Of your polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s may be the one I enjoy. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are super easy to paint and are produced from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is a gaping maw, but that may be easily fixed with a bit of wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace is also a problem because of the compromises intended to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, however this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a lttle bit irritating the need to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered during these boxes did well and were generally no less than 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 in the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – to 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 in any way.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this year to cope with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have already been exclusively with such Everynucs. With the vagaries from the weather inside my area of the world it’s good to not have to keep checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to work alongside full-sized brood frames that allow the laying pattern in the queen to be determined easily. I usually raise a couple of batches of queens within a season and this means I’m going inside and outside of a dozen or so of these boxes regularly, which makes them up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, in order to save resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.
One of many nice options that come with these boxes is internal width that is almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames together with a dummy board to prevent strong colonies building brace comb inside the gaps in one or either side from the outside frames. One good thing about this additional ‘elbow room’ is that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, as an example once the bees develop the corners with stores as an alternative to drawing out first step toward the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, check out emergence – or release – in a day or two after which gently push the frames back together again again.
Better yet, by taking out the dummy board there’s enough space to function from one side in the box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to help make space. The frames need to be removed gently and slowly to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway naturally). However, since I’m generally looking for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is actually a definite advantage. From the image below you will notice the area available, regardless if four from the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Only 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 inside the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees have a tendency to stick the frames towards the coarse wooden lip in the feeder with propolis, thereby rendering it more challenging to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is possible to unite two nucs right into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper compared to a National frame) hence the resulting colony should be transferred to a regular 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws with an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, remove the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies then – per week or more later – have a very good 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, of course, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The only real exception were those in the bee shed which were probably 2-3 weeks a little bit more ahead inside their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to check carefully at the underside of your queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen is there. If she’s not you may then gently place it to a single side and commence the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said such as “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on one brood using a QE then one super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it would be wise to add a frame of eggs towards the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, when they were queenless they’d use them to increase queen cells.
I had been running out of time as well as anyway wanted eggs from your colony within a different apiary. In case the colony were gonna raise a new queen I wanted it in the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recently available batch of mated queens when they had laid up a good frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to handle the colony later from the week.
Once they behave queenright, perhaps these are …
I peeked through 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 absolutely was clear, despite having a really brief view, that it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly in regards to the super and wasn’t being hassled through the workers.
I strongly suspected she had been a virgin which had either wiggled from the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and after that got trapped. Alternatively, and possibly more inclined, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I am aware from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should 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 between your brood frames and the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
When you were able to see the queen in the image a fortnight ago you probably did a lot better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there was clearly no indication of her from the bees clustered across the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned for the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) in the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells and the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost in the grass, got injured or was otherwise incapacitated during swarming? Perhaps she did return and was then done away with? A pity, because 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 considering swarming, with several 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present through the inspection. I knocked these back and introduced a frame of eggs from better stock. On checking the nominally queenless half on the seventh day they behaved as if these people were queenright (no new QC’s around the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I must have missed a sealed cell (presumably a small one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it had been a crowded box – I came across a tiny knot of bees harrying a little queen, undoubtedly the smallest I’ve seen this coming year and never really any larger than a worker. I separated most of the workers and managed to take a number of photos.
The abdomen will not be well shown within the picture but extends to just beyond the protruding antenna of the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally more than the workers inside the same colony. When in the middle of a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken near to the end of May, shortly before I removed the first batch of cells coming from a cell raising colony set up having a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised from your 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 inside the second week of June, matured for a few days and – practically the time they might be likely to mate – got held in the colonies by ten days of poor weather.
And they’re off
However, throughout the last couple of days the climate has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and also the workers have started piling in pollen. Every one of these are perfect signs and claim that at least several of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see with the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies away from bee shed a couple weeks ago. One colony which had looked good going to the wintertime had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees as i lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees for taking off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz because they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant numbers of drones to get about in doing what is turning out to be a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores along with the frames in the center of what should be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to lay in. However, really the only brood was really a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this current year and had become a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it had been a DLQ rather than laying workers which scatter brood all around the frames. There have been no young larvae, several late stage larvae, some sealed brood and a few dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested the queen might have either recently cast aside or been discarded. There was clearly a rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I believe this colony superseded late last season so the queen would have been unmarked. In addition, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough search through the box neglected to locate her. I used to be short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook each of the bees off of the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that this 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 place where the colony was sited … there is a great sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler plus it was clear how the bees were not likely to “reorientate to the other hives within the apiary” as I’d hoped. More inclined these were gonna perish overnight as being the temperature was predicted to decrease to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies in the Spring as they’re unlikely to accomplish sufficiently to obtain a good crop of honey. However, Also i try and avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of absence of time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one of stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it about the stand in place of the old hive. Within minutes the bees were streaming in, in much the same way as being a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. When I returned these folks were all inside the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, as well as if she was still present, I placed several sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box on the strong colony, located in place having a queen excluder. I made several small tears throughout the newspaper together with the hive tool and after that placed the DLQ colony on top.
These day there was a great deal of activity with the hive entrance and a peek from the perspex crownboard revealed that the bees had chewed by way of a big patch in the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and can then take away the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t learn how to get back to the latest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and also have the necessary equipment to hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no reason to rush. These bees had been headed by a DLQ for the significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining level of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another couple of days wouldn’t make any difference. Instead of shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d are already better returning another afternoon with all the necessary kit to make the most efficient of your bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another few hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. If the former they’d have again been supercedure queens since 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 time I was prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down by using a queen excluder. All the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised just last year – will be the most I’ve had in a single winter and make sure exactly 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 that a lot of stores still within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and strong northerly winds keeping the temperatures – along with the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies remain building up well, using remaining stores after they can’t get out to forage. Because of this there’s a true risk of colonies starving. In comparison, colonies with failed queens will be raising a minimum of brood, hence the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of your colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – about the same floor and within the same roof, together with the purpose of allowing the queenless colony to boost a fresh queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies in the original one. This method can be used a means of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, in an effort to generate two colonies from a, or – being covered in another post – the starting place to generate numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off strategy for queen excluder … without the need to graft, to make cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an excellent guide to simple ways of making increase (PDF) which include a number of variants of the straightforward vertical split described here. You will find additional instructions available on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … where the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is especially good, but includes complications like brood plus a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to a situation once you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on top – and wish to divide it into two.