In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I prefer. They 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 actually a gaping maw, but that is certainly easily fixed with some wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace can also be a concern as a result of compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a little irritating having to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered during these boxes did well and were generally at the very least pretty much as good, and quite often 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 from the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder inside the brood box. Checking the remainder fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony whatsoever.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this year to manage high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so are already exclusively by using these Everynucs. Using the vagaries of your 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 use full-sized brood frames that permit the laying pattern of the queen to be determined easily. I raise a couple of batches of queens inside a season and also this means I’m going inside and outside of the dozen or so of these boxes regularly, making them 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 save resources, allowing them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of many nice highlights of these boxes is the internal width that is almost however, not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames plus a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb in the gaps in one or either side in the outside frames. One benefit from this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for instance if the bees increase the corners with stores rather than drawing out reasons for the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, search for emergence – or release – in a couple of days then gently push the frames back together again again.
Better yet, by taking off the dummy board there’s enough space to operate from a side of your box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to make space. The frames need to be removed gently and slowly to prevent rolling bees (but you do this anyway naturally). However, since I’m generally seeking the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is actually a definite advantage. Inside the image below you will notice the room available, even if four in the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Just 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 within the photo above) as described previously. Without it the bees tend to stick the frames for the coarse wooden lip from the feeder with propolis, thereby which makes it more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can actually unite two nucs into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) and so the resulting colony ought to be transferred to a regular 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws to a end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, take away the queen in one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – a week or more later – have a very good 10-frame colony to put together for overwintering … or, obviously, overwinter them directly over these nucleus hives.
† The only real exception were individuals in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks further ahead in their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to check carefully on the underside of your queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not after that you can gently position it to just one side and initiate 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 one brood with a QE and something super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I was thinking it might be wise to include a frame of eggs for the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, if they were queenless they’d utilize them to increase queen cells.
I was not having enough some time and anyway wanted eggs from the colony within a different apiary. If the colony were going to raise a whole new queen I needed it ahead from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with certainly one of a recently available batch of mated queens once they had laid up an excellent frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to deal with the colony later in the week.
Once they behave queenright, perhaps these are …
I peeked through the perspex crownboard this afternoon while going to the apiary and saw a distinctive looking bee walking about around the underside from the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it had been clear, despite having a very brief view, that this had been a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly about the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.
I strongly suspected she was actually a virgin which had either wiggled throughout the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and after that got trapped. Alternatively, and perhaps much more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is in the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I know from my notes the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside it 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 inside the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames and the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
If you been able to spot the queen inside the image a fortnight ago you probably did better than I did so … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no sign of her inside the bees clustered across the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned for the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) in the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells and 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, while they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this season. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split employing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly considering swarming, with a few 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present during 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 just like these people 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 little one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After a little bit of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I came across a tiny knot of bees harrying a tiny queen, certainly the littlest I’ve seen this current year and never really any greater than an employee. I separated most of the workers and was able to take a couple of photos.
The abdomen is not really well shown in the picture but extends to just past the protruding antenna of the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally longer than the workers inside the same colony. When encompassed by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken near the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells coming from a cell raising colony set up by using a Cloake board. These nicot queen rearing system were from grafts raised from the colony that subsequently swarmed from 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 while and – practically some time they might be anticipated to mate – got kept in the colonies by 10 days of bad weather.
And they’re off
However, during the last couple of days the weather has found, 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 claim that a minimum of a number of the queens happen to be mated and laying … we’ll see with the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside the bee shed the other day. One colony that had looked good entering the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but some of the first bees to consider off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz because they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant amounts of drones being about with what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial frames contained ample stores as well as the frames in the midst of what should be the brood nest ended up being cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to put in. However, the sole brood was really 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 was in a distinct patch indicating it had been a DLQ instead of laying workers which scatter brood all over the frames. There are no young larvae, several late stage larvae, some sealed brood and some dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested how the queen could have either recently abandoned or been disposed of. There seemed to be also a rather pathetic queen cell, no doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I think this colony superseded late last season therefore the queen could have been unmarked. It also might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough search through the package neglected to locate her. I found myself short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all of the bees from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that this bees would reorientate for the other hives from the apiary.
I tidied things up, made certain the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the spot where the colony ended up being sited … there seemed to be a great sized cluster of bees accumulated around the stand. It was actually getting cooler and it also was clear how the bees were not going to “reorientate on the other hives from the apiary” as I’d hoped. More inclined they were gonna perish overnight as the temperature was predicted to lower to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies in the Spring as they’re unlikely to accomplish sufficiently to have a good crop of honey. However, Also i attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish due to lack of time or preparation on my part. I therefore put only a few frames – including one among stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it in the stand rather than the previous hive. In minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way being a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. When I returned these people were all within the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain in which the DLQ was, or even if she was still present, I placed a few sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box on the strong colony, held in place using a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears throughout the newspaper using the hive tool after which placed the DLQ colony at the top.
The next day there was a great deal of activity on the hive entrance and a peek with the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed using 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 can then take away the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t learn how to return 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 need to rush. These bees was headed with a DLQ to get a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining volume of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another few days wouldn’t make any difference. As an alternative to shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d happen to be better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to make the best of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later in the week and discovered another number of hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In the event the former they’d have again been supercedure queens while they needs to have been marked white and clipped coming from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season by using a circle split. However, this time I had been prepared and united the boxes likewise 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 – will be the most I’ve ever endured in just one winter and confirm just what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – besides the presence of variable numbers 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 the temperatures – and the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies remain accumulating well, using remaining stores after they can’t escape to forage. Because of this there’s an actual chance of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens is going to be raising little or no brood, and so 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 under the same roof, with the goal of allowing the queenless colony to boost a fresh queen. If successful, you wind up with two colonies from the original one. This approach can be used a means of swarm prevention, as a way to requeen a colony, so as to generate two colonies from a, or – to get covered in another post – the starting place to generate a variety of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off strategy for queen excluder … without having to graft, to put together cell raising colonies or manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding self-help guide to simple ways of making increase (PDF) including a variety of variants of the straightforward vertical split described here. There are actually additional instructions available 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 and a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to your situation once you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on the top – and wish to divide it into two.