Rearing Queens in Top-Bar Hives

It's easy to rear queens in top-bar hives.

This top bar has extensions fastened to it, then two horizontal bars are attached. The horizontal bars can be pivoted to permit waxing of queen cell cups to the bars for subsequent grafting. Several ripe queen cells are visible, the bees having been brushed off. The few cells that are maturing reflect my lack of grafting expertise, and probably not enough bees and good surrounding combs to grow the larvae off well.

A swarm box is good for growing queen cells with confined bees. The screen at the bottom is on both sides. The box is wide enough for 5 top bars. A feeding jar with sugar syrup is kept on the top for the time that the queen cells are being produced.

The notches that I put in the center of the top bars permit the bees access to the feeder jar. The jar rests on a block of wood with a hole cut out of it.

The key to successful growing off of the grafted larvae seems to be having a large number of young workers and combs on either side of the cell grafts that have plenty of honey and pollen, especially good pollen.

This tbh is only long enough for 15 bars, so I use a super with it that has 10 bars. If the queen were removed from the bottom, a bar of grafts could be put in the super if combs and honey are available to go on both sides of the bar with the larvae to be grown.

Another easy to use unit is a 5-bar nuc with a 5 bar super. This can be used for growing queen cell grafts in the queenless, free-flying nuc. The 5-bar nucs also work very well as queen mating nucs, and the 5-bar supers can be used on regular tbh's, sometimes 3 to the hive.

This particular nuc and super has a cover that is made from painted cardboard. Note the piece of wood on the side of the nuc. The wood helps join two small pieces to make the sides the proper height. When one works with scrap wood, sometimes this may be necessary, and it is frugal. :)

Bees cover the grafted cells, feed the larvae, and keep the cells warm as the queens mature.



If you only need a few queens...

You can raise queens without grafting. Here are suggestions that were made in an article published by Marty Hardison in Beekeeping and Development, December 1994, page 3. I have scanned the article and photographs, and I may be able to work it up, get permission, then post the link to this page.

Meanwhile, the method that Marty uses is somewhat similar to the Miller method discussed in Laidlaw's book on queen rearing.

A "young" comb with eggs and larvae is removed from the hive that has the genetic line that is to be propagated. The comb is laid on a board and cut into one inch strips. A strip is attached to a top bar by wrapping monofilament fishing line around the bar and comb slice, forward then back to make X's with the line. I have found that it's easy to attach the slices by using a low wattage soldering iron and beeswax which is melted with the iron thereby affixing the comb.

After the bars are made up, a bar is put between good brood combs with young bees and plenty of pollen. Several bars may be alternated between combs on a strong, free-flying, queenless colony. The bars may, of course, be put into a confined queen building nuc.

Some suggest removing the bar after 4 days, destroying all *SEALED* queen cells, then allowing the other cells that are being drawn to develop. This assures that the queens result from very young larvae, hence will presumably be of better quality.

The queen cells that will be drawn can be removed after 10 days or so and placed in mating nucs or affixed to a bar and virgin queens allowed to exit into cages made from hardware cloth, plastic hair rollers or whatever works to provide the isolation of the virgin queens.

This top bar has had a strip of comb waxed to it. The bees will add more comb, but just to the right of the new comb a mature queen cell is visible.

Queen Mating Nucs

Five bar nucs make wonderful queen mating nucs, for all of the combs along with a laying queen can be installed in any hive that needs requeening. Acceptance should be good.

If you wish to make queen mating nucs, a nuc that is half the length of a regular 5-bar nuc works very well. Also, a regular length nuc can be divided in the center and entrances made at both ends to make a duplex mating nuc.

A bar of comb, bees, and brood can be removed from a hive, then a vertical section about two inches wide can be cut out of the center of the comb. Place one section of the comb into this small nuc, then saw the bar in half to make another comb. Try *that* with conventional frames. :)

Add a ripe queen cell or caged virgin, and close things up. Check for brood after an appropriate interval of time.

Four inch plastic flower pots can be used as 3-bar queen mating nucs. A bit of comb or foundation can be affixed to a bar and the nuc stocked with a cup of worker bees.

A queen cell or a caged virgin is put in place and the nuc closed. A piece of roofing felt or other waterproofing material is used as a cover.

In previous photos, feeder jars with sugar syrup are on top of the nucs. Bees have access to the lids which have hole punched for feeding. Bees are able to get to the jars by notches in the top bars. The presence of the sugar syrup can result in robbing, especially in the flower pot nucs. It may be a better strategy to put a lump of queen candy or some other food in these small nucs rather than trying to feed syrup.

My success with queen mating has not been particularly good since I do not have a queen yard away from my main beeyard. It would seem that many of the queens go back to the large hives after mating flights. I may be unintentionally requeening somewhat randomly. :) Moreover, my queens have to run a gauntlet of dragonflies, giant european hornets, purple martins and other birds, and other possible predators on their mating flights. I have been successful in using the nucs I have described, but the flower pot nucs do not seem to do as well in the heat of summer.

I look at the beautiful queens that have developed, realize that each moving around on the comb is worth about $10.00 US, and I smile to myself. I also thank Dean Bereaux and others who have helped me in queen rearing adventures. We are all indebted to Harry Laidlaw and others who have paved the way.

A closer look at a top bar with a queen cell.

1. The top bar to which an inch strip, cut from a brood comb with eggs, has been waxed.

2. The original comb. Some of the cells have capped pupae which were probably larvae when the strip was cut .

3. New comb which is being built down from the inch strip of original comb.

4. A queen cell ready to be cut out and put in a mating nuc or be affixed to a bar with cages to confine emerging virgin queens. Often six or more queen cells can be gotten from one bar.

James D. Satterfield email: