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Isaac Hopkins on Queen Rearing

Chapter XII. (of The Australasian Bee Manual, 1886)


Transcriber's preface.

This is the first part of Chapter XII of the Autralasian Bee Manual by Isaac Hopkins. The remainder of the chapter is about nursery cages and queen introductions.

If you think this excerpt does not sound like the explanations currently given for the Hopkins Method, you are correct. What is commonly called that didn't come out until the 1911 edition of his book. Here's the Hopkins Method. Here's my take on the names of queen rearing methods.

I will try to get the pictures as I get time.

If you find any typographical errors or you wish to make comments please send them to:

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The Australasian Bee Manual

I've also published the Australasian Bee Manual and you can also buy the book from most online bookstores including:

Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Barnes and Nobel US | Booktopia AU

This chapter as well as the 1911 version is also published with other classic queen rearing books in the "Classic Queen Rearing Compendium"

Isaac Hopkins on Queen Rearing

Chapter XII. of The Australasian Bee Manual, 1886



IN order to obtain good results from the apiary we must, as a matter of course, have good bees and plenty of them; and in order to have good bees we must first of all have good queens to breed from. That there is often a vast dissimilarity in the characteristic qualities of different colonies in the same apiary, no one who has had even a short experience will deny. How often do we find the bees of some colonies constantly irritable and disposed to sting, while those of others may be handled with impunity; or some giving a good return of honey, while others are doing little or nothing. Such cases may be seen in every apiary where a careful breeding of queens has not been systematically carried out. That it is possible on the other hand, by means of such a system, to develop to a greater extent the good qualities, and to breed out the bad ones in the honey-bee is no longer a matter of doubt. Such advanced apiarists as Alley, Heddon, Doolittle, and others in America, who have gone about the work in a conscientious as well as a scientific manner, have undoubtedly succeeded in developing a superior strain of bees. There is nothing to cause surprise in all this, when we consider the analogous case of the results obtained by select breeding of horses, cattle, and all our domestic animals. The breeder of bees has one advantage as compared with breeders of horses and cattle-he has not to wait so long for the results of his experiments; the bee-keeper can do as much with is bees in the way of crossing and improving races in from four to five years as a cattle breeder could probably accomplish with his stock in twenty or thirty years. Considering the many advantages to be gained by cultivating the best qualities in our bees, I am induced to look upon the rearing of select queens as one of the most important braches of modern apiculture, and I would therefore advice every bee-keeper to make it one of his special studies.

But Independent of all considerations about improving the breed the modern systems of apiculture cannot be carried out in its entirety if this important branch of it be neglected, therefore it becomes imperatively necessary for the bee-keepers of the present day to rear and keep a stock of queens on hand sufficient for their needs. It has been shown in the preceding chapter that in the successful practice of either the natural or artificial methods of increase a supply of queens is required, and some spare ones should also be kept ready to make up for losses that may, and in large apiary certainly will, occur during the season when surplus honey is being taken. The sudden loss of a queen at this time would cause a delay of about 24 days before the hive would be furnished with a laying queen again, that is, if the bees have to rear one for themselves from a newly-hatched larvae, and it is easy to understand what effect this would have upon the colony, and how necessary it is that we be prepared for such contingencies.


When endeavouring to improve our bees by cross-breeding we must of course be as particular about raising select drones for mating purposes as about the queens themselves. As the mating takes place in the air (see Chaper III.) and is not, at least as yet, under our control, our only security is to have our select young queens mated when only select drones are flying. The periods of the year when we are most likely to succeed in this way are the early spring and the late autumn; in the former by managing to breed our select queens and drones in advance of all others, in the latter by making the colony which produces the best drones queenless before the drones are killed off, and thus secure that these shall be flying when there are none alive in the other colonies. At other times throughout the season there will of course be drones from all the hives upon the wing.


It is however, claimed by some breeders, that with the aid of entrance guards, or "drone excluders," the drones which are not intended for mating purposes may be restrained from flying. These guards (Fig. 96) are made of perforated zinc, and fitted so as to cover the entrance to the hive. The perforations, being 5/32 of an inch wide, are large enough for the worker bees to pass through, but too small for the drones. Another kind of entrance guard is shown below. It is an invention of Mr. Alley's, and answers the double purpose of a trap as well as an excluder. This guard has an upper compartment, into which lead two wire-cloth cones, seen through the side openings in the figure. The drones, after failing to make their way out through the perforated zinc, finally force their way up through the cones; but not being able to return the same way, they become prisoners in the upper compartment. Should workers go up through the cones, they can still make their way out through the perforated zinc on top. From various conflicting reports which have come under my notice, I am inclined to doubt the efficacy of all these guards, as they are now made for the, for the objects intended.

