bits of equipment are shown, a swarm box, and a breeder hive. However if you donít have these, explanations are given how to do it with no special equipment.






    Day 0. (Wednesday) This pic shows a bar with a bit of foundation being put into the breeder hive. You can see the hive is sectioned off with a queen excluder and the queen is in the part that fits three frames.
    When I was breeding queens full time we used a purpose built breeder hive that was a bit different but the principle is the same. The queen is kept in a small area which encourages her to lay straight away in the comb we put in, plus it extends her life because she is not laying as many eggs.






    Day 1. (Thursday) The next day if the hive is vigorous the bees have drawn the foundation and there are eggs in it. (And some drone comb built). The comb is removed and put over the other side of the excluder for the bees to look after for the next few days.

    For those who do not want to set up a breeder hive as pictured, just take the queen and two full combs from the hive you want to breed from and leave them in the hive with the bar of foundation in the middle. Move the rest of the hive away just a few yards. 24 hours later the hive can be put back together and the comb should have eggs in it and can be stored over an excluder. If the bees might not draw the foundation fast enough, it could be put in a hive for a day or two to be drawn, before being put in with the queen.






    Day 4.(Sunday) The comb now has eggs starting to hatch. It is in the shed ready for cutting.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting


    The cells are cut into strips one cell wide.



    Cell bars are painted with melted wax.



    The strips of cells are put onto the cell bars. This has to be done FAST, before the wax that has been painted on hardens. The bees are not allowed to raise all the cells, they are too close. Every third cell is left alive, the other two are thinned out by poking a hole in the bottom of the cell, in this case with a nail.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting




    The bars of cells are hung in a frame, with the cells hanging downwards, and the frame is put into a swarm box (or cell starter as many call it). The swarm box is basically a box able to hold 6 frames, with some extra space at the bottom with gauze attached to allow ventilation. There are also holes in the lid with gauze. In this case, the swarm box was prepared by putting in two combs containing unsealed honey, and pollen. We want the larvae well fed so there should be plenty of food available, also fresh unsealed honey, not capped honey which does not hold enough water.
    Three lbís of bees were added, which is enough bees that the two combs are boiling with bees, and plenty more bees again. The bees are added a few hours before the cells go in, so they have time to realise they are queenless and are desperate to raise queen cells by the time we add the cells. They cannot leave the swarm box, the entrance is closed.
    The frame with the queen cells is hung in the middle, and one comb of pollen and honey (and no brood), is put tightly on each side of it.

    If you donít want to make a swarm box, it can be done in a nuc or super, just as long as you can get enough ventilation, perhaps nail some mesh on the bottom and the top.






    Day 5 (Monday), the cells are taken from the cell starter and put into the cell finisher. The photo shows the cell finisher hive and the starter box with the frame of cells between the two feed combs.
    To make a cell finisher hive you need a strong two or three box hive. Since finding queens is quite a time wasting procedure, I donít, I put an excluder between the two brood boxes. 5 days later I know which box the queen is in because it has eggs in it. This should be timed to coincide with the day old cells being ready. The box with the queen in is put on a new bottom board and moved away a few yards and has a lid put on. The other box, which is now queenless, is put on the original bottom board, and this becomes the cell finisher.







    This is the frame holding the queen cell bars. The bees have started 24 cells. The reason there are some empty patches with no cells is because my eyesite is not as good as it once was, and I have to guess which cells have larva in, so a few strips with no larvae were put in. If the bees had more larvae they would have started more cells. However the advantage with this method is that now I struggle to graft because of poor eyesite, I can still use the cut cell method & get a decent number of cells.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting



    This is the cell finishing hive after the cells have been put into it. At least two combs of eggs or young larvae from the queenright box (that was moved way) are put into the middle of the cell finisher, and the frame of queen cells from the starter box are put in between these combs. There must be plenty of unsealed honey and pollen near the frame of queen cells. The bees from the starter box are dumped in, making a very strong hive. Additionally, any bees returning will go to the original site and boost the cell finisher.






    Because the cell finisher is now very crowded, a box of honey frames has been added on top as somewhere for surplus bees to go.






    Day 9 (Friday) We now have some nice looking queen cells, just capped. The bees have built some burr comb also, this can be cut away when we remove the cells to put into hives to mate.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting



    Also day 9, the finisher hive can be re-united with itís queen. The box with the queen, that was moved away, is put back on the bottom board. Then a queen excluder, and over that the box with the queen cells. Then the honey box on top. There is no need to use newspaper or similar, the bees have not been separated too long and will re-unite peacefully.
    Because there was young larvae in the combs of the cell finisher when it was queenless, we have to go over those combs to check for queen cells and kill any we find. They could hatch early and kill our cells.

