The Doolittle Method

Thursday 3 June 2021

This week, the queen series returns to the discussion of how to raise queen honey bees. This blog is about obtaining larvae for queen rearing using the Doolittle method. The Doolittle method is a common and efficient way to raise many queen cells. It requires a few tools and some practice, and before long can be quite an enjoyable process. Read on to gain an overview of how you can begin to raise queens following the Doolittle method.

The Doolittle Method

Grafting young larvae from the brood nest is the essence of the Doolittle method. There are a few special tools that are required to facilitate this process: a grafting tool, cell cups, grafting bars, and grafting frames. These tools can be found at most beekeeping supply stores. Some beekeepers also choose to fashion their own. A grafting tool is a hand-held tool with a very fine tip, used to pick up larvae and place them in cell cups. Manufactured grafting tools sometimes include springs to help guide the larvae off the tip. Cell cups are used to hold the larvae which will develop into queens. They are the base of the queen cell and have dimensions equal to that of natural queen cups. Cell cups can be made of either wax or plastic. These cups adhere to grafting bars, also called cell bars, which are designed to hold up to 20 cell cups and fit into the grafting frame. Grafting frames have slots along the inner sides of the frame for the bars to slide in and out of and typically hold up to three grafting bars full of cell cups. With this equipment and a few strong, healthy hives- you can begin to graft!

Start by obtaining a frame from a strong hive which has lots of young larvae. It is critical that the larvae be young because these will develop into the strongest queens. Ideally, your larvae should be 12-24 hours old- the smallest larvae that you see in the frame. Using a head lamp or other source of cool lighting can help you to see these tiny organisms. Scoop a larva from the frame with the grafting tool and transfer it into the cell cup, which should be already secured onto the grafting frame. It is best to prepare the cell cups beforehand by adding a drop of royal jelly to the base. Royal jelly is the food that workers feed to larvae in order for them to develop into queens, so this jumpstarts that process and helps prevent the young larvae from drying out. Royal jelly can be purchased at some beekeeping supply shops, but does have the potential to spread pathogens between hives, as it is a hive product. Another option is to harvest your own royal jelly from swarm cells or unneeded queen cells in your own hives.

When your grafting bars are full of cell cups and your cell cups are full of larvae, the bar can be placed into a grafting frame. This completes the steps of the Doolittle method! The next step is to place this frame into a starter colony where the workers will begin to raise the larvae as queens. We will elaborate on this phase of queen rearing in the next post of the series. 

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