I decided if I was going to try to raise queens, I needed to have mating nucs. I have a few 5-frame deep nucs, and even a pretty crappy queen castle I made last year. I did some reading in the bee blogs about mini mating nucs, and they have positive and negative points about them. I thought about making some, but I saw in Mann Lake's catalog that they were less than $17 if you buy 4 or more. So I bought 5.
The mating nucs are made of dense Styrofoam (polystyrene). Here's the unit closed up:
And here is what it looks like opened up:
Let me describe what it consists of, from front (nearest the bottom of the picture) to back.
- Sliding entrance closure (white Styrofoam) - you can close off the nuc
- Ventilation grate (yellow)
- Three mini frames (more on that later)
- Division with a small queen excluder (yellow)
- Chamber for feed / syrup
Here's a picture of the mini frames:
Those frames are about 5 or 6 inches across (I should have included a ruler for scale in the pictures).
The theory on these is that you only need about a cupfull of bees to populate the nuc. The bees draw out wax on the mini-frames and the queen can lay eggs there (I also bought some plain foundation to put some starter strips in the mini frames).
The pros of these mini-nucs is that it doesn't take many bees to populate it. You can make a lot more of these with the same resources.
Some of the cons are that the frames are special, only for these nucs. What do you do if/when the queen fills up the frame with brood? Plus, what do you do when you are done with queen rearing - the frames don't fit in a full-size hive?
I'll probably see if I can make some frame which hold multiple mating frames. That way when I am done I'll put the mini-frames in a full-size hive and let the bees hatch out.
I gave the hives a quick peek at the feeding jars on Tuesday. The brown hive had emptied theirs (that hive is by far the strongest); the green hive had about 1/4 left in each jar; but the pink hive had over half of a jar left. I still don't know what that hive is doing - I see a few bees flying in and out with pollen, and it doesn't look like robbing. But I'll know better this weekend. Hope the weather holds out!