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Propagating nucs from queen cells


First the disclaimer. I began keeping bees myself last year so I’m no expert. Before then I had helped other people with their bees off and on for the best part of 60 years.

I was ending the winter with three colonies of bees, two of them quite strong and one a bit precarious. I decided to buy in some queen cells as soon as they became available. That meant preparing queenless nucs so they would hopefully nurture the queen to be and become her subjects.

A week ago I opened up my strong hives to move frames of brood into the supers. These would later be separated into nuc boxes ready for the coming queen cells. I wanted to be able to insert a queen excluder below each super to keep the reigning monarch away from the selected brood. The idea is to ensure all brood is a minimum of three or four days old when the nucs are created. This stops the queenless nuc colonies from making queens of their own.

One of the strong hives was fantastic: plenty of brood, plenty of capped honey, plenty of mixed pollen. The other strong hive looked OK at first too, until I saw the queen cells. There were probably a dozen or more. They were capped and a virgin queen could emerge at any time. I took the opportunity to split off a couple of nucs straight away. That still left a reasonable amount of brood to sort into the super.

Three days ago I checked my hives. The nucs were going reasonably although I didn’t go looking for their virgin queens. Most of the brood in the source hive had hatched and there was no more coming on. I saw an empty queen cell so presumably the virgin queen is in the hive somewhere. There was a scattering of drone brood in the selected frames. Not much but I put a top entrance for them. I think drones can get stuck if they try and squeeze through a queen excluder. It’s also quite possible I have trapped the virgin queen in the super. She needs to be able to enjoy her nuptual flights so I didn’t want to confine her.

I’ve inserted the two queen excluders and tomorrow afternoon I will make up the additional nucs. Because of the unexpected splits I made last week, I’m running short of nuc boxes. I spent the last couple of days converting two of them into little duplex queen boudoirs. Here’s a dozen pics showing what I’ve been doing.

This first pic shows the sugar feeder. It fits underneath the migratory cover and takes the place of an inner cover. The central strip of ply fits snugly against the underside of the lid, dividing the feeder into two equal troughs. The little hammer “Kamikaze” is there to provide a sense of scale. Kamikaze appears in a few of the pics.

Here the troughs are being filled with granulated sugar. The sugar is placed in layers and sprayed with water to make it lump together. Thanks to Michael Bush for this and many other useful, practical suggestions.

The nuc base needed modifying to divide it in two. A central strip of timber over the mesh and a few wedges to keep each side separate. I’m not at all sure how well the bees will distinguish their particular half of the queen boudoir duplex. I’ll find out soon enough I guess.

Here’s what a bee would see as it flies into the entrance. The floor and roof wedge from about 20mm to a double bee space of 9mm. The entrance then turns vertically upwards for another 9mm.
Here is the inside view of the entrance. there is a grid type beetle trap below the final vertical passage. I’ve now been using this entrance design for six months and the SHB populations in the hives have been very low. The 3mm bottom screen is the maximum recommended aperture for SHB control. It is possible for a worker bee to squeeze through but it doesn’t happen very often.

Here the body of the hive box is in place. It’s designed as a five frame nuc but the partition will reduce the total capacity to four frames, two a side.

The central partition divides the nuc box down the centre. It’s made from a core of 15mm expanded polystyrene foam board with 5mm corflute, urethane glued on either side. The divider fits snugly up against each end with little blocks of ply filling the frame hanging rebate spaces.

Here the inner cover/ dual sugar feeder is sitting in place. The spaces at the ends allow for ventilation and bee access.


This afternoon I inserted queen cells between the frames. The cells came attached to little plastic cups. Don’t know the brand but they are similar to the JZ BZ style. They have an upside down top hat kind of profile and the brim bit is perfect for wedging into the comb.

I will be checking them in a week. By then the little princesses should have emerged.

Fingers crossed.


I would love to see some photos of that. :wink:


It was late afternoon before I was able to put them in. There was very little disturbance needed so I went without protective gear and smoke. I was too busy being slow and gentle to even think about taking a photo.

I will have a peek and see if I can get a pic for you.

Here is the queen cup between the frames. It’s impossible to see in this pic, but there are attending bees with this one.
Unfortunately the bees have all departed this mating nuc. I took the frame out and photographed it. I might return the queen cell to the hive with the supersedures but I will suit up and check the other strong hive first. If there is a queen in the supersedure hive already, the nymph won’t last long but it won’t last long without any workers either.


Only when convenient. I have never done what you describe, and I would love to learn something. :slight_smile:


It was better than convenient Dawn, taking a peek showed there was a problem with one of the nucs. The bees had all gone and left the nymph queen alone.


The queen cell and its frame of nectar went into the stronger of my two main colonies. I did a very quick check today and found an open, emergency queen cell. No idea what happened to the previous queen but I peeked into the open cell and saw a healthy looking larva. I had to wait until the nurse bee in the cell backed out so I know the baby queen was getting some attention.

I don’t know how long the capped queen cell was alone in the frame. It would have been slowly cooling down and that would not have been good. If she survived, then in her new environment she should get the best attention. She may not get to emerge but if she does, she will have the opportunity to destroy the pupating emergency queen. If I check the colony in another week I will know if she emerged.

Note added Fri Aug 12

This morning I removed the divider that had been partitioning the nuc. The bees had abandoned one half so there didn’t seem any point in confining the rest to the active half. The other partitioned nuc is still intact. A quick peek showed a good cluster of bees on each side.

Now I need to leave them alone!


I needed to be away from home for an extended time. This means no hive inspections for more than a month. One thing I’ve learned already is queen mating nucs need to have a minimum of one and preferably two full frames of brood.

From the time the nuc is set up until the time the queen starts laying, the bee production process is disrupted and the little colony will be in decline. I won’t have a chance to check my bees for another three weeks. It will be interesting to see how they fare.


