Beekeepers typically produce their queen bees in small hives called queen mating nucleus hives. Nucleus hives are any hives that are smaller than full size bee hives. Honey bees produce queens anytime from spring through fall; however, they produce them in greater numbers in the spring. For the bees, this spring-time queen production matches their tendency to divide the colony and swarm. Beekeepers take advantage of the spring-time tendency to produce queens in order to expand their beekeeping operation or replace colonies lost over the winter. A queen cell is placed in a queen mating nucleus hive by the beekeeper two days before the queen emerges as an adult. Today’s photo shows a queen cell in a plastic protective holder, positioned vertically, pushed into the surface of the comb. The queen cell may have been developed from beekeeper-grafted larvae reared in a cell builder hive or produced by bees in an existing hive as a swarm cell or supersedure cell. Productive queens come from good genetic lines and receive complete nutrition and effective mating to high-quality drones.
The queen mating nucleus hive is a queenless colony set-up to care for a developing queen bee. The nucleus hive contains frames of nurse bees and brood. Capped brood contains pupae that will soon emerge as adults. These young adult workers produce food for the developing queen. Open brood emits strong pheromones to hold nurse bees in the mating nucleus hive. Frames of honey and pollen ensure the new queen receives nutritious food for proper development. After the virgin queen emerges from her cell as an adult, she roams the combs of the mating nucleus hive for five or six days. Then she makes a series of mating flights, mating in flight with 12 to 20 drones. Afterward, she flies back to the same nucleus hive. In five or six days, she begins to lay eggs. The beekeeper can then begin evaluating the quality of the queen in the mating nucleus hives.