how to queen rearing

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

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.

  • 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 through, 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 are 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 not 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 through this period.

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 halfway 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 for 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.

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Each section of the “queen castle” has its own entrance.

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  • We just modified a queen castle into 3 separate compartments, built from scratch. Each compartment will hold 3 frames or 9 total frames for the castle. My question is this. We’re starting with the brood and eggs method – can we populate each section with one frame each of brood, honey/pollen and drawn out to make it easier for the workers? In other words, is one brood frame per section enough?

    • Cathy,

      I have started as many as four in one queen castle, which comes out to only one frame of brood and one of honey per section. I’ve had good results with this method and no problems. Just be sure to move them when they start out-growing the space.

  • I am intrigued by your queen castle. How do you cover each section individually? Please describe your inner cover for a four-nuc deep. Does each nuc have a ventilation hole? I keep trying to think this through and my brain is in knots!

  • I have a question about moving queens and bees out of the queen castle. Do you have to be careful about positioning? You have an article about moving hives any distance by forcing bees to re-orient themselves. Does that apply if you move frames out of the queen castle and into a nuc?

    • Richard,

      Whenever you have a colony that includes foragers, the foraging bees will return to the original location of their hive. If the hive is moved far, a couple miles or so, the bees will reorient themselves right away as they leave the hive. But if the hive is close to the original site, they do not automatically re-orient and so become confused when they return home. So yes, if your frames contain foraging bees, the foragers will return to the queen castle. If the frames contain just the queen and nurse bees there is no problem.

      • Thanks for that.

        So what procedure do you recommend? Do you check or make sure you only have nurse bees in your queen castle? If so, how? Otherwise what do you do when moving the bees out of the castle?

        • Richard,

          I don’t do anything. A queen castle is not very big and so does not support a lot of bees. I just move the frames with the queen, brood, and nurses into the the nuc. The foragers will scatter eventually and probably find a home somewhere.

  • in the queen castle, if it is only divided once, making 4 frames to the side. that puts 2 entrances, should one be closed off to help prevent robbing. And can you use this anytime of the year or maybe just in the spring or early summer…thanks Rusty

    • Bruce,

      Yes, I would close off the second entrances. A four-frame nuc is probably too small for overwintering. They won’t have enough room for winter stores unless you add supers. Even then, the colony may be too small to keep itself warm. I generally just use the queen castle in the spring to get new queens going, and then transfer them to larger quarters.

  • In my queen castle I put one frame of brood covered with nurse bees and one of honey, nectar and pollen in one section with small opening. Came back next morning and a whole lot of bees were going in and out so I opened up and there were a lot of bees with their heads in cells with nectar. They must bee robbers? So I pulled the 2 frames and moved over to the next empty cell. Brushed off what I thank are robbers? Could be some still there? Will that cause a problem? I then closed of entry with 1/8 hardware cloth. How long should I leave it closed? Should I have done this when when I first started? I give thinks for your blog. Jerry Babb

    • Jerry,

      Hmm. It certainly sounds like robbers. I never had that problem, but I’ve never used a queen castle this late in the year. Usually I use them just before or during a flow when robbing isn’t a big issue. Moving the frames over to another section is fine, but I don’t think it will stop the robbers for long. They are good at what they do and they will easily find the new entrance. The problem may resolve itself when some of the nurse bees become guards. When you first move the frames over, all the workers will be nurses and you will have virtually no guards or foragers. I would say wait a few day before removing the screen, and then reduce the entrance to about one bee-width. I don’t know what else to try, but I will think about it.

  • When you add a frame of brood from a strong hive into a nuc hive, and you locate the queen cell developing, can you save time by adding your own purchased queen?

  • Rusty, I have a double deep loaded with Russian hybrid bees with which I plan to convert to pure Russian when my queen arrives. Should I pull old queen with 2 frames of brood, put in nuc in case introduction fails, and put new queen in push in cage till she is laying and accepted in double deep, take nuc and grow into another hive. Do this sound like a good plan?

  • Set up a 2 frame nuc a couple days ago, but with a virgin queen I captured from a split from under a push in cage. Basically, I used push in cages in an attempt to capture a few extra queens from a split. The strange thing that occurred is when I released the virgin queen on a frame that had brood and young bees from the original split, the virgin queen proceeded to hunt down and kill some of the young bees….very young bees that had probably emerged earlier that day. I watched the virgin queen walk past older bees, climb on the backs of 3 young bees, and kill them. I can’t find anything related to this on the Internet, but have you seen or heard of this before? BTW, I checked the hive today and the virgin queen is acting normal.

