Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is definitely the one I enjoy. There is a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are simple to paint and are produced from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is a gaping maw, but which is easily fixed with a bit of wire mesh pinned in place. The beespace can also be a problem due to the compromises created to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, however this can be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a lttle bit irritating the need to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered during these boxes did very well and were generally at the very least as good, and often better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased a number of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually quicker to prise up one end in the crownboard and merely drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder inside the brood box. Checking the remaining fondant/syrup levels takes seconds throughout the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.
On account of work commitments I haven’t had time this year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so have already been exclusively utilizing these Everynucs. With all the vagaries of the weather during my part of the world it’s good to not have to keep checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to do business with full-sized brood frames that allow the laying pattern from the queen to get determined easily. I raise a couple of batches of queens in the season and this means I’m going inside and outside of a dozen or so of such boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, in order to save resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.
One of many nice attributes of these boxes is the internal width which is almost although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames as well as a dummy board to avoid strong colonies building brace comb from the gaps using one or both sides from the outside frames. One benefit from this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for instance as soon as the bees build-up the corners with stores instead of drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, search for emergence – or release – in a day or two then gently push the frames back together again again.
Better yet, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to function from one side of the box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to help make space. The frames should be removed gently and slowly to prevent rolling bees (but you do this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally looking for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ can be a definite advantage. From the image below you will see the room available, even though four in the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Only 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 within the photo above) as described previously. Without this the bees tend to stick the frames for the coarse wooden lip from the feeder with propolis, thereby rendering it more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of those Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can easily unite two nucs in 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 needs to be relocated to an ordinary 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Since the season draws to an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, remove the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – a week or more later – have a great 10-frame colony to make for overwintering … or, obviously, overwinter them directly during these nucleus hives.
† The only exception were those who work in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks further ahead inside their development by late March/early April this year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully at the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen can there be. If she’s not you may then gently place it to a single side and begin 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 by using a QE then one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I figured it could be wise to put in a frame of eggs on the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d rely on them to improve queen cells.
I was running out of some time and anyway wanted eggs from a colony in the different apiary. If the colony were gonna raise a brand new queen I wanted it ahead from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them one among a newly released batch of mated queens once they had laid up an effective frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and produced a mental note to deal with the colony later from the week.
When they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked with the perspex crownboard this afternoon while seeing the apiary and saw an exceptional looking bee walking about around the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it absolutely was clear, despite having an extremely brief view, it had been a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly in regards to the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.
I strongly suspected she was really a virgin that had either wiggled with the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and then got trapped. Alternatively, and maybe more inclined, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby 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 know from my notes that this colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly be sufficient time and energy 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 from the brood box. She wandered quietly down involving the brood frames and also the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
If you managed to find the queen within the image a fortnight ago you probably did better than I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there is no sign of her in the bees clustered round the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned to the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) on 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, and had already produced three full supers this current year. However, I’d also grafted out of this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split by using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly contemplating swarming, with a number of 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 around the seventh day they behaved as if these people were queenright (no new QC’s around the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I must have missed a sealed cell (presumably a tiny one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a little bit of searching – it was a crowded box – I found a little knot of bees harrying a little queen, definitely the tiniest I’ve seen this year and never really any larger than a worker. I separated many of the workers and been able to take a number of photos.
The abdomen will not be well shown within the picture but extends to just beyond the protruding antenna of the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and simply fractionally over the workers in the same colony. When in the middle of a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The photo above was taken close to the end of May, shortly before I removed the first batch of cells from the cell raising colony put in place having a Cloake board. These nicot queen rearing system were from grafts raised from your colony that subsequently swarmed in the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged in the circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather inside the second week of June, matured for a few days and – just about the time they will be anticipated to mate – got trapped in the colonies by ten days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, over the past couple of days the weather has acquired, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights along with the workers have started piling in pollen. Most of these are perfect signs and claim that at the very least a number of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see with the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside of the bee shed the other day. One colony that had looked good going to the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees when I lifted the crown board … but several of the first bees to adopt off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you can 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 what is turning out to become a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores and also 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, really the only brood was a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this coming year and had be a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood was in a distinct patch indicating it was a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood throughout the frames. There are no young larvae, a number of late stage larvae, some sealed brood and a few dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen probably have either recently abandoned or been disposed of. There is also a rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I do believe this colony superseded late last season hence the queen could have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough search through the package neglected to locate her. I had been short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook every one of the bees off the frames and removed the hive … the hope being the bees would reorientate towards the other hives in the apiary.
I tidied things up, ensured the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the area where colony ended up being sited … there was clearly a very good sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It had been getting cooler and it also was clear how the bees were not planning to “reorientate for the other hives inside the apiary” as I’d hoped. Much more likely they were likely to 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 try and avoid simply letting bees perish because of deficiency of time or preparation on my own part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one of stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it in the stand instead of the old hive. Within a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same way as being a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these to it and rushed straight back to collect some newspaper. When I returned these were all inside the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, and even if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box on a strong colony, kept in place using a queen excluder. I made several small tears throughout the newspaper with all the hive tool and after that placed the DLQ colony on top.
The subsequent day there was plenty of activity in the hive entrance along with a peek through the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed via a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in a few 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 (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t realize how to go 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 reason to rush. These bees was headed by a DLQ for any 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 because the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to make the best of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later inside the week and discovered another handful of hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In case the former they’d have again been supercedure queens because they needs to have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season by using a circle split. However, this period I found myself prepared and united the boxes in the same way over newspaper held down using a queen excluder. All the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised last year – are the most I’ve had within a winter and make sure 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 within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and robust northerly winds keeping the temperatures – as well as the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies are still building up well, using remaining stores when they can’t escape to forage. As a result there’s a real probability of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens will probably be raising virtually no brood, and 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 within the same roof, with the goal of allowing the queenless colony to improve a brand new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies through the original one. This process can be used as a method of swarm prevention, so as to requeen a colony, so as to generate two colonies in one, or – being covered in another post – the beginning point to create several nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off strategy for nuc beehive … without having to graft, to make cell raising colonies or perhaps to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an excellent help guide to simple methods for making increase (PDF) consisting of a number of variants of the straightforward vertical split described here. You can 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 specially good, but includes complications like brood as well as 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 on the top – and would like to divide it into two.