Category Archives: Hives and nucs

Integrity …

Bodged

Bodged

… make sure your stored broods and supers have it. For that matter, your hives need it as well.

Early autumn is when wasps appear in droves. They gatecrash picnics and pester our bees as they search for carbohydrates. This year, after a pretty poor summer, they’re a bit later that usual … at least in this part of the UK. Queen wasps have now stopped rearing brood – which requires a protein-rich diet for the colony – and they’ve now switch to carb-bingeing.

My apiaries are away from my house, so the first thing I become aware of is the increased numbers of wasps investigating the stacked up piles of broods and supers. ‘Wet’ supers containing residual honey after extraction are very attractive to the wasps. They look for any structural weakness in the stack … a poorly fitting roof, a warped crownboard or gaps at the joints in the boxes.

If any of these provide access there will be a never-ending stream of wasps making return trips from their nest site – which may be up to a mile away – and the source of the honey. When you walk past the boxes you can sometimes hear the rustling or scratching of the wasps as they look for additional routes out once they’re laden with honey.

They can even chew through poly boxes where there’s a hint of  structural weakness to gain entry or subsequent exit from the pile. In the picture (above) the corner of the upper Swienty poly super – at the point where the hive tool had slightly indented the relatively soft polystyrene – was mercilessly attacked, leading to a neat chewed hole large enough to give the wasps access.

Structural integrity

Maintain neat stacks of equipment, securely sealed at the base and the top. Try and avoid having an open mesh floor at the bottom of the stack, even if the entrance is sealed up. The scent of honey will still attract wasps from far and wide … and once they’re there they are very persistent.

I use sheets of spare Correx or solid split boards with all the entrances closed up tightly on the bottom of the stack. If you don’t have anything suitable a sheet of thick polythene forms a reasonably impenetrable barrier – to scent and wasps.

If there are gaps, and there probably will be as equipment ages and warps or gets bashed about, seal up the gaps as soon as you notice them. Waterproof gaffer tape is as good as anything for this as a temporary fix.

Colonies

It’s not only the integrity of empty stacks of equipment that is being tested at this time of the season. Wasps will show similar levels of interest in colonies of all sizes – from double-brood monsters bulging with bees to mini-nucs containing only a cupful of workers and a queen.

Life’s a lot easier for the colony if they only have a single entrance to defend. Check the joints and junctions between boxes and seal any up where wasps might gain access. This includes the – entirely unnecessary in my view – ventilation holes in the roof. Unless these have well-fitted mesh there’s a chance the jaspers can get in and from there to the honey supers if your crownboard also has another – entirely unnecessary – ventilation hole.

Kewl floor entrance slot

Kewl floor entrance slot

Life’s easier still for the colony if the entrance is small and/or easy to defend. The kewl floors I favour, with an “L-shaped” entrance tunnel, provide ample opportunity for the guard bees to challenge any inquisitive wasps – at the entrance per se, or where the tunnel opens into the brood box. I don’t think I’ve ever had to provide additional protection to full-sized colonies using one of these floors.

Unbalanced or nearly-colonies

Small colonies, recently created colonies or colonies that are otherwise weakened are a different matter altogether. In all of these the colony is either understrength or lacking a full complement of worker types.

Reduced entrance ...

Reduced entrance …

Or both.

For example, newly created nucs containing a late-mated queen and a couple of frames of brood and adhering bees, may well not be up to defending themselves properly against the determined attention of wasps (which is the only sort of attention wasps are capable of).

Mini-nucs or queenless colonies are particularly susceptible and regularly succumb to attacks by wasps.

Maximise the opportunities these colonies have to defend themselves by restricting the entrance to a very narrow gap. The gaping maw of Thorne’s Everynucs definitely needs reduction, either by closing off 80% of it with grass stuffed into the gap (in an emergency) or using foam or Varroa mesh offcuts to achieve the same end.

Don’t be sloppy

Slopping large quantities of sugar-rich syrup about the apiary is a sure-fire way to attract the striped hordes. Make sure feeders are watertight (syrup-tight) and don’t leak. Pour carefully and mop up any spills that do occur.

I almost exclusively use fondant for late-season feeding. Spills are non-existent. The block is cut in half with a spade (or breadknife) and placed inverted on top of the colony. It takes seconds and works well. As an aside, you can feed fondant and treat with Apiguard at the same time – I’ve been asked about this recently.

Don’t leave offcuts of brace comb lying about in the apiary. Tidy up after you, don’t conduct unnecessary inspections or leave unattended frames propped up against the hive stand while you slowly go though a colony.

All of the above help the colonies avoid the attention of wasps … they also reduce the likelihood of colonies being robbed out by other bees, a topic I’ve mentioned before and will discuss in the future as it has very significant implications for disease transmission.


† Jasper is a slang name for wasps I was aware of as a boy in North London. The origin of the term appears unknown, but QI has an interesting discussion on it. It’s variously ascribed to Dorset, Lincolnshire (East Midlands), Yorkshire and Glasgow. It’s also not clear the derivation of the word … ‘jasper’ sounds like the genus Vespa which our common wasps belong to. Alternatively, there’s a striped mineral called Jasper which (potentially, though not to me) resembles the striped abdomen of wasps.

