Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s will be the one I enjoy. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are easy to paint and are made from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is actually a gaping maw, but which is easily fixed with a bit of wire mesh pinned set up. The beespace is additionally a challenge due to compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, however this can be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating having to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).
Colonies overwintered in these boxes did well and were generally no less than pretty much as good, and frequently better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased some of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually quicker to prise up one end of the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder from the brood box. Checking the rest of the fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony in any way.
Because of work commitments I haven’t had time this current year to handle high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have already been exclusively utilizing these Everynucs. With the vagaries from the weather in my section of the world it’s good not to have to keep checking them for stores during cold, wet periods. It’s also great to work with full-sized brood frames that permit the laying pattern of the queen to get determined easily. I raise a few batches of queens in the season and also this means I’m going inside and out of any dozen or more of such boxes regularly, which makes them up, priming them a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save lots of resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.
One of several nice attributes of these boxes could be the internal width which happens to be almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames along with a dummy board to avoid strong colonies building brace comb within the gaps using one or either side from the outside frames. One benefit from this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, by way of example as soon as the bees build-up the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out basis of 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 and then gently push the frames back together again again.
Better still, by eliminating the dummy board there’s enough space to function in one side in the box towards 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 do this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally trying to find the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. Inside the image below you can observe the room available, even when four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.
Only 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 have a tendency to stick the frames towards the coarse wooden lip of the feeder with propolis, thereby making it harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).
The brood boxes of the Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can easily unite two nucs right into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper when compared to a National frame) and so the resulting colony should be relocated to a typical 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, take away the queen from a single to requeen another hive, unite the colonies after which – a week or more later – have a very good 10-frame colony to put together for overwintering … or, obviously, overwinter them directly within these nucleus hives.
† Really the only exception were those in the bee shed that had been probably 2-3 weeks further ahead with their development by late March/early April this season.
In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to look carefully in the underside from the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen can there be. If she’s not then you can gently put it to 1 side and begin the inspection.
I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something such as “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on a single brood having a QE and something super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I thought it will be wise to give a frame of eggs to the colony – if 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 had been running out of some time and anyway wanted eggs from a colony inside a different apiary. In case the colony were planning to raise a new queen I wanted it into the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them certainly one of a recent batch of mated queens when they had laid up a good frame or two to show their quality. I closed them up and crafted a mental note to handle the colony later inside the week.
When they behave queenright, perhaps they can be …
I peeked throughout the perspex crownboard this afternoon while going to the apiary and saw a unique looking bee walking about on the underside in the crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, even with a really brief view, that this had been 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 actually a virgin that had either wiggled through the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – after which got trapped. Alternatively, and possibly more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame close to the super throughout a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is within the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.
I understand from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell within it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly 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 involving the brood frames and the bees didn’t seem in any way perturbed.
If you was able to find the queen in the image a fortnight ago you probably did a lot better than I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there was clearly no manifestation of her from 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 along with the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost from 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, and had already produced three full supers this season. However, I’d also grafted out of this colony – see below.
I performed a colony split using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly considering swarming, with a couple 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 like these folks 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 little one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a certain amount of searching – it had been a crowded box – I found a tiny knot of bees harrying a little queen, definitely the smallest I’ve seen this current year rather than really any bigger than an employee. I separated the majority of the workers and were able to take a number of photos.
The abdomen is just not well shown in the picture but extends to just past the protruding antenna from the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and just fractionally more than the workers inside the same colony. When in the middle of a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.
The picture above was taken near to the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells from a cell raising colony set up using a Cloake board. These nicot queen rearing system were from grafts raised from your colony that subsequently swarmed from your 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 the time they might be expected to mate – got trapped in the colonies by 10 days of very poor weather.
And they’re off
However, throughout the last day or two the climate has found, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and also the workers have started piling in pollen. Every one of these are excellent signs and propose that at least some of the queens are already mated and laying … we’ll see on the next inspection.
I conducted my first inspections of colonies beyond the bee shed a week ago. One colony which had looked good going into the wintertime had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees after i lifted the crown board … but a number of the first bees for taking off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you may hear their distinctive buzz as they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant variety of drones to get about as to what is turning out to be a late Spring.
Drone laying queens
Sure enough, the first frames contained ample stores and the frames in the middle of what ought to be the brood nest ended up being cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to lay in. However, the sole brood was actually a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this season and had be a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood was in a distinct patch indicating it absolutely was a DLQ instead of laying workers which scatter brood everywhere in the frames. There are no young larvae, a number of late stage larvae, some sealed brood and a few dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested that this queen probably have either recently given up or been disposed of. There seemed to be a good rather pathetic queen cell, certainly also containing a drone pupa.
Drone laying queen …
I feel this colony superseded late last season and so the queen could have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a fast but thorough sort through the box did not locate her. I used to be lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees off the frames and removed the hive … the hope being the bees would reorientate for the other hives from the apiary.
I tidied things up, ensured the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the place where the colony have been sited … there was clearly a pretty good sized cluster of bees accumulated in the stand. It was actually getting cooler and it also was clear the bees were not going to “reorientate to the other hives within the apiary” as I’d hoped. More inclined these folks were going to perish overnight because the temperature was predicted to drop to 3°C.
I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies in the Spring as they’re unlikely to perform sufficiently to get a good crop of honey. However, In addition, i try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a consequence of deficiency of time or preparation in my part. I therefore put a small amount of frames – including one of stores – right into a poly nuc and placed it around the stand rather than the previous hive. Within a few minutes the bees were streaming in, in much the same way like a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed to collect some newspaper. By the time I returned these were all from the poly nuc.
Since I still wasn’t certain where DLQ was, or perhaps if she was still present, I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box on a strong colony, located in place by using a queen excluder. I made a number of small tears with the newspaper with the hive tool then placed the DLQ colony ahead.
The following day there was clearly a lot of activity in the hive entrance as well as a peek throughout the perspex crownboard revealed that the bees had chewed by way of a big patch in the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in a few days (it’s getting cold again) and can then take away the top box and shake the other bees out – if there’s a queen present (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t know how to get back to the newest site.
Lessons learned† … firstly, prepare yourself during early-season inspections for failed queens and have the necessary equipment to hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no reason to rush. These bees had been headed by a DLQ for the significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining volume of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another couple of days wouldn’t make any difference. As an alternative to shaking them out as the afternoon cooled I’d have been better returning another afternoon together with the necessary kit to make the best of any bad situation.
I checked another apiary later within the week and discovered another number of hives with DLQ’s ?? In both cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. When the former they’d have again been supercedure queens because they must have been marked white and clipped from your batch raised and mated at the end of May/early June last season by using a circle split. However, this time around I had been prepared and united the boxes in the same way over newspaper held down having a queen excluder. The rest of the colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised a year ago – would be the most I’ve ever had in just one winter and confirm exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.
These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable numbers 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 robust northerly winds keeping temperatures – and also the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies will still be building up well, using remaining stores when they can’t get out to forage. Because of this there’s a real chance of colonies starving. In contrast, colonies with failed queens will likely be raising little or no brood, hence the stores remain unused.
A vertical split describes the division of the colony into two – one queenright, one other queenless – on the same floor and underneath the same roof, with the aim of allowing the queenless colony to improve a brand new queen. If successful, you find yourself with two colonies through the original one. This strategy 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 – being covered in another post – the starting place to build several nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc box … with no need to graft, to get ready cell raising colonies or even to manage mating nucs.
Wally Shaw has written an outstanding self-help guide to simple methods of making increase (PDF) consisting of several 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 numerous further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to some situation in case you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers ahead – and want to divide it into two.