The best cell starter

The modified Snelgrove board by Pasaga Ramic is an excellent starter board.

Where you usually have the broodnest box(-es) – on the bottom board – you place a queenless box with bees, with or without a couple of brood frames. A lot of bees in it is good, but not a must. It will receive a lot of field bees from the brood box(-es). Upon this queenless box you place the starter board with a small entrance in the opposite direction compared to the main entrance. (Picture 1)

01 Brädan  Picture 1

Now you place the brood box(-es) on the starter board. If the colony is strong you may have a queen excluder on top and a super. (Picture 2)

02 Brädan Picture 2

Next day you graft, 15, 30 or more cells depending on the strenght of the colony and the nectar flow. You place the grafted cells in the bottom box. Which means some lifting, so it’s a good thing not to have more than a few food frames in the brood box(-es). Otherwise it may be a lot of heavy lifting.

Next day again, one day after grafting you manipulate the boxes. The bottom box with the cells you move to the side temporarily and put the brood box(-es) on the bottom board. Then the excluder. (Picture 3)

03 Brädan Picture 3

The box with the grafted cells you put on the excluder. Now you can check how many cells the bees are building. (Picture 4)

04 Brädan Picture 4

Then comes the supers, covering plastic sheet if you use that, and a covering board (inner cover). On top you store the starter board until next time. Then the outer cover. (Picture 5)

05 Brädan Picture 5

Three days later Rebecka  brings the capped cells to the incubator. If a cell is not capped, she takes the royal jelly in a small bottle and dilute it with somewhat water. She uses a matchstick and puts a drop of this solution in each cell just before grafting next  time.

If you let a colony incubate the cells above an excluder use at least two broodframes on each side of the capped cells. Otherwise the bees may not keep the correct temperature for the cells. To prevent the bees from destroying one or more cells you may cover the cells with cages.

First Queen

Beware ye old men, the day have come when women run faster. Like in the old days of the survival of farmers, when the women were the beekeepers. Well, anyway my niece (I treat her mother as my sister though she is the daughter of my sister) Rebecka (29) has qualification to be as focused a bee-nerd as myself.

FirstQueen Graft

I showed her one larva how to graft and she is now doing all my queen rearing, managing the starter colony and finisher, preparing and filling mini nucs with food, bees and mature pupae.

FirstQueen Board Managing the queen breeding board.

Today she checked the first batch of 23 mini nucs. 22 laying. When she opened the first one and saw bees in harmony building comb, queen laying and some brood even capped she cried of joy.


Taking home the breeder


A week ago I brought home the breeder queens for ease of grafting. They should at least have been treatment free last year (2013) and they should not have been a new colony 2013. The queen should be at least two years old. The colony could have been a new colony the year before (2012), or an old colony also then. It could have been a colony with an old queen that got shifted to a new one 2012 with an already laying one mated in a mini nuc. It could have been a failing colony due to varroa 2012, so it got some treatment then, queen removed and a mature queen cell. It could have been a walk away split from a strong overwinterer 2012, the split making its own queen. The colony is now, compared to the rest in the apiary, a strong colony, very little of dead bees in front of the hive, no signs of varroa problems, good tempered, at least above average in honey crop in 2013.

The brood area is on three 12 frame shallow boxes. Most probably the queen is in the upper third box. Sometimes though in the lowest first box. Using no smoke not top drive down the queen I carefully lift off the supers to the side, put the upper third box on a closed bottom, the same procedure with the second box.


Then I check the second box (or the upper third) for a broodframe with small larvae or eggs to make a queen from for the bees. I put in in the first bottom box that will be left on the stand. I have not checked for the queen. I know where she is, in one of the three boxes. I check the bottom box for brood. If there is very little brood, I take a brood frame from the upper third box as well. I just exchange the frames, take an empty frame from the bottom and put in the whole from where I took the broodframe.

If the bees are lively and fly a lot, which they shouldn’t as they are choosen for breeders, I have to be quick and put on the ventilated cover and strap the boxes to be moved to my home apiary. Both the taken boxes will be moved home. Most probably the queen is in one of them. It will show up quite quickly.


Now there is one brood box left on the old stand, could be without food frames as it was the bottom box. So I take a couple of food frames from my storage from removed food frames from last autumn which I took from colonies that were maybe a little weaker not filling up the three boxes and that were heavy of stores. They got insulation dummy frames at the sides instead. Those food frames I put at the sides in a new box and then fill up with empty drawn combs. This box I put under the brood box left. Then the queen excluder with the supers on top, now lifted back. If the queen should be left here I will exchange those two brood boxes with one of the splits taken home. It has almost never happened. Those queenless splits will make a new queen, and most probably not swarm with a virgin if left alone, as they are weakened (and from a breeder colony).

