For a beekeeper, queen cells can symbolize success and failure simultaneously. Personally, it’s one of my favorite things to find during a hive inspection. Something about opening up the hive and seeing multiple, healthy queen cells reminds me that our bees will, more often than not, do just fine without us.
There are three different “types” of queen cells –
Supercedure Cells – When the colony chooses to replace the existing queen. This usually indicates a problem with the previous queen – poor brood pattern, health problems, etc.
Swarm Cells – built when a colony is preparing to swarm. These queen cells are left behind when the colony leaves with the old queen.
Emergency Cells – These are made from existing eggs / larvae when something happens to the queen. This is how a hive naturally recovers from queen death.
Using Queen Cells to start a new colony can be a great way to utilize your apiary’s natural resources. There’s a short video below of us harvesting a few queen cells out of our apiary. You can carefully remove select queen cells and place them in the hive that needs a queen. This is best done on day 14 or 15.
One of the best resources for queen rearing that we’ve found online came from Glenn Apiaries – he’s got the best and most simplistic diagram so we’ve included that and the explanation he has along with it below:
Day 1 – Give breeder hive an empty dark brood comb to lay eggs in.
Day 4 – Transfer (graft) larva into artificial queen cell cups, from the breeder comb. Place the frame into a strong colony (cell builder) made queenless the day before.
Day 14 – Remove completed cells from cell builder. Leave one cell behind to replace the queen. Keep queen cells warm (80-94 F) until they are placed in queenless hives (mating nucs).
Day 22 – Virgin queens are ready to mate. They require nice weather (69 F), and an abundance of drones to mate with. A few colonies within a mile are adequate for providing drones for mating.
Day 27 – If queens mate without weather delay, they should now be laying eggs.
Weather delays in mating will add days to the process, after 3 weeks delay, virgin queens may start to lay unfertilized eggs.
Time your activities so that warm temperatures and drones are available when the queens are ready to mate.