How to start a queen in a two-frame nuc
I had a request to write about how I start queens using a two-frame mating box such as the Brushy Mountain “Queen Castle.” The Queen Castle is a standard size deep brood box that can be divided into four two-frame sections, each with its own entrance. But the following instructions could be used for any small mating nuc, regardless of the configuration.
First, prepare the box.
- Place the mating box in an area where it will be easy for the bees to come and go. This is especially important if you have entrances on all four sides of the box. Each side with an entrance should be easily accessible by the bees.
- If you have internal dividers separating the sections, make sure they go all the way to the bottom. If you’ve accidentally left a space large enough for a bee to crawl though, bees from another section may kill one of your new queens.
- One of the frames in each of the sections should be a frame of honey and pollen. The small nuc will need plenty of food, and stored honey and pollen is the very best. If you do not have frames of honey and pollen, use an internal frame feeder instead. Sugar syrup is fine for providing energy but no good for providing vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, lipids, and proteins. If you must use sugar syrup, fortify it with products like Amino-B Booster and Honey-B-Healthy.
- Remember that all foragers that you move into the nuc will fly back to the parent hive. For a few days you will have no foragers, so you need a plentiful food supply to see the new queen and new brood though this period.
Next, select your starter frames. With a system like this, you can start with swarm cells or you can start with eggs and very young brood.
Starting with swarm cells:
- If you are going to start a queen from swarm cells, use cells from a strong colony with a good queen. The queen cell doesn’t need to be capped, but it should be active. In other words, you should see bees continually tending it.
- Take a frame with swarm cells and remove it from the parent hive. You must triple-check to assure the queen is not on this frame. Better yet, find the queen and sequester her while you are doing this. She can move quickly and jump onto your frame when you least expect it.
- Besides having at least one queen cell, the frame you select must have lots of brood—some of which is beginning to hatch—and the brood should be covered with nurse bees. (This is extremely important. The nurse bees are necessary to care for the queen cell and the developing brood until new bees begin to hatch.)
- It’s okay to have multiple queen cells on one frame. The first queen out will kill the queens in the other cells.
- Move the frame gently to the mating nuc. Do not jar, shake, or invert the frame. Unhatched queens can be damaged from rough handling even though the cell is intact.
- Gently place the frame in the nuc and close the lid to that section. Note the date on your calendar.
- Do not be concerned if you see very little activity over the next few days. Remember, you have very few foragers so there won’t be much coming or going. After three or four days—as more and more bees hatch—activity should start to increase.
- The time until a virgin queen emerges will depend on how old the cell was when you transferred it. A queen goes from egg to hatch in approximately 16 days. This virgin queen will spend another 6 days maturing before she takes her first mating flight. Mating may take 1 or 2 days. Once she is mated, it will take another 3 days before she starts laying eggs.
- Let’s assume you transferred a cell that was just starting to be capped, which is about half way through the developmental cycle. You will have about 8 days until hatch, plus 6 for maturing, plus 1 or 2 for mating, plus 3 to get ready—all that before you will see any eggs. That’s about 19 days—assuming the weather was good for flying. If it rained for two solid weeks while she was trying to mate, you can add two weeks to the nearly three you’ve waited already.
- The point of the story here is you must be patient! This process takes longer than you think.
- Once you see eggs, you can move the queen to wherever she is needed (using standard introduction techniques) or you can move the entire frame into a larger nuc box and allow the colony to grow.
- Once you move the queen out, you can now use the space to start another queen.
- In the example above, if you had good weather and you still don’t see eggs after 3 weeks, something may have gone wrong. The bees may have failed to raise a viable queen, the virgin queen could have been eaten on her mating flight, or she may have failed to mate. At this point, you may want to try again. Queen cells don’t always produce a good queen.
Starting with eggs and brood:
- Starting with eggs and young brood is really no different than starting with queen cells except you have to wait longer.
- After you remove a frame of eggs and young brood from a strong hive and place it in your nuc, the bees will soon realize they are queenless. They will select several of the young larvae and start building queen cells from them.
- Everything you must do is the same—provide the proper food and wait.
- If no queen cells are visible by the end of the first week, however, you can scrap this frame and try again.
- If queen cells develop normally, you must wait a minimum of 4 weeks before you can expect to see eggs—and, again, that assumes good weather. (You have to wait 16 (development) + 6 (maturing) + 2 (mating) + 3 (getting ready) or about 27 days.)
- If you have multiple queen cells on one frame and you want to start these in separate nucs, you can gently cut these off the comb and attach them to a different comb of brood.
- If you try this, cut more comb from above the queen cell than you think you will need. Put the cell on the side or bottom of another frame and attach it by bending or squeezing the wax above the cell onto the new comb. This is easiest on a hot day.
- Handle the cell very gently, so as not to damage the developing queen.
- Check this in a day or two to make sure the bees have accepted your arrangement. If they are not attending the cell, try again.