Of your polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I favor. There is 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 actually a gaping maw, but that is easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned in position. The beespace is additionally a challenge because of the compromises designed to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this is often fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a little irritating the need to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered within these boxes did very well and were generally no less than pretty much as good, and frequently better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased a few of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually quicker to prise up one end in the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder inside the brood box. Checking the other fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony at all.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this season to handle high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so are already exclusively utilizing these Everynucs. With all the vagaries from the weather in my part of the world it’s good not to have to help 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 of the queen to get determined easily. I usually raise several batches of queens inside a season and this means I’m going out and in of your dozen approximately of the boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save lots of resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.
Among the nice options that come with these boxes could be the internal width which can be almost however, not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames along with a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb inside the gaps on a single or either side of your outside frames. One good thing about this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example as soon as the bees increase the corners with stores rather than drawing out first step toward the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, check for emergence – or release – in a day or two and then gently push the frames together again again.
Even better, by removing the dummy board there’s enough space to function from a side of your box towards 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 naturally). However, since I’m generally trying to find the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is really a definite advantage. In the image below you will notice the space available, even though four in the 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 usually stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip of your feeder with propolis, thereby making it more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can easily unite two nucs in to a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper when compared to a National frame) therefore the resulting colony ought to be moved to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As being the season draws to a end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, remove the queen from a to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and then – weekly approximately later – have a very good 10-frame colony to make for overwintering … or, needless to say, overwinter them directly over these nucleus hives.
† The only exception were individuals 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 search carefully on the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not then you can gently put it to one side and commence 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 by using a QE and one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it could be best if you add a frame of eggs for the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, once they were queenless they’d use them to increase queen cells.
I had been not having enough some time and anyway wanted eggs from the colony in a different apiary. In the event the colony were likely to raise a fresh queen I needed it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recent batch of mated queens when they had laid up an excellent frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to deal with the colony later within the week.
Once they behave queenright, perhaps they may be …
I peeked throughout the perspex crownboard this afternoon while exploring the apiary and saw a distinctive looking bee walking about in the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it was actually clear, despite a very brief view, it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly regarding the super and wasn’t being hassled through the workers.
I strongly suspected that she was really a virgin that had either wiggled from the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – after which got trapped. Alternatively, and perhaps very likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near the super throughout a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is a little cramped during inspections.
I know from my notes that this colony had an unsealed queen cell inside it a couple of 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 about 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 in any way perturbed.
Should you managed to see the queen in the image a fortnight ago you did a lot better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no indication of her within the bees clustered throughout 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 and also the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost from 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 season. However, I’d also grafted out of this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split utilizing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking about swarming, with a couple of 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present in 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 though they were queenright (no new QC’s in 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 some searching – it was actually a crowded box – I stumbled upon a compact knot of bees harrying a very small queen, by far the tiniest I’ve seen this year and not really any bigger than a worker. I separated the majority 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 beyond the protruding antenna in the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and simply fractionally more than the workers from the same colony. When flanked 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 the cell raising colony set up by using a Cloake board. These queen rearing system were from grafts raised through the colony that subsequently swarmed from 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 a few days and – pretty much enough time they might be likely to mate – got trapped in the colonies by 10 days of lousy weather.
And they’re off
However, over the past day or two the climate has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and also the workers have started piling in pollen. All of these are great signs and claim that at the very least a few of the queens already are mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside the bee shed a couple weeks ago. One colony that had looked good going into the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees to adopt 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 variety of drones to become about in doing what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first frames contained ample stores as well as the frames during what should be the brood nest ended up being cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to put in. However, the only real brood was actually a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this coming year along with turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is at a distinct patch indicating it had been a DLQ as an alternative to laying workers which scatter brood everywhere in the frames. There were no young larvae, a number of late stage larvae, some sealed brood as well as some dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen might have either recently given up or been discarded. There is 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 therefore the queen might have been unmarked. In addition, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a brief but thorough search through the package failed to locate her. I was short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees from the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being that this bees would reorientate towards the other hives in the apiary.
I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the area the location where the colony ended up being sited … there seemed to be an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It was getting cooler and yes it was clear how the bees were not going to “reorientate towards the other hives inside the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely these people were likely to perish overnight since 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 perform good enough to acquire a good crop of honey. However, Also i attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish as a consequence of deficiency 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 in the stand rather than the old hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way like a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left these to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned these were all in the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, as well as if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box with a strong colony, locked in place using a queen excluder. I made a few small tears through the newspaper using the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony at the top.
The following day there was a lot of activity with the hive entrance as well as a peek through the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed by way of a big patch of the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in a few days (it’s getting cold again) and may then remove the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t know how to come back to the latest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be ready 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 was headed with a DLQ to get a significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining volume of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. Instead of shaking them out as the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon together with the necessary kit to make the best of the bad situation.
I checked another apiary later inside the week and discovered another couple 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 since they needs to have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season employing a circle split. However, this time I had been 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 a year ago – will be the most I’ve had in just one winter and make sure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – besides the presence of variable quantities of drones or drone brood – were also notable for that considerable amounts of stores still found in the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and robust northerly winds keeping temperatures – along with the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies will still be building up well, using remaining stores once they can’t move out to forage. As a result there’s a genuine chance of colonies starving. In contrast, colonies with failed queens will be raising little if any brood, so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of any colony into two – one queenright, one other queenless – on the very same floor and underneath the same roof, together with the goal of allowing the queenless colony to raise a fresh queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies through the original one. This method can be used a method of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies from one, or – to become covered in another post – the starting point to generate a number of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of queen excluder … without the need to graft, to make cell raising colonies or perhaps to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding help guide simple methods for making increase (PDF) which include a variety of variants in the straightforward vertical split described here. There are actually additional instructions 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 particularly good, but includes complications like brood plus a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description into a situation when you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on top – and want to divide it into two.