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Part 3 - Updated 01/07/2021 - by John Dobson – (now retired)


Continuing on from the previous 2 articles, I want to talk about queen cell incubation.  I produced around 40,000 queen cells per season in New Zealand, for the last 35 years.  In this time I tried and tested many different methods of producing cells.


Every season when I thought that I had ‘arrived’ with the perfect method, I learnt something new and made changes to the system in order to produce the highest quality cells possible.


Harvesting capped queen cells on the 5th or 6th day after the larvae transfer procedure, had proved to be an invaluable contribution to the cell production schedule.  It allowed me to do the larvae transfer into the same cell builder on the same day each week, with some room for flexibility in timing.


The queen cell incubation was an important part of my system.  It consisted of 2 incubators: the Carricell previously described, plus 1 x 4 cubic foot cabinet incubators – the latter being a converted 4 cubic foot refrigerator fitted with extra racks for the foam trays holding queen cells.   The low voltage flat heating elements are controlled by an electronic temperature controller and powered by mains power.  Above the custom made flat heating elements I placed 2 x 2 liter containers of water, which provided the necessary relative humidity for the pupating queens.  The temperature was set at 90° F/32°C. (Slightly lower than brood temperature)


The 5-6 day old capped cells were harvested into the Carricell in the bee yard, the foam tray holding the cells in the Carricell was then transferred into the cabinet incubator and labeled with the date for use, or dispatch for sale.  Up to 10 foam trays of cells at various ages could be stored in the cabinet at any one time, allowing a maximum of 1440 cells.  Extra foam trays are required for holding the cells in the cabinet incubator during the queens pupating period depending on the quantity produced.


The system was very convenient and easy to use: there were less problems with rogue virgins causing havoc, and a simple, quick turn- around period for the cell builder.  Larvae transfer could be carried out on a 6 or 7 day cycle in the cell builder, so there is flexibility in timing there as well.

When the cells were old enough to use, I simply preheated the Carricell for 15 minutes, then transferred the foam trays of cells from the cabinet incubator into the Carricell.  Then the cells could be placed in nucs or hives.  A few local bee farmers preferred to come and collect their cells, some coming up to 300 kilometers.


Transferring cells to clients.

Most of the cells produced were sold to clients within the North Island of New Zealand, and to bee farmers who used a Carricell portable incubator for transporting cells to hives or nucs.  For transporting the 10 day old cells to our clients (who usually bought in lots of 40, 80, 160 or 220 per time) we used a polystyrene container.  This had a bright red vinyl dispatch bag with an address label, description of goods, and instructions for handling, fitted into a clear sleeve, on top of the package.  Inside the container (‘chilly bin’ in NZ) there was a smaller foam tray to hold the cells upright, and a thin flat rectangular 1 liter drink bottle filled with hot water. This was held between two layers of flat 10mm foam. 


What I just described was another form of cell incubation which carried advanced cells to our clients’ city or town.  These Polypacks as we called them, were given to the driver of the Intercity Coach service for careful handling.  They traveled on a luxury coach to the destination closest to the client’s home or base operation.  The client was advised prior to the dispatch of his or her order, and was waiting to meet the coach when it arrives.  The longest period of travel for the cells was approximately 6 hours.  By this time the hot water in the Polypack had cooled down, and the cells needed to be transferred into the pre-heated Carricell portable queen cell incubator.  The cells were then transported to the hives or nucs. Often many kilometers were traveled to reach the hives where the cells had to be placed.  If the cells arrived with the client later in the day, they would be kept overnight in the Carricell for use the next day. A wet towel was added to maintain the required humidity. Often a mains power supply was used to operate the Carricell overnight.


As you can see, the incubating and transportation of cells helped me to develop a system within our business which was very convenient, easy to manage and very enjoyable to use.  


In the next part in this series of articles I will be describing the method we used to raise queen cells.  


For more information on the Carricell or Cabinet Incubator, write to 

John Dobson, 67 Poporangi Road,   RD1, Hastings 4171 New Zealand, Phone 0064 27 449 4396, or 0064 6 8707070, 

Fax 0064 6 8707077, or email

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