Fig 96-Jones's entrance guard

Fig 97-Alley's Drone Excluder, drone and queen trap.


During the past seven years I have paid great attention to the rearing of queens, both for home use and for sale. I have tried several methods for raising queen cells, but none have given me so much satisfaction as the one I first saw described in Gleanings in Bee Culture for August, 1880 by Jos. M. Brooks and which I have since practiced. It is very similar to Mr. Alley's method, explained in his "Handy Book," a copy of which should be in every bee-keeper's library.

Fig 98.-Comb containing eggs. (picture of comb with eggs showing cuts every other row of cells)

To Secure good queen cells early in the season, we should select as soon as breeding has commenced in the early spring, two or more, as may be required, of our best colonies, and work them on in advance of the rest by slow feeding or, if need be, by giving them frames of emerging brood from other colonies, taking care to keep them covered up well. As soon as the one chosen for raising drones is sufficiently strong, insert a clean empty drone comb-to be obtained in the manner explained in Chapter VIII.-in the centre of the brood-chamber. Note the time when the drone-brood is capped, and in eight or nine days after, place a frame of clean new worker-comb in the centre of the brood-chamber of the hive containing your choicest queen. I would here point out that the cleaner the comb is the better; I find combs built the previous season that have only contained honey, give the best results. The colony now being pretty strong, with plenty of brood in the combs, the new one inserted will soon be in charge of the queen, and in three or four days will be full of eggs. As soon as the eggs commence to hatch, which will be in three days after they were laid, remove the comb to a warm room, and if more eggs are required, insert another in its place. Lay the frame of comb flat on the table or other convenient place, and with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, dipped in thin starch or diluted honey to prevent its sticking, cut the comb into strips, by running the knife along every second row of cells as shown by the white lines in fig. 98, taking care to leave one row of cells containing eggs intact in each strip. Some empty frames will next be required having two thin laths of wood nailed inside longitudinally so as to divide the depth into three compartments as shown below. Next take the strips of comb, and after destroying the eggs in every alternate cell on one side of the strip-which may easily be done by pressing it with the head of a wax match-fasten the strips under the top and two centre bar of the frame with a little melted wax, allowing the cells in which the alternate eggs have been destroyed to point directly downwards. The object of destroying each alternate egg is to prevent the cells being built too close together. A space intervening gives facilities for cutting them out subsequently without injury. Care must be taken, when fastening the strips, that the wax is not too hot or else it may melt the comb and kill the eggs. Having filled as many frames as may be required (I generally find one comb sufficient to afford strips for three frames), the next step to be taken is to remove the queen, every egg, and all ucapped brood from some one or more strong colonies, and place the frame of strips in the centre of the brood-chamber in each case. Mr. Alley recommends preparing the colony by removing the queen, etc., some twelve hours or so before giving them the selected eggs. Mark the hours or so before giving them the selected eggs. Mark the date and age of the eggs on the frame, and also upon the cover of the hive. A memorandum book is very useful in connection with this work for keeping records in. The queen and brood removed can be utilized in forming a nucleus colony by caging the queen, removing a strong colony from its stand, placing the hive containing the brood and caged queens in its place, and shaking the bees from a couple of frames down near the entrance, to secure some young bees with the old ones that will return from the removed hive; the queen can be released in twenty-four hours.

Fig 99.-Frame for raising queen cells on.

We have now, by removing the queen, forced the colony to turn its attention to raising others, and by depriving it of its own eggs and larvae, have compelled it to raise queens from those supplied to it. We have also, by taking away all its uncapped brood, lessened its labours, and thereby obliged it in a manner to give more heed to the matter in hand.

It is often stated that better queens, as a rule, are developed under the swarming impulse than can be raised by the forcing process. The reason given is that the larvae from which queens are to be reared, when the bees are preparing to swarm, receive the attention of the nurse bees, with this object in view, from the time of hatching, and are abundantly supplied with the "royal jelly"-so much so, indeed, as to apparently have more than they can consume, some usually being found in the bottoms of the cells after the queens have emerged. This surplus jelly being found in a cell is considered a good sign that a strong, healthy queen has developed from it. I have no doubt that this is all correct; but if these conditions can be brought about by the forcing process, there appears to be no good reason for supposing that the queens raised in that way will not be just as good; and by the method I am describing this can be effected, as I have proved time after time. The main considerations are to develop the queens in strong colonies, and to let the nurse bees have as little to do as possible, that their whole attention may be devoted to rearing the queens from the selected eggs or larvae we have supplied them with. The larva of a worker bee several days old can be transformed into a queen, but all breeders agree that such queens are of little use.