Compatibility

There’s a saying that goes something like “Ask three beekeepers an opinion on … and you’ll get five answers”. And if it isn’t a saying, then it should be. Have a look at the online forums and you’ll see numerous threads with multiple – often wildly contradictory – answers. This can be a problem for experienced beekeepers and is a total nightmare for new beekeepers.

Inevitably, beekeeping is an inexact science. There are too many variables to be dogmatic about things – the weather, colony strength, available forage, parasite levels, time, beekeeping ability etc. 

Compatibility, standardisation and efficiency 

However, one thing that most beekeepers should agree on is that compatibility of equipment is important. For efficiency, your equipment needs to be compatible e.g. using a roof that fits any of your hives. Without compatibility you will inevitably experience the frustration of trying to make incompatible equipment ‘fit’ together, or have to make repeated trips to the apiary with the correct kit.

Been there, done that 🙁

Compatibility is best achieved by standardisation i.e. all hives are of the same size and design, built to an agreed specification or standard, ideally by a single manufacturer. I suggest ‘single manufacturer’ as some don’t adhere to the standards as closely as others. Unless you are, and intend to stay, a single hive owner (and there are very good reasons why you shouldn’t) this is an ideal that is rarely achieved.

If you have more than one apiary you’re likely to be moving hives between them. Again, compatibility is important. Finally, if you are being mentored, acting as a mentor to others or intending to sell nucleus colonies, it helps if your hive equipment is compatible with others.

This compatibility starts with the frame size – and therefore defines the brood/super dimensions – and the frame spacing (e.g. Hoffman/Manley), but extends to whether the hives are bottom or top bee space, the types of floors, entrance blocks, clearer boards, split or division boards, feeders etc. 

Which hive?

We’re spoilt for choice in the UK … literally.

Compare the hive types sold by some of the largest suppliers of beekeeping equipment in the UK and USA e.g. Thorne’s and Dadant. Thorne’s list about eight removable-frame hives (National, WBC, Langstroth, Commercial, Dadant, Smith, Rose and Dartington). Dadant list just one (Langstroth, albeit in 8 or 10 frame widths). I know that some hives use the same frame sizes, but have also simplified things by ignoring the range of frame depths offered – 14×12’s, shallows, mediums, deeps etc. In this post I’m only really concerned with box compatibility.

No wonder many starting beekeeping ask “Which hive should I buy?”. They’re probably advised to get whatever is in use locally, often Nationals, but increasingly Langstroths in some places or Smiths in parts of Scotland. The recommendation to start with whatever is used locally is both logical and pragmatic. The beginner is likely to have to source a nucleus colony to start with and (hopefully) this will have been purchased locally, from a more experienced beekeeper (their mentor?) with gentle bees of known provenance, adapted to the local climate and inspected before purchase.

In the overall scheme of things I don’t think the choice of hive type is particularly important. None are inherently better than others, though a few are perhaps worse. The bees, Apis mellifera, are the same and certainly don’t care. Far more important is that the equipment acquired is compatible – with what is already owned, with what might be purchased, built or inherited in the future, and with what others use.

Running out of kit

A universal truth about beekeeping is that, sooner or later, you’ll run out of equipment. For beginners it’s during their first swarm season when they suddenly find they need a complete additional hive to undertake the classic Pagden ‘artificial swarm’ method. Alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, they capture a swarm and have to house that. It’s not unusual for all this to happen in the same week of the same month of the first year of beekeeping.

It can be a little chaotic 🙂

Gaffer tape apiary

Gaffer tape apiary …

There are two or three obvious ways to reduce the equipment crisis. Firstly, use a version of the vertical split rather than a Pagden artificial swarm, thereby reducing the need for an additional floor and roof for starters. Secondly, bodge a solution … use stacked supers as a makeshift broodbox, build roofs out of Correx (abandoned For Sale signs should always be repurposed) or use an upturned plant tray or piece of polythene-covered plywood. Finally, borrow suitable kit from a friendly local beekeeper … which brings us back to compatibility again.

Don’t for a moment think that a dozen colonies and a decade’s experience stops a beekeeper running out of equipment. A couple of years ago we had a bumper summer and I ran out of supers. Most colonies had 2-3 supers on already and there seemed to be no end in sight to the nectar flow. It was fantastic. A generous friend loaned me a dozen supers to buy me enough time to remove the first fully capped supers, extract the honey and recycle the boxes. Without this act of generosity – only possible as my friend was downsizing – my hives would have become packed with nectar and the colonies might have swarmed.

Mix’n’match

It’s at these times that equipment compatibility becomes paramount. I could borrow and use those supers as my friend also ran Nationals. The beginner can of course borrow any type of kit, but if the artificially swarmed colony needs to subsequently be united with the original box then it’s much easier if the equipment is compatible (note the thin shim in use in the picture below, between the incompatible poly boxes on top and standard cedars). As it turned out, the supers I borrowed weren’t 100% compatible as my friend used top bee space whereas mine were bottom bee space … the bees and I coped.

This need to mix’n’match equipment happens every season. You might want to move frames about to boost particular colonies, to mix frames removed from several strong colonies to make up nucs for overwintering, to unite nucleus colonies after using the newly mated queen from one of them, or merge two very uneven strength colonies for overwintering. It even happens when trying to efficiently ‘use up’ two- or three-frame nucs used for queen mating at the end of the season – it’s far easier to simply drop these into full-size hives than do the same thing with brood and bees from mini-nucs.

