In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I prefer. These people have 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 that is certainly easily fixed with many wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace is also a concern due to compromises created to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, however this is often fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a bit irritating being forced to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered within these boxes did very well and were generally at least as good, and frequently 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 from the crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – into the integral feeder in the brood box. Checking the remainder fondant/syrup levels takes seconds throughout the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.
Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this current year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so have already been exclusively using these Everynucs. Together with the vagaries of the weather during 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 do business with full-sized brood frames that allow the laying pattern from the queen being determined easily. I raise several batches of queens inside a season and that means I’m going out and in of the dozen or so of such boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming these with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for any mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to conserve 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 although not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames plus a dummy board in order to avoid strong colonies building brace comb from the gaps using one or each side of your outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, by way of example if the bees increase the corners with stores as an alternative to drawing out basis of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, search for emergence – or release – in a day or two after which gently push the frames back together again again.
Much better, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to operate from one side in the box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to help make space. The frames need to be removed gently and slowly in order to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally searching for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is actually a definite advantage. From the image below you can observe the room available, even if four from the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Sufficient space …
To produce 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 it the bees have a tendency to stick the frames to the coarse wooden lip of your feeder with propolis, thereby so that it is harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of the Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is possible to unite two nucs right into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) therefore the resulting colony must be transferred to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As being the season draws for an end it’s therefore easy to take pairs of boxes, eliminate the queen in one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies then – weekly 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 exception were individuals in the bee shed that had been probably 2-3 weeks a little bit more ahead with their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to appear carefully at the underside of the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen can there be. If she’s not after that you can gently place it to one side and start 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 by using a QE and another super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I assumed it might be best if you give a frame of eggs for the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, if they were queenless they’d utilize them to raise queen cells.
I found myself not having enough time and anyway wanted eggs from a colony within a different apiary. In case the colony were gonna raise a whole new queen I wanted it in the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them one of a recently available batch of mated queens when they had laid up a great frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and created 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 going to the apiary and saw a distinctive looking bee walking about around the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it was actually clear, in spite of a really brief view, that it was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly concerning the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.
I strongly suspected she was really a virgin who had either wiggled throughout the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – then got trapped. Alternatively, as well as perhaps more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near the super during a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is incorporated in the bee shed and space is a little cramped during inspections.
I understand from my notes the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time for you to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her around the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her inside the brood box. She wandered quietly down between your brood frames and also the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.
In the event you were able to find the queen within the image a fortnight ago you probably did better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there was no sign of her in the bees clustered throughout the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned to the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) at 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 season. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking of swarming, with a couple 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 on 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 little one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it was actually a crowded box – I discovered a compact knot of bees harrying a tiny queen, by far the littlest I’ve seen this season rather than really any bigger than a worker. I separated the majority of the workers and managed to take several photos.
The abdomen is not really well shown in the picture but reaches just past the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and merely fractionally more than the workers from the same colony. When flanked by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The image above was taken near to the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells from your cell raising colony setup having 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 inside a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather in the second week of June, matured for a few days and – pretty much enough time they might be expected to mate – got held in the colonies by 10 days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, over the last day or two the elements has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights as well as the workers have started piling in pollen. Most of these are great signs and advise that at the very least some of the queens are actually mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies outside the bee shed a week ago. One colony which had looked good entering the wintertime 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 it is possible to hear their distinctive buzz because they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant quantities of drones to be about in doing what is turning out as a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first frames contained ample stores as well as the frames during what needs to be the brood nest had been cleared, cleaned and prepared for the queen to lay in. However, the only real brood was actually a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this current year and had turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as an alternative to laying workers which scatter brood all over the frames. There have been no young larvae, several late stage larvae, some sealed brood plus some dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested that this queen may have either recently abandoned or been disposed of. There seemed to be even a rather pathetic queen cell, without doubt also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I believe this colony superseded late last season therefore the queen could have been unmarked. It also might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a quick but thorough sort through the box did not locate her. I found myself short of equipment, newspaper and time so shook all of the bees off of the frames and removed the hive … anticipation being that the bees would reorientate towards 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 where the colony have been sited … there is an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It had been getting cooler plus it was clear the bees were not gonna “reorientate towards the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely they were planning to 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 perform good enough to acquire a good crop of honey. However, Furthermore, i try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a consequence of deficiency of time or preparation in my part. I therefore put only a few frames – including one of stores – in a poly nuc and placed it on the stand instead of the existing hive. Within a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way as a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left those to it and rushed to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned these folks were all within the poly nuc.
Since I Have still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, or perhaps if she was still present, I placed several sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box with a strong colony, held in place with a queen excluder. I made several small tears from the newspaper together with the hive tool after which placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The next day there seemed to be plenty of activity on the hive entrance plus a peek with the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed by way of a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in certain days (it’s getting cold again) and may then get rid of the top box and shake the remainder bees out – if there’s a queen present (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t understand how to return to the brand new site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, prepare yourself during early-season inspections for failed queens and enjoy the necessary equipment to hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no reason to rush. These bees have been headed from a DLQ for any significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining amount of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another few days wouldn’t make any difference. Rather than shaking them out as being the afternoon cooled I’d are already better returning another afternoon together with the necessary kit to make the most efficient of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another handful of 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 the batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season employing a circle split. However, this time around I was 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 this past year – are definitely the most I’ve ever endured within a winter and confirm exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable quantities of drones or drone brood – were also notable to 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 will still be building up well, using remaining stores after they can’t get out to forage. As a result there’s a genuine likelihood of colonies starving. On the other hand, colonies with failed queens will be raising little or no brood, and so the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of your colony into two – one queenright, another queenless – on a single floor and under the same roof, with the purpose of allowing the queenless colony to boost a fresh queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies from your original one. This process can be used as a means of swarm prevention, as a way to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies from a single, or – to become covered in another post – the starting point to generate numerous nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of queen excluder … without having to graft, to make cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written a fantastic self-help guide to simple methods of making increase (PDF) which include a variety of variants of the straightforward vertical split described here. There are 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 plus a half colonies and numerous further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description into a situation if you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers at the top – and would like to divide it into two.