An Idea for Practicing Grafting Honeybee Larvae

The last three blog posts have been about our endeavors to graft honeybee larvae to produce queen bees.  To summarize, we:

Honeybee larva being grafted to queen cups by beekeeper Pat Ray

Pat Grafts


1) Move just emerged larvae (our aim: 3 days + 12 hours after the egg is laid) to queen cups which are then put in a cell builder.  We use Sue Cobey’s cloake board method.




Queen Cells from a cell builder - grafted by beekeeper Pat Ray

Pat's Queen Cells


2) Five days later the now built cells are moved to an incubator colony: a queen right colony below an excluder with a full deep on top.  The top box is the incubator




Queen Cells from grafts being placed into mating nucleus hives

Queen Cells into Mating Nucs



3) Five days after that, the cells are moved to mating hives.  We are using mini-nucleus hives.





4) Fourteen days after that, they are checked for larvae.  We might wait a few more days, but between 2-3 weeks after they enter the mating nucleus hives, the laying queens are caged and move on to new homes in our region’s apiaries.

The hard part?  The grafting.  It takes practice.   But how to practice if you don’t have a cell-builder colony standing by?

The first idea:

Beekeeper Pat Ray mentioned that when he started grafting in the Peace Corps, he would take a frame of age-correct larvae and simply practice picking them up, and laying them down in a row on a piece of paper for practice.

Bean worries (which is like saying the sun rose today):

Honeybees watch while beekeeper grafts larva

Grafting A Larva


“OK”, I said, “but I still wouldn’t know if they were alive, or if I cut them in half or flip them over.” Hey, I’m new at this.  They are really tiny and if you flip them over, they die.



The first idea expands:

We decided that one could assemble the following:

1) Age appropriate larvae – age is important because of the size.

2) An empty, drawn comb – preferably one that has been in the hive so it has been polished by the bees.


Graft the larvae to cells on the empty comb.

Place the grafted, previously empty comb back into the hive.

See if the grafts develop into workers.  Which would mean they weren’t killed in the process.

This graft would be much harder than into a plastic queen cup as the cell of the drawn comb would be much smaller than the cup.


I figure it’s worth a try.  For now, I’m happy to say that we are grafting about once a week at one of Bruce Bowen’s bee yards, near Mt. Vernon.  But come next spring, I’m going to get some practice in before we start the queen rearing again.

Do you have any ideas of how to practice honeybee grafting in a way that will show if the larvae have been injured?  If so, do share.  It’s all a grand experiment and learning experience, and quite fun.

That’s the news for now from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, WA.

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