Small Scale Queen Rearing in Northern Climates

Rearing queens North of 60 has its challenges. The main one being the weather, our very short beekeeping seasons and potentially our low drone population density. However, most of us seem to have very good success doing splits and using mature swarm cells from which to raise new queens.

Timing: My goal is to go gang busters getting my colonies large enough to split by early June. This is to ensure that any new queens can be raised from swarm cells and have time to build really nice strong colonies by mid August.

Choosing the Mother Queen: My goal is to propagate my survivors from my most prolific hives. Queen mothers that produce large amounts of bees (healthy brood), colonies that have overwintered well, low mite counts, decent honey crops, good pollen collectors and easy to work with (calm). I also try to have at least 2 separate queen genetics in each of my yards. We can also work together as a beekeeping community to allow other beekeepers to use our bee yards for our mating nucs.

Queen Rearing Strategy: Replace my losses, ensure good number of young vigorous queens in my apiaries.

Note: All my healthy older queens (2-3 years old) are banked in small 6 frame poly nucs as insurance, to draw out new foundation, build bees to strengthen weaker hives going into winter and to attempt to overwinter in nucs. At $85 ea (with shipping) I can't afford to pinch these old queens that may still have a season or two left in them.

Why would we need to re-queen a hive?

Queen is dead, no eggs, poor laying, making a split

Our Options (Remember we have very short summers)

Mother Queen - Time before brood emergence is 21 days

  • 21 days for 1st daughter to emerge from egg

  • 27,000 bees in 28 days and 50,000 bees at seven weeks

Laying Queen - Time before brood emergence is 24-28 days

  • 3-7 days for release of queen and 21 days for 1st daughter

  • 18,500 bees at 28 days and 42,000 bees at seven weeks

Virgin Queen - Time before brood emergence is 31 days

  • 10 days for release and mating flight and 21 days for 1st daughter

  • 17,400 bees at 28 days and 37,700 at seven weeks

Queen cell - Time before brood emergence is 37 days

  • 16 days to emerge, mate and start laying and 21 days

  • 31,200 bees at seven weeks

Queen raised from brood – Time for brood emergence is 49 days

Probably too long unless this happens in May to give the hive enough time to get ready for winter and we get really great weather

Visual Northern Queen Rearing Gamble

Chart Above: Shows the number of daily hours over 20C (Blue) and cumulative degree hours over 20C (similar to growing degrees). The challenge is to time the queen hatching with the ideal weather to allow new queens to get proper mating flights.

Green 6 frame poly nuc box to house my splits and used to raise new queens.

Swarm cell just about to get capped. Hive will likely swarm in the next couple of days if the beekeeper does nothing. I just placed this frame along with another frame of capped brood, one honey and one pollen frame. Along with a good shake of bees.

Dead drone found near hive holding virgin queen. This drone died after mating. This is a sure sign that the queen has started her mating flights. I was very lucky to find this.

Young queen found in one of my split nucs. Her small abdomen is a clear sign that she has not yet started to lay eggs. She was very quick and difficult to spot.

Brood frame from one of my new queens. Very nice!!