  • Rusty,

    I love this 4 compartment design. Bad news is that Brushy Mountain Bee Farm has closed for good. You know anyone who is building this model anywhere else?

  • Rusty, have you tried this small nuc (2-5 frames)/queen castle system with grafted just-hatched larvae? Obviously very few larvae. I am actually waiting on such an experiment – inserted a frame with 3 grafted larvae in queen cups into a divided 6-frame styrofoam nuc with 3-frames. Two frames primarily with food, and a little closed brood (no eggs or larvae) And lots of bees Closed up and added the three grafted cups the next day. Being new to queen rearing and not wanting to: 1. raise more queen cells than I can use, and 2. stress my hives by pulling too many nurse bees out, I decided this might be manageable. Thoughts?

    • Jeri,

      The best thing is just to experiment like you are doing and see if it works. There are so many ways of raising queens that it’s hard to say what will work without trying it in your location with your equipment. My guess is that it will provide what you need.

  • Howdy Rusty. I’m intrigued by this Mini-Mating Nuc
    And have watched a few videos on YT but no one really goes into detail on what happens and what has to be done after installation of the food, nurse bees, and queen cell. I am assuming I can cut out a queen/swarm cell from the original hive and place it in the Mini-Mating Nuc along with a cup of bees and honey in the feeding area. But when do I open the entrance? Or how long do I keep it closed? What if the queen emerges but the other bees haven’t drawn any/enough comb yet?

    much appreciation, Andrew

  • Rusty, how come none of these queen castles have any type of landing board? I have a four way castle I’m trying out but seems like most designs are the same with just a hole on the vertical face. Is there a reason behind this? Thanks.

    • Jessica,

      First of all, honey bees don’t need a landing board. Certainly, wild colonies in trees or bees in buildings or caves don’t have them. It’s a human thing. Secondly, because queen castles have such a small interior space, not a lot of bees are coming and going at one time, so there is even less of a reason for a landing board.

      The real question is not “Why no landing board?” but “Why are we so hung up on them?” I think it’s fun to watch the bees land there and come and go, but there is no real practical reason. By the way, commercial apiaries generally don’t use landing boards either because they get in the way when you try to stack hives on pallets.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am in the PNW and (as you know) we have been experiencing a lot of wet and cold weather during the blackberry flow, our main event. I just discovered one of my colonies went queenless after the last inspection 12 days ago (couldn’t find any queen, eggs, or open brood today). It’s a double deep with 2 medium supers being worked by the bees, and I was really hoping for a little honey harvest.

    In reserve, I have a 5-frame nuc with laying queen that needs to be moved out of my queen castle, a 2 frame with laying queen in another QC slot, and another nuc that has 3 emergency queen cells on one frame that are about to hatch (about day 12). I know that to introduce either of the nucs with queens by the newspaper method (which I would prefer to boost foragers in the big colony during the flow) I would have to get the bees out of the supers, which would interrupt nectar gathering at a critical point.

    Instead, could I move the frame with capped queen cells and attendant nurse bees to the queenless hive, or do you think the resident bees will kill her when she hatches? There isn’t any other capped brood on that frame.

    I don’t have a queen cage on hand and I am not good at catching a queen, but I suppose the other solution would be to transfer a queen that way. Of all the options, what would you do under the circumstances?

    Thank you for the above post, which convinced me to get a queen castle (a most valuable tool!)


  • Hi Rusty,

    I recently discovered another method of making queens by division. I use several methods and particularly like the overnight method on your site.

    That method requires the same sized hive boxes. This idea is to be able to take one or two frames containing under 3-day old eggs and move them to a Nuc.

    You move the frame(s) to the Nuc, having brushed off all the bees, and fill up the spaces in the main hive, and shut the entrance. Then you put the device on top of the hive. The device is a frame containing a queen excluder and a trap door to shut the bottom from the top. Then you put the Nuc on top of the device, leaving the entrance open and shut the top.

    The next thing you do is to give a lot of smoke at the bottom to encourage the bees to go upstairs and find the new entrance.

    In a trial, I did the bees seem to find the new entrance within minutes.

    You then leave the hives for 24 hours. When one returns the nurse bees have found and are caring for the brood. You can shut the trap door, and move the Nuc a distance from the hive and open the main hive’s entrance. The foragers return to the main have as normal and the nurse bees find they have no queen so rear one. It appears that the Nuc can be fairly close and it is not necessary to take it 3 miles away.

    I have photos attached.

    I was wondering if you or your readers had ever come across such a method and what sort of experience they had. My friend who told me about this had almost 100% success over about 100 splits using this method.


    P.S. Rusty this may not be the right blog as it may be a new idea. I do hope it will be interesting for you and your readers.

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