In good mating weather 3 weeks (from queen cell in) allows the virgin to mate and lay for ~1 week so you can evaluate the pattern. Leaving them 4 weeks can be better if the weather has been windy/wet delaying mating flights.
As I understand it they put in a queen cell and they pull her 13 days later. Leave them queenless overnight, and put in another QC on 14th day to start over. Even if you see eggs there is no way to tell if she is drone layer or how her brood pattern will be.
I have some that will be 14 days next wednesday and can't wait to look.
18 days should be fine if your weather has been settled. Convention amongst all the commercial queen operations I'm aware of in these parts (self included) is to run on 3 week cycles. 2 weeks would be especially tight on time if you consider the virgin doesn't emerge immediately, so by the time a nuc is queenless overnight and then cell hatches <13 days for virgin to emerge, orient, mate and lay enough to be evaluated. I would be surprised if 2 week cycle is yielding a decent percentage unless they are caging on queen size and behavior as opposed to egg/brood pattern. There certainly are queens that are laying at the end of week 2, but in my observation this would be well <50 % in ideal weather as opposed to ~85+% after 3 weeks.
Just sharing my experience, would be interested in hearing from someone working on a 2week cycle.
We are keeping ours in for 42 days this year. This way the queens will be completely mature, double vetted, and the extra brood they make will be very useful. Looks like we will get a splash of mating weather next week.
I am using 5 frame nucs for mating and have had several swarm this last week. I make them up with 2 to 3 frames brood and 2 foundation. Good flow on so they are filling up pretty fast. 10 days after putting in cell they are swarming. Will leave behind queen cells.
When I pick brood to make up nucs I pick capped brood but you often have small patches of eggs mixed in. I have been told not to go in nuc while virgin is mating. At least 10 to 14 days after putting in cell.
They are swarming with your virgin and making supercedure cells before they leave?
Don't make your nucs so strong. 1 frame brood(mostly capped with some open) and 2-3 shakes of bees from full frames of open brood. If a good flow is on give them 1 frame with open nectar/honey and 3 empty frames
You can keep mated queens in nucs indefinitely, I often do. I use 5-frame medium depth nucs and in the Summer I stack them two high, a total of ten frames. Once they fill up all ten frames, I simply harvest a few frames from several nucs to make up another nuc, replacing the combs with new PF120 frames or foundationless frames. That keeps them busy for another little while, before I have to do it all over again. Sometimes I use the combs of brood, pollen, or honey to help boost production hives early in the season - this can work miracles.
I also run a few, what I call mating condo's, I've heard them called queen castles, though mine are only medium depth. They are a normal 10-frame super with partitions (its amazing how thin you can cut strips of 2x4 with a band saw, then stack them and glue them in as partitions) and drill individual entrance holes for four 2-frame compartments or three 3-frame compartments. I use them as advertised, to mate queens, but they can also be a starter core for a normal sized nuc colony. I make them up with a comb of emerging brood and a comb that is empty on one side and full of sugar syrup on the other side (two of these, if 3-frame). The frame of emerging brood quickly occupies the compartment, the queen emerges, mates, then fills every empty cell with an egg, sometimes more. I use the nucs and queens I produce to keep my production hives going strong and sell any extras.
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