In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is definitely the one I favor. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are easy 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 certainly easily fixed with many wire mesh pinned set up. The beespace is additionally a problem as a result of compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this is often fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating having to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered in these boxes did well 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 number of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually much easier to prise up one end of the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder inside the brood box. Checking the remaining fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony at all.
Because of work commitments I haven’t had time this year to cope with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so happen to be exclusively by using these Everynucs. With the vagaries from the weather during my portion of the world it’s good to not have to maintain checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to use full-sized brood frames that permit the laying pattern of the queen to become determined easily. I raise a number of batches of queens inside a season and also this means I’m going inside and out of the dozen roughly of those boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming these with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them to get a mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, in order to save resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.
Among the nice attributes of these boxes is internal width which is almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames along with a dummy board in order to avoid strong colonies building brace comb inside the gaps on one or both sides from the outside frames. One benefit from this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example as soon as the bees develop the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out reasons for the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, look for emergence – or release – in a day or two after which gently push the frames back together again again.
Better yet, by taking off the dummy board there’s enough space to function from one side of your box on the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to help make space. The frames do need to be removed gently and slowly to prevent rolling bees (but you do this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally looking for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ can be a definite advantage. Within the image below you can observe the room available, even though four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Just enough space …
To create frame manipulation easier it’s worth adding a frame runner within the feed compartment (it’s the white strip just visible in the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees often 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 those Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can actually unite two nucs in a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) hence the resulting colony needs to be transferred to a regular 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Because 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 after which – weekly roughly later – have a good 10-frame colony to get ready for overwintering … or, of course, overwinter them directly over these nucleus hives.
† The sole exception were those in the bee shed that were probably 2-3 weeks further ahead within their development by late March/early April this coming year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully with the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not you can then gently position it to a single side and initiate the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something such as “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on a single brood using a QE then one super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it could be best if you put in a frame of eggs on the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d make use of them to improve queen cells.
I was not having enough efforts and anyway wanted eggs coming from a colony in the different apiary. If the colony were likely to raise a new queen I needed it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with certainly one of a newly released batch of mated queens once they had laid up a great frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to deal with the colony later in the week.
Should they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked through the perspex crownboard this afternoon while exploring the apiary and saw an original looking bee walking about about the underside from the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it had been clear, in spite of an incredibly brief view, it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly regarding the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.
I strongly suspected she had been a virgin that had either wiggled throughout the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – then got trapped. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is with the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I know from my notes the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly be sufficient time and energy 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 inside the brood box. She wandered quietly down between the brood frames along with the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
In the event you were able to find the queen in the image a fortnight ago you did better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no indication of her inside the bees clustered round the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned for the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) on the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells and the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost inside the grass, got injured or was otherwise incapacitated during swarming? Perhaps she did return and was then done away with? A pity, since they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this coming year. However, I’d also grafted using this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split employing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly considering swarming, with a number of 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present throughout the inspection. I knocked these back and introduced a frame of eggs from better stock. On checking the nominally queenless half in the seventh day they behaved as if they 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 tiny one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After some searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I stumbled upon a little knot of bees harrying a small queen, undoubtedly the tiniest I’ve seen this current year and not really any greater than a worker. I separated a lot of the workers and was able to take a couple of photos.
The abdomen is just not well shown within the picture but reaches just past the protruding antenna in the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally longer than the workers from the same colony. When surrounded by 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 initial batch of cells coming from a cell raising colony set up using a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised in the colony that subsequently swarmed through the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged inside a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather within the second week of June, matured for several days and – nearly the time they will be needed to mate – got kept in the colonies by ten days of poor weather.
And they’re off
However, during the last week the weather conditions has acquired, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and also the workers have started piling in pollen. All of these are perfect signs and suggest that at the very least some of the queens are already mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside of the bee shed the other day. One colony that had looked good starting the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but a number of the first bees to take off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you can hear their distinctive buzz while they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant quantities of drones to get about with what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores and also the frames in the center of what ought to be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to put in. However, really the only brood had been a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this current year along with develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood was in a distinct patch indicating it was a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood all around the frames. There are no young larvae, several late stage larvae, some sealed brood and some dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested how the queen probably have either recently given up or been discarded. There seemed to be also a rather pathetic queen cell, without doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I do believe this colony superseded late last season so the queen would 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 was lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees away from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that the bees would reorientate on the other hives in the apiary.
I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location where colony have been sited … there seemed to be a very good sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It was actually getting cooler plus it was clear that this bees were not going to “reorientate towards the other hives within the apiary” as I’d hoped. Very likely these folks were gonna perish overnight since 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 do good enough to obtain a good crop of honey. However, I also attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish because of insufficient time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including among stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it in the stand instead of the previous hive. Within 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 these to it and rushed returning to collect some newspaper. As soon as I returned they were all within the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where DLQ was, or even if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box over a strong colony, held in place by using a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears from the newspaper using the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony on the top.
These day there was clearly lots of activity with the hive entrance as well as a peek from the perspex crownboard demonstrated that the bees had chewed using a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in some days (it’s getting cold again) and definately will then get rid of the top box and shake the remaining bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t understand how to get back to the new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be well prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and have the necessary equipment at hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no requirement to rush. These bees had been headed by a DLQ to get a significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining amount of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. As an alternative to shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to make the most efficient of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another number of hives with DLQ’s ?? In both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In case the former they’d have again been supercedure queens while they should have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season by using a circle split. However, this time I used to be prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down having a queen excluder. All of those other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised just last year – are the most I’ve had in just one winter and ensure such a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable quantities of drones or drone brood – were also notable to the a lot of stores still contained in the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and robust northerly winds keeping the temperatures – along with the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies are still building up well, using remaining stores whenever they can’t go out to forage. As a result there’s a true risk of colonies starving. On the other hand, colonies with failed queens will be raising little if any brood, so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of your colony into two – one queenright, another queenless – on a single floor and beneath the same roof, with all the aim of allowing the queenless colony to boost a whole new queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies from the original one. This strategy bring a way of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, in order to generate two colonies from a, or – to become covered in another post – the place to start to build several nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off means of nuc box … with no need to graft, to prepare cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding help guide simple methods for making increase (PDF) including a number of variants in the straightforward vertical split described here. You will find additional instructions located on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … in which the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is particularly good, but includes complications like brood as well as a half colonies and a myriad of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to some situation if you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers at the top – and wish to divide it into two.