Monthly Archives: January 2014

Two frame nucs

The completed box

The completed box

Two frame nuc boxes are extremely useful and relatively easy and inexpensive to construct. I use them throughout the season for all sorts of things, including:

  • carrying drawn frames, foundation, stores and/or dummy boards
  • mating nucs, primed with a grafted cell or a frame with a swarm cell
  • two frame ‘split’ to protect an old queen while the colony is re-queened
  • simple box to protect a frame with the queen while manipulating the colony e.g. harvesting nurse bees to populate mini-nucs, Bailey comb changes
  • transport box for grafted larvae, with the frame wrapped in a damp tea towel and a hot water bottle for warmth
  • a seat (for grafting, or just avoiding the damp ground)

Design

v1 … too narrow, too shallow

v1 … too narrow, too shallow

I think this type of box needs the following desirable attributes; wide enough to take two frames (perhaps plus a dummy board which means an internal width of ~85mm), top bee space so you don’t have to worry about crushing bees, ample space below the frames to accommodate a frame containing a long fat queen cell (30-40 mm isn’t too much), open mesh floor and secure entrance block. In addition is should be relatively lightweight and have handles that make it easy to carry. The one addition feature I’d like to have is stability, but this is tricky with such a narrow box … I strap mine to a hive stand if it’s being left unattended. Some of these desirable attributes are obvious, others were learnt the hard way (e.g. gently lowering a frame with a precious queen cell on the bottom bar into a box that was 1cm too shallow … oops). You can build one of these two frame nucs largely with wood from the scraps box and a simple range of  tools. Remember “measure twice, cut once“.

Dimensions

Internal dimensions of my two (National) frame nuc box are:

  • Length – NNN mm
  • Width – 85 mm
  • Depth – NN mm
Internal floor frame

Internal floor frame

The precise measurements of wood needed depend upon the what you have available. The side panels on mine are 8mm exterior plywood. The end panels are build from 18mm and 12mm scrap ply to generate the necessary thickness to accommodate the frame lug. The framed open mesh floor is from 21mm thick softwood. The entrance block is 9mm softwood. The crownboard is a Perspex offcut; although it’s convenient to be able to see through it a simple piece of thin plywood will do fine if you’ve got no Perspex. The roof has 12mm thick end panels but the sides and top are built from thin ply to keep the weight down. 

Although it’s unlikely you’ll keep bees in one of these boxes for long periods (even getting a queen mated and observing how well she lays only takes two to three weeks) pay attention to the beespace, allowing about 6-9mm gap between the frame and the end walls. 

Construction

OMF

OMF

Using softwood, with glue and screws holding together simple joints, build a floor frame with suitable external dimensions. The side walls will be attached directly to the floor frame. Cut a piece of mesh to size and nail it down using roofing felt nails or similar. The side walls are simple rectangles of 8-9mm exterior grade plywood. To ensure the crownboard and lid sits flat it is important that the corners of the side walls are exactly 90o.

 

End

End

The end panels are the same width as the floor frame – they are attached ‘inside’ the side walls. The cross-sectional view is shown (right), with the external end piece also acting as a handle for lifting the box. Remember to take account of the need for frame runners and fit these before assembling the box. 

Fit the side walls in place using glue and screws, ensuring that the top edges are parallel and level – that way the roof will sit flat. Fit the end panels in place, ensuring that they are vertical, using glue and screws through the side walls. The top of the end panels should be level with the top of the side walls. Don’t worry about minor gaps … once full of bees they’ll use propolis to seal these up.

Entrance

Entrance

The easiest way to provide a suitable entrance is to drill a 12-15mm hole through one of the end panels and use a foam plug to block it when it is not required. However, although more work, a better way to provide a secure and removable entrance is to cut the bottom of one of the end panels down by 9mm, thereby leaving a 9mm slot once the end panel is fitted (flush with the top of the side walls). A short piece of 9mm softwood can be used as an entrance block and this can be held securely in place with a bent nail.

