Workers and Queen Cells Unite! Adventures in Queen Rearing, Part 2

My previous blog post was about shaking bees to put into mating nucs in our on-going adventures in queen rearing at Bruce Bowen’s Bees in Mt. Vernon, Washington.  This blog is about uniting those bees with fully-formed queen cells in mini-nucs.

Yes, it’s a bit out of order, because we were able to begin with queen cells raised by bee breeder and researcher Sue Cobey (

We picked up the cells at the Washington State University Research Station in Mt. Vernon.  The cells, on their cell bars were transported to Bruce’s honey house in a large cooler where they rested upon a hot water bottle and a towel.

A honey bee mini mating nucleus

A full mini-nuc

The Background:

  • The mini nucs are about the size of half a shoe box.
  • There is a section for syrup and another for three tiny drawn combs.
  • Each tiny comb is half the height of a deep frame, and almost one-third the length of the frame (A bit of bad engineering in the latter part.  When a deep frame of drawn comb is cut, you always wind up with a bit left over.)

The Set Up:

  • The mini nucs were filled with syrup before the queen cells arrived.
  • Each syrup section had 3 or 4 styrofoam packing pellets floating in it to act as rafts for the bees.  (We did check to make sure the pellets were styrofoam and not the biodegradable corn-based pellets – a dissolving raft would be of no use to any bee).
Box of honeybees in foreground with mini-nuc boxes behind

Box of Bees Awaits the Mini-Nucs


The box of nurse bees were set beside the work table.  They were scooped out of the box using a clean Spam can.  It gives just the right amount of nurse bees.








The Production Semi-Circle:

Group fills box with bees, puts in queen & extra frame.

The semi-circle

We tried for a line, but beekeepers seldom walk, or stand, on the straight and narrow.

Most everyone worked without gloves.  That can sound a bit nervous-making at first, but the bees being placed with the queen cells are nurse bees and they have nothing to protect until they unite with their queen cells.

Person 1: Removed 2 frames from one end the mini-nuc.  We realized that this could be best served in the Set-Up stage.  With the well-drawn frames stacked in front of Person #2.

Person 2: Put a queen-cell onto what would be the center frame

Persons 3 and 4:

a) Bees were scooped off of the combs on to which they had been poured in the beeyard.

b) They were then poured into the mini-nuc.

We found this takes 2 people to go quickly: one to hold the frame up, the other to scoop and pour.

Person 2 (again, not a typo): Put the mini-frame with the queen cell into the nuc

Person 1 (again) :  put the final frame in and closed the mini-nuc. This happens fast.

Person 5 : Walked the mini-nuc over to the pallet where it would spend the next 2 days, in a cool, dark environment.

The Mini-Nuc Stacks:

Beekeepers and mini-mating nucs.

Nuc stacks & happy beekeepers

The mini-nucs were placed on regular shipping pallets, in a dark, quiet corner of the room

They were stacked 3 mini’s tall, but separated by ample space for air-flow.

Two fans were left on to keep the mini-nucs cool.

We drew on all the mini-nucs to hopefully help the bees determine which nuc was theirs.  And there we left them for 2 days.



Mini-mating nucs in their bee yard

The mini-mating nuc yard

On the 2nd day, we moved them to their mating yard.

We left them alone for about 10 days then went to check on them.  The majority seem to have taken brilliantly.

A successfully opened queen cell on one of the min-mating nuc frames

Successful emergence for the queen





Coming next: four of us will take a shot at grafting and putting those laying queens into cages so they can be distributed.  Speaking for myself, I expect there will be something of a learning curve in the grafting, but it should be fun….




About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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4 Responses to Workers and Queen Cells Unite! Adventures in Queen Rearing, Part 2

  1. Roy Rayner says:

    Where can I purchase the nuc boxes shown at Brookfield Farms?.

    • Hi Roy – It took me a second, because you’re referencing the images from our work at Bruce Bowen’s Bees – and I first thought “but I use westerns for everything”…So, you mean the tiny white nuc boxes we’re using in queen rearing. They came from Mann Lake (I think, Bruce buys everything from Mann Lake). The positive sides of these are that 1) they use very little foundation – one sheet of deep foundation can make 6 of the tiny frames – you need a table saw and 2) you can find the queen quite easily because the boxes are small – except when she goes under a tiny “shelf” – that’s a drag. The negative side is that the frames are really tiny and need a lot of attention to make sure the queens have enough room to lay once they are mated. The bees can fill the tiny frames very quickly with honey.

  2. i switched to putting 100 nukes on little 3 foot stands spead out over 5 acres that way i can have them lay a little and make sure they have no pattern problems or other issues then start round two below on a block so ive got 200 going at all times my nukes are insulated for mn weather

    • That’s a good idea. We’re going to put nucs up higher this year. One of the guys is trying to get those huge spools that wire comes on. How are you insulating your nucs? Your weather makes ours look like a tropical holiday.

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