Two ideas from “Mating in Miniature” by Berhard Mobus

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Icing Sugar

New Bee
Jul 25, 2011
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Dear folks,

I recently enjoyed reading Mating in Miniature by Bernhard Mobus. It is packed full of observations and ideas that I had not considered/encountered before. However, two things particularly intrigued me as I continue my quest for the simplest possible design for a mating nuc made out of pallet wood (I have now made 5 variants on an ever-simpler theme).

1. The use of muscovado sugar as a food source
On page 29 he writes: “Another food for mininucs is Barbados Sugar. This is in the form of large crystals and is slightly damp, is not attractive to robbers, and can be packed in a small plastic bag placed in the food chamber, with access holes adjoining the entrance holes from the brood chamber. The waste matter in the sugar does not matter as it is not being used for winter food. Any block of food will remain firm if wrapped in a plastic bag giving access by one small hole, as the sugar is then unable to absorb atmospheric moisture”.

2. Queen access to the food compartment
All shop-bought mating nucs that I have seen use a small piece of queen excluder to separate the brood chamber from the food chamber. This has always puzzled me because I understand that virgin queens must pretty much feed themselves. Therefore, I had somewhat lazily assumed that the queen excluders must do something important - perhaps they prevented virgin queens from getting covered in a sticky mess from the fondant which would somehow reduce their chances of a successful mating flight, I thought. Or maybe the virgin queens just starve until there is some drawn comb with syrup or unripe honey in it, although this does not seem like a very good idea to me if we are trying to get queens of the highest quality. However, on page 38 of Mating in Miniature there is a photograph of a queen bee in the food compartment of a mininuc, which suggests to me that Mobus saw no need for such segregation.

Combining these two ideas, I am tempted to simply pour muscovado sugar into a ramekin that I place inside a plastic food bag with a small hole in it. (In fact, I don’t even need the ramekin… or might it be the plastic bag that I don’t need?... or even both?... and does the sugar really need to be muscovado or will granulated do?... or might granulated be better?). I will then simply place this on the floor of a very small and simple box with an entrance hole, a small area of mesh for ventilation in an otherwise solid floor and four ridged top bars on which the workers can draw comb.

  • Does anyone use muscovado (or other) sugar straight out of the bag in their mating nucs? If it works, why don’t we all do this because it seems so much cheaper and easier than other options?
  • Does anyone allow their virgin queens unrestricted access to the food that is placed in their mating nucs?

Thanks for any thoughts or comments on this.
Never tried muscavado sugar.
I have given virgins free reign( because I'd lost the excluder) but found, , that there was an increased risk of squishing a queen when refilling the feeder. The primary reason not to allow queens access for me is the increased likelihood of the Colony deciding to fill the feeder first with comb.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Brown sugar examples: Muscovado (top), dark brown (left), light brown (right)

Muscovado, called Khaand in Hindi language, is a type of partially refined to unrefined brown sugar with a strong molasses content and flavour

Those beekeepers in Finland, who have fed their hives for winter with molass, they have lost all their hives next winter. ...Does not sound healthy

Our beekeepers make mini nuc feeding with a dough, which has made from icing sugar and honey. That has been made at least 50 years.
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Wintering is not being discussed here with regards to feed and Bernard was canny with money and also had in his remit from the college Aberdeenshire and Buchan both renowned for being at tad "grippit"

Mobus used a Mini which I believe is no longer made. I have his ones which he kindly gave me in the garden so will take some pics for you if you are interested Icing Sugar?

Personally I feel that the fact these tiny colonies are in poly is important and for the cost in time of making them from wood I have to wonder if it is doubly worth it?

Allowing the queens access to the feed area also allows for more expansion of the brood area although of course the price is making the queen finding that much more awkward. :)

Wintering is not being discussed here with regards to feed

I just did.... It is an example that molass is not proper food to bees.

And nowhere it is told to give to bees molass.

