Ok, this is a long story but I felt compelled to share so that others don't make my same mistakes. Now, I've read enough, and I think learned enough to know all that went wrong, but as is typical, did a lot of it anyway, either because I was hurried, or stubborn, or both.
So first things first: I started off grafting queens. The first round of grafts didn't take at all, not one. Upon review I found that my screen box below the starter colony had a few leaks, and since it was right next door to the mother colony, they just abandoned the grafts. The starter box wasn't completely empty and the bees had started pulling a few emergency cells on the brood comb I had placed in there with them. So I fixed the box, and grafted again two days later. But not before I rolled my German grafting tool up in the newspaper from the first attempt and threw it away! I hammered out a copper wire to make my own grafting tool which actually worked pretty well, and this time I got about 30% take on the queen cells. I noted that there were clusters of cells that took, and then long gaps in the frame. I also noted a lot of dead bees in the bottom of the screen box. I suspect the box got too hot which killed some bees, which led to a lack of coverage so large areas of cells didn't get built.
Now with the grafts growing, I looked to set up my queenless splits for mating nucs. I didn't have time to build enough nuc boxes, so I defaulted to a bunch of corrugated plastic nuc boxes (Jester Bee). These things aren't exactly designed for repetitive use and several of them had holes or seams that were tearing out.
On setting up the mating nucs, I placed a frame of capped brood, a frame of honey, a frame of honey/pollen/brood, and an empty frame with foundation to keep them occupied. Lastly I put in a frame feeder and of course a caged queen cell. Then I shook in several more frames of bees to get good coverage. Now, with the mating nucs sealed up (but with good ventilation) I moved them 100' across the yard and into the shady area so they wouldn't get overheated while sealed up for 24 hours. This was two days before the queens were slated to hatch (Friday, and due on Sunday).
The next day I went around and opened all the entrances. Right away I could tell which nucs were the strongest by how the bees either came out or didn't. I waited another 24 hours (so now Sunday) and then went back and check in on the nucs to see who had hatched and who hadn't. I had two queen already out, and all the cells that hadn't hatched yet, I went ahead and removed them from the cage so they could hatch out freely. At this point I already had a few that were low on population and starting to get slimed by SHB. I removed all slimy frames on these hives and left them with only a bare foundation frame and a frame feeder full of sugar water. These feeders BTW are not my favorite! They were almost all full of dead bees, despite the textured sides that are supposed to let bees crawl out.
Two days later now (Tuesday) I made the rounds again. Every queen cell had hatched which is great! But 6/8 of the mating nucs I set up were slimed out, and I didn't spot the virgin queen in any of them. I also discovered another small hive that was a swarm I caught a month or so ago, that was doing great a week ago, and now it was absconded and also slimed! What's odd, is that the two mating nucs that appeared the strongest to begin, stayed the strongest, even though one of them had all sorts of holes in the box and could have easily went back to it's donor colony but didn't. They were also sitting side by side, and facing north, if anyone is superstitious. The ones that got slimed were facing east, south, and west respectively.
So, heartbroke and a little T'd off, especially after finding the collateral damage (the swarm slimed out) I went to check and see what queens I had left. I had 5 queen cells in cages that had been left in the finisher colony. All had hatched. 4/5 were dead in the cage. The last time I grafted, which was back in June, I had about a dozen cage queen cells that I left in the starter colony to hatch out. They all survived in the cages for nearly two weeks before I took them out and offed them just because I couldn't find enough bees to make splits for them. At the time I was grafting just to learn the art, shame I wasted all those queens.
Now I'm scrambling, wondering if I have enough time and drones to graft once more, and wondering if I even have enough bees in any of my hives to make more splits. I don't know just yet how many of the bees went back to their donor colonies and how many of them are drowned in the feeders. All in all it was a disaster, and a truly humbling experience. I hope some others can learn from this story, and hope I never, never, NEVER, have to deal with this again! I won't sleep well tonight, this sort of stuff gives me bad dreams!