I came back home yesterday and checked my hives just as soon as I could. Two of the nucs were full of busy bees but the others were not happy at all. There were a few bees in each and no sign of a queen.

This morning I’ve amalgamated each failing nuc with a strong one. Didn’t use the paper separator this time. I want to see how they go without one. In each of the failed nucs the bees were in a little cluster towards the top of the box.

There is a noticeable number of SHB in every one of the hives I checked. Time to put the SHB traps in again.


Hi there @sciencemaster - I just happened upon this post & am curious to hear how things turned out, if you have an update? Hope all’s well :blush:


Thanks Eva

I am pleased how things turned out. This was my first attempt at building nucs and I’ve ended up with three of them. In the process I’ve made loads of mistakes but my three successes make up for them.

I started in Winter and in retrospect, that was a mistake. I just did not have enough bees and brood for the splits. However I now find myself going into spring with five very healthy hives. I’m happy with that. I even have enough bees to donate one of my stronger colonies to the local community garden.


That’s fantastic!! What a nice outcome. Have a wonderful season :sunglasses:

One of the great things about this forum is the way we can enjoy & learn from each other’s active beekeeping seasons in a tag team fashion, unlike the many forums that are only regional/national. Cheers!


How many nucs did you make at the start? And how did the amalgamations go without the newspaper?


I made two nucs by splitting off what were probably supercedure queen cells. Then I made four more by isolating pairs of langstroth deep frames into two frame queen bee boudoirs. These were left closed up and queenless for a day while I collected the queen cells. The four queen cells were added in the evening of the day I collected them.

This gave a total of six nucs with developing queen cells .

One of the queen bee boudoirs was abandoned so the still closed queen cell went into my weakest colony. It may or may not have been already queenless. I can’t say what happened to this queen cell but the colony is now doing much better.

I was left with five nucs at this stage. I was going away so all my colonies were left to fend for themselves.

When I came back home after five weeks away, two of the nucs were failing so they were merged with two of the others. I’ve peeked into these merged colonies but haven’t done a full inspection yet.

The upshot and the answer to your first question then is six nucs to start off with three surviving at the end.

Can’t really answer about the amalgamations until I do an inspection. The inspection needs to wait until I finish building a screened bottom board for an 8 frame Langstroth hive. This bottom board is a bit complicated. It has a wide tapering entrance leading over a SHB trap screen then vertically up into the base of the hive. It will be ready for painting tomorrow I hope. This is the seventh one I’ve made but I still don’t have enough. I have another three under construction as well but they won’t be ready for a while yet.


Thanks @sciencemaster for the breakdown, it’s really interesting. I look forward to an update when you’ve done your inspection? :slight_smile:
I’ve seen your SBB design on here, I love your ingenuity with hive building & the different materials you’ve used. I’ve discovered since becoming interested in bees that I now need some more tools so that I can better make the things I need.


The first coat of paint is on the partly assembled, screened bottom board. It needs to be part painted before assembly. Before doing the painting, I took some pics of the partly assembled device. It’s a similar design to the ones I built for my nucs some months ago. The boards are stained green because I use copper naphthenate to combat wood rot.

The first pic shows the landing board with its cover off. It ramps up to a strip of 3mm ss screen for trapping SHB. The second pic shows the cover in place and the third pic show the vertical slot the bees climb through to enter their home.

I should get the second coat of paint on late this afternoon and assemble the device tomorrow.


We don’t use copper naphthenate treated timber on our land, nor in our home because of its toxicity. Apart from preventing wood rot, it is also an insecticide.
Just wonder how this will effect the bees’ wellbeing, or the honey, if indeed the bees survive.
Wouldn’t a few coats of good outside paint do the same job?
Correct me if my concern is silly, since I just started beekeeping less than a month ago.
Personally, I will keep my bees as non toxic as my house, garden and food.
Is copper naphthenate not toxic to bees then?


I’ve yet to see any scientific studies on copper naphthenate as an insecticide. If you have any links I would very much like to read them. Copper naphthenate is approved for use as a fungicide in bee boxes and that’s where I use it.

There are plenty of fungicide/pesticides entirely unsuitable for use in bee boxes. Copper chrome arsenate (CCA) comes to mind. It has a green colour similar to copper naphthenate but is highly toxic to bees and to people as well.

I will continue using copper naphthenate to treat hive bodies until I see clear evidence it damages my bees. I’ve just checked them this morning after a month away and they are thriving.

(Addendum) I’ve done a more thorough inspection late this afternoon and all my colonies are thriving. I have been away for the best part of a month and had to work really hard before I left to give my girls the best. I needed to expand a couple of really crowded nucs and all I had were some assembled but unpainted boxes. The result is I have two colonies in boxes that have been treated with copper naphthenate but not painted. The copper naphthenate had been on the box timbers for 6 months or so and was well seasoned. I will paint up a couple of my spare boxes and transfer the colonies but the girls will be in unpainted hives for a couple of months.


Guess I read about the copper naphthenate on some wiki. Not being highly educated in detail about poisons, I refuse any green timber on land or in home, just in case.
If your bees are thriving it obviously is not an insecticide. Although I am sure I read somewhere it is. Or perhaps bees are a category all by itself. Or an insect subcategory.
Do you think one could prevent wood rot in our climate by painting the boxes like one would paint a weatherboard house around here?
I prob wouldn’t like to paint the inside though.
My follow up boxes to the cedar are all hoop pine.


I’ve also seen statements about Copper naphthenate being a pesticide but never any actual studies. I can appreciate why some people would choose to err on the side of caution. Visually CCA and Coppernaphthenate treated timbers can appear almost identical. CCA is definitely nasty stuff. Copper naphthenate much less so in my personal opinion.