Adapted Queen Rearing Method

The following article is from Glyn Davies’ notes on the Donald Sims adaptation of Miller Queen Rearing Method

This year I wanted to try a different system of queen rearing; one that did not need techniques of grafting – every year I seem to need brighter and brighter light to do this and the young larvae don’t like bright light or inaccurate, clumsy handling. So when I came across Donald Sims’ description of Dr C C Miller’s system in his book “50 Years amongst the Bees” I decided to try it. Here is a summary of my experience so that if anyone would like to try it next year, at least you can benefit from my mistakes and wrong decisions. However, it was not a complete failure and, as with most beekeeping techniques, should be better next time. First in brief, is my adaptation of Donald Sims’ adaptation of Dr Miller’s system.

Glyn’s Adaptation of Donald Sims Adaptation of Dr Miller’s Method of Queen Rearing
1Select a Breeder colony; Give stimulation feed. Call this Box A.Early
2Select a strong colony with old or unsuitable Queen – Box C; feed for a few days.Day -3
3Prepare a frame as below for collecting eggs; use unwired foundation.Day -2/3
4Remove all but 2 frames of Brood from Box A into second empty box - Box B, shaking all the adhering bees back into Box A first.Day 1
5Place B on another colony over a QE.Day 1
6Place prepared frame between two Brood Frames in Box A.Day 1
7About one week later, examine the frame which should be laid-up. Brush bees back into A. Cut back the new comb to the youngest, just hatched, larvae.Day 7
8Kill or remove Queen from C. Place all Box C brood combs but NO BEES into B.Day 7
9Place prepared larvae into the Queenless Box C between two good food frames. (Box C now has all its bees including nurse bees and only the added brood to rear.)Day 7
10A few days later, examine to count Queen cells available for Nucs.Day 10/12
11Unite Box B over newspaper including bees, with Box C.Day 10/12
12Make Nucs from B&C 10 days later (ie after DAY 7) & give a Q Cell to each.Day 17/18
Notes of Experience (Numbers refer to the stages listed above)
1Selection of Breeder. I selected an old queen that has performed beautifully for 3 years and also given good daughter queens under previous systems.
2Selection of cell raiser. This is the most critical decision and where I failed miserably. Actually, there is often not much choice if you have just a few colonies. In addition there is something contradictory about looking for a strong colony with a weak or undesirable queen. By “undesirable” we must not mean “aggressive”. This colony will be queenless for a while and manipulated frequently – not very easy for queen rearing if it has a bad temper! Limited choice made me select a colony that was not strong enough; the reason for my difficulties later.
3The cutting of the foundation does not have to be accurate but certainly unwired foundation is preferable. Not only does it ease the initial shaping of the comb, it also facilitates the more delicate cutting to day old larvae and removal of mature queen cells later (See 7 & 13)
4This was a dilemma. The breeder colony was a growing nucleus, the old breeder queen having been confined in it; I didn’t want her to head a strong colony this year. There were only two spare brood combs which I moved to Box B as directed.
7Great! My old faithful queen had done a great job. Colleague Bob Normand with his 20/20 vision, cut the combs back to the newest larvae.
8There was no reason to kill the queen so Bob took her in a cage and later said she was doing fine in a growing colony. There were only 3 spare brood frames in Box C including egg covered combs. Too few for later.
9Easy to do but I began to worry that colony C was too small for good queen rearing.
11Loads of queen cells started. I reduced these to 10 well-spaced cells examining both sides of the frame. This was my biggest error. It should have been no more than 5. There were too few bees to feed ten.
12OK and easy.
13There were actually 11 rather undersized sealed cells. I gave up the nucleus idea and united the frames to C. Gave a reasonable queen cell to C and made up mini-nucs for the rest. A fortunate coincidence was that I had a queen above the excluder in another colony. I had found her two days before and put her below. The supers, full of brood of course, had loads of nurse bees in them. So I shook them off into a swarm box the day before with a few from other colonies to fill 10 mini-nucs. Now I am waiting to see the result. The virgins do not look too bad.

Well, from the 10 mini-nucs I have 6 laying queens. [The others were lost in the mating process – a risk under any system. Always aim for double the number of queens you would like to end up with!]

