Queen Production Viability to generate Honeybee nucleus colonies for overwintering success in the Midwest

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Wayne Honey Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Mitchel Wayne
Wayne Honey Farm


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health

    Proposal summary:

    With the ever increasing cost of bees, what is the best method for hobby or small-scale beekeepers to succeed and not succumb to the ever rising costs of  winter losses in northern beekeeping.  That combined with the timing of honey flow and queen rearing in northern climates often drives beekeepers to spend even more to complete a spring split of overwintered colonies by ordering in southern queens or wait for local mated queens to become available and drastically split their colony to ensure that the queen has enough resources to overwinter. In my research, I will test if virgin queens perform as well as queen cells for earlier splitting of colonies. I will also further improve my process for introducing virgin queens.  Queen cells, in small quantities, are hard to ship and are very time sensitive due to the age of the cells required for shipping viability and risk of cells hatching.  Virgins are also sensitive to time but are able to be shipped and installed with less risk and handling is more similar to that of mated queens.  Small-scale beekeepers need data and guidance to understand how to use minimal resources to prevent, replace, increase, or boosting week colonies.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    nucleus colony (nuc)- is a small colony of 4 to 5 frames consisting of the queen and bees I plan to build mine up to 8 (4x4) or 12 (4x4x4) frames total 

    Open brood- Is eggs and pupa and adhering bees which will cover 2/3-3/4 frame 

    Frame of capped brood-  is 1 deep frame with with about 2/3-3/4 of it with capped brood and  adhering bees Capped brood which is when the larva is capped and turns into a pupa

    Resource frame- is a frame honey and pollen on the frame

    Marking the Queen-  beekeepers mark the queen with a paint marker on the thorax which is to identify the year the queen was mated

    In my research I will be using the nuc configuration of 4x4 or 4x4x4 to winter in.  Past small trials have told me that when you start nuc colonies too early the colonies will want to swarm in the 4x4 but if I move them to 4x4x4 it reduces the pressure and they overwinter well.  I am planning create three groups of nuc colonies, approximately 2 weeks apart, containing two subject groups of 20 nucs created using virgin queens and 20 nucs created using queen cells.  The reason for 3 groups is if we have a weather event or mother nature issues I will still get some data.  Hatches of birds or even dragon flies can cause issues with queen mating.  With a 75% success rate I am hoping that the groups will end up with 30 viable colonies.  I will be looking at the queen viability rate and building of those colonies throughout the summer, through winter and the subsequent summer.  The virgin queens will be marked and the cells will not be marked at the time of nuc creation but following mating the queens from the queen cells will be marked.  I will be able to tell if the queens in the queen cell created nucs are from the cells by timing my check back of the queens through the age of the brood in the colony.  As the nucs build,  treatment for mites will be completed at the appropriate time(s).

    The first group will be made up with 1 frame of capped brood, 1/2 frame open brood, 1 frame of recourses, and 1 new frame. 

    The second group will be made up with 1.5 frame of capped brood, 1 frame open brood, and 1 frame of recourses. 

    The third group will be made up with 2 frame of capped brood, 1-1.5 frame open brood, and 1 frame of recourses. 

    The second box on all the hives will be 2 new frames and 2 drawn frames. If a 3rd box is need it will be depend on what resources I have available.  I would prefer to give them at least 2-4 frames of drawn comb if available.  They will need to be fed up to weight for winter which is about 70-75# for a 4x4 and 90-100# for a 4x4x4.  

    The objective of the the is to find out if the use of virgin queens is equivalent or and improvement on the use of queen cells.  At this current point of time it is not economical to ship queen cells in small quantities.   Beekeepers are able to ship virgins in the same manner as shipping mated queens which would allows for small to medium scale beekeepers to ship queens from northern colonies regionally to help hobby beekeepers minimize their expenses and maintain hearty genetics.  I intend to share findings through presentations and social media.   

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.