Uniting with newspaper ...

Uniting with newspaper …

Not only the big box items

Equipment standardisation and compatibility also extends to things other than frames and boxes. There’s a host of other items where it’s beneficial to have one type only, and for that type to be compatible with your other equipment. Floors are a good example; if they’re all made to the same design and dimensions then the removable Correx Varroa trays, the entrance reducers and the travel screens/entrance blocks are perfectly interchangeable. Both crownboards and roofs should also be broadly standardised and compatible. For example, all my colonies have year-round insulation in the crownboard and all the roofs are uninsulated. I previously had some insulated roofs and some uninsulated crownboards. Inevitably, moving or uniting hives resulted in the odd colony lacking insulation altogether. D’oh!

Pragmatic rationalisation

I’ve slowly achieved a reasonable level of standardisation and compatibility across my apiaries. I’m hoping that this will be improved further in 2017. After using a range of hives – purchased, borrowed and homemade, I’m settling on:

  • Standard depth, bottom bee space, Nationals in cedar or poly but – critically – these boxes must be interchangeable. To this end I’m using standard cedar broods and supers, or Swienty poly equivalents. These have the same external dimensions (18″/46cm), so can be stacked as required, and the interface between boxes is completely flat.
  • Just two floor designs. One has a fully sealed Varroa tray – built by Pete Little – and is used exclusively in the bee shed. The entrance reducer is fitted permanently to these floors. The second type are the so-called ‘kewl’ floors with a Dartington-inspired underfloor entrance. All my kewl floors are homemade. Despite this (and my amateur DIY skills), they take the same size Correx Varroa tray, all have holes drilled in the correct places to a) attach luggage scales for winter ‘hefting’, and b) deliver vaporised miticides. In addition, all take the same size and design entrance block for transport or other operations when the entrance needs to be sealed (vaporisation, vertical splits or Bailey comb changes).
  • Roofs are all uninsulated, interchangeable and either standard wood/metal or simple sheets of folded Correx. They serve no other purpose than weatherporoofing. I gave away all my insulated roofs when I moved North.
  • All crownboards are insulated, either with inbuilt Kingspan blocks or by the addition of an 18″ square block on top. None have feeder holes. Almost all are reversible and I’ve got ekes to achieve the same separation when I need space to feed fondant.
  • All nucleus hives are Thorne’s Everynucs. This design has a removable floor, so two bodies can be stacked for uniting.

But … if I were to start again from scratch I’d probably use Langstroths. I use Nationals because I’ve invested in Nationals, not because I think they’re inherently better.

Exceptions to the rule

Or compromises …

  • All of my bait hives are MB/Paradise poly Nationals (or stacked supers from the same manufacturer). All have simple Correx floors and roofs, or those supplied at purchase. Almost none of these items – floors, boxes or roofs – are readily compatible with production hives. This poly hive design has an infuriating lip/overhang that makes them incompatible with standard National equipment (see images above). Bait hives tend to get lugged about a bit more than production hives so their low weight is a bonus. My continued use of these hives is a perfect example of meanness and generosity … I’m too mean to get rid of them and I’m too generous to palm them off on an unsuspecting beginner.
  • My Everynucs are not directly (i.e. box to box) compatible with National hives though of course the frames are. I therefore can’t stack nucs onto standard brood boxes – for uniting, for overwintering or for certain types of queen rearing operations. This is a compromise I have to make due to a) the finances and time I have invested in these poly nucs, and b) their overall benefits and quality, both of which I remain convinced about. I have a few lovely cedar nuc boxes built by Pete Little that can be used for the queenright queen rearing method developed by Steve Rose if needed.
  • I have a few Paynes 8-frame nuc boxes used solely to capture swarms (or for dire emergencies). These are lightweight boxes with flimsy lids and no removable floor … ideal for use in one hand at the top of a ladder.
Paynes nuc box ...

Paynes nuc box …

Outstanding improvements to compatibility

Outstanding as in ‘not yet achieved’ that is. Sorry if you were expecting some brilliant insights here 😉 Regular readers are unlikely to have been mislead.

The entrance holes through the bee shed wall are of two sizes and the larger ones will be replaced (reduced) at some point. When I first built them I overestimated the size needed. The oversized entrances are too big for a weak colony to defend and the different sizes means I need two types of foam entrance blocks when vaporising.

Secondly, I have to decide on a standard way to block/reduce the entrance of the poly Everynucs. I’ve previously used a hotchpotch collection of wire mesh, foam or wooden blocks. The entrance on these nucs is ridiculously large and I’ve been dabbling with a few simple designs over the winter. I need a simple and inexpensive ‘fix’ as I have a lot of these boxes … as usual, Correx is my friend!

Reduced entrance ...

