The Miller Method of Queen Rearing by Margaret Cowley, MSc
published by BeeCraft in April 2008

Whether you have only one colony or several, Miller's method is a simple and effective way to rear queens from your chosen queen mother.

Over the past decade I have tried almost every method of queen rearing, mainly out of interest and also to provide photographs for Bee Craft articles.

My favourite is the Miller method as it is so easy both to understand and to carry out. It is suitable for producing one to half a dozen top quality queens and requires no special equipment apart from a few nucleus boxes (half size hives). You only need one or a few hives and there is no lifting of heavy brood boxes. I recommend it for beginners and old hands alike.

Dr CC Miller was a very experienced beekeeper and his book Fifty Years Among the Bees is as interesting to read today as it was when it was published in 1911. His queen rearing method can
be summarised as follows.

Identify a colony with a good queen and replace one of its frames with one fitted with two starter strips (the Miller frame). A week later this comb will have been drawn out and your chosen queen will have laid eggs on it. Trim away the edge to expose cells containing newly hatched larvae. Place this frame in the centre of a strong colony from which you have removed the queen. Ten days later there will be sealed queen cells along the edge which you can cut out and distribute to mini-nucs, nuclei or queenless colonies. 

Before I describe the method in more detail, let’s look at how the criteria for rearing good queens are met (Bee Craft, March, 2007 page 9).

Choice of correct age of larva

Newly hatched larvae are on the edge when you trim the comb back. These will be fed as queens straight away so that they have the optimum royal diet all their larval lives. 

 

Lack of queen substance

You have removed the queen from the colony chosen to rear the new queen cells. Workers  immediately know that the colony is queenless and will start to feed the tiny larvae as queens. They might also rear some others on other frames but you can easily check for those and remove them, leaving your chosen ones.

Good nursing

Placing the tiny larvae into a strong colony means that there will be plenty of nurse bees to look after the developing queen larvae. There will be plenty of food for the nurse bees to manufacture royal jelly from and plenty of bees to forage and keep the cells warm.

A place to grow 

Queen larvae are reared in larger cells than workers, pointing downwards. The Miller frame when drawn out has space underneath (see photo above) where the queen cells can hang down. Workers build up the sides of the cells with beeswax to make the characteristic peanut shape.

Select your queen mother 

If you have only one or a few colonies you will select as the mother of your new queens. My highest
priority is good temper as I use my apiary for teaching. I record the temper on record cards (available from www.bee-craft.com/shop) and only use a colony for breeding if it scores consistently well. 

Others may be more interested in honey yield, disease resistance, disinclination to swarm or conformation to a particular strain as identified by morphometry analysis. 

If you have a favourite queen why not put her in a nucleus hive in her third year? Although she is getting old, her eggs will be genetically identical to those produced when she was younger. Confining her to a nucleus hive extends her life as she lays more slowly and you can insert and remove the Miller frame in a matter of minutes.

Wait until the swarming season

Swarms are most common in May and June, with some issuing in late April and early July as well. During this time the weather is usually good and so is the supply of nectar and pollen. This means that nurse bees will have the building blocks they need to manufacture royal jelly. Rearing queens in May and June is therefore more likely to be successful.

There will also be plenty of drones about for mating with your new queens. Hopefully the weather will be favourable for her to go out on frequent mating flights. And if at first you don’t succeed, there is time to try, try again!

Avoiding drone comb building 

If your queen mother colony is strong, the bees may use the opportunity of a sheet of foundation in the middle of their nest to construct drone comb instead of worker comb, despite being provided with starter strips of worker-sized cells on the Miller frame. 

To avoid this, it is essential that the queen mother colony is small when you insert the Miller frame. The easiest way to ensure this is to make up a nucleus colony containing your chosen queen, as I mentioned earlier.

How to put the queen mother into a nucleus hive 

Place the nucleus hive about four feet away from the parent colony. Find the queen and place the frame she is on into the centre of the nucleus hive. Add another frame with brood and adhering bees. Add two more frames containing food stores, preferably both honey and pollen. The fifth
frame will be the Miller frame and will go in the centre. 

