From the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I prefer. There is 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 really a gaping maw, but which is easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned in place. The beespace is likewise an issue as a result of 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 a bit irritating the need to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered during these boxes did well and were generally at least pretty much as good, and sometimes better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased some of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually easier to prise up one end of your crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder within the brood box. Checking the remaining 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 year to handle high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so have already been exclusively using these Everynucs. With the vagaries in the weather in my section of the world it’s good to not have to maintain checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to work with full-sized brood frames which allow the laying pattern from the queen to be determined easily. I raise several batches of queens within a season and also this means I’m going out and in of any dozen roughly of the boxes regularly, causing them to be up, priming these with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to conserve resources, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.
Among the nice highlights of these boxes is their internal width which is almost however, 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 in the gaps on a single or both sides of your outside frames. One good thing about this additional ‘elbow room’ is that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, as an example when the bees develop the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out first step toward the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce 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 still, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to operate from a side of your box towards 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 obviously). However, since I’m generally searching for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ can be a definite advantage. Inside the image below you will notice the space available, regardless if four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Only enough space …
To produce 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 it the bees have a tendency to stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip in the feeder with propolis, thereby so that it is 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 when compared to a National frame) so the resulting colony must be moved to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws with an end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, remove the queen in one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – every week or so later – have a very good 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, obviously, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The only exception were those who work in the bee shed which were probably 2-3 weeks even further ahead with their development by late March/early April this year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully at the underside of your queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen will there be. If she’s not after that you can gently position it to one 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 a single brood using a QE and something super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it would be best if you add a frame of eggs towards the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d utilize them to raise queen cells.
I found myself not having enough some time and anyway wanted eggs from your colony inside a different apiary. In the event the colony were going to raise a brand new queen I needed it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with among a newly released batch of mated queens once they had laid up a good frame or two to indicate their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to deal with the colony later within the week.
Should they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked from the perspex crownboard this afternoon while going to the apiary and saw an original looking bee walking about in the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, even with an incredibly brief view, that it was 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 was a virgin that had either wiggled through the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and after that got trapped. Alternatively, as well as perhaps more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near to the super during a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is with the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I understand from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time for you to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her around the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her from the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames as well as the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
In the event you was able to see the queen inside the image a fortnight ago you probably did a lot better than I did so … although she was clipped and marked, there is no indication of her inside the bees clustered across the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned towards the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) with 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, while they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this coming year. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split by using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking of 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 around the seventh day they behaved like these folks were queenright (no new QC’s about the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I have to have missed a sealed cell (presumably a small one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it was a crowded box – I found a little knot of bees harrying a small queen, certainly the smallest I’ve seen this season rather than really any larger than a worker. I separated many of the workers and been able to take a number of photos.
The abdomen is not well shown in the picture but reaches just past the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and merely fractionally beyond the workers in the same colony. When encompassed by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken nearby the end of May, shortly before I removed the first batch of cells from a cell raising colony create using a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised in the colony that subsequently swarmed in the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged inside a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather from the second week of June, matured for a while and – practically enough time they could be likely to mate – got kept in the colonies by 10 days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, throughout the last week the weather has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and the workers have started piling in pollen. All of these are excellent signs and suggest that at the very least a few of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies away from bee shed last week. One colony that had looked good going to the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees as i lifted the crown board … but a few of the first bees to take off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them it is possible to hear their distinctive buzz while they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant quantities of drones to become about in what is turning out to become a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores and the frames in the midst of what should be the brood nest had been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to put in. However, 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 at a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as an alternative to laying workers which scatter brood all over the frames. There were no young larvae, a few late stage larvae, some sealed brood as well as some dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested how the queen may have either recently abandoned or been discarded. There was even a rather pathetic queen cell, no doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I do believe this colony superseded late last season and so the queen could have been unmarked. It also might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a simple but thorough sort through the package did not locate her. I found myself short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all of the bees away from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being how the bees would reorientate to the other hives within the apiary.
I tidied things up, ensured the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location in which the colony was sited … there was an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler and it also was clear how the bees were not gonna “reorientate to the other hives from the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely these were planning 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 accomplish good enough to obtain a good crop of honey. However, I also try and avoid simply letting bees perish as a consequence of absence of time or preparation on my part. I therefore put only a few frames – including certainly one of stores – right into a poly nuc and placed it around the stand rather than the previous hive. In minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way as being a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left them to it and rushed returning to collect some newspaper. As soon as I returned these folks were all within the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain the location where the DLQ was, as well as if she was still present, I placed a few sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box on a strong colony, held in place by using a queen excluder. I made several small tears from the newspaper using the hive tool after which placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The following day there is lots of activity at the hive entrance and a peek with the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed through a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in a few days (it’s getting cold again) and definately will then eliminate the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (which can be pretty unlikely now) she won’t realize how to go back to the newest 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 requirement to rush. These bees ended up being headed by way of a DLQ for the significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining level of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another couple of days 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 using the necessary kit to make the most efficient of a bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another couple of hives with DLQ’s ?? In both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In the event the former they’d have again been supercedure queens since they should have been marked white and clipped coming from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season employing a circle split. However, this time I used to be prepared and united the boxes in the same 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 just last year – would be the most I’ve had in a single winter and confirm what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable amounts of drones or drone brood – were also notable for the large amounts 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 – and the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies are still building up well, using remaining stores when they can’t go out to forage. As a consequence there’s a genuine risk of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens will likely be raising virtually no brood, hence the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of a colony into two – one queenright, other queenless – on the very same floor and beneath the same roof, with the aim of allowing the queenless colony to increase a brand new queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies through the original one. This strategy can be used as a means of swarm prevention, in order to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies from a single, or – to be covered in another post – the beginning point to produce several nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc box … with no need to graft, to get ready cell raising colonies or even to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a fantastic help guide simple means of making increase (PDF) which include several variants from the straightforward vertical split described here. You will find additional instructions seen 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 specially good, but includes complications like brood along with 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 at the top – and need to divide it into two.