Reduced entrance …

Finally, I’ve recently purchased a stack of Abelo poly hives for work and will be interested to see how these perform this season. These boxes are ‘Nationals’, but ever so slightly different from the Swienty and cedar boxes. However, the dimensions and interfaces of broods and supers are definitely compatible, so they should mix’n’match OK. This purchase was a perfect example of how beekeepers end up with a wide range of different gear … they are supplied ready-painted, so save time, and they were cheap as chips in the Abelo sale 😉


Of course, the widely divergent views expressed on some of the discussions forums simply reflects a bad case of midwinter cabin fever and the contrariness of some contributors.

And irritatingly, some take the same frame sizes, but with either short or long lugs. Grrr.

And if you are a beginner reading this I would encourage you to read a couple of previous posts on mentoring and the benefits of buying local bees.

Everynuc feeder

I bought a few of these Ashforth-style feeders when I standardised on using Everynucs from Thorne’s a year or two ago. They’ve sat more or less unused since then, largely because the design of this poly nuc – a Langstroth-sized box adapted to take National frames – includes an integral feeder. This year I’ve used these nucs for queen mating and holding ‘spare’ queens when undertaking swarm control. Most of these have either migrated up to a full colony or been returned to the original hive, but I have a few left to take through the winter. These are now being fed up for the coming months. All are, or will be, housed in the bee shed overwinter for additional protection, though I’ve previously overwintered colonies in them outside reasonably successfully.

Everynuc feeder ...

Everynuc feeder …

Syrup and paint

The feeder is well designed, with an opening at one end leading to a good-sized reservoir for syrup or fondant. The volume of the reservoir is a little more that 3.5 litres when filled to dangerously near the brim. When using syrup – which I don’t – there’s a folded wire mesh screen that should prevent the bees drowning. They can climb up and over the dam to reach the syrup, but don’t have free access to the reservoir. This should reduce that distressingly high ‘body count’ sometimes seen with badly designed feeders. Additionally, the mesh screen prevents bees from leaving the hive when the clear plastic crownboard is removed to top up the reservoir. Convenient  🙂

Rodent damage ...

Rodent damage …

Like all poly hives, and particularly poly feeders, these should be painted before use (remember, Do as I say, don’t do as I do … some of mine aren’t painted due to poor planning). Syrup soaks into the poly if the surface isn’t sealed first. This can lead to problems with fungus growth and attack by rodents when the feeders are stored. As an aside, I try and remember to seal the entrances of my poly hives when not in use to prevent mice from destroying them … they seem very enthusiastic about having polystyrene chip parties at my expense. A couple of my poly bait hives have already been attacked this autumn – these just smell of bees and propolis (and now strongly of mouse 🙁 ) without the added attraction of syrup residues which would just make things worse.

The wire mesh screen on the Everynuc feeders is a bit ‘springy’ and probably needs holding in place with a couple of drawing pins (see image above). Additionally, both sides of the dam wall should also be painted and, when still wet, sprinkled with sand to improve the grip for bees accessing the syrup (as I show on the landing boards on my kewl floors).

Fondant

Feeder with fondant

Feeder with fondant …

At one end of the feeder, opposite the syrup reservoir, is a well that can be filled with fondant if the wire mesh screen is fitted. My crude measurements suggest it should hold about 1.5 kg of fondant if packed in tight. It might be possible to directly carve off suitably sized lumps from an intact block but it’s easier to pack it with a variety of offcuts and squeeze them down. Bees are be able to access the fondant from underneath and adjacent to the dam wall. As with syrup, feeding them like this means the fondant can be topped up without bees escaping.

Alternatively (and see the next section) you can simply stuff a big lump of fondant into the well of the feeder and omit the wire mesh – as shown above.

Easy top-ups

Easy top-ups …

I had a few concerns about how well the bees would access the fondant through the mesh – might the fondant dry out too quickly, would access be restricted as the fondant block shrank in size etc? Therefore, before it got too cold I set a couple up of feeders with or without the mesh fitted to see how readily the bees could access and take down the fondant (this post was started in mid-September). Both methods seemed to work fine though I suspect feeding through the mesh directly above the frames is likely to work better as the weather cools further, simply because it’s less far for the bees to travel and likely to be a little bit warmer.

Alternatively

Peter Edwards has recently written a short article in BIBBA’s Bee Improvement on modifying the Miller-style feeder supplied by Maisemores for their poly nuc. He simply drilled a series of ~25mm holes through the bottom of the one side of the feeder, leaving the other side unbutchered for delivering syrup if needed. A simple but effective solution ideally suited to Maisie’s double-sided feeder. Since I’m so wedded to the use of fondant for my autumn/winter feeding I may do this on a few of these Everynuc feeders as well … accepting that they’ll be trashed for use with syrup.

That’s all folks

The last week has seen temperatures peaking in the low teens, with the first overnight frosts of the year. Active beekeeping is effectively over for the season. Colonies checked at the end of last week are taking fondant down well and two that I briefly inspected had reasonable levels of brood in all stages, wth the queen laying at a consistent rate albeit much less than earlier in the season. These new bees will help the colony get through the winter and – because mite treatments were completed several weeks ago – will have been reared in a hive with very low Varroa levels, ensuring they are protected from virulent strains of deformed wing virus. I have a couple more colonies to check in the next few days and one more nuc to move to the bee shed.

However, before the autumn tidying and winter tasks are started there’s still some reasonable weather to get out and enjoy the beautiful Fife countryside.

