Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Queen rearing  (millar frame)

The Millar frame- a simple method of rearing up to ten queens with a view to stock improvement.

Stock improvement should be the aim of any serious beekeeper, so that he may move towards colonies with desirable attributes and minimised negatives. Colonies which are of good temperament, and are industrious, disease resistant and exhibit cleaning behaviour and which are slow to swarm are desirable.

For experienced beekeepers there are numerous methods which include specialist processes. An experienced beekeeper may consider the use of specialist equipment with artificial queen cups, grafted larvae, artificial incubators or incubator colonies, mating by artificial insemination and testing of protige. However queen rearing is possible with no specialist equipment and could fulfil the remit of this proposal of producing up to ten new queens.

The method I intend to describe was devised at the turn of the century by C.C Miller and is called the Miller method.

The beekeeper begins by selecting from his available hives or those of an aquaintance a breeder stock which demonstrates a match to his improvement requirements. This information will be available if records of colony behaviour have been kept.  The best time to begin this process is at the peak of swarming in May or early June when it works alongside the colonies own instincts and where there are plenty of bees available to develop nucs. A supply of food or a nectar flow and the availability of flying drones is also assured. The hatched eggs from this colony will be used to produce the new queens. The beekeeper should prepare a brood frame with a sheet of foundation which has been cut into a series of deep v shapes. This foundation is introduced to a hive and they are encouraged to draw it out, a process which will take up to a week. The drawn foundation is then placed in the breeder colony and the queen will lay in the new cells, beginning in the centre and spreading outwards the frame margins. At this stage it is removed from the colony and the beekeeper should then cut the outer cells containing eggs or not yet layed up, off the frame to reach the newly hatched larvae. This frame is then placed in a queenless colony which will need to be fed generously. Because of their queenlessness they will immediately begin to draw queen cells around the larvae, and will preferentially place these queen cells in the gaps in the frame over the newly hatched larvae. The beekeeper will need to observe the colony closely at 3 day intervals, removing any other queen cells which might be produced particularly from old larvae or from other combs. The queen cells will be closed at day 8, and at this stage should be cut out of the frame with a margin of wax, and each placed in a nuc to await hatching. An alternative is to place queen cages over each cell. The queens will hatch at day 14, and if not already placed in nucs can now be introduced into nucs in cages or ‘run in’. Mini nucs are a more efficient way to proceed as they each require much fewer bees, and new virgin queens are encouraged to engage in mating flights from small mini nucs. The mating nucs should preferably be moved to a location which has a preponderance of drones of a quiet nature, so that maximal advantage is obtained from the mating process. The mini nucs can be retained for up to several weeks before bees are moved onto larger foundation when the queen begins to lay. This should occur within 3 weeks. This process should deliver up to 10 new mated queens of chosen character, and these queens can be overwintered in nucs for placement at the head of hives or for emergency replacement the following year. Beekeepers will be able to asses the character of the new queen’s offspring in the nuc before chosing the best replacements.