In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I prefer. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are simple to paint and are manufactured from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is really a gaping maw, but that is easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned in position. The beespace is also an issue due to compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this is often 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 perfectly and were generally a minimum of pretty much as good, and frequently 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 merely drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder inside the brood box. Checking the rest of the fondant/syrup levels takes seconds through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony in any way.
Because of work commitments I haven’t had time this coming year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have already been exclusively with such Everynucs. With the vagaries in 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 to be determined easily. I raise a couple of batches of queens inside a season and this means I’m going out and in of a dozen roughly of the boxes regularly, causing them to be up, priming all of them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them to get a mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to conserve resources, allowing them to expand with successive batches of queens.
Among the nice highlights of these boxes is the internal width which can be almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames plus a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb within the gaps in one or both sides of the outside frames. One advantage of this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example when the bees increase the corners with stores as an alternative to drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, check out emergence – or release – in a couple of days and then gently push the frames together again again.
Better yet, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to function in one side of your box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to create 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 seeking the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is actually a definite advantage. Within the image below you will notice the place available, even when 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 within the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees often stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip in the feeder with propolis, thereby rendering it tougher to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of those Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can actually unite two nucs right into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than a National frame) therefore the resulting colony should be relocated to a typical 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Since the season draws to a end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, get rid of the queen from a single to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and after that – every week or so later – have a very good 10-frame colony to make for overwintering … or, of course, overwinter them directly over these nucleus hives.
† The only real exception were those who work in the bee shed that were probably 2-3 weeks a little bit more ahead inside their development by late March/early April this current year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to appear carefully with the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not then you can gently position it to a single side and start 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 a single brood having a QE then one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it might be best if you include a frame of eggs to the colony – when 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 found myself not having enough efforts and anyway wanted eggs from a colony in the different apiary. If the colony were going to raise a whole new queen I needed it in the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with among a recently available batch of mated queens once they had laid up a great frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and produced a mental note to deal with the colony later within the week.
Should they behave queenright, perhaps they are …
I peeked throughout the perspex crownboard this afternoon while exploring the apiary and saw a unique looking bee walking about about the underside from the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it was clear, in spite of an incredibly brief view, that this was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly concerning the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.
I strongly suspected that she had been a virgin who had either wiggled through the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – after which got trapped. Alternatively, as well as perhaps very likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame close to the super during a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is with the bee shed and space is a little cramped during inspections.
I am aware from my notes that the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly be sufficient time for you 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 in the brood box. She wandered quietly down between the brood frames and also the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
Should you managed to spot the queen inside the image a fortnight ago you did superior to I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there is no symbol of her inside the bees clustered throughout 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 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, as they were good stock, and had already produced three full supers this year. However, I’d also grafted from this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split employing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking about swarming, with a few 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 like 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 tiny one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After a certain amount of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I found a compact knot of bees harrying a little queen, by far the littlest I’ve seen this coming year instead of really any larger than a worker. I separated a lot of the workers and managed to take a number of photos.
The abdomen is not really well shown inside the picture but extends to just beyond the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and just fractionally over 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 very first batch of cells from a cell raising colony set up with a Cloake board. These queen rearing system were from grafts raised from 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 the time they would be likely to mate – got kept in the colonies by ten days of bad weather.
And they’re off
However, over the last week the weather conditions has gathered, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights as well as the workers have started piling in pollen. Many of these are good signs and claim that no less than a few of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see in the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed a couple weeks ago. One colony that had looked good going into the winter months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but a few of the first bees to take off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz since they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant quantities of drones to become about as to what is turning out as a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores and also the frames in the middle of what ought to be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to lay in. However, really the only brood was actually a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this coming year and had turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as an alternative to laying workers which scatter brood throughout the frames. There was no young larvae, a few late stage larvae, some sealed brood plus some dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested the queen might have either recently cast aside or been discarded. There is a good rather pathetic queen cell, certainly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I think this colony superseded late last season therefore the queen could have been unmarked. In addition, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough search through the package did not locate her. I had been lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees off the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that this bees would reorientate to the other hives from the apiary.
I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location where colony ended up being sited … there seemed to be an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated around the stand. It had been getting cooler and yes it was clear the bees were not likely to “reorientate for the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. Much more likely these people were going to perish overnight since the temperature was predicted to lower to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies early in the year as they’re unlikely to do well enough to acquire a good crop of honey. However, Also i try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of lack of time or preparation in my part. I therefore put only a few frames – including certainly one of stores – in a poly nuc and placed it in the stand rather than that old hive. Within 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 them to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. As soon as I returned these people were all within the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain where DLQ was, or perhaps if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box on a strong colony, held in place using a queen excluder. I made a couple of small tears through the newspaper using the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony on the top.
The next day there was lots of activity with the hive entrance plus a peek throughout the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed via a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and can then eliminate the top box and shake the remainder bees out – if there’s a queen present (which can be pretty unlikely now) she won’t learn how to get back to the new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and also have the necessary equipment handy – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no requirement to rush. These bees have been headed by way of a DLQ for a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining quantity of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. As opposed to shaking them out as being the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon with the necessary kit to make the most efficient of the bad situation.
I checked another apiary later in 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 because they ought to have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season utilizing a circle split. However, now I was prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down having 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 – would be the most I’ve had within a winter and make sure what 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 for that a lot of stores still contained in the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and strong northerly winds keeping temperatures – and the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies are still developing well, using remaining stores whenever they can’t go out to forage. As a consequence there’s a true probability of colonies starving. On the other hand, colonies with failed queens will probably be raising virtually no brood, hence the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of a colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – on the same floor and within the same roof, using the intention of allowing the queenless colony to improve a fresh queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies through the original one. This method bring a means of swarm prevention, in order to requeen a colony, in order to generate two colonies from one, or – to become covered in another post – the beginning point to build numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc beehive … without having to graft, to prepare cell raising colonies or even to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a fantastic help guide simple methods of making increase (PDF) including numerous 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 particularly good, but includes complications like brood as well as a half colonies and a host 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 on top – and want to divide it into two.