Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I prefer. There is a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are super 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 in place. The beespace is likewise a problem due to the compromises designed to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this may be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a little irritating needing to ‘fix’ a box which costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered over these boxes did perfectly and were generally a minimum of nearly as good, and sometimes 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 in 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 throughout the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony at all.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so happen to be exclusively utilizing these Everynucs. Together with the vagaries of the weather during my portion of the world it’s good to not have to hold checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to work with full-sized brood frames that enable the laying pattern in the queen to become determined easily. I raise a few batches of queens inside a season which means I’m going inside and outside of any dozen or so of those boxes regularly, making them up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save lots of resources, allowing them to expand with successive batches of queens.
One of several nice highlights of these boxes is the internal width which can be almost yet not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames together with a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb in the gaps in one or each side in the outside frames. One benefit from this additional ‘elbow room’ is the fact these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example once the bees increase the corners with stores as an alternative to drawing out reasons for the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, check for emergence – or release – in a couple of days after which gently push the frames back together again.
Even better, by taking off the dummy board there’s enough space to work in one side of your box for 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 obviously). However, since I’m generally searching for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. Within the image below you can see the space available, even if four in the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Adequate space …
To make frame manipulation easier it’s worth adding a frame runner on the inside of the feed compartment (it’s the white strip just visible from the photo above) as described previously. Without it the bees usually stick the frames for the coarse wooden lip from the feeder with propolis, thereby making it harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of these 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 when compared to a National frame) so the resulting colony should be transferred to an ordinary 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Since the season draws for an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, get rid of the queen in one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – a week roughly later – have a very good 10-frame colony to make for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly within these nucleus hives.
† Really the only exception were individuals in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks a little bit more ahead within their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully with 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 one side and begin 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 using a QE and one super, topped by using a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I thought it might be smart to add a frame of eggs on the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, when they were queenless they’d utilize them to raise queen cells.
I used to be running out of efforts and anyway wanted eggs from the colony in the different apiary. In the event the colony were likely to raise a new queen I needed it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them certainly one of a recent batch of mated queens after they had laid up an excellent frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to handle the colony later in the week.
When they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked through the perspex crownboard this afternoon while exploring the apiary and saw a unique looking bee walking about about the underside of your crownboard. Despite being upside down it had been clear, even with an incredibly brief view, which it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly concerning the super and wasn’t being hassled from the workers.
I strongly suspected that she was a virgin who had either wiggled from the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and then got trapped. Alternatively, and possibly very likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near the super throughout a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is with the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I realize from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell within it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her about the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her within the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames as well as the bees didn’t seem whatsoever perturbed.
Should you was able to find the queen from the image a fortnight ago you probably did much better than I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no symbol 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 as well as the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost in the grass, got injured or was otherwise incapacitated during swarming? Perhaps she did return and was then done away with? A pity, as they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this coming year. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split utilizing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly considering 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 around the seventh day they behaved as though they were queenright (no new QC’s on the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I must have missed a sealed cell (presumably a very small one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I found a tiny knot of bees harrying a little queen, definitely the littlest I’ve seen this current year instead of really any larger than an employee. I separated many of the workers and been able to take a couple of photos.
The abdomen is not well shown from the picture but extends to just beyond the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally beyond the workers inside the same colony. When flanked by 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 first batch of cells from a cell raising colony set up using a Cloake board. These nicot 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 inside a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather inside the second week of June, matured for several days and – practically some time they might be anticipated to mate – got kept in the colonies by ten days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, over the past few days the weather conditions has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and the workers have started piling in pollen. Many of these are perfect signs and propose that at least several of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed a couple weeks ago. One colony who had looked good starting the winter months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees as i lifted the crown board … but a few of the first bees for taking off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you are able to hear their distinctive buzz since they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant quantities of drones to become about with what is turning out to be a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the initial few frames contained ample stores and also the frames in the center of what needs to be the brood nest was cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to put in. However, really the only brood was really a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this year along with develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is at a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood all around the frames. There was no young larvae, a couple of late stage larvae, some sealed brood and a few dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen could have either recently given up or been disposed of. There was also a rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I do believe this colony superseded late last season so the queen might have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough search through the box neglected to locate her. I found myself short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees away from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that this bees would reorientate for the other hives in the apiary.
I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the place the location where the colony have been sited … there was a pretty good sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It had been getting cooler and it was clear that the bees were not planning to “reorientate towards the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. Much more likely these folks 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 complete sufficiently to have a good crop of honey. However, Furthermore, i attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish due to insufficient time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one among stores – right into a poly nuc and placed it in the stand rather than that old hive. Within a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much the same way like a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left those to it and rushed returning to collect some newspaper. Once I returned these folks were all in the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, as well as if she was still present, I placed a number of sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box with a strong colony, located in place by using a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears through the newspaper with all the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The following day there was clearly plenty of activity on the hive entrance along with a peek from the perspex crownboard showed that the bees had chewed through a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in some days (it’s getting cold again) and can then take away the top box and shake the remainder bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t learn how to come back to the latest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, be well prepared during early-season inspections for failed queens and possess the necessary equipment handy – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no need to rush. These bees was headed from a DLQ for the significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining level 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 are already better returning another afternoon with all the necessary kit to get the best of the bad situation.
I checked another apiary later in the week and discovered another few hives with DLQ’s ?? Within both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In the event the former they’d have again been supercedure queens as they ought to have been marked white and clipped from a batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season using a circle split. However, this time around I used to be prepared and united the boxes in the same manner over newspaper held down by 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 definitely the most I’ve ever endured in a single winter and make sure 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 the 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 – and the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies remain accumulating well, using remaining stores whenever they can’t escape to forage. As a consequence there’s a real chance of colonies starving. In contrast, colonies with failed queens will probably be raising virtually no brood, hence the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of a colony into two – one queenright, other queenless – on the very same floor and underneath the same roof, together with the aim of allowing the queenless colony to boost 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, in an effort to requeen a colony, in an effort to generate two colonies from one, or – to get covered in another post – the starting place to generate a variety of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc box … without having to graft, to make cell raising colonies or perhaps to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding self-help guide to simple methods for making increase (PDF) which include numerous variants of your straightforward vertical split described here. You can find additional instructions seen 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 plus a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to a situation once you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers ahead – and want to divide it into two.