Top

Top view

Cut a thin piece of ply slightly larger than the surface area of the top of the box and frame the inside with 21mm x 21mm softwood. Add end panels (using slightly thicker ply to make the next step easier) and then add thin side panels, securing them with gimp pins to the edge of the end panels. The roof should be lightweight and shallow. Make the side and end panels of the roof sufficiently short that you can easily access the handholds on the end panels of the box body. I’ve not bothered covering the roof with anything to waterproof it.

Give the entire exterior surface of the box 2-3 coats of something like Ronseal Fence Life or other bee-safe wood preservative.

Finished bottom view

Finished bottom view

For convenience fit a carrying handle. I used a single piece of braided polyester cord. Drill four suitable diameter holes through the side wall and floor frame, beneath the mesh floor. Run the cord through these via a short offcut of garden hosepipe to make a comfortable grip, knotting the two ends of the cord underneath the box. Before cutting off the unused cord make sure the handle is a) long enough to move completely out of the way, so the top of the open box can be readily accessed, and b) short enough to ensure the box is clear of the ground when being carried.

In use

I usually carry a frame of foundation, a frame of sealed stores and a dummy board in one of these boxes. That covers most eventualities and saves too many trips to and fro to the car, or worse, to and fro the apiary. When I’m queen rearing I use the box to carry grafts from wherever I’ve done the grafting to my cell raising colony (which is often in a different apiary). I wrap the frame of grafts in a damp tea towel. On a cool day I’ll add a large flat pre-warmed “freezer block” into the box to make sure the grafts don’t get chilled. If I’m doing something with the colony and want to ensure the queen stays safe I’ll put the frame she is on into the box, put the lid back on and tuck it in a shady corner somewhere. Finally, I’ve used one of these two frame nuc boxes as mating nuclei, adding a frame of emerging brood, a frame of stores, an additional frame’s worth of nurse bees (shaken on top … actually add these first as the ‘target’ is rather small if the box is full of frames) and primed it with a sealed queen cell hanging between the top bars of the frame.

As indicated at the beginning, these boxes have little lateral stability. If they are going to house bees for any length of time strap them to a hive stand or something secure.

A version of this article appeared in Dr. Bodgit’s DIY column in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter from Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.

 

Oxalic acid treatment

Two videos used during a talk (Varroa – total b’stards) on the management and treatment of Varroa for my local beekeeping association.

Treating a small colony – close up view.

A larger colony, showing how to use the Trickle dispenser available from Thorne’s (buy an empty one and make your own OA to fill it).

 

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Preparing soft set honey, or warming OSR for bottling, means you will need a source of controllable heat large enough to accommodate one or two 30lb honey buckets (or more of course). Many recommend an old fridge or freezer with an incandescent 100 watt bulb. These are getting increasingly difficult to buy and require some electrickery skills – which I lack – to accurately and safely control the temperature. An alternative is to build a honey warming cabinet from ply, lots of insulation and a well-regulated thermostatically controlled heating element, like they use to hatch chicken eggs. 

Using ply sheeting, a few dozen 4 x 40mm screws, some wood glue and a few sheets of 50mm insulation (for example Kingspan or Jablite, both of which are available from larger B&Q stores for about £4-5 per sheet) you can build a cabinet that easily rivals those sold by Thorne’s the usual commercial sources for a fraction of the price.

Ask your local wood merchant to prepare 9mm exterior grade ply cut to the following dimensions:

  • Top and base: 2 pieces, each 47.5cm x 87.5cm
  • Sides: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 87.5cm
  • Ends: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 45cm
Internal view

Internal view

Using ample glue and screws construct an open-topped box on top of the base sheet. Add scrap stripwood as handles on either end and feet underneath before going to the next stage (rather than after having to deconstruct the finished box as I did … the screws holding these handles and feet on should go from the inside of the box outwards). Line the box with thick insulation; both Jablite and Kingspan are easily cut with a carving knife which is much less messy than using a regular saw. A single sheet of insulation lines the base of the box, with the sides sitting on top and lying flush with the top of the ply side panels (see photos). The insulation does not need to be fixed in place, particularly if you overlap the ends (like sealing the top of a cardboard box).

