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Honeybee Queen in-breeding

Updated: Apr 9, 2018

Now safe from neonicotinoids, the battle for better bee health has been joined with the ZEST hive, being one conducive to better bee health by virtue of its design. It is warm and dry rather than cold and damp. See Blog 1. We need to change our queen rearing methods as the current ones are in-breeding the species, but for greater detail go to the Management Chapter in the free digital on line shop where the full thesis can be seen. When left to their own devices honeybees would out-breed. The natural way is for every queen to be superseded by her daughter or if swarming by several daughters. In professional breeding stations we may breed a hundred queens from one queen selected for our needs such as good temper and good honey gathering. These 100 queens may then be distributed to other semi-professional queen breeders who may each make another 100 queens. One queen may therefore have 10,000 granddaughters. If you wanted to in-breed a species this is the quickest way to do it as it reduces the diversity in the genetic pool. This man-made challenge to bee health is met with a deafening silence from the bee keeping establishment. It calls into question academic reputations, business incomes and the inertia of bee keeping worthies.


The Solution

The Jenter cage, sable hair grafting brush and A.I equipment are an assembly of in-breeding devices which reduce the size and quality of the gene pool. They need to be discarded. Some beekeepers use these tools with great skill and are revered as experts in their field. The spectacle of a room full of beekeepers listening in awe while millions of years of honeybee genetic evolution are over ridden and destroyed is a pitiful one.


Honeybees left to their own devices will select eggs, larvae and/or pupa to become queens and drones to become fathers. We are oblivious to the selection criteria, but while the strongest and fittest drones get to mate with the queen more often let us not forget that breeding females of any species can choose their mating partner. There is a place for us in honeybee breeding as long as it can be described as symbiotic and on behalf of honeybee genetic diversity, but we interfere at our, and the bees peril. The principle we can adopt could perhaps be described as "Negative culling" by us and "Positive selection" by the bees. We destroy only failing, diseased and aggressive queens. Let the bees select from the remainder. Three 2x1 poly-nukes are a suitable environment to raise 6 out-bred queens at a time and to have them available in a reservoir carried through the winter when they are wrapped in insulating blockwork to assist the poly-nuke bees thermo regulation. They are ready to have queens raised in them through the spring and summer after the block wrap is removed.


Key Points of the system

  1. 6#x3 B.S. frame breeding units with queens are overwintered in 3# 2 in1 poly-nukes within an insulated block wrap as shown in the drawing and photo.

  2. Make new clean drawn comb for later use. In Mid- February prepare a box of B.S. Brood frames with comb, foundation and/or starter strips. Put them in a B.S. National brood box and place it on an excluder over a strong colony. Place a sugar feeder (in another box) onto a cover board on the box of empty frames. Allow the bees to draw out the comb in the frames filling them with the feed. Before it is capped remove the frames and allow the bees to rob them, leaving them clean, empty and suitable for the chosen breeder queens to lay eggs in.

  3. In mid to late April redeploy 4 or 5 of the best queens from the 2 in 1 poly nukes leaving at least one queen in situ for the Cloake deception in which the queen less colonies believe that they still have a queen nearby and it therefore only needs to be superseded. This causes the bees to make bigger, better supersede cells in a relaxed manner rather than panic “loss of queen” cells. Allow these 4 or 5 colonies to re-queen naturally.

  4. Alternatively or in addition to 3. above shut your chosen breeder queens in production hives into a frame cage normally used for Varroa control and culling in autumn with the drawn out worker comb from 2 above. Allow 4 days for those queens to lay eggs in the caged frame. The cage prevents the queen laying elsewhere and thereby diverting the nurse bee’s resources. Do not make more than 6 queen cells from any chosen breeder queen. The day before the queen is allowed to exit the cage redeploy the 4 or 5 over-wintered queens from the 6x3 frame colonies making each one queen less, ready to become nurseries. The queen/s that remains in situ are needed to maintain the Cloake deception as in 3 above.

  5. After releasing the chosen breeder queens back into their production colonies from the caged frames, put the frames of eggs, newly hatched larvae and the nurse bees on the frame into the queen less poly-nuke nursery colonies where queen cells on the adopted breeder queen frames will be made. Remove queen cells formed from the previous queen.

  6. When the adopted queen cells in the poly-nukes are ripe or very newly hatched take them to a stud apiary remote from the home apiary for mating. Dismantle the roof and wall blocks leaving only the floor ready for the poly-nukes return when the queens are mated.

  7. When queens are mated and laying return them to the home apiary allowing the newly mated queen’s progeny time to hatch, being the nurse bees for the next cycle which can be repeated at about 1 month intervals.


This is a queen breeding method that is based on a symbiotic relationship that is not exploitive, does more with less material, time and effort and does not take production hives out of use. It provides new queens on demand all year round without the prospect of in-breeding. It gives detailed positive selection criteria to the bees, but negative matters such as bad temper, disease and low fertility rest with the bee keeper on a cull basis.


To ensure Queen out-breeding in the manner described a British Standard Code of Practice could be initiated by the National Bee Unit in FERA in the hope that it will become universally deployed.


Criteria for a British Standard Code of Practice for Queen rearing needs to be:-

  1. No more than 6 queens to be bred from any queen. Disperse them by exchange.

  2. Cull queens only if failing, diseased or heading a bad tempered colony.

  3. Allow the bees to select and nurture individual new queens and drones from the “best” stock.

  4. Allow the bees to make their own comb. Do not use wax foundation.

  5. Do not use Jenter cage systems or grafting tools.

  6. Do not use artificial insemination systems.

  7. Take virgin queens and their stock to remote “stud” apiaries for mating.

  8. Do not use varroacides.

  9. Deploy the “Key points of the system”.


For more information go to the Management chapter of the ZEST hive book .


Bill Summers


#Honeybee #Queen #inbreeding #zest

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