Queen Rearing using the Nicot System and Cloake Board
Podcast of Small-Scale Queen Rearing can be found -> Here.
The following is the method I used for raising small quantities of queens. It uses a Nicot no graft system that I purchased from BetterBee. When I bought mine, the only directions that came with it were in French. Perhaps that has changed now, but it made for learning the do’s and don’ts the hard way. Hopefully the description of my method, that I have continued to refine over the years, will help you avoid the mistakes I have made along the way. Before you can start rearing queens, you have to select the donor queen you want to rear from. Selecting the traits of the hive you want to replicate is a personal decision and I will not go into that here. There is plenty of information on how and which traits to look for in a donor queen on the beekeeping forums. Another point to make mention of is the nomenclature I will be using. Instead of using day numbers I will use alphabetical letters to indicated each day and the steps required on that day. By not using numbers, the confusion between process day and queen development cycle is removed. Some folks like to use the day the egg is laid as day 0, which makes any steps prior to that referred to in negative numbers.
The only non-standard piece of equipment I use besides the no-graft kit is a Cloake board. The Cloake board is named after the New Zealand beekeeper, Harry Cloake, who developed the board and the method. With the use of a Cloake board, one can raise queens from one colony with minimal hive manipulations. The Cloake board is simply an excluder encased in a three sided shim that acts as a entrance. The board also has a slide in floor that covers the excluder and divides the hive into 2 separate colonies. This allows the one hive to be used as a queen-less cell starter and a queen-right cell finisher.
Install the brown cell cups into the laying box. Even if you only want to make a few queens, you must install a complete set of cell cups. If you do not, bees will find access to the back side of the box, get trapped, and die. With the clear plastic excluder removed from the laying box, the frame is placed in the middle of the brood area of the donor queen hive. This is an important step so that the laying box gets the hive’s “smell” and the bees can polish the cells before the queen is confined to lay in the box. The first time you use the laying box, you may want to leave it in the hive a couple extra days for cleaning. Once used, I find 24 hours sufficient for cleaning. If left longer, I have seen times where the bees will start storing nectar in the cups. If you don’t do this one day pre-clean, you will have mixed results with the queen laying in the cups and will end up with eggs/larvae of different ages.
Install the clear plastic excluder on the laying box and place the queen in the laying area. Place the frame back in the center of the brood area of the donor queen hive.
Check and see if the queen has laid eggs in the cell cups. If she has not, put the frame back into the hive and return in 24 hours and check again. If she has laid in the cell cups, remove the clear plastic excluder from the laying box and put the frame back into the hive. This releases the queen from the laying box and also makes access to the eggs easier for the nurse bees that will care for them.
Setting up a cell builder is next. You want to select a strong, highly populated hive to make your cell builder from. The idea is to create a queen-less cell starter that has an abundance of resources so many quality cells can be created. Once the cells are started, you want a strong queen-right cell finisher to complete the cells. Start by tearing down the selected hive and locating the queen. Once the queen is found, place her and a frame of brood covered with bees in and empty brood chamber. Next create a cell builder chamber by placing the rearing frame in the middle and work towards the outside placing frames of eggs, pollen, brood, and honey in that order. A frame of foundation or starter strip can also be added to allow a place for comb building, otherwise you may find them building comb in the rearing frame and on the queen cells. Any frames still remaining from the original hive are considered “extras” when reassembling the hive. These extra frames should have the bees shaken into the previous assembled cell builder chamber before placing back in the hive. Turn the bottom board so that the entrance faces the rear, and place the brood chamber housing the queen on the bottom board. Fill out this brood chamber with extra frames and place another hive body on top with the remainder of extra frames. If you are using a hive that was just 2 brood chambers, the additional hive body is not needed. By turning the entrance to the rear, you have provided an entrance for the queen and the bees on the brood, but prevent any of the field bees in the cell builder chamber from returning to the bottom. Then place the Cloake board, with slide-in floor installed, facing the front of the hive. Place the cell builder chamber on the Cloake board followed by the inner cover, vent box or empty super, and the top. An inverted jar feeder is recommended above the inner cover once the rearing frame is filled with larvae.
Remove the laying box from the donor queen hive and verify that the eggs have hatched. The presence of a shiny film of royal jelly is a good indicator. Retrieve the rearing frame from the cell builder and carefully remove cell cups with larvae from the laying box and install them in the rearing frame. This should be done in the shade and a towel should be placed over the rearing frame to reduce the chances of the larvae drying out. Return the rearing frame to the cell builder and provide an inverted jar feeder over the inner cover.
Remove the floor from the Cloake board to turn the queen-less cell starter into a queen-right cell finisher.
Steps I – M:
If required, set up mating nucs.
Move cells to mating nucs or install hair roller cages. If you are raising queens for replacement, you can move the cells right to the “introduction nuc” as explained in queen introduction.
Queens hatch, may be a day earlier/later depending on weather.
A Queen Rearing Calendar can be found in the reference section of our downloads that makes the tracking of the process much easier. I simply fill in the calendar dates in the upper left corner, and then proceed to put a letter in each box starting with ‘A’. I circle the letters that require intervention so I don’t miss doing something. Here is an example of a completed form.