    Finally on day 13 (Tuesday), we remove the cells, to go into the hives they will hatch in, and hopefully mate and start laying. With cut cells, mating success is normally better than with grafted cells.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Great Info!! And for All The Work You put into this, Thank you !! The Pictures are Awesome !

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Thanks .

    Taking some pics and posting them is something I've been thinking for a while, that I should do sometime.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  8. #8
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    Thumbs Up Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Oldtimer - thanks for the great information. Pictures are worth a thousand words!

    Jim

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Well done, I enjoyed reading it.
    Dan

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    very nice thank you

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Thanks so much for the pictures and the explanation. It is very informative and helpful.

    If you don't mind, I had a few questions regarding your process. Ok, perhaps more than a few, but still, I'm so interested!

    First, do you think it would be easier to insert a fully drawn frame, instead of inserting a frame of foundation on day 0? This would ensure that the queen lays in most of the cells, and that all of them are drawn out with no drone comb.

    Second, can you explain the importance of ventilation in the swarm box? I've read other queen rearing books and I'm familiar with the topic of a swarm box, but I havn't read anyone else emphasizing an importance to have a top ventilation as well as a bottom ventilation, let alone any ventilation in a swarm box.

    Third, why do you seal off the entrance of the swarm box? If you shake mostly nurse bees in there, you shouldn't have an issue with them leaving.

    Fourth, why not add frames of capped brood to the swarm box? This ensures that when they emerge, you have additional nurse bees to take care of the queen cells. Since they are capped, you don't need to worry about them taking resources away from the queen cells.

    Fifth, in Jay Smith's "Queen Rearing Simplified", he emphasizes the importance of making a swarm box a day in advance, keeping them queenless overnight with a feeder in a dark cool place (he used his cellar). You stress the importance of only keeping them queenless for a few hours, and you don't seem to think it's necessary to plunge the girls into darkness for 24 hours. Have you tried Jay Smith's process and found it unnecessary, or do you just operate a simpler method?

    Sixth, you only put the queen cells in the swarm box (or cell builder) for one day. Most other books have suggested leaving them in the swarm box much longer. Since you have already taken the time to make sure that the swarm box is full of plenty of uncapped honey, pollen, and nurse bees, didn't you create the optimum conditions to raise a queen? Why only keep them in the swarm box for a day, when you could keep them in there for four or five days and have the swarm box raise the queens? Along the same lines, do you think it's possible to make one box that can act as a cell builder and a cell finisher? Or is that not possible?

    Seventh, you said you used to raise queens professionally. What other methods do you have experience with? This system seems very easy and fool proof (which I love) but I'm just wondering if it's easier than the Nicot or MDA Splitter methods.

    Lastly, and I know I'm taking up alot of your time, I'm very sorry, but some of those cells are spaced kinda close together. Have you ever had difficulty cutting the cells out? I get the feeling that if I was doing it I would damage 1/3 of those queen cells. Perhaps experience cures all

    Once again, thanks so much for the information. You have sparked so many questions and so much interest in queen rearing. I appreciate the time, effort, and work you put into this thread.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    It's a nice variation on these two:

    http://bushfarms.com/beeshopkins1886.htm
    http://bushfarms.com/beesbetterqueens.htm

    Great pictures.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Hi SpecialKayme

    Yes putting in drawn comb is fine. In a commercial breeder hive an egg comb is cycled through the queen chamber each day, and the bees get into the habit of drawing it out straight away. But if just doing it occasionally then a drawn comb can be best. Small though, because you want in just a few hours, the queen to lay the whole thing solidly or the cut strips will be patchy. The top bar is just a piece of wood ripped down the middle with a saw and a bit of foundation hung in it with a nail hammered through to hold it. It's just the easiest way. The drone comb doesn't matter it's just the other bit we are interested in.

    Ventilation in the swarm box is very important because there's a lot of bees in there. On a hot summer day they would overheat and die very quickly without ventilation. Don't have to worry about too much ventilation as long as they are not in a breeze, there's plenty of bees in there to regulate air flow.

    They are locked in for the day because they may not be all nurse bees. Even older bees can raise cells if they have been queenless for a while. With experience you get a "feel" for how good the bees will be when collecting them, by what is happening in the hive they come from.

    No brood, capped or otherwise is added to the swarm box. The swarm box only goes for 24 hours before the cells get transfered to the finisher hive. The finisher hive has an unsealed brood frame each side of the cells to ensure plenty of nurse bees in the area.

    Yes Jay Smith recommends leaving the swarm box queenless for a day, and the idea has merit, although my own experience is once they've been queenless 2 hours, more time does not make any noticeable difference to cell quality. keeping them in the dark is to stop them panicking while trying to get out, and is a good idea but not essential.

