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Queen Cells in my Nuc!

Updated: Apr 30

Getting a nuc is exciting, whether you're a brand new beekeeper just starting out or a veteran expanding your apiary or replacing winter losses. But nothing dampens that excitement like opening up your new nuc to find queen cells! In this article, we'll look at two of the most common problems with nucs, why they happen, and what to do about them.

Problem #1: Emergency Cells

Probably the most common problem we see with nucs is that the queen that was introduced was not accepted and never started laying. In this case, you would find emergency queen cells on the frames and little to no open brood (eggs or white larvae filling the cells). You will also not find a queen. Emergency cells are often randomly spread across the frames with no rhyme or reason. They are sometimes surrounded by nectar (looks clear like water) where the bees are backfilling the brood nest because there is no queen to use the space for eggs.

As a nuc producer, we do check for eggs as we back up nucs (it's quicker for us than spotting a queen), but it is possible to make mistakes, especially when packing up hundreds in a day.

If you do your first inspection 5-7 days after receiving your nuc and you find this situation, you should contact your nuc producer. You have not been sold a viable nuc.

Be confident and assertive as you share what you are seeing. Nuc producers get a lot of calls from new beekeepers who just can't find their queen.

Here are the points you want to share (obviously, provided the statements are all true...):

  1. My nuc has no queen

  2. I see no eggs or open brood

  3. I see emergency queen cells surrounded by nectar

  4. The queen cells are capped. I know that queen cells are capped on day 8 and I have had this nuc for __ days (does this mean that the cells were started before you got the nuc?).

  5. There is still some capped brood, but worker brood emerges on day 21 so it is likely from the previous queen before the split was made.

  6. The bees are backfilling the nest area with nectar.

There are a couple of acceptable remedies to this situation, and you can work with your seller to agree on which one is best for you.

  1. Replace the nuc. We often ask the beekeeper to just pack up the five frames and we will replace the whole thing with a new nuc. We prefer this because we know we can bring the queenless nuc back to good status.

  2. Give you a queen. In this case, you will need to remove all of the queen cells and introduce the queen.

  3. Often sellers will suggest that you let the queens emerge and mate. Personally, I would push for one of the options above. If you do choose to let the queens emerge, make sure to ask the seller what they will do if the queen does not successfully mate. You might also ask for an additional frame of brood to maintain a good population until the new queen can start laying (if the cells are capped, it will take about 3 weeks, which is setting you back a fair ways...)

Problem 2: Swarm Cells

Swarm cells are not a terrible problem to have in a nuc (in fact, it probably means you've been sold a very strong nuc!), but they will requite a little more careful management in the first couple weeks.

Conventional teaching says that swarm cells are along the bottom of frames. Really, swarm cells are anywhere around the periphery of the brood nest. In the case of swarm cells, you should be able to find a queen, open brood (white larvae), eggs, and lots of capped brood.

We tend to see this when the seller did not leave any empty space for the queen to lay in and/or left the nuc in a small nuc box for too long before getting the bees to you.

In this case, you will want to read up on swarm prevention and start removing queen cells and making space for the queen to lay. You can read all about swarm prevention here. The good news is that a new should be easy to persuade to stay as long as you take preventive measures promptly.

Looking for more?

Looking for more beekeeping education? You can find my virtual, on-demand course Intermediate Beekeeping for Year 2 and Beyond at

Or if you'd prefer a more tailored experience, you can join my mentorship group at

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Erin Hanson
Erin Hanson

Great info! We just did our 1st inspection this week, 7 days after getting our nuc, and were baffled by the queen cells. We found the queen and she's laying. We removed the cells and gave her empty frames. Good to know it was the right decision.

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