Ballo Reservoir and West Lomond

Ballo Reservoir and West Lomond

 


 The Ashforth-style feeder has the entrance at one end or side, the feeder with the double entrance in the middle is the Miller feeder.

 

Swienty poly hives

Or, more specifically, their National poly brood boxes. I’ve just invested in some of these to help some of my colonies overwinter. This was prompted by how well colonies housed in Thorne’s Everynuc’s did last winter when compared to full colonies in cedar boxes. I’ll do a wholly unscientific side-by-side test of colonies in cedar or poly brood boxes to see how they compare.

Choices, choices …

There are a number of polystyrene hives now available in the UK, with offerings from many of the major suppliers. I’ve commented on some of the available poly nucs previously. If, like me, you’re wedded to (or stuck with, depending upon your outlook) National size frames then the choice is a bit more restricted, but is increasing year-by-year. Paynes and Maisemore’s have sold their own designs for some time and Abelo has recently introduced one which is receiving favourable reviews. Of these, I believe the first two are at least partially compatible with cedar boxes, whilst the Abelo is advertised as having the same ‘footprint’ as a cedar box. I’ve not owned any of these so can’t comment further.

Not Paradise …

Poly bait hives ...

Poly bait hives …

However, I have owned some Paradise honey/ModernBeekeeping poly National hives for a few years but, despite the quality of the dense poly, have never been happy with the design. The brood boxes are too narrow for the length of the frame top bars and they have an infuriating ‘lip’ or overhang at the bottom of the box. This makes them incompatible with cedar components – for example when expanding a colony up to a double brood box – and means it is almost inevitable that bees with be squidged when re-assembling the hive. I’ve previously illustrated these design issues and now only use these boxes as bait hives or as a last resort. I should add that, as bait hives, they are excellent.

But Swienty

Swienty

Swienty

The other well established company selling National poly hives are Swienty of Denmark. I already have several of their supers – bought secondhand and still going strong – which I mix’n’match with my motley collection of cedar broods, queen excluders, crownboards and roofs, so it was a logical choice to buy Swienty brood boxes as well. I bought mine from C. Wynn Jones who, as usual, delivered them well-packed and very promptly.

The design has been updated in the last couple of years and now includes press-in frame runners. The boxes are supplied flat-packed and can be assembled in minutes. They are bottom bee space, have handles molded into all four faces and are made from dense and strong polystyrene. Importantly, as far as compatibility is concerned, the top and bottom of the boxes are flat and the external dimensions are 18″/46cm square. They are therefore compatible with the homemade crownboards, floors and insulated roofs I use. Due to the thickness of the polystyrene the internal dimensions are slightly smaller than a cedar box. This means that they will only accommodate 10 frames, rather than the usual 11 plus a dummy board.

How thick?

You’ll read descriptions of these boxes being “45 mm” thick (for example on the Solway Bee Supplies and C. Wynne Jones’s sites). They’re not. What it should say is that they’re a maximum of 45 mm thick. The upper and lower edge of the box is either 40 mm or 45 mm thick (on the ends and sides respectively). However, the majority (75% by area) of all four sides of the box is recessed and is only 29mm thick. In contrast, the Everynuc from Thorne’s has 40 mm thick walls. The ‘old style’ Swienty boxes (my supers are stamped Swienty/Denrosa and are at least 5 years old) are 40+ mm throughout, other than the recesses for the handholds.

How heavy?

Swienty National brood boxes weigh about 1.3 kg unpainted. For comparison, a Thorne’s second quality cedar brood box weighs about 3.5 kg. In the overall scheme of things the ~5 lb difference is probably irrelevant when it comes to hefting full boxes about.

Putting them together

There are no assembly instructions provided, though you shouldn’t need them. Unlike wooden boxes they cannot be assembled incorrectly (famous last words). The key points are:

  • press-fit together ensuring that only vertical pressure is applied
  • make sure all joints are tightly pushed together
  • glue isn’t needed though I usually add a dab of external wood glue
  • push the frame runners in with the shorter part of the L-shaped plastic inserted into the slot in the brood box (not shown)
  • paint them after assembly and before use

It’s worth also noting here that poly hives can be repaired using Gorilla glue and wooden dowels should anything catastrophic happen.

Painting

I’ve previously spray painted poly nucs with external masonry paint. This works well but since I ran out of paint and have got a bit tired of the colour I decided to use a different approach this time. After consulting the friendly and courteous correspondents on the SBAi forum I’ve used Hammerite Garage Door paint. This is a solvent based paint, available in 750 ml tins for ~£13 in a range of colours, including a rich ‘Buckingham Green’ and a rather striking ‘Oxford Blue’. Being solvent based it reacts very slightly with the polystyrene, forming an impervious bond, so shouldn’t flake off as some masonry paints do.

I used a brush to apply two coats, 24 to 48 hours apart. The first coat looks pretty patchy but might have been acceptable if I’d taken a bit more care. The second coat improved things considerably. I finally added hive numbers to the back and front faces (which look almost identical to the sides) to help me orientate the boxes and refer to them in my records. For reference, 2/3rd of a tin is sufficient to do two coats on eight of these broods. The nominal coverage per litre is 8m2.