Sincerely yours
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Fondant works absolutely fine in mini-nucs so why would you want to use unrefined sugar?. I have 20 mini-nucs (15 Apidea and 5 swi-bines) and pack the fondant into cut comb containers, mist the surface with water and slip them into the feed cavity of these mating hives . I use them like cassettes and can remove when empty and replace them with full ones in seconds (not a new idea as Ron Brown was doing this decades ago). The containers also prevent the bees clogging up the cavity with wild comb although they do sometimes built it in within the containers. You don't want the queen in the feed cavity as she can be a devil to get out of it especially if wild comb in there.

ps bees chew plastic bags to bits and also glue them down with propolis so not a good idea.
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I suspect Bernard mentioned it as at the time it may have been cheaper.

However having watched him making up min nucs several times he used damp white granulated sugar in the feed compartments. As do I.

So hopefully that will settle the ruffled feathers.

Cannot upload pics and got error message:

Your submission could not be processed because a security token was missing.

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Each of my hives has either a ramekin or similar small jar of fondant or hard-set damp sugar placed over the crown board from January onwards, as a kind-of easily visible 'fuel gauge'.
A small sheet of plastic is stretched over the opening of each jar and held in place with a thick rubber band (ex wheelbarrow inner-tube). This plastic is slashed twice and a dab of honey applied to give the girls a clue. Over several years this plastic has never been chewed out. I can't imagine a nuc colony would behave any differently ...

I did once play with a mini-nuc - without a q/x over the feed trough - and the girls built comb down into the fondant. Makes sense - build your home right next to the food supply.

I've often considered feeding sugar slurry (sloppy fondant) to nucs, but have never been able to source plastic comb (the fully-drawn-out variety) at fair money. I suppose old black comb might work - it needs to be fairly hard, so that sloppy fondant could be knifed into the cells with a spatula of some kind.
I have mnucs which have rims above. In that place I just put part of fondant with nylon removed from above, or some plate for sugar feed, or even small plastic bag with sugar syrup. I had no issue of robbing due to that. Also when needed since my " frames" are half frames of standard lang, I take such half frames from standard hive ( where I placed for food or brood - depends) and fast and best refill with abundance of real honey and pollen.. Again depends of situation and my subjective judgement..
Maybe also not insignificant that we work with carnies ( less prone to robbing as considered).
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Mini Nucs are started with wax strips and do not normally have permanent combs to minimise disease and the consequent adverse affects on the queens.

Three pics of Bernard's nucs are now on my site: http://-----------------/2651-2/

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Mini Nucs are started with wax strips and do not normally have permanent combs to minimise disease and the consequent adverse affects on the queens.


In my ordinary practice which I learned and implemented ( I am not breeder, I breed queens for my needs). In spring I place 2hf in bb, 2hf in honey super, later when needed take and make mnuc with qcell and added one hf with wax foundation - 5hf mnuc ( more natural configuration than 3 frames standard size frame).
So far had no big issues with diseases as I think of. But this is relative, maybe I am " lucky".

I had in few times chalk brood ( solved with intensive queen replacement and formic acid), now no problem even with that. Nosema may be present but I am not aware of it. So far fortunatelly had no problem with AFB/EFB ( my mentor say that our bees are " great cleaners" and sometimes it passes unnoticed to us).
Thanks for all your replies. I think I will be trying out a few variations on a theme.

“Mating in Miniature” was a preliminary outline that suggested how micronucs could be used by the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeding Association (BIBBA) in an Apis Mellifera mellifera mating programme that centred around suitably isolated locations. However, just to be clear, I am not proposing to use the kind of nuc that Mobus described in this pamphlet. I am simply interested in some of the ideas and how I might incorporate them into my own practice. Here is a non-exhaustive summary of some of the more interesting things in the pamphlet, just in case you are interested but don’t have ready access to a copy:


The micronucs used a small starter strip within a 1lb comb honey split section that the introduced worker bees were required to draw up. The container for this split section allowed for a bee space all round. The front and back walls were made of perspex for easy viewing and the side walls were made of quite thin wood with an entrance and some ventilation holes. The candy container, which held 1lb candy, was a separate structure and clipped to the top, thus allowing for easy replacement when it was exhausted. A single standard design was proposed for the micronuc that everyone would adhere to. The idea was that BIBBA members would send a virgin queen and 200ml young workers (no drones) in a mininuc to an isolated BIBBA-run mating station. On arrival, the micronuc would be attached to a post and covered by an insulated cozy. Once successfully mated, the queen and her workers would be sent back to its owner in the same micronuc.

