Of your polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I favor. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are easy to paint and are produced from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance can be a gaping maw, but which is easily fixed with some wire mesh pinned in place. The beespace is likewise an issue 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 a little irritating having to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered over 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 a few of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually simpler to prise up one end in the crownboard and merely drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder from the brood box. Checking the rest of the fondant/syrup levels takes seconds with the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony in any way.
As a result of work commitments I haven’t had time this coming year to handle high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have been exclusively by using these Everynucs. With the vagaries of the weather inside my section of the world it’s good not to have to help 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 of your queen to get determined easily. I usually raise several batches of queens inside a season and that means I’m going out and in of your dozen approximately of such boxes regularly, which makes them up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them to get a mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save lots of resources, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of the nice features of these boxes could be the internal width which can be almost yet 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 from the gaps using one or either side of the outside frames. One advantage of this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example as soon as the bees develop the corners with stores instead of 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 then gently push the frames together again again.
Much better, by taking off the dummy board there’s enough space to operate in one side of your box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to create space. The frames do need to be removed gently and slowly to prevent 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 actually a definite advantage. From the image below you can observe the area available, even if four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Adequate 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 tend to stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip of the feeder with propolis, thereby making it more challenging to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is possible to 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 should be relocated to a regular 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Because the season draws with an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, eliminate the queen from a single to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and after that – weekly approximately later – have a good 10-frame colony to put together for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly within 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 coming year.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to check carefully in the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen will there be. If she’s not after that you can gently position it to 1 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 using a QE and one super, topped using a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it could be wise to put in a frame of eggs for the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, when they were queenless they’d rely on them to boost queen cells.
I was not having enough time and anyway wanted eggs coming from a colony in a different apiary. When the colony were gonna raise a brand new queen I wanted it ahead from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them certainly one of a recent batch of mated queens when they had laid up an excellent frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and created a mental note to deal with the colony later inside the week.
If they behave queenright, perhaps these are …
I peeked with the perspex crownboard this afternoon while visiting the apiary and saw an exceptional looking bee walking about in the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, in spite of an incredibly brief view, which it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly regarding the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.
I strongly suspected she was actually a virgin that had either wiggled from the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – after which got trapped. Alternatively, and maybe more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby the super during the previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is within the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I am aware from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell inside it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should be sufficient time and energy 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 from the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames and the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
In the event you managed to see the queen within the image a fortnight ago you probably did better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there is no sign of her from the bees clustered around the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned towards 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, since they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this year. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split utilizing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking about 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 on the seventh day they behaved like these were queenright (no new QC’s in 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 a few days before. After a bit of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I came across a tiny knot of bees harrying a very small queen, certainly the littlest I’ve seen this year and not really any greater than an employee. I separated most of the workers and managed to take a few photos.
The abdomen will not be well shown from the picture but reaches just beyond the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and simply fractionally more than the workers inside the same colony. When flanked by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken nearby the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells coming from a cell raising colony set up with a Cloake board. These queen rearing system were from grafts raised in the colony that subsequently swarmed through 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 – nearly enough time they will be needed to mate – got held in the colonies by ten days of poor weather.
And they’re off
However, during the last couple of days the elements 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 propose that at the very least a number of the queens are already mated and laying … we’ll see at the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside of the bee shed a week ago. One colony who had looked good starting the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees as i lifted the crown board … but several of the first bees for taking 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 quantities of drones to get about as to what is turning out to become late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first few frames contained ample stores along with the frames in the middle of what ought to be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to lay in. However, the only brood was really a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this current year along with turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is at a distinct patch indicating it was a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood everywhere in the frames. There was no young larvae, a few late stage larvae, some sealed brood plus some dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen may have either recently abandoned or been disposed of. There was clearly even a rather pathetic queen cell, no doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I feel this colony superseded late last season hence the queen might have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a brief but thorough sort through the box neglected to locate her. I was lacking 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 to the other hives from the apiary.
I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the place where colony ended up being sited … there was a great sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It absolutely was getting cooler and yes it was clear how the bees were not likely to “reorientate towards the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. Much more likely these were going to perish overnight as 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 have a good crop of honey. However, In addition, i try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of insufficient time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small number of frames – including one of stores – in to a poly nuc and placed it on the stand instead of the old hive. In a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same way as a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed straight back to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned these folks were all within the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, or perhaps if she was still present, I placed a number of sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box over a strong colony, located in place by using a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears from the newspaper with all the hive tool and after that placed the DLQ colony ahead.
These day there seemed to be plenty of activity in the hive entrance and a peek through the perspex crownboard demonstrated that the bees had chewed by way of a big patch of the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and may then take away the top box and shake the rest of the bees out – if there’s a queen present (which happens to be pretty unlikely now) she won’t understand how to go back to the newest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be well prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and enjoy the necessary equipment handy – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no need to rush. These bees was headed by way of a DLQ for the significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining level of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another few days wouldn’t make any difference. As opposed to shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d have been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to get the best of your bad situation.
I checked another apiary later from the week and discovered another few 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 must have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season using a circle split. However, now I used to be prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down by using a queen excluder. All of the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised this past year – are definitely the most I’ve ever endured in a single winter and ensure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – besides the presence of variable levels of drones or drone brood – were also notable for your considerable amounts of stores still found in 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 accumulating well, using remaining stores when they can’t go out to forage. As a result there’s a real chance of colonies starving. On the other hand, colonies with failed queens is going to be raising little if any brood, hence 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 under the same roof, together with the aim of allowing the queenless colony to boost a whole new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies in the original one. This method bring a method of swarm prevention, as a way to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies from one, or – to become covered in another post – the starting point to generate a variety of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off strategy for nuc box … without having to graft, to prepare cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a fantastic guide to simple methods for making increase (PDF) which include several variants of your straightforward vertical split described here. You can find additional instructions located on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … when 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 myriad 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 would like to divide it into two.