Making a Nucleus and Introducing a Queen Cell

From Bee Craft: May 2009

Paul Mann

A method oj making up a mating nucleus without finding the queen


A NUCLEUS is a small colony used mainly to house a queen until she is mated. For this purpose, it must be made up without a queen. A nucleus is often referred to as a ‘nuc\ The following description is intended for a nucleus using full size or half-size frames. The minimum required is two frames to give one seam of bees between. It is better with three or four frames.

The minimum equipment required is 1 brood chamber 1 queen excluder 4-5 frames of comb or foundation a feeder.

To select the frames without finding the queen proceed as follows:

1 Select 2 frames of food, 2 of brood with workers emerging and 1 more frame of brood, if available, from the original colony.

2 Shake off all the bees back into the colony and then place the frames into the spare brood box.

3 Push the remaining frames in the original box to one end and fill up with the replacement frames.

4 Put the queen excluder over the original colony and then the spare brood box and frames on top.

5 If there are supers on the hive, place these on top.

6 Close up the colony.

7 Leave for 24 or 48 hours, during which time bees will come up through the excluder to cover the brood.

8 Lift off the top brood box and place it on a floor if you have one, otherwise on a slab or similar. Two small twigs placed under the front edge will provide an entrance.

9 If you put in the extra frame of brood, lift it out and shake the bees back into the new box.

10 Return this frame into the brood nest of the original colony.

11 If you have a dummy board fit it, if not then leave it as it is.

12 A crownboard, sheet of plastic or similar to keep the rain out will complete the operation.

If you are using the nucleus to increase colony numbers it can be placed anywhere in the apiary. If the queen raised within it is intended as a replacement for the queen in the original colony, try not to put it too far from that colony.


If you have a nucleus box then the frames can be transferred to this after you lift off the top brood box.

Place some loose grass over the entrance. This will help to make the bees realise they are in a different place.

Feed after three days to help prevent robbing.


A queen bee starts as a fertilised egg which hatches on the third day into a larva. It is fed for five days until it is sealed on the eighth day. A queen will emerge on the sixteenth day after the egg was laid. When cells are produced in bulk as part of a queen raising operation, the beekeeper moves the newly hatched larvae into queen cells and calls this day 1. The cell is said to be ‘ripe’ on the tenth day, ie, two days before the queen is due to emerge.

When cells are ‘ripe’ they are more robust and can be safely moved around. The temperature in the bees’ brood nest very nearly matches our blood temperature. If the larvae have been grafted into artificial cell cups, the cell will have been constructed on a plastic base and these fit nicely into a plastic hair curler. Keep them upright. Inside a shirt or blouse is fine. Alternatively a brick or hot water bottle at around 40 °C can be placed in an insulated box with the cells alongside. They will be fine for several hours.


If the cell is to be placed in the nucleus straight away, it must be protected to stop the workers destroying it. A piece of aluminium foil 4×1 inches (100 x 25 mm) can be wrapped around the cell leaving the tip protruding at the bottom. You can insert an unprotected queen cell if the nucleus has been made up 24-48 hours previously.

The cell should be placed in the centre of the brood frame with another frame of brood facing it. Either make a dent in the comb and press the plastic base into this depression or get as length of soft wire and wrap one end around the plastic base. Bend the rest at 90 degrees for 3-4 inches (75-100 mm) and make another right angle bend at the top to fit over the frame top bar and support the cell.


The queen should emerge 48 hours after the cell is collected and placed in the nucleus. Three days later, you can open the nucleus carefully and remove the cell to check that the queen has emerged. Just occasionally the queen will be dead in the cell. If this happens then unite the nucleus with its parent colony and start again.


Check to see if the queen has mated after 14 days or later. Just check that there are eggs in some of the cells. Leave everything alone for another 14 days before looking for the queen, always assuming that you wish to.

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