In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I prefer. These people have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are really easy to paint and are made of dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is a gaping maw, but that is certainly easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace is also a problem due to compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating needing to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered over these boxes did well and were generally a minimum of nearly 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 quicker to prise up one end in the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – in to the integral feeder from the brood box. Checking the rest of the fondant/syrup levels takes seconds through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony whatsoever.
As a result of work commitments I haven’t had time this year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have been exclusively with such Everynucs. Together with the vagaries in the weather inside 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 of the queen to get determined easily. I usually raise a couple of batches of queens within a season and this means I’m going inside and out of a dozen approximately of the boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the 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 attributes of these boxes is internal width which is almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames together with a dummy board in order to avoid strong colonies building brace comb inside the gaps using one or each side in the outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for instance once the bees build up the corners with stores as opposed 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 couple of days then gently push the frames back together again.
Much better, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to operate from a single side of the box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to make space. The frames really do need to be removed gently and slowly in order to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway needless to say). However, since I’m generally looking for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. Inside the image below you will notice the room available, even if four of the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Sufficient 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 from the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees usually stick the frames towards the coarse wooden lip in the feeder with propolis, thereby rendering it more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of such Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is simple 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) hence the resulting colony needs to be moved to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As being the season draws to an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, eliminate the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and after that – every week or so later – have a good 10-frame colony to make for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The sole exception were those who work in the bee shed which were probably 2-3 weeks even more ahead in their development by late March/early April this year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to look carefully in the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not after that you can gently place it to one side and start 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 by using a QE then one super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I figured it will be best if you add a frame of eggs on the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, once they were queenless they’d rely on them to raise queen cells.
I had been not having enough time as well as anyway wanted eggs from your colony in a different apiary. In the event the colony were going to raise a new queen I needed it in the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them among a recent batch of mated queens when they had laid up a great frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and produced a mental note to handle the colony later within the week.
If they behave queenright, perhaps they may be …
I peeked with the perspex crownboard this afternoon while seeing the apiary and saw a distinctive looking bee walking about on the underside of the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it had been clear, in spite of an incredibly brief view, which it was a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly in regards to the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.
I strongly suspected that she was really a virgin who had either wiggled through the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and then got trapped. Alternatively, and maybe very likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near to the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is a bit cramped during inspections.
I know from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time and energy 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 inside the brood box. She wandered quietly down involving the brood frames and also the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
In the event you was able to spot the queen within the image a fortnight ago you did superior to I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there was no manifestation of her inside the bees clustered around 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 as well as 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, because 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 utilizing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking of swarming, with a number 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 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 very small one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After some searching – it was a crowded box – I found a compact knot of bees harrying a small queen, certainly the tiniest I’ve seen this year instead of really any larger than an employee. I separated the majority of the workers and managed to take a few photos.
The abdomen will not be well shown in the picture but reaches just beyond the protruding antenna in the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and merely fractionally longer than the workers within the same colony. When in the middle of a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The photo above was taken near to the end of May, shortly before I removed the initial batch of cells from the cell raising colony set up having a Cloake board. These honey gate 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 within the second week of June, matured for a few days and – practically some time they could be anticipated to mate – got kept in the colonies by ten days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, over the past day or two the weather has gathered, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights along with the workers have started piling in pollen. All of these are excellent signs and advise that no less than a few of the queens already are mated and laying … we’ll see at the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed the other day. One colony that had looked good going to the winter months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees when I lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees for taking off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you may hear their distinctive buzz as they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant numbers of drones to be about as to what is turning out as a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores and the frames in the midst of what needs to be the brood nest was cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to put in. However, the sole brood was 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 at a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ rather than laying workers which scatter brood all around the frames. There have been 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 that the queen probably have either recently given up or been disposed of. There was also a rather pathetic queen cell, no doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I think this colony superseded late last season and so the queen could have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a brief but thorough sort through the package neglected to locate her. I had been short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees away from the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being the bees would reorientate to the other hives within the apiary.
I tidied things up, made certain the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the spot where colony had been sited … there was clearly an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated on the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler and yes it was clear that the bees were not planning to “reorientate on the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely these folks were likely to 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 complete good enough to acquire a good crop of honey. However, Furthermore, i attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish because of absence of time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one among stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it on the stand rather than the previous hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same as a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left them to it and rushed to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned they were all within the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain in which the 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 the strong colony, locked in place by using a queen excluder. I made a few small tears through the newspaper using the hive tool then placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The subsequent day there was clearly plenty of activity at the hive entrance and a peek through the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed through a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and will then get rid of the top box and shake the remaining bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t understand how to return to the brand new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be well prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and have the necessary equipment handy – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no need to rush. These bees have been headed with a DLQ to get a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining amount of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another few days wouldn’t make any difference. As an alternative to shaking them out since the afternoon cooled I’d happen to be better returning another afternoon with all the necessary kit to make the best of your bad situation.
I checked another apiary later in the week and discovered another handful of hives with DLQ’s ?? In both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. When the former they’d have again been supercedure queens since they should have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season using a circle split. However, this period I used to be prepared and united the boxes in the same way over newspaper held down having 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 the most I’ve ever endured 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 numbers of drones or drone brood – were also notable for the 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 temperatures – as well as the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies remain strengthening well, using remaining stores when they can’t escape to forage. As a consequence there’s a real risk of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens is going to be raising little or no brood, so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of the colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – on a single floor and beneath the same roof, using the aim of allowing the queenless colony to raise a whole new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies from your original one. This process can be used a way of swarm prevention, in order to requeen a colony, in order to generate two colonies from a single, or – to become covered in another post – the place to start to create numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off method of nuc box … without the need to graft, to put together cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a great guide to simple ways of making increase (PDF) which includes several variants from the straightforward vertical split described here. You will find additional instructions located 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 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.