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Discussion Starter #1
I only raise, at most, a dozen queen cells at a time.

I use a medium depth Nucleus colony made of 1-1/2" thick styrofoam building insulation pieces cut for the bottom, sides, and top. I glue the sides together with hot-melt-glue and fashion a piece of wood which I cut and glue into the tops of the end pieces as a durable frame-rest. The remainder of the inside I cover with aluminum tape, so the bees don't nibble the foam and destroy the Nuc. I place the Nuc on the bottom piece of styrofoam insulation (its bottom board), I use only four frames in the box; two outside frames of honey/pollen and the inner two frames of sealed/emerging brood (which I replace periodically). This leaves room for one to three cell bars (my cell bars are just grooved top bars - or the equivalent), so they hold one row of queen cells each, no multiple layers. After each manipulation I squirt 1.5:1 sugar syrup into most of the empty cells in the outer frames to simulate incoming nectar. I keep fresh pollen substitute patties over the cell bars and use a dish towel to cover the top of the frames, cell-bar(s), and patties, leaving a 1/4" gap on one end to serve as the entrance, then I cover the entire top with another piece of 1-1/2" styrofoam extending over the entrance slot. I place two small stones on either end of the cover to keep a breeze from blowing it off. This Nuc is always jammed full of nurse bees.

I have been continuously raising small batches of queens with this Nuc box beginning April 2009. It has been working very well. But I discovered it is best to keep some open brood in this cell-starter/builder colony, nearly all the time. If there is no other open brood, besides the queen cells, Varroa will attempt to use the queen cells to breed in. My worst scenario was an entire batch of otherwise gorgeous queens, emerging with stunted wings, (probably from mite vectored DWV infections). I don't know if DWV can be transmitted in royal jelly from nurse bees. But this hasn't happened while there was open worker brood in the colony.

Most of my full-size colonies and many of my other Nucs have maintained a few dozen drones each, possibly more. My best source of drones (besides any other wild/domestic colonies in my area), seems to be my twenty-two frame deep horizontal hive. It went into Autumn with about fourteen of the deep frames solid with sealed honey, and two medium supers, also full of honey. Their new queen was continuing to lay a modest brood nest, most of their combs are foundationless (with some areas of drone comb scattered about), and she was also laying drones. Then abruptly she stopped. I became concerned that my most obvious and reliable source of drones might run dry, so checking on them I discovered that they had managed to empty their two medium supers of honey and were starting on the honey in their deep frames, so I gave them some pollen substitute patties and a few quarts of 1.5:1 sugar syrup. Now four weeks later they have brooded up nicely, with six deep frames with the brood nest filling their center areas, including lots and lots of drones.

It is curious, how their queen is Cordovan (entirely a nice golden brown throughout), yet about 2/3 of the drones emerging in this colony are non-cordovan. I wonder if perhaps some of her non-cordovan workers might be laying workers, helping her to produce these non-cordovan drones. This is the first hive, headed by a pure-cordovan queen, where I've seen non-cordovan drones produced by a queen who shouldn't be able to produce any drones other than cordovan ones.
 

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Joseph, I'm curious as to your use of a styrofoam box. Do you use it for insulation reasons, cost reasons (how much does it cost?), or weight reasons? Thanks for the post it's interesting. Adrian.
 

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Initially I was making my 5-frame nucs by cutting parts from 1-1/2" thick sheets of styrofoam insulation from my local Home Depot/Lowe's stores. I was using the thicker foam because once it was cut and glued together they were strong enough to hold up to the weight the full nucs would contain. It was difficult to keep the bees from chewing the styrofoam to bits, literally. I still like using one for the queen cell builder/finisher because of the insulation, I believe it helps them to stay cooler in our very hot summers and to stay warmer on the nights in winter when it gets down around freezing.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Re: Continuing to raise queens from 2009, through January 2010, and beyond

I realize now that I should have originally titled this, "Continuing to raise queens from 2009, through January 2010, and beyond".

It is now 27 January and I am still raising small batches of queens. I expect to continue doing this, continuously through the 2010 season and beyond.

I had a small setback; I lost my last batch of five cells. They were just sealed when I introduced a nice laying queen to the colony to fill the empty cells with eggs. She did her job and the five cells were reaching maturity (I don't keep precise records of cell ages). Then we had two days of rain where I didn't check on them, then the day after the rain I went out to harvest and place the cells, discovered that one virgin had emerged and destroyed the other cells. Then apparently the virgin did not survive her encounter with the resident reigning queen. I have now caged the reigning queen, and will wait for her brood to mature, then move her out making them queenless just before starting another batch of grafts.
 