First impressions last

Pros – Well finished, easy to assemble, strong, dense smooth poly, dimensions and top and bottom edges mean interchangeable with National equipment

Cons – Thinner than expected, slightly wider internally than necessary (lots of lateral movement for the frames), no rebate at the bottom of sides (frames may get propolised in double brood colonies)

Winter? … bring it on 😉

Swienty brood box ...

Swienty brood box …


† The well-known ESBA Apiarist has a post on assembling the old-style Swienty/Denrosa brood boxes. These lack the frame runners the current design has. In the post he describes using varnish to protect the recess where the frame lugs sit, an area that would inevitably get heavily propilised and require scraping clean. This should be less of an issue with the new-style boxes.

In a related posting on the SBAi forum Calluna4u – who is very familiar with these boxes – gives an additional reason for protecting the polystyrene in the frame lug rebate area. Since the poly is thinner here there is the possibility of light getting in – either due to translucence or because the edge of the box isn’t kept obsessively clean. The bees tended to chew this area. Varnishing helps protect the poly. I didn’t use varnish, but did paint this area to reduce any translucence.

 

Everynuc elbow room

Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I prefer. 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 a gaping maw, but that is easily fixed with some wire mesh pinned in place. The beespace is also an issue due to the compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this can be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a bit irritating having to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50  🙁 ).

Entrance reducer

Entrance reducer …

Polynucs for overwintering

Colonies overwintered in these boxes did very well and were generally at least as good, and often better, than my colonies in cedar hives. Although I’ve also purchased a few of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually easier to prise up one end of the crownboard and simply drop fondant – or pour syrup – into the integral feeder in the brood box. Checking the remaining fondant/syrup levels takes seconds through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony at all.

Everynuc

Everynuc …

Polynucs for queen mating

Due to work commitments I haven’t had time this season to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for queen mating, so have been exclusively using these Everynucs. With the vagaries of the weather in my part 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 allow the laying pattern of the queen to be determined easily. I usually raise a couple of batches of queens in a season and this means I’m going in and out of a dozen or so of these boxes regularly, making them up, priming them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for a mated queen etc. I usually start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save resources, allowing them to expand with successive batches of queens.

Space for five and a bit frames

Not 6 frames

Er, no …

One of the nice features of these boxes is their internal width which is almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore need to use five frames together with a dummy board to avoid strong colonies building brace comb in the gaps on one or both sides of the outside frames. One advantage of this additional ‘elbow room’ is that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for example when the bees build up the corners with stores rather than drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, check for emergence – or release – in a day or two and then gently push the frames back together again.

Dummy board needed ...

Dummy board needed …

Even better, by removing the dummy board there’s enough space to work from one side of the box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to make space. The frames do need to be removed gently and slowly to avoid rolling bees (but you do this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally looking for the recently mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. In the image below you can see the space available, even when four of the frames are reasonably heavily propilised.

Just enough space ...

Just enough 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 in 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 difficult to gently slide the frames together (or apart).

The brood boxes of these Everynuc’s stack, meaning you can easily unite two nucs into a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than a National frame) so the resulting colony should be moved to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws to an end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, remove the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and then – a week or so later – have a good 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, of course, overwinter them directly in these nucleus hives.


The only exception were those in the bee shed which were probably 2-3 weeks even further ahead in their development by late March/early April this year.

Nucs in the bee shed

Slow-mo of bees returning to a nucleus colony in the bee shed …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The bee shed is designed to accommodate a maximum of four National hives along one wall of its twelve foot length. However, space remains at the outermost ends of the stands sufficient to house a couple of nucs, so I made the necessary modifications and installed a nuc recently. They’re a bit squeezed into the corners but there’s still enough space to inspect them. Since there’s almost no time during the year when there aren’t nucs in use these spaces will be well used, and the shelter offered by the bee shed will provide additional protection when overwintering smaller colonies.

Everynuc entrance

Open wide …

Almost all my nucs are of the Everynuc design sold by Thorne’s. With a little modification these Langstroth-sized poly nucs are excellent, though the entrance is far bigger than it needs to be. These nucs have an integral feeder, a separate floor and Varroa tray, a thin polycarbonate inner cover (it’s a bit grand calling it a crownboard) and a good thick roof. Importantly, as far as fitting them into the bee shed, they have a projecting ‘landing board’, which I found could be pushed flush with the wall of the shed so negating the need for an entrance tunnel of any kind. The remaining gap between the nuc body and the shed wall can be filled with a small block of dense foam.

Nuc entrance ...

Nuc entrance …

To make sealing the colony easier or to add a queen excluder or single bee-width entrance I bodged together some scrap wood to make a simple holder – fitted onto the inside wall of the shed – into which suitably sized pieces of Correx or QE could be slotted. In the picture (bottom right) the Correx is out of sight behind the nuc but this nuc is ‘overheight’ because it has a Miller-type feeder on. Finally, to ensure the nuc couldn’t be accidentally moved during inspections or when I was pottering around in the shed, I added a couple of tie-down points on the walls and so could run a lightweight strap around the floor of the nuc, securing everything in place.

Correx entrance thingy ...

