Of your polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I favor. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are really easy to paint and are made from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is a gaping maw, but that is certainly easily fixed with many wire mesh pinned in place. The beespace can also be an issue due to the compromises designed to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a little irritating the need to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered within these boxes did perfectly and were generally at least nearly as good, and often better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased some of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually simpler to prise up one end of the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder within the brood box. Checking the remaining fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.
As a result of work commitments I haven’t had time this current year to cope with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so are already exclusively using these Everynucs. Together with the vagaries from the weather within my area 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 which allow the laying pattern of your queen being determined easily. I raise a couple of batches of queens within a season and that means I’m going inside and out of a dozen or so of such boxes regularly, which makes them up, priming them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, in order to save resources, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of many nice features of these boxes could be the internal width which can be almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames plus a dummy board to prevent strong colonies building brace comb from the gaps in one or either side from the outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example when the bees develop the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, search for emergence – or release – in a day or two and then gently push the frames together again again.
Even better, by taking out the dummy board there’s enough space to function from a side in the box on the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to produce space. The frames do need to be removed gently and slowly to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway naturally). However, since I’m generally trying to find the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ can be a definite advantage. Within the image below you can see the place available, even when four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Just enough space …
To help make frame manipulation easier it’s worth adding a frame runner on the inside of the feed compartment (it’s the white strip just visible within the photo above) as described previously. Without it the bees have a tendency to stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip of your feeder with propolis, thereby rendering it harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of those Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is possible to unite two nucs into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper compared to a National frame) so the resulting colony must be relocated to a regular 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As being the season draws for an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, get rid of the queen from a to requeen another hive, unite the colonies then – every week or more later – have a good 10-frame colony to put together for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The sole exception were those in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks a little bit more ahead within their development by late March/early April this coming year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to appear carefully on the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen is there. If she’s not you can then gently position it to a single side and begin the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something similar to “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on one brood with a QE and another super, topped using a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it might be a good idea to include 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 make use of them to increase queen cells.
I had been running out of time as well as anyway wanted eggs from a colony in a different apiary. In the event the colony were gonna raise a whole new queen I wanted it in the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with certainly one of a recently available batch of mated queens when they had laid up a great frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to handle the colony later in the week.
Once they behave queenright, perhaps these are …
I peeked from the perspex crownboard this afternoon while seeing the apiary and saw an original looking bee walking about on the underside of your crownboard. Despite being upside down it had been clear, despite having an extremely brief view, which it was actually a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly in regards to the super and wasn’t being hassled from the workers.
I strongly suspected she was a virgin who had either wiggled from the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – then got trapped. Alternatively, as well as perhaps more likely, 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 realize from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should always 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 within the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames and the bees didn’t seem in any way perturbed.
Should you was able to find the queen from the image a fortnight ago you did much better than I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there was no symbol of her within the bees clustered around the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned for the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) with the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells along with 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, while they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this current year. However, I’d also grafted using this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly contemplating swarming, with a few 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present during 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 though they were queenright (no new QC’s around the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I have to have missed a sealed cell (presumably a very small one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After a bit of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I found a compact knot of bees harrying a small queen, undoubtedly the smallest I’ve seen this year rather than really any greater 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 from the picture but extends to just past the protruding antenna of your worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and simply fractionally longer than the workers inside the same colony. When surrounded by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken near the end of May, shortly before I removed the first batch of cells from the cell raising colony create by using a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised from your colony that subsequently swarmed from the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged in the circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather in the second week of June, matured for several days and – practically time they could be expected to mate – got kept in the colonies by ten days of lousy weather.
And they’re off
However, during the last week the elements has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights as well as the workers have started piling in pollen. Most of these are perfect signs and advise that at least a number of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see with the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed last week. One colony that had looked good going into the wintertime had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees after i lifted the crown board … but several of the first bees for taking off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you may hear their distinctive buzz since they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant quantities of drones to get about in what is turning out as a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores as well as the frames in the midst of what needs to be the brood nest had been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to lay in. However, the only real brood was a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this season and had turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ instead of laying workers which scatter brood throughout the frames. There were no young larvae, a couple of 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 abandoned or been disposed of. There was clearly a rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I feel this colony superseded late last season hence the queen could have been unmarked. Additionally, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough sort through the package failed to locate her. I found myself lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all of the bees off of the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being that this bees would reorientate towards the other hives within the apiary.
I tidied things up, ensured the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location where colony had been sited … there was a pretty good sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler plus it was clear that this bees were not going to “reorientate towards the other hives from the apiary” as I’d hoped. Very likely these folks were planning to perish overnight since the temperature was predicted to drop to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies early in the year as they’re unlikely to complete sufficiently to have a good crop of honey. However, I also attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of insufficient time or preparation on my small part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one among stores – into a poly nuc and placed it about the stand instead of the existing hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way as being a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left those to it and rushed returning to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned they were all inside the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain the location where the DLQ was, or even if she was still present, I placed a few sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box over a strong colony, located in place having a queen excluder. I made several small tears with the newspaper using the hive tool then placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The next day there was a great deal of activity in the hive entrance and a peek throughout the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed via a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and will then get rid of the top box and shake the rest of the bees out – if there’s a queen present (which happens to be pretty unlikely now) she won’t know how to come back to the 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 requirement to rush. These bees have been headed by way of a DLQ to get a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining amount of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. Rather than shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d are already better returning another afternoon together with the necessary kit to make the best of your bad situation.
I checked another apiary later inside the week and discovered another handful of hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In the event the former they’d have again been supercedure queens because they must have been marked white and clipped from your batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season employing a circle split. However, this period I used to be prepared and united the boxes in a similar manner over newspaper held down with a queen excluder. All the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised a year ago – will be the most I’ve ever had in just one winter and ensure 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 huge amounts of stores still contained in the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and powerful northerly winds keeping temperatures – as well as the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies continue to be developing well, using remaining stores once they can’t escape to forage. Because of this there’s a real probability of colonies starving. In comparison, colonies with failed queens will likely be raising virtually no brood, and so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of the colony into two – one queenright, one other queenless – on the same floor and within the same roof, with all the aim of allowing the queenless colony to boost a whole new queen. If successful, you wind up with two colonies from your original one. This method can be used as a method of swarm prevention, in order to requeen a colony, in an effort to generate two colonies from a, or – to become covered in another post – the beginning point to create numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc beehive … without the need to graft, to put together cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an excellent guide to simple means of making increase (PDF) including numerous variants from the straightforward vertical split described here. There are additional instructions available on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … when the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is particularly good, but includes complications like brood and a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to some situation once you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on top – and need to divide it into two.