Queen Bees

Queencell after the queen has left

Rearing Colonies.

One of the joys of beekeeping is rearing queens. From late April, onwards we select the best queens and eggs/small larvae are taken from their hives for the production of queencells. This is generally referred to as grafting but the better term is 'larval transfer' as that's what we do. Our chosen technique is often queen-right queen-rearing. When the queens are ready to emerge from their queencell they are put into queenless mating hives or nucleus colonies where they are looked after by a small number of worker bees. Once the queen is mature - after a few days - the queen will fly and mate with drones but only in good weather. A few days after that the queen will start to lay eggs. After 3 weeks the eggs will have hatched into larvae, been fed, sealed over to allow pupation and changed into a young worker honeybee.

It is only after this time that we can be sure that the queen has mated properly and can be transferred to a full sized hive. If the queen has not mated properly she will lay drone eggs and must be destroyed. A colony of drones will not survive. The queen mates for life and once mated the queen will not fly again unless to swarm.

Nucleus Colonies

Nucleus colonies are an ideal starter colony and one purchased early in the year will develop into a full-sized colony by autumn; it may even produce a little honey.

The above picture shows a queencell. A tiny larva was grafted (moved from elsewhere on a grafting tool) into the plastic queencup. A wax queencell was built around the cup in a cell raising colony by worker bees and 16 days after the egg was laid, the queen cuts her way out - you can see the hole in the bottom.

Mini-nuc on grass. NR31
Mini-nuc; here the queen has returned from mating - see her on the left of the hive. The bees were outside waiting for her to return.

Mating Hives

Small hives with just a cup-full of bees are used as mating hives. The queen doesn't mate in them; the small number of bees is just enough to look after her and once the queen has matured and flies from the small colony to mate on the wing, she will start to lay eggs in these small hives. Some refer to mating hives as Apideas - this is just one brand of hive. The hive in the photo is a Swi-Bine hive - similar - but from a different supplier. The brick on the top is to keep it put as the hives are not very heavy. You will notice that the virgin queen is not very big yet - her abdomen will grow once she has finished her mating and she starts laying.

Norfolk Queen Bee

Queens for sale.

We aim to over-produce queens and often have some queens available and occasionally overwinter a few as spares. This queen has a red dot denoting a 2013 or 2018 queen. Please note that we cannot guarantee that the queen will be accepted by a new colony. And if there's a queen already in the hive or if there are laying workers, the introduced queen will almost certainly be killed.

Marking Queens

There is a standard colour code for marking queens which rotates on a 5 year cycle as below. [We usually stick to the colour scheme although red and blue are not as clearly visible as white and yellow].

Year Colour

2018 Red

2019 Green

2020 Blue

2021 White

2022 Yellow

2023 Red

Dark queen bee. clipped

Clipping Queens. Some people don't like the idea of clipping a queens wing to stop her flying. It can be a useful part of honeybee swarm management and causes no issues with the queen and can stop queens and swarms from being lost. The clipping of this queen is clearly visible.

We rear local queens!

Imported queens can be very good however subsequent generations can be very defensive as their genetics mix with the local boys. Sometimes these crosses can be rather unpleasant! This might be the first or second generation cross depending on what you've purchased. Some imported queens can have a high winter fuel consumption; Italian (Ligustica) bees have this reputation for example and some bees such as Carnica (Carniolans) build up quickly in spring and then have a reputation for being swarmy. And you are not going to get any honey if you can't keep them in the box!

We select from queens that have good traits - being well-behaved, decent honey-gatherers and little swarming tendency as examples and by breeding from them which mate with some of our own drones from surrounding hives and some other drones around the area, we have bees that are generally pretty good. Left is a photograph of a just-hatched larva in a 'cupkit' cell cup. She has been fed a small amount of food at this stage where she was about to be transferred to a queenless colony which will feed her large amounts of food including 'royal jelly' which will turn a worker larva into a queen.

In 2017 we took part and passed the pilot BBKA Bee Breeders Certificate and are thus the first holders of the certificate. The assessors "were impressed (and a little envious) of how calm your bees were."

We also receive unprompted reports from beekeepers who have taken our bees such as:-

  • Your girls have been brilliant.
  • The nucleus is growing strongly even with the far from ideal weather and I'm very happy with it.
  • I wanted to give you an update on your girls as the queen has been here a year now; they have very successfully overwintered and have so far had a very good year expanding into a strong colony with a brood chamber fully drawn out except for one frame. They currently have four supers, three of which are full and I've already taken two this year (your advice of being well prepared was invaluable, last month I found three queen cups during inspection but they haven’t made more since I added another empty super, easy to do as I had made up spares including frames of foundation).
  • Last year I purchased a queen from you and she has done really well with a great temperament.
  • Your breed is incredibly well tempered and have been fascinating to try to understand. As a first time bee keeper I think I’ve been very lucky to get such a good nuc, thanks again for selling me one and your advice.
  • They're performing very well and are almost ready for a second box. Everyone I've taken out has enjoyed working on them, they're very calm and there has been no stings thus far! Much appreciated for all your help, they really are great quality bees.

Contact us if required.