At this stage they look smaller than I would like but I shall watch them carefully and hopefully each will bring a colony through the coming winter at least. I must remember the beekeepers’ motto. “Do it better next year”

Recently I have become a great fan of Dr CC Miller. His name crops up with commonplace regularity in beekeeping conversations and it’s possible to mention his name and inventions for years without getting to know the great man. I was delighted to see that the publishers David & Charles in Newton Abbot, through their American associates Dover Books have reissued his classic “Fifty Years Among the Bees”. This was reviewed in Devon BKA’s “Beekeeping” magazine last month. The great feature of the book is his humour which comes through his writing and the honest way in which he admits and deals with his mistakes. It seems to me that Donald Sims also admired Dr Miller but rather typically added 10 years in one-upmanship giving his book the title. “Sixty Years with Bees”. I found Sims very useful, and interesting for the name dropping of contemporary beekeepers in it, but annoyingly, he was always perfect, apparently, in his bee management. The rather complicated shorthand for his beekeeping notes is also very similar to the way that Miller wrote his memoranda. (While mentioning Sims I must say that newcomers must be careful of his erroneous comments about Terramycin on page 223 of “60 Years…..”)

Miller kept bees from 1861 until his death at 90 in 1920. His book is a wonderful social history of America at the time but crucially he lived through the time when Langstroth’s vital discovery and application of bee space in 1851 changed ancient, traditional beekeeping methods for ever. Clearly, Dr C C Miller adopted movable frame hives very early and many of his methods for queen rearing, comb and section production (for years his sole income was from his sale of comb honey) are still relevant and useful today.

When it comes to EFB, in 1909 he had 150 colonies and only 22 showed no sign of the disease. He wrote, “I felt like giving up but only for a little while”. Antibiotics were 50 years away so he used several techniques. (IPM?) One he called the “McAvoy Treatment” – brushing bees on to new foundation! William McAvoy was a Canadian beekeeper who had been appointed to be the first beekeeping inspector (anywhere?) in Ontario in 1891. Was he the inventor of the currently, much-promoted, DEFRA EFB control system? However, Miller found later that many bees had left;- “bag and baggage, leaving empty hives”. (Marie Celeste syndrome? Or most likely straight absconding such as can be experienced today with shook swarms). Miller also explains how, in mild cases of EFB with one or two cells infected, (and he says it is easy to identify these by colour alone), then caging the queen for 7/10 days will cause the disease to disappear. You will have to read the book for an explanation but it is consistent with modern theories of EFB even though he believed the disease was caused by Bacillus alveii as did many others at the time. Dr Miller warns that this treatment would be no good for American Foul Brood.

“Fifty years Among the Bees” concludes with a section of delicious sounding recipes for fruitcakes, jellies and cookies obviously around 100 years old. There is also a section of recipes for potions, lotions and remedies for a range of ailments. True apitherapy – when it was necessary, and written way before modern, high-tech, effective (mostly) medicines.


Like many BBKA members I have read most of Roger Patterson’s articles on Queen quality from the BBKA website and elsewhere The weak queens I have described above have an obvious cause for their defects. In some defence of my beekeeping skills, I have to say that queens that I have raised by orthodox systems this year, that is by artificial swarm techniques or other swarm control measures, have yielded some cracking queens. And those reared last year using a Jenter kit and a Cloake system for rearing have also done well. My view is that the problems Roger is describing can probably be put down to weakened drone and queen fertility caused by the 12+ years use of fluvalinates for Varroa control. There is considerable published scientific evidence for this now. Here in Devon, for several years now, few people have used Apistan or Bayvarol. And before long, the whole of UK will be free of these particular varroacides. (Apivar (Amitraz) is no longer used in USA and although effective for a few years, should not be used as an alternative if fertility is in question. It is not “legit.” in UK anyway.) It will be interesting to see what will happen to our queens in the coming years. Please report your successful queen rearing however simple. I am concerned that publicity is only being given to queen rearing problems and we have never been free of these of one sort or another. The web site or BBKA News are good platforms for this information.

Glyn Davies – August 2006