    The cells only stay in the swarm box for 24 hours because the bees are locked in. After 24 hours efficiency starts to diminish as they get more worried about trying to escape the box. Your idea of leaving them in longer can work if the entrance is opened so things are more natural, but even then they can be a bit "hypo" if they don't have any brood. Your ideas on this have merit, and if you experiment can be fine tuned and de-bugged so they will work. The way I've suggested is one way but not the only way.

    Yes before retirement I raised queens commercially. However we didn't use nicot and similar, just grafting and cut cell. Once set up and organised, grafting is actually pretty quick, I could do about 400 in 1/2 an hour, we didn't need to use nicot type systems. Cut cell is more time consuming overall then grafting, but I believe can produce a better queen. And it's good for those not skilled in grafting.

    Yes some of those cells are too close together, it is certainly not a textbook example of how it should be done. That's a function of my not 20 years old anymore eyesight . The cells get cut out with a box knife, likely 3 or 4 of them will get sacrificed.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    By the time of "Better Queens" Jay Smith changed his mind:

    http://bushfarms.com/beesbetterqueen...Starter%20Hive

    "In my experience I find the bees accept the cells just as readily after an hour or two as they do if left queenless for a longer period. We usually keep them confined in the starter hive from one to two hours which gives them plenty of time to clean up any honey that may have been spilled on them when shaking them into the starter hive."--Jay Smith, Better Queens
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Thanks Michael, Ha! Great minds must think alike LOL!
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Oldtimer and Michael,

    Great job!!! BUT.....

    Could you also creat an addition to this thread that shows the cutting out the Q cells and how you handle them althe way to their being in their new hives?
    Old Guy in Alabama

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Thanks for the clarifications Mr. Bush and Oldtimer.

    I read Queen Rearing Simplified, but didn't get to Better Queens just yet . . . I guess I know what should be on my reading table.

    Overall, I really like your system Oldtimer. You get the success of grafting, without most of the work. In one of my bee classes I got a hand at grafting. There were too many people in the class so I only got a try at grafting 5 cells. The instructor told me "If the larvae is too small to see, it's the perfect age." I went for larvae that was too small to see, and I probably ended up grafting air. All five of my cups were empty a week later.

    So I think I'll try your method in the future. The only thing I'd be interested in doing is combining a starter and a finisher into one, for simplicity sake. Maybe not on my first try though. Or perhaps taking a twist on your method and combining it with Brother Adam's. We'll see.

    Thanks again.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Great thread - Thanks OldTimer.

    Have you ever tried stacking two pieces of foundation so that you could use the brood from both sides?

    You know, one especially nice thing about this method is that you should always be able to get enough larva of the right age to use without hunting. It seems like every time I get ready to graft I have to search for them.

    This is probably a silly question, but is this pretty much fool proof any time during the season, or will it only work when there is a good flow on so they will draw wax?

    Do you mind if people reuse your pictures?
    Last edited by David LaFerney; 01-07-2011 at 07:39 AM.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Thanks for sharing this Oldtimer. Great stuff!

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting

    Yes OK, it will be next Tuesday, I’ll get a few pics of them being cut out and put into mating nucs.

    This method WAS done just using one hive, the bees for the swarm box were taken from the hive that became the finisher also. However if wanting a (perhaps) even simpler method using one hive, try this thread –
    http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=249466
    5th post down by M Palmer, seems like a pretty good variant for a new guy starting out to use.

    No one method will suit everyone it’s a case of getting the basic principles right and developing something that works for you. But I’ve noticed a move towards growing cells straight out of a comb under emergency conditions. People say the queens are fine and are even selling them. But these queens have been shown by lab analysis to be on average, lower quality than queens raised by methods such as in this thread. Swarm and supersedure cells raised on a comb can be used they are normally high quality, but the temptation to use emergency cells should be resisted. The queen will be "second best", and the consequences will be less honey, more likely queen failure, and other issues. Just some people don't realise because they don't miss what they didn't know they could have had.

    I’ve thought of “stacking” foundation to get twice as much cutable larvae but not tried it. One negative would be they could get overheated when waxing to the cell bar and they would be harder to cut off when removing the mature cells. I guess it could work if some other way was used to attach them to the bar than hot bees wax. Yes good point David, it is impossible to accidentally graft a larva that’s too old, always a plus. Yes remember we are only raising cells seasonally due to drone availability and so the queen will always be laying and bees drawing foundation. But if there is a dearth, then feeding a little syrup can do wonders. Pollen substitutes though, no. Only real pollen should be used. Yes welcome to re-use the pics.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

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