When I come home I put the splits with a similar made box underneath the split, if needed with food frames. It’s good to give them even if it’s no food crisis as they will not have many field bees, and especially the one with the queen will use the stores for brood.

The one with queen will be calm. The one without will usually be more nervous looking for their missing queen.

We all know we need resistant bees

Digital StillCamera

I love Inner Cover in Bee Culture. Almost like with poems Kim Flottum is firing up our minds with right on the spot insights and humor.  Why is it so much money in funding for finding in detail why our bees are dying? We all know that what we need in first place to save the bees are resistant bees! Resistant against Varroa mites. That’s some of the things Kim is writing about in the September issue.

In the ‘same’ issue, but another journal, ABJ, Larry Connor is writing about resistant bees and efforts getting them. Larry is en extensive writer with a lot of instructive books an numerous articles in both Bee Culture and ABJ. Visit is website:

Wicwas press

In Europe many scientists say it’s so difficult breeding resistant bees only institutions can do it. But where’s the efforts and the results. Very few. The funding doesn’t seem to go there in first place. But there are some efforts, like that of John Kefuss (without funding). But too few varroa fighting queens in too few countries are reaching the beekeepers.

In USA you have more initiatives both from scientists and beekeepers, which have resulted in good stock. Connor is mentioning the VSH-group on and the work with the Russian bees:  At the end of his article Larry Connor write:

Many survivor programs are nothing more than the result of a careful beekeeper who has used no chemicals for varroa treatment and has only used locally adapted survivor stocks in new colonies and to replace queens.

B Weaver is such an example:  And there are more…

Both Flottum and Connor  points out that we beekeepers are also responsible for the situation. We have to be concerned in getting resistant bees and looking for queen suppliers producing such queens. Let’s fill the air with drones from resistant queens.

The best queen cell starter?

There are different ways of producing queen cells. It’s always good to have a number at hand, especially during the beginning of the season, but also in the middle of it. Most of the queen cells are needed for early splits, nucs and failing queens. It’s the easiest way of ‘repairing’ a broken colony and to produce a new colony with desired traits and keeping the genetic variation both in the bee stock and in the individual colony. If you let these virgins mate in the apiary and your stock is good enough and the drones from your bees have a lot influence on the matings of the virgins. The very easiest way of making new colonies is of course making so called walk away splits. Take a box of bees and brood and move to  a new stand in the same or another apiary. Sometimes they fail to produce a laying queen. Then you save them by giving them a frame of brood and a ripe queen cell of desired heritage. For example from a colony with high VSH index (see an earlier post about that).

I have tried different ways of producing queen cells. For many years I used a modified  way of using the Australian or New Zealand method, with an excluder with an entrance and a board that can make the boxes above it queenless. It worked satisfactory. But especially early in the season such starters too often have failed to produce as many as I wanted of the larvae I gave the starter.

Pasaga Ramic is a skilled beekeeper from Bosnia that moved to Sweden many years ago. He has modified a swarm prevention board called Snelgrove board. He uses it in different ways, mostly not for swarm prevention. One way he has invented and tested for some years before writing about it is to produce queen cells. The only thing I had against this method was that it involved some lifting of the broodnest box(-es). But he said it worked so well I had to try it.

I normally use three 12 frame (square) shallow (Langstroth 137 mm high frames) boxes for brood nest. But I reduced it here to two boxes for easier lifting. I choose a not so strong colony just after middle of May (it was on two brood boxes then). And it was time (almost) to give them a third box, so I gave it as a super with a queen excluder.

The way Pasaga uses his Snelgrove board (starter board) you can say this board is just a bottom board with a central netting and a small entrance.


  1. You place the super on the bottom (normally actually without any brood frames!). Then the starter board with entrance facing backwards in relation to the entrance. Finally the brood box(-es). Later on when the colony needs more supers they come on top (as you see on the picture I have such a super waiting on the left).
  2. Wait one day, then put the list with the queen cell cups with the larvae in the middle (or about so when you put in two lists).
  3. Wait another day. Then you take away the starter board and put the brood box(-es) on the bottom, queen excluder, super with queen cell list (plus later on more supers above).


The first time I used the starter board it was ridiculously small amount of bees in the super so I put two brood frames in the middle of it, with a space between them for the list with the larvae. The colony was not that very strong and I doubted it would make many queen cells.

I didn’t look until the cells should be capped and opened to move the few I expected to the incubator. I had put in 15 cellcups with larvae. I got 15 well fed and well built queen cells!

Later on I grafted 30 cell cups for every go and got 26-30 queen cells. Try it!