Tools and equipment for raising queen bees by grafting

Cell bar frames: These contain one or more bars that hold plastic or wax queen cups into which larvae are grafted. The frame is then inserted into a queenless colony where queen cells will be raised.

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A cell bar frame.

Grafting tools: You use grafting tools to lift the delicate and fragile larva out of its original cell and place it gently in the cup on the cell bar frame.

 Queen cell protectors: Cell protectors keep the newly emerged virgin queens confined, preventing them from being able to move about the colony and kill the other queens.
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Queen cell protectors

Queen cages: These are designed to confine the queen and provide, via screen or perforations, a way for the bees on the outside of the cage to feed the queen inside.

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Queen Cage

How grafting is done

In the grafting method, the beekeeper grafts larvae, which are 24 hours or less of age, into a bar of queen cell cups. The queen cell cups are placed inside of a cell-building colony. A cell-building colony is a strong, well-fed, queenless colony that feeds the larva royal jelly and develops the larvae into queen bees.

Four days before grafting day: To make it easier to locate the right-age larva, confine the queen on a frame of empty drawn comb four days ahead of grafting day. Use that comb when transferring larvae to cell cups.

Frame Trap

A frame trap helps you confine a queen to one frame. The eggs laid in these cells are the ones you will want to use for grafting.

Two days before grafting day: Create your queenless nuc to serve as a cell starter. select two frames of capped soon to emerge brood, one frame of honey, and one frame of pollen. You should choose frames with little or no open brood. Alternatively, use a starter finisher colony. The stronger the colony the better.

Packed Hive
A strong colony suitable for use as a starter/finisher.

A high population ratio of young nurse bees, 5 to 15 days old, is required to produce high quality queens. The nurses use the nutrition absorbed from pollen to secrete royal jelly from their hypopharyngeal glands.

The jelly is fed to young larvae, including workers, drones and queens. After about three days the jelly is mixed with bee bread—a mixture of whole pollen, honey, and enzymes—and fed to the workers and drones until they spin their cocoons. The queens receive a steady diet of royal jelly throughout their larval development. As the bees age these glands atrophy.

Grafting day: Using the frame you confined four days ago, graft larvae into cell cups and place the frame of cells into the queenless cell starter that you made up a couple of days ago. Grafting is a delicate maneuver, and the very young larvae are exceedingly fragile.

Larvae size
Selecting larvae of the correct age/size for grafting.
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The delicate process of grafting larva into queen cell cups.
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Using a Chinese grafting tool to remove day-old larvae from the brood comb
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Larva only a few hours on the tip of the grafting tool

One or two days after grafting day: The bees will have decided which cells they’re going to feed and draw and develop into queens, and which they are not. Check for any queens cells that may have been started elsewhere in the hive and destroy them. If one of them emerges, she’ll kill all the other queens.

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Freshly grafted cell cups being placed in the starter hive.

3 – 4 days after grafting day: Queen cells are capped 7 – 8 days after the egg was laid. No longer in need of feeding, these can be removed and held in an incubator to ‘ripen’. When the cells have been capped, they should be covered with cages to protect them. The only care they need from here until emergence is warmth and humidity.

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Caged queen cells ‘ripening’ in the incubator.

Eleven days after the graft, the cells are ready to emerge and are placed in mating nuclei or individual colonies.

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