In less than twenty-four hours after the eggs have been given to the colony, several queen cells will be started over them. Some colonies will build more than others, but I think we may reckon the average at about fifteen with Italian bees, though I have had as many as thirty-five in a frame. There will be more built when honey is plentiful; and if little or none is being gathered, the bees should be fed while cell-building is going on. Twelve cells are considered enough for one colony to care for, and this is near the number that is usually found in a hive from which a strong colony has just cast a swarm. As soon as the cells are forward enough to be plainly seen, destroy all except about ten or twelve of the largest and best looking ones.

Having now as far as possible fulfilled on our part every condition necessary to ensure the rearing of good queens, we must be content to leave the rest to the bees for a few days. The cells, when fully formed and capped will have something of the appearance of Fig. 100, though the engraving is rather a flattering one.

Fig 100.-Frame of queen cells.

It will be remembered that the date and age of the eggs-three days-was marked on the frame so that we can calculate the day when the queen will be at maturity; that will be on the thirteenth day after inserting the eggs. Being able to know within a few hours when the queens will emerge is one of the great advantages of this system of queen-rearing. By the old methods and even when cells are build under the swarming impulse, it is impossible to say correctly how old the embryo queens may be.

As soon as the cells are capped, a frame or two of emerging brood may be given to the colony to strengthen it. It will have been noticed by those who have had any experience in queen-breeding, that there is often a marked difference between queen cells; some are long, pointed, and dense looking, while others are stunted and thin walled. The latter are always reckoned to contain poor queens, and it will be well to shun them, and make use of none but well-formed rough-looking, long pointed ones. One the morning of the twelfth day after the eggs were given the nuclei can be formed.


A nucleus colony in connection with queen-rearing is a small colony formed for the special purpose of caring for a young queen during her maidenhood, or until she may be required to do duty in another colony. A nucleus hive, described on page 127, is a small hive suitable for the colony, and is rarely used except for queen-rearing purposes. Some queen-breeders use a very small hive with much smaller frames than their common ones for keeping their queens in till mated, but for several reasons I consider it best to have but the one frame in both the queen-rearing and the ordinary hives. In the first place, a nucleus colony can be formed in a few minutes from any hive by simply transferring two or three frames and the adhering bees from it to the nucleus hive. Then again, a nucleus colony can be built up at any time or united with another where the frames are all alike, with very little trouble. And lastly, we have only the one sized frames to make. I have always used a nucleus hive such as I have described, and would not care to use any other.

The required number of nucleus hives being ready-their entrances covered with wire cloth to confine the bees-take the frame of cells and cut out carefully all but one; then return the frame to the hive until the queens shall have emerged, when it may be removed and a frame of combs or of foundation inserted in its place. Care must be taken that the queen cells are not injured or chilled; a small box, with some soft material to lay the cells upon, is handy to keep them in until they are inserted in the combs. Now go to a strong colony and hunt up the queen. This is sometimes a difficult task with a strong colony of black bees. If you have an empty hive alongside to place the frames in after you have examined them much trouble may be saved. Having found the queen, place her with the frame she is on in a hive by herself for the time being, and insert a queen cell in each of the other combs as you take them from the hive, remembering that you require some brood, a fair number of bees, and a fair share of honey in each nucleus. I usually put either one pretty full frame of brood, or two that are not so well filled, with the adhering bees, and a frame of honey, which may be taken from another hive, or else a frame of foundation in each nucleus. The frames of brood and bees should be taken as equally as possible to form the different nucleus colonies. A strong stock will generally furnish enough for five nuclei.

Something is required to support the combs while the cells are being inserted. To enable one to work easily and quickly the comb should be about on a level with the shoulders while stooping or kneeling beside the hive. A stand like that shown below is quickly made and is very serviceable.

Fig 101.-Comb stand.

The drawer near the ground will be found handy for keeping queen cells and small tools in.


When Cutting the cells from the frame, as much as possible of the base should be taken, clear up to the wood. With the frame which is to receive a cell placed on the support or stand in a convenient position, cut a small hole in the comb just large enough to put in the cell without pinching it in any way. In cutting the part for the base let it fit as nicely as practicable, as shown by the white line in the next illustration.

