Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I like. There is a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are super easy to paint and are produced from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance can be a gaping maw, but that may be easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace can also be a concern due to compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, however this is often fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a lttle bit irritating having to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered during these boxes did adequately and were generally no less than nearly as good, and quite often better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased some of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually simpler to prise up one end of your crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – in the integral feeder within the brood box. Checking the other fondant/syrup levels takes seconds through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony in any way.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this coming year to handle high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so happen to be exclusively by using these Everynucs. Using the vagaries of the weather within my section of the world it’s good to not have to keep checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to work with full-sized brood frames that allow the laying pattern in the queen being determined easily. I usually raise several batches of queens inside a season and this means I’m going inside and out of your dozen or more of such 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, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of the nice highlights of these boxes is their internal width which can be almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames as well as a dummy board in order to avoid strong colonies building brace comb from the gaps on one or each side in the outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, as an example as soon as the bees develop the corners with stores rather than drawing out first step toward the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, check for emergence – or release – in a day or two and after that gently push the frames back together again.
Better yet, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to function from one side of your box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to produce space. The frames should be removed gently and slowly to prevent rolling bees (but you will this anyway obviously). However, since I’m generally searching for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is actually a definite advantage. Within the image below you can observe the area available, even though four from the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Just enough space …
To produce 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 it the bees often stick the frames on the coarse wooden lip from the feeder with propolis, thereby so that it is more difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of those Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is simple to unite two nucs into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than a National frame) so the resulting colony must be moved to an ordinary 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Because 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 and after that – a week or more later – have a great 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, obviously, 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 current year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully at the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not you can then gently position it to one side and begin the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said such as “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on a single brood with a QE and one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I figured it might be wise to give a frame of eggs for the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d make use of them to increase queen cells.
I found myself not having enough time as well as anyway wanted eggs from the colony in a different apiary. In case the colony were gonna raise a new queen I needed it ahead from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recently available batch of mated queens when they had laid up an effective frame or two to indicate their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to handle the colony later in the week.
If they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked with the perspex crownboard this afternoon while exploring the apiary and saw a unique looking bee walking about in the underside of the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it was clear, in spite of a really brief view, which it was actually a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly about the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.
I strongly suspected that she was a virgin who had either wiggled throughout the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and after that got trapped. Alternatively, and possibly very 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 a bit cramped during inspections.
I understand from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should always be sufficient time 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 in the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames as well as the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
When you managed to find the queen inside the image a fortnight ago you probably did a lot better than I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there is no symbol 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?) in the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells as well as the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost within 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 current 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 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 like they were queenright (no new QC’s around 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 actually a crowded box – I stumbled upon a tiny knot of bees harrying a small queen, undoubtedly the smallest I’ve seen this current year and not really any greater than a worker. I separated many of the workers and was able to take several photos.
The abdomen is not well shown from the picture but reaches just past the protruding antenna of your worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and merely fractionally longer than the workers in the same colony. When encompassed by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture 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 with a Cloake board. These nicot queen rearing system were from grafts raised from your colony that subsequently swarmed through the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged within a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather in the second week of June, matured for several days and – pretty much time they will be anticipated to mate – got held in the colonies by 10 days of poor weather.
And they’re off
However, throughout the last week the weather has acquired, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights along with the workers have started piling in pollen. Every one of these are perfect signs and suggest that at the very least a number of the queens happen to be mated and laying … we’ll see on 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 months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees as i lifted the crown board … but a few of the first bees to take off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz while they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant amounts of drones being about in doing what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores and also the frames in the center of what should be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to lay in. However, the only real brood had been a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this coming year along with develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood was in a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood all over the frames. There have been no young larvae, a number of 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 is 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 might have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a brief but thorough sort through the box did not locate her. I was lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all of the bees from the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being how the bees would reorientate to the other hives from 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 had been sited … there was clearly a very good sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler and it was clear the bees were not going to “reorientate towards the other hives from the apiary” as I’d hoped. More inclined these people were gonna perish overnight because the temperature was predicted to decrease to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies early in the year as they’re unlikely to do well enough to get a good crop of honey. However, I also try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of absence of time or preparation on my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including certainly one of stores – right into a poly nuc and placed it on the stand instead of the existing hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way like a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these to it and rushed to collect some newspaper. As soon as I returned these people were all inside the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where DLQ was, as well as if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box over a strong colony, locked in place having a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears through the newspaper using the hive tool after which placed the DLQ colony on the top.
The next day there is a lot of activity in the hive entrance and a peek throughout the perspex crownboard demonstrated that the bees had chewed via a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and can then remove the top box and shake the remainder bees out – if there’s a queen present (which can be pretty unlikely now) she won’t learn how to come back to the new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be 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 reason to rush. These bees had been headed by a DLQ for a significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining level of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. As an alternative to shaking them out as being the afternoon cooled I’d have been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to make the most efficient of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later from the week and discovered another couple 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 since they must 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 time I had been prepared and united the boxes in the same manner 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 a year ago – will be the most I’ve ever had in one winter and make sure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable levels of drones or drone brood – were also notable for the large amounts of stores still within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and strong northerly winds keeping the temperatures – along with the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies continue to be building up well, using remaining stores once they can’t go out to forage. As a result there’s a genuine chance of colonies starving. As opposed, colonies with failed queens will likely be raising little if any brood, therefore the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of any colony into two – one queenright, one other queenless – on a single floor and under the same roof, using the purpose of allowing the queenless colony to improve a new queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies from the original one. This strategy can be used as a way of swarm prevention, in an effort to requeen a colony, in an effort to generate two colonies from a, or – to be covered in another post – the starting place to generate a number of 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 an outstanding self-help guide to simple means of making increase (PDF) which include 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 … wherein the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is specially good, but includes complications like brood and a half colonies and a myriad of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to your situation in case you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on top – and wish to divide it into two.