Honey bees usually reproduce their colonies in the spring of the year by division. As a part of the preparations for dividing the colony, the bees produce new queens. In keeping with the honey bee’s natural tendency to readily produce queens in the spring, beekeepers find that they have the greatest success in raising queens at this time. This is also the time to replace colonies that died over the winter and to increase the number of colonies if more are wanted for honey production or pollination service. To produce the new queens, very young larvae are removed from the colonies having the best traits and grafted into artificial queen cell cups. These grafted larvae are placed into hives specially set up in a manner similar to colonies preparing to swarm. The worker bees feed the larvae a diet of royal jelly, an enriched food that causes them to develop into a queen rather than a worker. The queens develop in beeswax cells that the workers build around the artificial queen cell cups. The queen cells are the size, shape, color, and texture of a Virginia peanut. Queen bees emerge as adults after 16 days, but they don’t begin laying eggs for about two weeks. During this time they make a series of mating flights and their reproductive system continues to develop.
Click on the photo to can see a young queen that has not yet begun to lay eggs. She is the bee in the center of the picture with the black-colored thorax. Her abdomen is a little longer than those of the worker bees. To produce a good queen, we need to graft a larva from a colony with desired genetic traits; she must make an effective series of mating flights and mate with high-quality drones; and she must be fed a nutritious diet. To ensure good nutrition, her queen mating nucleus hive must have plenty of young worker bees to produce royal jelly and feed the queen.