Correx entrance thingy …

Late on Easter Sunday I visited my out apiary, sealed the nuc entrance with foam and transported it to the apiary with the bee shed – these sites are several miles apart, so there was no issues with the bees returning to the wrong place. The colony was busy dealing with a block of fondant in the feeder compartment. After moving them to the shed I left them to settle for ~20 minutes then gently removed the entrance foam and gave them a small waft of smoke. I then carefully placed the nuc in situ. Not a single bee escaped. Why can’t it always be this simple?

Nuc in the bee shed ...

Nuc in the bee shed …

The following morning there were a few bees taking tentative first flights from the simple hole I’d bored through the wall of the shed. I’ve also built them a Correx (no surprises there for regular visitors to this site) landing board, both to help them land – rather than clinging to the shiny paint finish of the shed – and to help them orientate to the entrance. As you can see from the video (top of page), they largely ignore the landing board. The bee shed hive entrances have a variety of coloured landing boards to try and discourage bees from drifting between colonies … but it’s nothing like as distinctively (or artfully) decorated as some of the bee houses on the continent.

 

Everynuc 2 beespace

The Everynuc poly nuc sold by Thorne’s is a clever design. However, the British National version is a bit of a compromise where beespace is considered and, as purchased, may not accommodate national frames properly. It can be improved relatively easily but requires a small amount of woodworking, some Gorilla glue and the confidence to take a saw to your recent £47 acquisition.

The problem

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

The Everynuc 2 accommodates national frames in what is a Langstroth-sized box by having an internal feeder at one end of the box. The frame rests on the upper edge of one side of the feeder and the opposite end of the box – presumably the entrance end of the nuc hive. An 8mm thick piece of stripwood on the lower edge of the feeder stops the frame sliding ‘back’ (because the box is much longer than the top bar of a national frame), potentially crushing bees and certainly destroying beespace. The box is supposed to be top beespace – it’s not really, particularly since the (Bayer manufactured!) plastic crownboard sags a bit. However, in those I currently own the feeder was too close to the crownboard, making it almost top beespace at one end of the frame and something much less at the feeder end (a more complete review and more photographs have been posted here previously). Furthermore, in the three boxes I painted this weekend the combination of incorrect top beespace and the thickness of the stripwood at the bottom of the feeder prevented the frame properly sitting on the frame rest at the opposite end of the box (see photo below right).

The solution

  1. The side supporting lugs for the feeder need to be reduced in depth by removing about 3mm from the bottom of them (the bit in contact with the sidewall of the nuc box). In the half-dozen boxes I’ve modified so far the lugs are all attached using glue and a nail gun. Belt and braces. In about half of them the nail hasn’t been driven in straight and the saw fouls it … simply remove the nail using strong pliers. Both sides need to be cut down by the same amount.
  2. Add a frame runner to the inside of the feeder. I’ve used plastic frame runners and stuck them in places using Gorilla glue. It needs to be just proud of the top of the wooden panel on the feeder (any higher and the bottom of the frame is raised above the wood spacer at the bottom of the feeder). Clamp the runner in place and then trim away any glue that’s oozed out once everything has set.
  3. Add a cross bar of 9mm stripwood to act as a framestop, preventing the frames shifting ‘back’ as described above. It’s easy to add syrup or fondant directly into the feeder, but the crossbar removes any chance of the frame moving.

These minor modification fix the top beespace problem and make the frames fit properly. The framestop makes transporting (e.g. by car or hivebarrow) these boxes much easier. The reduction in depth of the supporting lugs doesn’t alter the 1-2mm that the bottom of a frame overlaps the 8mm stripwood on the bottom of the feeder (see the top picture). However, with top beespace, any slight bump lifts the frame clear of this stripwood and it can then slide back, crushing bees between the sidebar of the frame and the feeder. The addition of a framestop across the top of the feeder fixes this defect.

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

Note – this post was written originally in March 2015 about Everynucs purchased and delivered in late 2014. I have subsequently purchased and received a further 18 Everynucs (received April 2015) which appear to have a slightly shallower ‘lug’ on the feeder. Those I’ve tested don’t appear to show the problem illustrated above, with the frame not seated on the runner. I can’t make a side-by-side comparison as I’ve already modified all of the original Everynucs I received. However, they all still have the wrong beespace at the non-feeder end, the solution for which is described below.

You’ve not finished yet …

The beespace at the non-feeder end of the nuc box is still wrong. I overwintered a number of colonies in these nucs* and all had built brace comb between the frame end bars and the wall of the box, making frame removal messy and disruptive. The incorrect beespace is due to the long lugs on a National frame being used in a box where the frame rests are designed for the short lugs on a Langstroth frame. To overcome this simply glue a piece of 8-9mm ply onto the end wall of the nuc. A piece of ply 20.4 x 20.5 cm (w x h) restores beespace. I’ve used Gorilla glue to hold it in place in the half-dozen modified recently. Since Gorilla glue doesn’t seem to form an irreversible joint with dense polystyrene I reckon I can take these apart if they are unsuitable (famous last words … and don’t trust me on this, test it yourself first).

It seems a shame to have to modify what is probably one of the most expensive poly-nucs on the market. However, I remain reasonably certain that this is the best currently available. These boxes should last 20+ years if properly maintained and so justify a small amount of effort at the beginning to improve them.

