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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.

Starting with swarm cells:

Starting with eggs and brood:

Variation:

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

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

Comments

kyCat007
Reply

Excellent advice, Rusty. Thanks. Did not find anything usable anywhere else.

Cathy
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

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.

Diana
Reply

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!

Rusty
Reply

Each section has it’s own inner cover. You can see the one I have at BrushyMountainBeeFarm.com.

Richard
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

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.

Richard
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

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.

Bruce Petway
Reply

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

Rusty
Reply

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.

Rod
Reply

If you move the queen to another colony, is the queen likely to remain or leave?

Rusty
Reply

Rod,

Queens are likely to stay. The only times a queen leaves a hive is to mate or to swarm.

Brandon
Reply

Rusty,

Have you found a convenient way to feed this castle? I just ordered one.

Thanks,
Brandon

Rusty
Reply

Brandon,

I put one frame of honey in each two-frame compartment.

Jerry Babb
Reply

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

Rusty
Reply

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.

Nathan
Reply

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
Reply

Yes.

Lee Jacobus
Reply

Wow ! Great stuff, Rusty !

gene staggs
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

That should work.

Brian
Reply

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
Reply

Brian,

No, that’s a new one on me.

Jason
Reply

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
Reply

Jason,

I don’t know of anyone, but I think you could make one pretty easily.

Rick
Reply

Dadant has the 4-entrance queen castle.

Jeri
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

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.

Andrew
Reply

Howdy Rusty. I’m intrigued by this Mini-Mating Nuc https://www.mannlakeltd.com/mini-mating-nucs
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

Dave Loucky
Reply

Andrew, you may want to watch Paul Kelly’s informative youtube using these mini mating nucs.

Jessica G
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Michael Judd
Reply

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.

Michael

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.

Rusty
Reply

Michael,

This sounds promising. Do send along some photos. You need to email them to me, as my site won’t accept uploads. rusty@honeybeesuite.com

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