Fig 102.-Inserted Queen Cell (from which the Queen has emerged).

As soon as the cell is inserted, place the comb with the adhering bees in the centre of a nucleus hive; put in the other combs as already explained, and put on the mat and cover. Be sure that you have blocked up the entrance with wire cloth so that no bees can escape. Then proceed with the other nuclei in the same manner. When all are finished, take the nucleus hives to a cool shady place, or if they can be put in a dark, well ventilated room or shed, it will be better still. Keep them closed till the evening of the second day after that on which the cells were inserted, when they may be placed where they are to remain, and the bees liberated a little before dusk. By confining the bees in this way for a day or two they become reconciled to their new quarters, and very few fly back to their old hive. Before I adopted this plan I sometimes had a deal of trouble on account of so many bees deserting the nuclei.

The above method of forming nuclei and inserting queen cells is no doubt the best to adopt when queen rearing is only carried on on a limited scale, and where the loss of a queen cell would be felt, but where, as in my own case, a saving of time is of greater consequence than the loss of a cell now and again, a knowledge of my plan may be of service.


With the nucleus hives, a few spare combs, and provided with some long pins, I go to a hive, and without troubling to look for the queen-except merely to glance over the combs as I take them out-I insert the cells as quickly as possible. Instead of taking the time to fit them nicely, I give a hasty look at the cell, cut a hole in the comb I think will suit, put in the cell and fasten it there by running two pins through the base of it into the comb, one each way-sometimes one is sufficient. Advantage may be taken of a depression in the comb and so save cutting a hole. In this way I can insert the cells and form the nuclei in a very short time. If the queen should be seen during the operation, she is placed with the frame she is on to one side until all is finished, when she is put back into the hive after contracting it with division boards, if necessary. Should she not be seen it only means the loss of one queen cell, which is more than made up for by the time saved in not waiting to find her. I have often spent a considerable time looking for the queen in a strong colony and then perhaps had to give it up. Professor Cook recommends inserting the queen cells twenty-four hours after the nuclei are formed, but says: "We may do it sooner but always at the risk of having the cell destroyed." I very rarely find one destroyed, and I think the risk likely to be greater when time is allowed for the bees to commence building cells before giving them one. Occasionally it happens that a nucleus colony will not accept a queen cell even when it has been queenless for some little time. When this occurs a cell should be protected in a cage when placed in the hive until the queen emerges, when there is likely to be no further trouble.


To return to our nuclei. We left them just after liberating the bees. At that time the queens would be one day old; in four or five more they will take their wedding flight just when our select drones are about fourteen days old and flying. If our plans have been carefully matured there would be no other drones flying from our apiary at this time, so thatthere would be every likelihood of our queens mating as we desired.

Sometimes quite a number of young queens will be lost during their wedding trip, at other times very few. I have never been able to satisfactorily account for this difference. Whether it be that there are more bee-enemies about at one time than another I cannot say, but of this I am certain, that there are a less number lost when the nucleus hives are far apart and located some little distance away from the main part of the apiary. Mr. Alley says that the daughters of some queens are more liable to be lost than others but cannot account for it. In another place he says: "I bred from a queen last season, not one in fifty of whose daughters were lost in mating." Possibly some have a sense of locality better developed than others, and are therefore less likely to miss their proper home on their return from their first flight. At any rate it is a matter worth giving attention to.

When the young queens commence to lay, which they will do in a few days after mating, they are ready to be made use of unless we desire to test them, and when raising them for sale they should always be tested for purity and laying qualities for at least a month. By following up with cell building others may be ready to place in the nuclei when the young laying queens are removed, though there may not be the same chance to have the second lot of queens mated by selected drones unless it can be accomplished by the use of drone excluders, the utility of which, as I have before remarked, I am rather doubtful about. Even then no other bees should be near the apiary.


This is a question upon which a considerable difference of opinion exists. Mr. Alley thinks that half a mile is far enough, while many other experienced apiarists considers that a mile or even two, is rather close. It is one of those still debatable questions connected with apiculture which may be argued on both sides for any length of time without being settled satisfactorily one way or the other by actual proof. I am inclined to think, however, that if we want to make sure of our queens being mated with drones of our own apiary there should be no other bees located nearer than one or two miles off.

(the rest of this chapter is about nursery cages and queen introductions)


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The original book is in the public domiain. This arrangement of the book Copyright 2004 by Michael Bush