Shake two more frames lightly over the parent colony to remove the flying bees. Then shake more firmly over the nucleus box so that the house bees fall off into it. Add a feeder of 1:1 syrup and reduce the entrance down to one beeway to help the small colony defend itself from robbing.

The Miller frame

Make up a brood frame but instead of fitting a complete sheet of foundation, insert either two starter strips or a piece of foundation cut into V shapes. Which you use does not seem to matter. The bees build up the comb and the result is fresh comb made of soft new wax which the queen finds irresistible. Using unwired foundation makes it a very easy task to cut out the queen cells once they are formed, but is not essential. 

Do not be tempted to use old comb – the queen is less likely to lay in it and it will be difficult to cut the queen cells out because the comb is tough. 

Insert the Miller frame into the queen mother’s colony, having marked it in some way. Keep a record of the date and put a reminder in your diary to return in a week’s time. This allows time for the comb to be drawn out and the queen to lay in it.

Preparing the queen cell raising colony

If you only have one colony, you could use the parent colony as the queen rearing colony as well, as long as it is strong. A week after the removal of their queen there will be emergency queen cells so you need to go through it with a fine tooth comb, shaking the bees off each frame in turn to find and destroy every last queen cell. This is because they may well have been built on older larvae which had already been fed as workers so the resultant queens will be undernourished. These cells could deter the workers from rearing any more queen cells on your introduced frame.

Before you introduce the Miller frame, trim the edges of the comb back with a pair of sharp scissors until the cells on the very edge contain newly hatched larvae – about the size of this letter c. Protect the brood from the sun and cold winds and try not to leave it out of the colony for longer than about ten minutes to avoid chilling.

Place the Miller frame in the middle of the queenless cellraising colony, again noting the date in the diary. Because the exposed edge is wavy, there is a longer length for queen cells to be reared on than a straight edge. It is a good idea to restrict the number of cells to about half a dozen good sized well-formed ones. Remove any others two days after introduction. The chosen ones will therefore be well cared for and nourished. There will be plenty of room and hopefully in about five days after introduction there will be sealed queen cells all along the edge. 

Five days after that (ie, ten days after putting the Miller frame into the queenless colony) the queen cells are ready for distribution. 

Other colonies can be used to raise the queen cells:

  • A colony which has just started swarm preparations. Remove the queen to an artificial swarm and remove all swarm queen cells.
  • A colony whose queen you have identified as being in need of culling. For example, she may have bad-tempered daughters, or her colony may have a high incidence of chalk brood.

What to do with the queen cells 

Don’t shake the bees off the frame of queen cells as this might damage the developing queen inside. Instead brush them off very gently with a handful of grass. Keep the cells upright in their natural position and avoid a cold draught or hot sun. 

All they need is somewhere warm and safe for the queen to emerge. Each cell needs to be placed in a separate nucleus hive or mini-nuc together with workers to start the new colony. Push a depression in the comb with your thumb near the middle and attach the cell by pushing it in gently. You might find a cocktail stick useful to hold it firm (but be careful not to spear the queen inside!). 

The queen will go out on her mating flights in the next few weeks and then start laying. More details on making up nucleus hives for mating or mini-nucs can be found in Bee Craft (May, June and July 2007).

What to do with the queen cell-raising colony

Once you have distributed the queen cells you could reunite the queen mother in her nucleus hive to the rearing colony using the newspaper method. Alternatively, if you have culled a poor queen to create the cell-rearing colony, leave one of the queen cells behind, from which a replacement queen will soon emerge. 

REFERENCE
Miller, CC, 1911, Fifty years among the Bees.

Extract taken from BeeCraft April 2008

 

« Back

Subscribe to BeeCraft Magazine

* UK residents over the age of 18 can subscribe to BeeCraft via Direct Debit and save up to £5 on your subscription. For more information on our Direct Debit scheme, please click here.