Element … ary

Element … ary

I used a 100 egg incubator heating element from Ecostat. These are sold by beekeeping suppliers at a considerable markup … instead try Patrick Pinker Game Supplies who sell them for significantly less (c. £55 if I remember correctly). These elements are pre-wired and consist of a control unit/plug with two protruding wires. One is the thermostat and the other the heating element.  Both need to be fed through a hole drilled in the end or side wall of the box. I added an external socket (see note at end of article) but this is not necessary – simply ensure that the wires from the box cannot be accidentally pulled out as this is likely to damage the element or thermostat. The heating element needs to be supported from short wooden pegs so that it is clear of the walls and floor of the cabinet – I prepared a false floor from an offcut of 3mm ply and glued/screwed the vertical posts to it. Small eyelets are attached to the top of these which then – using the supplied rubber bands – support the element. The comprehensive instructions for the Ecostat element make this very clear. The thermostat needs to be well separated from the element. I taped it to the inner side wall of the box. While you have the role of duck tape out it might be wise to cover the exposed edges of the insulation which can be a little friable. The lid is simply constructed by gluing a suitably sized piece of insulation to the middle of the ply sheet – you can use Gorilla glue safely with foam insulation. Tape the edges of the lid as well as they can get quite a few knocks.

[Note 1: I have prepared some rudimentary plans (with dimensions) showing the construction of this honey warming cabinet. These should be read in conjunction with this page which contains the relevant images.

Note 2: There is an additional brief post on alternative places to source the thermostat and heating element. These are also available from Thorne’s and possibly other major beekeeping equipment suppliers, though at higher prices.]

Bucket stand

Bucket stand

You need the lid and floor finished before you can prepare the last component – a ventilated stand for the honey buckets. This needs to provide clearance above the element, but be short enough that the buckets leave space above them when the lid is closed (to allow air circulation). The picture shows the sort of thing required without exposing my poor quality carpentry.

Finally you need to calibrate the thermostat. This can easily be done by standing a large container of water in the cabinet with a thermometer in it, allowing the cabinet (and, more importantly, the water) to reach a stable temperature before recording it. Alternatively, and a lot more conveniently, buy one of those cheap remote weather stations from Maplin which have an external temperature sensor. Leave this in the cabinet and monitor the temperature with the base unit. My cabinet is in an unheated garage and holds temperatures between about 20oC and at least 55oC +/- 0.5-1.0oC when the ambient temperature is below about 14oC.

Ready to go

Ready to go

Soft set honey needs a temperature of 14oC or below so is best made during the colder months of the year, though you can always use your well insulated box as a chiller if you add lots of cooling blocks.

Improving heat distribution in the cabinet

After using this cabinet for about three years I modified it by adding a small mains powered fan underneath the slatted wooden stand. I used the external twin three pin socket to provide the power for this. This is a marked improvement (on what already worked pretty well). The box reaches temperature faster and fluctuates very little. The only problem I have encountered is when you try and maintain a constant low temperature … the fan generates some heat and it is difficult to keep the temperature much below the low 20’s centigrade.

Queen cell incubator

With an inner container such as a polythene ice cream carton with a damp cloth inside (to raise the humidity) I’ve used this incubator to hatch out queens from grafted cells. Just stack the hair-roller cages vertically in the ice-cream carton and check them regularly. Virgin queens can easily be added to queen less mini-nucs. If you’re going to use this cabinet for incubating queen cells remember to calibrate the thermostat and mark it for 34oC well in advance.

Warming super frames before extraction

If you take care to build the cabinet the same dimensions as a couple of supers you can use it to warm boxes of frames for extraction.

A version of this article first appeared (way back in 2012) in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter of the Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.

Poundland

£1 only

£1 only … unsurprisingly

Good value 1.4 litre airtight sealable storage tubs are sold by Poundland that take just over 4lb of honey. I think these will be ideal for storing batches of soft set honey in preparation for seeding the next bucket. This saves either leaving it in the bucket or bottling it. You usually need 3-4lb of creamed honey of the desired consistency to act as the seed for a full bucket, so the volume of these tubs is about right. They might also be suitable for bulk sales.

It’ll be no surprise to know that these tubs cost £1 …