Queen Rearing – Cloake Board

Queen rearing is a great skill for a beekeeper to master – learning to produce your own queens can save you lots of money as well as provide for hives when they need you. Queen breeding can allow you to better control of the genetics in your bee yard.

Observations have shown that a developing queen larva receives 1600 visits from nurse bees bringing royal jelly, compared to the 143 feeding visits for a typical worker larvae. The high rate of consumption and nutritious royal jelly diet of queen larvae stimulate rapid growth and development and is key in raising quality queens for your bee yard.

The premise behind the Cloake Board method of queen rearing is to simulate queenlessness in the hive so that, when the grafted queen cells are introduced to the hive the bees will immediately work to care for and raise the new queens. This stimulus method was created by New Zealand’s Harry Cloake. Queen cells started in a queen-less state tend to have a higher rate of acceptance, and those reared in a queen-right state tend to produce higher quality queen cells; this explains the popularity of the starter and finisher methods. Another key component of rearing premium queen cells is a minimal amount of disturbance. Moving developing larvae between starters and finishers interrupts the critical and intensive larval feeding stage. The Cloake method eliminates the need for this practice.

The division board is the only piece of specialized equipment needed other than the typical grafting tools. This division board is used by sliding it into a grooved slot in the bottom of a hive box – this is a solid board that divides the colony into a top and bottom portion.

Because Sue Cobey did such a great job explaining the mechanics of a Cloake Board, I’m going to copy and paste excerpts from her article “Cloake Board Method of Queen Rearing” and “Use of Cloake board for Banking Purposes” where first published as two separate articles in American Bee Journal 2005.

The Cloake Board Mechanics:

A division board that consists of an outer wooden frame, which fits between hive bodies and provides a second upper entrance. The inner edges of the frame are grooved to permit a slide to be easily slipped in and out. A queen excluder, either attached to or placed below the Cloake board, restricts the laying queen to the bottom brood chamber. A queenless state is created with the slide placed in the division board, simulating a swarm box in the top. Removal of the slide, with the excluder in place, returns the colony to a queen-right state, simulating a finisher. Going between these two states requires little effort and minimizes disturbance during the larval feeding stage. The need to move the graft from a starter colony to a finisher colony is eliminated, yet the benefits of these two systems are maintained. To provide the crowded hive conditions desired in the upper cell building chamber, the hive entrances are manipulated. In preparation for the graft, the colony is turned (or pivoted to prevent lifting) so the main, bottom entrance now faces the opposite direction.

Exiting from the reversed bottom, returning bees reorient to use the new top entrance created by the division board. This boosts the bee population in the top chamber. A high population ratio of young nurse bees, 5 to 15 days old high quality queens. As the bees age these glands atrophy. The quality of cells will diminish if this age group is not maintained, regardless of colony strength. To attract nurse bees up through the excluder into the top box, young open brood is brought up from the queen-right lower box. Empty frames are replaced to provide space for the queen to lay. After 6 to 12 hours, the slide is placed in the division board to create a queenless state. At this time the frames of young larvae are moved to another the colony, so as not to compete with the feeding of queen cells.

The next day, graft the queen cells and place these in the empty center space. A day later, after the queen cells have been accepted, the slide is removed. This converts the cell builder into a queenright finisher, without disturbing the feeding of the developing cells. Regardless of weather conditions, this is easy and convenient to do.

The number of queen cells grafted should be based upon the strength of the cell builder and time of year. During the swarm season, conditions are optimal and a large number of high quality queen cells can be reared. Generally, 45 to 60 cells per graft is reasonable. Later in the season or when conditions are less optimal, graft half or less of this number. A new graft of queen cells can be started every 4 or 5 days. Queen cells are capped in about four and a half days. No longer in need of feeding, these can be moved and held in a nursery colony. Eleven days after the graft, the cells are ready to emerge and are placed in mating nuclei or individual colonies. This system was designed to rear a large number of queen cells efficiently in a short period of time, without weakening colonies for honey production. Cloake routinely reared 4,000 queen cells in six weeks. He then removed the divider boards and moved these strong colonies onto a honey flow.

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Cloake Board Timeline:

Two Days before grafting: Arrange the colony leaving the queen in the bottom box. Place in the Cloake division board without the slide. Place several open brood frames into the top box to attract nurse bees into the top box. The top box should contain a feeder, open brood, foundation for the bees to build on, and a pollen frame in the center next to the cell bar you’ll place after grafting – in the cell bar space, place one of the open brood frames. The bottom box should contain capped brood, honey, pollen, and open wax for the queen to lay – make sure the queen is in the bottom box.

One Day before grafting: Place the slide into the division board. Brush bees off and remove open brood from the top box to place on another colony. Allow the bees to settle – this will stimulate the hypopharyngeal glands and encourage the bees to produce royal jelly for feeding.

Day 1 – Graft Day: Open the colony with no smoke and the least amount of disturbance possible. Place the graft bar in the empty, center space. Allow the frame of queen cells to “float” down among the festooning nurse bees filling this space.

Day 2 – A day after the cells have been accepted, remove the slide to create a queen-right cell builder. Close the rear entrance. By the time eggs have been laid by the queen and hatch in the bottom box, the developing queen cells in the top will be nearly capped. Nurse bees will remain in the top to feed and attend the queen cells.

Day 4 & 5 – When the developing queen cells are capped, about four and a half days after the graft, these can be moved to a nursery incubator colony to mature. Simply, place these above a queen excluder surrounded by young brood. Routinely check brood in the cell builders for rogue queen cells each time these are worked. Rotate the brood in preparation for the next graft, repeating this process. A new batch of cells can be grafted every 4 to 5 days.

Day 10 or 11 – Pull the mature, capped queen cells before emergence. Handle the cells gently, avoid shaking as this may injure queens. While cutting cells from the grafting bars and transporting these to colonies, keep them warm. You may also choose to cage the cells at this time. A few degrees change in temperature can speed or slow emergence. Cells ready to emerge, held against a light, can be seen moving. Held to the ear, these can be heard chewing their way out.

Banking Queens:

A new batch of queens arriving during bad weather, or to be placed in distant apiaries, can be temporarily banked. Older queens from dequeened colonies can be held in waiting until the arrival and/or acceptance of new queens is assured. Caged queens should always be banked in a state of queenlessness. Worker bees will be aggressive toward the caged queens in the presence of a laying queen, including one that is restricted or placed below an excluder. This often results in injury and high mortality of the caged queens. To establish a self sufficient “queenless” banking system using the Cloake board, the slide insert is kept in position. A state of queenlessness is maintained in the top box. The presence of a laying queen in the bottom box, separated by the slide, provides a source of young bees and brood. Frames of eggs and young brood are rotated up, eliminating or minimizing the need for support colonies. It is essential to maintain a high population of young nurse bees around the caged queens to ensure these are well fed and receive proper care. Older bees are aggressive toward caged queens and their brood food glands are atrophied.

Nursery colonies should be fed syrup and pollen to assure food resources are plentiful. Capped honey should be removed and replaced with open nectar and foundation. A sheet of wax foundation will prevent webbing, stimulate wax builders and provide a place to store nectar. Queen cages can also be supplied with bee candy. A key factor in the success of banking is to maintain a high population ratio of young nurse bees. Using the Cloake board, the colony can be pivoted, to either boost the population or reduce the number of older bees in the top box, depending upon need. When using this technique, be sure adequate bee strength is maintained in the top nursery chamber.

And please, minimize the duration of queen banking. Queens held in cages tend to lose weight and may receive an insufficient diet. Since the reduced access to worker bees restricts feeding in queen cages it is advisable to provision queen cages with bee candy.

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