Mobus felt that this system would favour AMM queens because (i) bees from other geographic regions would struggle to draw comb in a micronuc in UK conditions (he described AMM as a low-temperature strain) and (ii) the mating site would be populated exclusively with AMM drones. Mobus also observed that AMM could probably mate earlier in the year; earlier and later in the day; and in windier conditions than other strains and that these properties could be exploited to improve the chance of monostrain breeding. If necessary, early drone production could be encouraged by stimulative feeding.

It was argued that the use of BIBBA-run isolated mating stations would prevent harmful inbreeding for individual BIBBA members; provide an opportunity for selective outbreeding for beekeepers throughout the country (thereby providing a heterosis effect); and ensure that the mated queens maintained the qualities of a carefully protected monostrain. The most desirable drone breeder colonies of BIBBA members could be used at these mating stations.


If one single-brood box colony with its brood is sacrificed and split into 3 standard nucs in the hope that these can be used for the successful mating of 3 new queens, the apiary as a whole might incur about a 30kg loss in honey yield at the end of the year through the loss of the original colony. Furthermore, perhaps 10 litres of syrup would be used to feed those three nucs. At best, the success rate for obtaining a new laying-queen would be about 80% per nuc. In contrast, as a mininuc only requires 200ml young worker bees, that same sacrificed colony could have been used to populate 20 micronucs with young workers whilst keeping the parent colony intact. (I plan to use small mating nucs but not quite micronuc-sized).

The smaller the worker population, the greater the difficulty it has in thermoregulating the nest. It risks overheating on hot days and chilling during cold nights. Mobus therefore believed that greater amounts of insulation should be used as the size of the mating nuc got smaller, to protect against both temperature extremes. He believed that maintaining adequate nest temperature was important for the migration of sperm into the spermatheca of newly-mated queens before they started to lay. (I will insulate my pallet wood mating nucs).

Such bees are primed for wax production and are on the brink of their foraging career. They should be comparatively healthy, accepting of the introduced queen and have a longer life ahead of them than an established forager. They are also highly unlikely to sting whilst the nucs are being set up. Mobus described several methods for separating non-flying workers from flying workers. These included:
  1. Use of the Taranoff board (it is easiest to look this up for yourself on YouTube).
  2. If only a few bees are needed then, during a period of honey influx, remove a few frames from the middle of the top super above a queen excluder. Young wax-secreting bees will congregate in this space in preparation for filling it with comb. A few hours after removing the frames, gently remove the crown board and knock the bees that are clinging to it into a suitable container.
  3. Move the parent hive to a new location in the apiary. Find the queen and temporarily place her in a cage. Place a new broodbox on the original site. After shaking them free of bees, move each frame one by one from the parent colony and put them into the new hive on the original site. Do this for the super frames as well as the brood box frames. The parent hive therefore becomes a box of shaken bees in a new location, without comb or brood. Put the caged queen into this box and feed the bees well. The next day, all the flying bees will have returned to the old site and the old box will contain the caged queen and well-fed non-flying bees. Replace the queen with the flying bees on the original site – this colony is unlikely to swarm during the remainder of the season and its population will soon bounce back again. The box of well-fed non-flying bees can be used to populate nucs.
  4. Move the parent hive to a new location in the apiary. Find the frame with the queen on it and place it in a new brood box on the original site. Fill the remainder of the new brood box with drawn combs and perhaps some dummy boards. After 24 hours, most of the flying bees will have returned to the new hive on the old site and most of the bees in the parent hive in its new location will be young non-flying workers. These should be shaken off the frames into a suitable box and fed well with light syrup. The frames of brood should be put in the hive on the original site with the queen and the flying workers. Use the young non-flying bees to fill the nucs.
(I have built a Taranoff board, largely so that I can see the phenomenon for myself).

