Starting and Finishing Queen Cells

Starting and Finishing Queen Cells

The starter/finisher method of queen rearing and cell building uses the natural instincts of the bees. The queenless starter uses the emergency mode to start lots of cells and then the queenright finisher uses the supercedure impulse of the bees to finish the cells. We will discuss the roles each hive plays in the development of quality queen cells.

Queen Rearing Manitoba

The Starter 

The chart below is one that I designed and is a method for producing 30 quality queen cells. It uses some of the industry‚Äôs most common techniques and uses a queenless starter for 24 hours and then a queenright finisher to finish off the cells. Starters are not good at finishing cells and therefore a finisher must be used. 

    Top photo shows larvae floating on royal jelly after just 24 hours in the starter. The bottom shows progress on 3 of 4 cells in the starter after 24 hours. The bees didn't like second from left and it will be removed.
Top photo shows larvae floating on royal jelly after just 24 hours in the starter. The bottom shows progress on 3 of 4 cells in the starter for same amount of time. The bees didn’t accept second from left and it will be removed.

The starter should  have lots of nurse bees and should be able to start many cells. Thousands of nurse bees will visit each cell every day feeding the young larvae.  Cells with lots of royal jelly inside the cups are desirable. Those will become your most productive, best looking queens.

You can leave the cells in the starter between 24-48 hours and when you take them out, there should be plenty of royal jelly inside the cups. The larvae should have lots of food while it’s developing.

The Finisher

The cell finisher should have the following:

  1. A queen in the bottom box and a queen excluder.
  2. It must be a well fed colony.
  3. Empty drawn comb and sealed brood in bottom box.
  4. Unsealed brood, pollen and honey in upper box.
  5. Feeding must be done 3 days prior and during the cell finishing process.

When transferring the cells to the finisher, use a smoker to get bees off the cells. Do not use a brush because the cells are fragile and you could easily damage them. Plenty of smoke will cause bees to fly off. You can then put the graft frame into the finisher when most of the bees are off. Don’t worry about damaging or dislodging the larve. They stick well to the royal jelly and surface tension keeps them in place. We still handle them with care and have never had any issues.

When queen cells are sealed, you can either keep them in the finisher until you put them into a mating box or nuc. If you are planning on another round of grafts, an incubator set at 33.5 Celcius has yielded excellent results for us. This keeps a steady temperature and when it’s time to place them into a mating nuc or nuc, you can take them quickly install them. An uncubator is our preference. 


If you follow these steps, you should get good quality queen cells. Not all cells are great and you can discard them. Overall, the quality of the queens you will get if they are mated properlly is easily the same and better of commercially produced stock. 

Note: You cannot use the images above without permission.