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Grafting Honey Bee Larvae

Size and Age of Larvae...

the easiest way that I can describe this, is to say that the larva should be the same size (or a tiny bit more) as an egg, but curled round in a 'C' shape. At least by describing it in this way you will never forget that you have a reference source available close at hand.

Wet or Dry...

I do my grafting 'dry' in other words I do not prime the cups with royal jelly. I have several reasons, the first of these is that I believe that bees feed a slightly different mix of royal jelly according to the age of the larva being fed. Thus I could be defeating my quality objectives by inadvertently supplying the wrong formula of royal jelly. I save the labour and the not inconsiderable mess of priming the cell cups. In general I get a high proportion of acceptance (usually no more than two failures on any bar, average about one). If anything does go wrong in grafting these figures are reversed with only one or two on a bar being accepted. I then reject these totally and start again.

Double Grafting...

I do not do this for the same reasons as stated in the previous paragraph, but I will describe the process so that others may try.
(later)

Time of day...

I have performed grafting at all times of the day from early in the morning until practically full darkness. I have never noticed any significant difference in performance owing to time of day. The vast majority of my grafting was either conducted at about 4 pm or 8 pm.

Humidity...

Many of the books will tell you to perform grafting in a room with a constantly boiling kettle to keep the atmosphere humid. I do most of my grafting out of doors and the only precautions I take are to do the grafting in the shade. I will also wrap a damp towel around the frames I use, while I move them from the hive to the grafting position and back again.

Angus's swarm box method...

(needs lid drawing)
Yellow Jenter plug dodge

queencell forming stick

Types of Cup...

Dipped wax cups formed around a wetted wooden dowel have a long history. Some systems have had multiple dipping 'combs' of forming sticks set at the same spacing as the cups are required so that the cups are first dipped then attached to the bar, with molten wax, before the former is withdrawn, thus a finished cell bar is produced in one operation. This is quite a productive method, but requires several formers to work well. It is economic if many hundreds of prepared bars of cells are required.

The forming stick is best made of beech as this stands up to the constant wetting and retains a degree of polish. Start with a 9 mm (or 3/8") blank, whittle it round and slightly tapered so that a hemispherical end can be fashioned that is 8 mm (5/16") in diameter. Then polish smooth with 600 grit 'wet and dry' abrasive paper. (place the stick in the chuck of a battery powered drill and wrap the abrasive paper around it with a gloved hand (it will get hot!).

Silicone Rubber Queencell Cup Mould Moulded wax cups have come into use during the last 20 years. The moulds are made from silicone rubber and usually have multiple impressions. The type that I have myself was originally manufactured by Thorne, but they have changed, recently, to a mould that produces ten cups with a smaller, less chunky base. (I suspect that the newer type has a larger diameter hemispherical bottom than the type that I use.)

Cross Section of the Wax Cups I use

The picture at left shows a cross section of the type of wax cup that I use. It has a chunky base that helps with handling and gives rigidity to the base region that will be separated from the cell bar on completion.
Kemp finger type mould


There is a further type that is a combination of the two methods whereby the 'mould' is in the form of ten silicone rubber fingers, the tips of which are dipped into molten wax.

(Gilles Fert refers to this as the Kemp type, but I am not sure whether this is the designer's, producer's or seller's name.) The picture below is clipped from an old Thomas Catalogue.

Kemp finger type mould in use JZ/BZ Cell Cup Plastic Cell Cups from the cell plug box kits can be utilised for direct grafting. There are also plastic cups made for grafting. The Jz Bz type is the most common in UK and is illustrated at extreme right. Coloured Plastic Cell Cup

The type shown immediate right is available in UK and fits into a grooved aluminium rail that is in turn mounted on the underside of the cell bar.

This type benefits from a small flat cut on the end of one of the curved lugs which allows it to 'snap' in place and gives a more secure fit. The cups can also be fitted onto tapered wooden dowels (as shown below left).

Coloured Plastic Cell Cup on Cellspace Block Nicot Cell Cup in Wooden Carrier
The cell space blocks shown above can be used to introduce a suitable larva to any frame that has the cell space facility. Even a small mating nuc can be used to raise a queen, but such a queen should be considered a of slightly suspect quality and should not be used for further breeding. I use such queens on occasions to lay up brood in small mating nuc frames to provide extra bees or sealed brood to future mating nucs. I also use the mating nucs to raise second generation queens for rapid assessment.

Cell bar Frames

Alley Frame
Jenter strips
Nicot Nipples
Block carrying frame


No amount of care will make up inadequately fertile drones. To make sure that such drones will be available at the time we expect mating. See Grafting Timetable for details.

The choice of old comb, new comb or foundation is influenced by your preferred methods of working... Fresh drawn comb or that built on foundation can be easily cut to reduce the depth, this both enhances visibility and increases the angle that you can get a grafting tool in. Old dark comb provides a contrasting background, but has many cocoons that make the trimming of the cells difficult. There is a device that will achieve a clean cut... The 'cut throat' razor, but these are not a very common item in beekeeper's toolboxes.

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Written... August/September 2001, Revised... 15 February 2002, Revised... 19 June 2002, Revised... 20 January 2003,