Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I prefer. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are simple to paint and are made from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is actually a gaping maw, but that is easily fixed with a bit of wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace can also be a challenge because of the compromises designed to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating being forced to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered in these boxes did adequately and were generally at the very least pretty much as good, and sometimes better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased a few of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually much easier to prise up one end in the crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder from the brood box. Checking the other fondant/syrup levels takes seconds through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony whatsoever.
On account of work commitments I haven’t had time this season to manage high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so are already exclusively with such Everynucs. Together with the vagaries in the weather during my part of the world it’s good to not have to help keep checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to do business with full-sized brood frames that allow the laying pattern in the queen to be determined easily. I raise a number of batches of queens inside a season which means I’m going out and in of a dozen approximately of the boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to conserve resources, allowing them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of several nice features of these boxes is internal width which is almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames as well as a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb within the gaps in one or both sides of your outside frames. One advantage of this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example as soon as the bees increase the corners with stores rather than drawing out reasons for the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, search for emergence – or release – in a day or two and after that gently push the frames back together again again.
Even better, by removing the dummy board there’s enough space to be effective from a single side of your box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to help make space. The frames should be removed gently and slowly to protect yourself from rolling bees (but you do this anyway naturally). However, since I’m generally seeking the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. From the image below you will notice the room available, even though four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Sufficient space …
To help make frame manipulation easier it’s worth adding a frame runner within the feed compartment (it’s the white strip just visible inside the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees have a tendency to stick the frames for the coarse wooden lip of the feeder with propolis, thereby so that it is more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of such Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is simple to unite two nucs into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) therefore the resulting colony must be moved to a typical 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Because the season draws to a end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, take away the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – a week approximately later – have a great 10-frame colony to put together for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The sole exception were those who work in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks even more ahead with their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to look carefully on the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen is there. If she’s not then you can gently put it to 1 side and initiate the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something like “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on one brood by using a QE and something super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I was thinking it would be wise to put in a frame of eggs towards the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d utilize them to improve queen cells.
I had been running out of time and anyway wanted eggs from a colony within a different apiary. If the colony were likely to raise a whole new queen I wanted it ahead from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recently available batch of mated queens once they had laid up a great frame or two to indicate their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to deal with the colony later inside the week.
Once they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked from the perspex crownboard this afternoon while visiting the apiary and saw an original looking bee walking about about the underside of your crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, despite having an incredibly brief view, that this was actually a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly concerning the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.
I strongly suspected she was a virgin that had either wiggled with the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – then got trapped. Alternatively, and maybe more inclined, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near to the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is a bit cramped during inspections.
I know from my notes the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her on the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her from the brood box. She wandered quietly down involving the brood frames and the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
If you was able to find the queen within the image a fortnight ago you probably did superior to I did … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no manifestation of her in the bees clustered throughout the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned on the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) in the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells and also the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost within the grass, got injured or was otherwise incapacitated during swarming? Perhaps she did return and was then done away with? A pity, as they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this current year. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split employing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly contemplating swarming, with a couple of 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present in the inspection. I knocked these back and introduced a frame of eggs from better stock. On checking the nominally queenless half around the seventh day they behaved as if these folks were queenright (no new QC’s in the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I must have missed a sealed cell (presumably a little one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After a certain amount of searching – it had been a crowded box – I discovered a compact knot of bees harrying a very small queen, definitely the littlest I’ve seen this year instead of really any larger than a worker. I separated a lot of the workers and were able to take a few photos.
The abdomen will not be well shown inside the picture but reaches just beyond the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and just fractionally over the workers within the same colony. When in the middle of a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The image above was taken nearby the end of May, shortly before I removed the 1st batch of cells from the cell raising colony set up with a Cloake board. These nicot queen rearing system were from grafts raised through the colony that subsequently swarmed in the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged in a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather from the second week of June, matured for a few days and – just about some time they would be anticipated to mate – got kept in the colonies by 10 days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, throughout the last day or two the elements has acquired, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights along with the workers have started piling in pollen. Every one of these are perfect signs and propose that a minimum of a few of the queens happen to be mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed the other day. One colony that had looked good starting the winter months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees to consider off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz as they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant numbers of drones to be about as to what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores as well as the frames in the middle of what needs to be the brood nest ended up being cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to lay in. However, really the only brood had been a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this coming year along with develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is at a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ instead of laying workers which scatter brood throughout the frames. There was no young larvae, several late stage larvae, some sealed brood plus some dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen could have either recently given up or been disposed of. There is a rather pathetic queen cell, no doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I feel this colony superseded late last season and so the queen could have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a simple but thorough sort through the package neglected to locate her. I found myself short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook every one of the bees from the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being that the bees would reorientate to the other hives within the apiary.
I tidied things up, made certain the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location the location where the colony was sited … there is an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated on the stand. It was getting cooler and it also was clear that this bees were not going to “reorientate to the other hives within the apiary” as I’d hoped. Very likely they were likely to perish overnight as the temperature was predicted to lower to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies in the Spring as they’re unlikely to complete sufficiently to have a good crop of honey. However, Furthermore, i attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish because of insufficient time or preparation on my own part. I therefore put only a few frames – including among stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it around the stand instead of the previous hive. Within minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same being a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed to collect some newspaper. When I returned these people were all from the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain the location where the DLQ was, or perhaps if she was still present, I placed a number of sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box over a strong colony, locked in place having a queen excluder. I made several small tears with the newspaper with the hive tool after which placed the DLQ colony on top.
These day there was a lot of activity at the hive entrance as well as a peek through the perspex crownboard demonstrated that the bees had chewed through a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in some days (it’s getting cold again) and may then take away the top box and shake the remaining bees out – if there’s a queen present (which happens to be pretty unlikely now) she won’t realize how to come back to the brand new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, prepare yourself during early-season inspections for failed queens and have the necessary equipment to hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no need to rush. These bees had been headed by way of a DLQ for a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining volume of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another couple of days wouldn’t make any difference. Rather than shaking them out as the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to get the best of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later from the week and discovered another number of hives with DLQ’s ?? Both in cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. If the former they’d have again been supercedure queens while they must have been marked white and clipped from your batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season using a circle split. However, this time around I used to be prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down with a queen excluder. The rest of the colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised last year – will be the most I’ve had in one winter and confirm just what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – in addition to the presence of variable quantities of drones or drone brood – were also notable for your a lot of stores still within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and powerful northerly winds keeping the temperatures – as well as the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies will still be accumulating well, using remaining stores after they can’t escape to forage. Because of this there’s a genuine likelihood of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens will likely be raising a minimum of brood, therefore the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of any colony into two – one queenright, another queenless – on the same floor and beneath the same roof, using the goal of allowing the queenless colony to improve a brand new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies from your original one. This strategy bring a method of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies in one, or – being covered in another post – the place to start to create a number of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off method of nuc beehive … with no need to graft, to prepare cell raising colonies or even to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding help guide to simple methods for making increase (PDF) which include a variety of variants from the straightforward vertical split described here. There are additional instructions seen on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … wherein the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is especially good, but includes complications like brood along with a half colonies and a myriad of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description into a situation when you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on the top – and need to divide it into two.