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Okay, late yesterday morning, about 11:00AM, I grafted a group of eight queen cells using beeswax cell cups and then placed them into my cell-builder colony. The cell builder colony was just refreshed; I harvested two frames of emerging brood from my full-size colonies, four frames of nurse bees, caged the resident queen and moved her and her frames of eggs to other colonies; I then installed two combs of honey, one against each of the inside walls of the nuc; next I placed two combs of emerging brood with some larvae inside the combs of honey, I leave the fifth comb out to make plenty of room for the six frames of nurse bees and the cell bar.

After everything was settled in I carefully lifted the cell bar to observe that there were nurse bees clustered on the cell bar forming a curtain of bees extending nearly to the bottom of the nuc. I then laid a pollen substitute pattie on the top of the cell bar and covered that, first with a 6 mil thick sheet of black polyethylene plastic, then a 1/2" sheet of styrofoam cut to size for its cover. The lid is held in place by a stone.

Tomorrow morning I will carefully remove the cell bar again to see how many of the eight grafted larvae are being cared for and grown into queens. Any cells that have been abandoned by the bees (no royal jelly), I will remove from the bar. If acceptance is too low, I will graft a second bar and place it next to the first.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Mid 40'sF at night and high 60'sF in the daytime (sometimes up into 70'sF). Just about every hive and nuc has a few drones, but my long hive (22 deep frames) and a couple other full-size hives have many hundreds of drones, each, and they are continuing to raise more. I expect it's because I've been feeding pollen substitute and small quantities of sugar syrup.

Some Winters there are almost no drones at all, some seasons have a full load of them all through the Winter. This is the first time I've worked at raising small batches of queens almost continuously. So far, so good. Very few queens have been lost from emerging to mated/laying queen. No drone layers, yet. Maybe my queen rearing efforts and feeding are helping to keep more drones around. I'm sure my feeding has some effect on drone availability.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Okay, I went out yesterday to see how many grafts had been accepted. I realized I had attached nine beeswax cell cups instead of eight I had planned, but seven grafts had been accepted, so I only had to remove two cups that had been abandoned.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I just finished another batch of queen cells, five, and placed them into individual mating nucs. I was one mating nuc short, so I left one cell in the cell-builder nuc. After she is mated and laying I will probably rework it back into a cell-builder. Meanwhile, I can always put together another cell-builder nuc to start another batch.
 

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Interesting thread, keep the details coming...On the styrofoam nucs have you ever tried the aluminum sided styrofoam boards? I wondered if the aluminum coating would keep the bees from destroying the boxes.

Tim
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Tim,
I have not yet tried the aluminum surfaced foam insulation but I certainly have considered it.

I just set up a fresh batch of bees in the cell-builder nuc, yesterday. Today I grafted a batch of eight cells.
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
I've even yet continued raising small batches of queens. Since my last post in this thread I've produced about three more batches, from five to eight queens in each batch. So far through Autumn, Winter, and now almost nearly Spring I've only had one turn out to be a drone-layer, can't really figure out why that is. All the others have been nice laying machines. Just today I grafted one of my largest groups, yet - fifteen cell cups. I had a nineteen inch long piece of scrap, I cut a 1/8" wide slot about 3/8" deep down the center of the 3/4" wide piece of scrap, then cut bevels on each end so it would sit even with top bars. It is long enough for eighteen cell cups, but fifteen is probably the most I will ever crowd on one bar.

I've brought into my shop, two mating nuc condo's, ten frame supers with two partitions and separate holes for entrances, each of the three compartments thus created, fits three frames. I am cleaning them up and tightening up the joints and straightening the partitions so I can put them back into service. Looks like I will probably need to fix up a couple more so I can accommodate even larger groups of virgin queens that need mating at the same time. I had been using my regular nucs to also be mating nucs, but it is becoming more difficult to produce strong nucs while trying to mate queens in them. The nucs need queens that are steadily laying, not having their laying queen removed every few weeks to be replaced by queen cells.
 

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Even though the fruit trees are starting to bloom here, I still don't have drones flying. Should soon though.
 
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