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Cell Plug Boxes for Starting Queen Cells in Honey Bee Colonies

This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.




Cell Plug Boxes for Starting Queen Cells in Honey Bee Colonies
This method has allowed many “would be” queen rearers to achieve their objective. It is a simple mechanical way of transferring larvae from the artificial comb, in which the eggs were laid, to artificial queen cell mimicking cups. The bees do the rest!

Whilst there is a little more to it than my simple description might indicate… Providing the timing is correct and the weather is not too bad then useful results will be easily achieved. It is common for beekeepers that have started by this method to go on to develop their skills in grafting honey bee larvae and to use the components of the kit, cell cups, yellow plugs, adaptors and cell frame bars in a similar manner to other cell cup systems.

Worldwide there are many different types of cell plug box… I am familiar with two particular types:-

The Nicot Cupkit System.
This is made in France and available from several UK dealers.

The Jenter System.
The origin of this type is Germany. The manufacturer’s website can be reached here, but it is only in the German language. For reasons of which I am uncertain the Jenter system seems more popular (although I personally have two Nicot kits and only one Jenter box).

Nicot Cupkit

Nicot Cup The large illustration shows the small brown cell cups (detail immediate left) being loaded into the back of the comb box. The spigots onto which the cups are placed are the hexagonal tubes that simulate normal cells. These cells are accessed by the queen from the front compartment of the box wherein she is trapped by a queen excluding plastic cover.

As the queen lays her egg it is deposited through the artificial cell on to the inner surface of the brown cell cup, which effectively forms the cell bottom.
Nicot Cupkit Box… Picture curtesy of Gilles Ratia

Here is another view, this time of the front of the box, that shows some of the accessories (further pictures of the components are available on the Plastic Bits page.
Nicot Cupkit System, Picture curtesy of Sweinty
Jenter System

The Jenter comb box is organised differently to the Nicot version with holes at the base of part depth plastic cells that the small brown plugs fit into. The full depth of cells is achieved by the white hexagonal plastic grid that act as a spacer and forms part of the cell walls.

Parts associated with this system are illustrated below.
Jenter System… Picture curtesy of Swainty
Yellow adaptors for the Jenter system

Whilst originally designed for holding Jenter cell cage two part cell plugs for cell starting and finishing, these plug sets are versatile and can be used for ordinary grafting.

Jenter Cell Plug The Jenter Cell Plug System has the cell base only on the removable plug.

Jenter Cell Cup Collar (Old Type) The cell is formed by fitting the plug into one of two types of collar. This is the old profile which is smaller internally. The mouth is 8.5 mm diameter.

A little trick that can sometimes be useful… The older type will plug into the rear of the newer type.

This tip came from Albert Knight.
Yellow adaptors plugged together

The second type of collar has three “wings” which make it easier to handle. The internal profile is more parallel sided than the smaller version and its mouth is 9.5 mm diameter. I am concerned that this alteration in shape and size is a further manifestation of continuous cellsize enlargement.
Jenter Cell Cup Collar (New Type)
Jenter Cell Plug & Cup Assembled

?? ?The plug and cup form a complete unit that then fits into the yellow plugs illustrated above.

The action of the queen laying an egg is shown in the illustration at right.

In order that the transparent queen excluder grid can be readily seen, the image is rendered against a grey background.
queen laying in Nicot box

Mounting the comb box in a frame… Each kit comes with instructions and these will generally say to take an empty used, but sound comb and cut away a central portion to accept the comb box

When I first used cell plug boxes I fitted the box into a new frame and trimmed foundation to fit around the box. To get this frame drawn and to ensure that it was cleaned and accepted by the bees I placed it in a box of foundation frames that were being drawn out by a swarm. I also left off the front and rear covers so that the bees could clean up the inside of the rear compartment of the box.
comb box in frame

After a few seasons of using the comb boxes in this fashion I inadvertently left one in a colony for several weeks and the bees filled it solid with honey which then crystalised. This was then ignored by the bees when I tried to get them to eat the contents.

As a result of this event I resolved to alter my system so that the comb boxes were mounted in half width frames and to fit out the unused space with wooden strips to form a labyrinth that would be transparent to bees, but would not provide any space for comb building. The smaller frames can be introduced into a colony with full sized frames by means of an adaptor frame and the smaller frame will fit many of my nuc boxes and mating nucs giving greater flexibility of use.

The picture at right is a frontal view of a Jenter box fitted into a half width B.S. National frame… The spaces are all too narrow for comb to be built, but render the comb box itself easy for bees to reach from any direction.
Jenter comb box in half width frame

The rear of the cell plug box can be seen in this view and the method of fixing can also be readily seen.

The comb box itself is much thicker than the wooden frame (which is 28 mm wide) and so the two projections on the top bar ensure that the frame hangs vertical if it is pushed up against another frame.

the frame lugs are reduced to 22 mm width in order that they may fit into the sheet metal castellated spacers that I normally use in my nuc boxes.

The external dimensions of the woodwork are the same as given on half width frames page.
rear view of Jenter comb box in half width frame

The size and shape of the Cupkit version of the comb box is rather different, but the labyrinth principle is still used in order to obviate the possibility of comb being built.

The thin plywood retaining toggles are used to keep both the front and rear covers in place. This would not be required with new equipment, but the example shown had already been in use for twenty years at the time that it was re-built into this frame and the retaining action of the pegs had become non-existent as the plastic parts had worn over that period.

The bee ways in this frame are only 6 mm wide, but this does not seem to hamper the bees in any way.
rear view of Jenter comb box in half width frame

If I were to make more of this type of frame I would probably arrange for one 9 mm bee space at the top and sort the thickness of the wooden strip across the bottom so that there were two 9 mm bee spaces under the comb box.

The notches that can be seen in the horizontal strips are merely to aid the passage of bees between the spaces.

There is no significance in the fact that the side bars are of different thickness (other than materials available at the time). If batch construction was envisaged I would cut side bars to exact and equal thickness.
rear view of Jenter comb box in half width frame

The prepared frame should be given to the bees 24 hours or so prior to it being needed for use so that it comes up to temperature and the bees can “condition” it to their liking.

Cleaning of cups after use as human beings we tend to think that nice shiny objects are ‘clean’ I used to go to great lengths using surgical spirit and cotton buds to remove wax and propolis from cups and cell plugs as well as the stale royal jelly from their interior.

Albert Knight mentioned getting better initial acceptance of used cups by leaving them ‘dirty’ (he use the word ‘grotty’), just removing any dried up lumps of royal jelly and letting the bees themselves be the final arbiter on cleanliness.

After Albert had said that he was getting better success by leaving the cups ‘dirty’, I experimented using a pudding basin with hot water in it, this had a small piece of brace comb melted in it so that the wax formed a sort of scum on the water surface, dipping the cups through this film allows them to pick up a small amount of it, which when the cups are given to the bees, gives them an incentive to clean, which they do admirably.

The definition of ‘cleanliness’ that bees use is obviously different to the human perception.

I was intending trying my Jenter again this season but the weather killed off that ambition. Mine cost me 50p at a roup..lol it pays to know what you are looking at at a sale.

There can be issues with the queens avoiding the cells but the last tip may well be the answer to that issue. Keep it dirty..lol



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