The MCBA of PA’s queen cell program is designed to improve the genetics of bees in your apiary. We select from the best queen available (locally derived queens or special queens from elsewhere). These queens are used to produce queen cells that are provided to members in good standing for a nominal fee ($5). You will use a queen cell to make a nucleus colony (nuc) from which she will mate with local drones from your area providing you with a laying queen. Scott Famous, Jeff Eckel and Vincent Aloyo are the club's queen cell producers. Susan Alfano is our queen cell distribution coordinator. When queen cells are available, Susan sends out an email to all paid members. If you are interested in a queen cell, respond to Susan’s email as soon as possible since the number of queen cell numbers are limited and must be picked up at the indicated date and time.
How to Make a Nuc with a Queen Cell
Prepare nuc: One or two days before you are scheduled to pick up your queen cell, prepare your nuc by removing several frames with adhering bees from your existing colony. Do NOT move your current queen into your nuc. Move a frame of sealed brood (with adhering bees), a frame of open brood (with adhering bees), a frame with pollen and nectar (with adhering bees), plus 2 other frames (again with adhering bees). Place these frames into your 5 frame nuc box. (If you don’t have a 5 frame nuc box, a regular hive can be used.) Carefully inspect each frame to ensure that you do NOT transfer your existing queen to the nuc box (or new hive). Close the nuc box and reduce the entrance to the width of one bee. Place your nuc box on a hive stand. It is always best to feed the new nuc with 1/1 sugar/water syrup (e.g., with a mason jar with holes punched in the lid). Feeding pollen substitute is optional, but usually a good idea.
If we are in a nectar dearth, install an (anti)robbing screen on the entrance to protect your new colony from being robbed (make your own or purchase a robbing screen).
For visuals, see the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP8M4NCAUv4
Pick up queen cell: the queen cell will be one to two days from emergence of the queen and needs to be handled gently and kept near body temperature. The pick up date is precise; queens don’t wait for our calendars! Come with a small insulated lunch box containing a container of warm water (93 F) or a deep cup with a plastic bag containing some warm water in a sandwich size ziplock bag at the bottom. Prepare a cushy “nest” for the queen cell: cotton balls, tissues or such soft materials work well. You will receive an orange “cell protector” to help protect the queen during transport as well as during placement in your new nuc. Keep your queen cell vertical and try not to shake it.
Install the queen: For visuals, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRQXEosNUUE and
Place the queen cell between the two frames of brood. She will emerge in 1-2 days, but leave the nuc alone for about a week. At that time, gently remove the queen cell and check for emergence. A queen has emerged if the queen cell is open at the bottom. If it is open at the side or is not open at all, the queen is dead and you will have to start again. Do not look for the queen at this time. You don’t want to disturb your virgin queen! The video above shows a queen cell no longer containing its occupant. Three weeks after emergence, you can check for eggs or very young larvae. Some queens are slow to get started, so allow her four weeks.
What to do with the nuc:
If you have a southern queen, you should consider replacing your queen. Research by Erin Forbes-Macgregor (current chair of the Eastern Apiculture Society) demonstrated that replacing southern queens with a northern raised queen greatly increases winter survival. However, a new nuc with the locally raised queen can be used as a back up. Keeping nucs for this purpose is always a good practice. Furthermore, it is possible to overwinter a nuc. We have had very good success overwintering nucs. Such nucs can be used to replace dead colonies, for expansion or for sale.
If your current queen is failing (laying only drone brood) or a very spotty brood pattern or the colony is failing to grow, you can use your new queen to replace your failing queen. Find and remove the current queen from your old nuc/hive. Then newspaper the nuc with your locally raised queen on to your current hive. Spread a single sheet of newspaper over the top bars of your current hive, make a few small slits in the paper to help the bees get started chewing it out, and place the new nuc on top of the newspaper. In about a week, the two nucs should have become one. You can check for eggs to assure that your new queen is alive and well!
Conclusion: You should have a hive with a locally raised queen. Continue to feed your nuc sugar syrup to spur development, especially if you have only foundation to give your bees. Making one pound of wax is thought to require eight pounds of honey! Monitor your hives at least weekly and provide space to prevent swarming. Additionally monitor for Varroa mites monthly; treat if necessary.
Vince Aloyo June 8, 2017 (with input from Scott Famous)