Of your polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I enjoy. These people have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are really easy to paint and are made from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is really a gaping maw, but that is certainly easily fixed with some wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace can also be a concern due to the compromises intended to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this may be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating needing to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered within these boxes did perfectly and were generally a minimum of nearly as good, and quite often better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased several of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually quicker to prise up one end of the crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder in the brood box. Checking the remainder fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.
On account of work commitments I haven’t had time this coming year to cope with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so are already exclusively utilizing these Everynucs. With the vagaries of the weather inside my area 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 being determined easily. I usually raise a couple of batches of queens within a season and also this means I’m going out and in of a dozen approximately of those boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming all of them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, in order to save resources, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of the nice attributes of these boxes could be the internal width which can be almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames together with a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb inside the gaps in one or both sides in the outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for instance as soon as the bees develop the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, look for emergence – or release – in a couple of days after which gently push the frames back together again again.
Much better, by taking off the dummy board there’s enough space to work from a single side from the box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to create space. The frames really do need to be removed gently and slowly to protect yourself from rolling bees (but you do this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally trying to find the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ can be a definite advantage. Within the image below you will see the area available, even when four in the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Just enough space …
To help make 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 tend to stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip from the feeder with propolis, thereby making it harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these 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) and so the resulting colony ought to be transferred to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws to an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, get rid of the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – every week or more later – have a very good 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, obviously, overwinter them directly within these nucleus hives.
† The sole exception were individuals in the bee shed that were probably 2-3 weeks further ahead with their development by late March/early April this current year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to check carefully at the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen will there be. If she’s not after that you can gently put it to a single side and initiate the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something similar to “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on a single brood having a QE and one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I was thinking it might be wise to give a frame of eggs towards the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, once they were queenless they’d make use of them to increase queen cells.
I was not having enough time and anyway wanted eggs coming from a colony inside a different apiary. When the colony were going to raise a brand new queen I wanted it into the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them among a recently available batch of mated queens once they had laid up an effective frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to deal with the colony later inside the week.
When they behave queenright, perhaps they may be …
I peeked throughout the perspex crownboard this afternoon while seeing the apiary and saw an exceptional looking bee walking about on the underside of the crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, even with an extremely brief view, which it was a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly regarding the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.
I strongly suspected she was 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 maybe more inclined, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near the super during the previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is a bit cramped during inspections.
I realize from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly be sufficient a chance to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her in the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her within the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames and the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
When you were able to see 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 manifestation of her from the bees clustered throughout the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned to 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 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 year. However, I’d also grafted from this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly considering swarming, with a couple of 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 in the seventh day they behaved as if these were queenright (no new QC’s on 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 the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it was a crowded box – I came across a little knot of bees harrying a tiny queen, definitely the littlest I’ve seen this season and never really any larger than a worker. I separated a lot of the workers and been able to take a couple of photos.
The abdomen is not well shown inside the picture but reaches just beyond the protruding antenna of the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and simply fractionally longer than the workers inside the same colony. When surrounded by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The image above was taken near the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells from your cell raising colony set up with a Cloake board. These queen rearing system were from grafts raised from the colony that subsequently swarmed from your bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged in the circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather within the second week of June, matured for a few days and – pretty much time they would be expected to mate – got kept in the colonies by 10 days of lousy weather.
And they’re off
However, over the last couple of days the climate has picked up, 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 advise that a minimum of several of the queens already are mated and laying … we’ll see with the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed last week. One colony that had looked good going into the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees when I lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees to consider off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them it is possible to hear their distinctive buzz as they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant quantities of drones to become about in doing what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores and also the frames in the midst of what should be the brood nest ended up being cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to lay in. However, the sole brood had been a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this season and had develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it absolutely was a DLQ as an alternative to laying workers which scatter brood throughout the frames. There are no young larvae, a number of late stage larvae, some sealed brood as well as some dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested how the queen might have either recently given up or been discarded. There was a good rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I feel this colony superseded late last season therefore the queen would have been unmarked. In addition, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough sort through the box neglected to locate her. I used to be short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook every one of the bees off the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being how the bees would reorientate towards the other hives inside the apiary.
I tidied things up, made certain the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the location in which the colony have been sited … there seemed to be a very good sized cluster of bees accumulated around the stand. It was actually getting cooler and it was clear the bees were not going to “reorientate for the other hives inside the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely they were likely to perish overnight because the temperature was predicted to drop to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies early in the year as they’re unlikely to complete sufficiently to get a good crop of honey. However, In addition, i try to avoid simply letting bees perish due to insufficient time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including among stores – in a poly nuc and placed it on the stand in place of the old hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same like a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left them to it and rushed straight back to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned these were all in the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain the location where the DLQ was, or even if she was still present, I placed a number of sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box over a strong colony, kept in place with a queen excluder. I made several small tears throughout the newspaper using the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony on the top.
The next day there is a great deal of activity at the hive entrance and a peek throughout the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed by way of 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 get rid of the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t realize how to come back to the latest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, prepare yourself 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 need to rush. These bees had been headed by a DLQ for the significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining quantity of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another couple of days wouldn’t make any difference. Rather than shaking them out since the afternoon cooled I’d happen to be better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to make the best of the bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another handful of hives with DLQ’s ?? Within both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. When the former they’d have again been supercedure queens since 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, this time I was prepared and united the boxes in a similar manner over newspaper held down by using a queen excluder. All of those other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised a year ago – are definitely the most I’ve ever had in one winter and ensure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – as well as the presence of variable levels of drones or drone brood – were also notable for that considerable amounts of stores still within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and robust northerly winds keeping the temperatures – and also the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies are still developing well, using remaining stores after they can’t go out to forage. As a consequence there’s a genuine probability of colonies starving. On the other hand, colonies with failed queens is going to be raising a minimum of brood, so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of any colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – on the very same floor and underneath the same roof, together with the purpose of allowing the queenless colony to improve a whole new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies from the original one. This method can be used a way of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies in one, or – being covered in another post – the beginning point to produce numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off strategy for nuc beehive … without the need to graft, to make cell raising colonies or even to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a great help guide simple ways of making increase (PDF) which includes several variants of your straightforward vertical split described here. There are additional instructions available 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 especially good, but includes complications like brood along with 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 would like to divide it into two.