Workers in a small nuc must work much harder than workers in a full-size colony. They are subject to more physical stress, age quicker and are more susceptible to disease. Therefore each population of workers in a mating nuc should only be used for one round of mating. (Duly noted).


A newly-boxed collection of workers with a virgin queen and no brood or comb is not really any different to a mini-cast swarm that one might see hanging from the branch of a tree. If the workers came from a parent colony that was already very intent on swarming, there is a risk that this mini-cast will simply abscond with the virgin queen when she makes her mating flight. This “mating swarm” is behaving just as a cast swarm should. (Yes, I had not thought of that for myself but now it has been pointed out it is so obvious).

I hope this summary of some of the key points is of interest to some other forum users.

All the best.
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I am not commenting on your ideas with which I wish you good luck but I would warn you that doing a Taranoff swarm is not for the faint hearted.

In reality Bernard got his baby bees by judicious shaking which in turn is how I have done it and will continue to do it.

There is one factor which doesn't feature in these schemes to 'go as small as possible' - and that is the presence of the 'forager-class' bee.

Under normal conditions, Virgin Queens don't embark upon their mating flights alone - but are accompanied part-way to the DCA by an entourage of more mature bees, with beekeepers often mistaking this for something else. Likewise it's not unknown for such bees to accompany the returning queen in the final stages of her return home.

This event may go some way to explain why mating is generally more successful from larger, established colonies than from smaller, newly formed ones. Likewise, why it is that the first round of Virgin Queens from small, newly-formed colonies are more prone to failure (at a time when there is an absence of forager-class bees) than later, subsequent matings from the same fixed-position mating boxes.
It's a theory but my experience flies in the face of that.

In fact if you think about it if that really was the case then min nucs would have been abandoned long since.

It's a theory but my experience flies in the face of that.

In fact if you think about it if that really was the case then min nucs would have been abandoned long since.

No thinking required - just compare mating success rates.
Indeed, this appears to be a theory which has been around for a while ...
That is why mini-nucs are used - you can mate many more queens than making up full sized nucs for the same amount of bees. I know several beekeepers who use mini-nucs, some several dozen and one a few hundred.

The mating success as a % seems to be less than with full sized bees and the only explanation for this I've seen is in Jurgen Tautz's book and is because full sized nucs have more bees to escort the virgin queen to where she mates and importantly, escort her back again afterwards. However, because you can make many more mini-nucs the lower % success rate is more than offset.

What I'm suggesting is that the explanation for the higher success percentage lies, not in the amount of bees, but rather the age of them - as clearly bees that form an entourage will need to be forager-class bees, not nurse bees - and yet it is nurse bees which result from shaking-out prior to the initial making-up of nucs.
Whose experience are you citing as I have the same success rates (roughly) from both but of course can achieve more matings from the minis.

As i say if the minis were such a disaster they would have been given up on years ago.

No thinking required - just compare mating success rates.
Indeed, this appears to be a theory which has been around for a while ...

What I'm suggesting is that the explanation for the higher success percentage lies, not in the amount of bees, but rather the age of them - as clearly bees that form an entourage will need to be forager-class bees, not nurse bees - and yet it is nurse bees which result from shaking-out prior to the initial making-up of nucs.

If I may to say about amount and bee structure, when making mnucs I take 2 half frames from brood with bees on it, also from super 2 hf with bees on it and I start with qcell, not with virgin queen. Such mnuc has structure simmilar as standard colony. I don't have any problems with absconding due to open brood present in mnucs. Maybe one of the reasons why I have no problem with robbing ( even these mnucs stand next to standard colonies).

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