Fixed

Fixed …

The final task is to design a suitable entrance reducer to prevent robbing by wasps late in the season, to stop mice getting in during the winter and that allows my recently acquired Sublimox oxalic acid vaporiser to be used when required. Since wasps, mice and OA treatment are ages away I’ll leave this exercise for another day …


* I should add in closing that colonies overwintered extremely well in these nucs. Some were stronger coming out of the winter than full colonies that had gone in strong in September. I only fed with fondant, gently dropping slices into the feeder through the autumn.

 

Spray painting poly nucs

It’s recommended that poly nucs are painted before use as polystyrene degrades in sunlight. I’ve always used the cheapest masonry paint I can find – being water-based there’s no danger of damaging the polystyrene, it goes on reasonably well and is pretty hard wearing. The range of colours – in the inexpensive ranges at least – is a bit limited … white, a variety of cream or ivory shades, brick red or black. I’ve always used the brick red (though the bees would see this as black of course) from Wilkinsons, but would really prefer a leaf or dark green colour to help make the hives unobtrusive.

Black & Decker HVLP200

Black & Decker HVLP200

The paint tends to a be a bit thick out of the pot, so I usually water it down by about 25% and apply a couple of coats. The Thorne’s Everynucs or Paynes boxes are easy to paint with a brush as all the surfaces are flat. The Modern Beekeeping poly Langstroth nucs are a different matter altogether – the ‘branding’ and handles moulded into every face make painting them a real pain.

First coat done

First coat done …

However, painting a large number of any of these boxes quickly becomes a tedious task. With 18 new Everynucs to paint I bought a Black and Decker HVLP (high volume low pressure) spray gun in the sales. These come with a small funnel-like contraption to measure the viscosity of the paint. Out of the tin the masonry paint I’ve got was far too thick and gloopy, but with enough water and lots of stirring I readily achieved the right consistency. After that the painting was a doddle. In two hours – as two one hour stints – I painted a dozen Everynucs with two coats. A few areas were a bit patchy as I got the hang of the paint gun. These paint guns are essentially strong hairdryers so there are few moving parts – the nozzles and paint reservoir are easily rinsed out and cleaning probably took no more than 10 minutes.

I usually paint my cedar hives with Ronseal Fence Life in a ‘forest green’ colour – this is much thinner paint and will probably be usable without dilution. It’s not as hard wearing as the masonry paint and requires re-painting every few years. This spray gun will make this a trivial task and it should be possible to stack them head-high and paint all four sides very quickly. All of this painting needs to be done outdoors on a calm day as there’s quite a bit of overspray from this type of paint gun … there speaks the voice of experience 😉

D'oh ...

D’oh …

 

Repairing poly hives

Well healed nucs

Well healed nucs

A stack of recently painted poly nucs got blown over in high winds during the winter. Inevitably, when they land on the edges of the boxes, the thinner bits break away. These are easy to fix … Gorilla glue is your friend. A smear across one face of the break and a bit of water spread across the other, coupled with some clamps or string to hold everything mated together properly, will form a really strong bond. The glue expands to fill the spaces, oozing out of the joint. Pare back the dried glue 24 hours later and everything will be fine.

Super damage

Super damage

Gorilla glue and a little additional ingenuity can also successfully fix boxes that are more dramatically damaged. I dropped a full poly super from shoulder height when harvesting OSR honey in 2014. The result was not pretty, though I did manage to recover most of the frames for extraction. Two of the corners of the poly super (Swienty) were badly broken, with the interlocking lugs snapped off cleanly. A combination of Gorilla glue, dowels and sash clamps fixed it for use during the main flow later in the season.

More major repairs ...

More major repairs …

More extensive gaps such as woodpecker damage can be fixed using exterior wood filler. Fortunately, I’ve not yet had to do this. However, while butchering Paynes 6 frame poly nucs to create 8 frame boxes I filled very large gaps with a combination of Screwfix MegaGrip glue and offcuts of polystyrene. These appear to have lasted well. The glue seemed to take a very long time to set, but it’s rock solid and can be sanded back flush to provide a smooth and easily cleaned face to the repair.

Oops ...

Oops …

Super poly bait hives

MB poly National

MB poly National

Shortly after they were introduced I purchased two of the poly National hives sold by Modern Beekeeping. These are well made but, in my view after using them for a few months, poorly designed. The poly is dense and strong, they have clever plastic frame runners and they are easy to assemble. I’ve kept bees in them for a couple of seasons and they did fine. However – for me – the negatives of these hives far outweigh the positives. They have handles on all four faces of the boxes which, together with the manufacturers name, means painting them takes ages. Much more significantly, the boxes can only accommodate 10 frames and are too narrow. The frame lugs of a standard National frame are tight against the sidewalls making it almost impossible (once there’s a bit of propolis added to the mix) to slide the frames across the hive during inspections.

The dreaded overhang

The dreaded overhang …

To make matters worse, the boxes have an “overhang” where they join. Although this presumably helps prevent water ingress it also makes stacking supers on top of brood boxes packed with bees a recipe for death and destruction. It’s not possible to offer the box ‘on the squint’ and then rotate it into place. Furthermore, the overhang prevents you even seeing the bees you’re about to slaughter. Of course, the overhang also means the kit isn’t easily mixed with standard wooden or Sweinty poly boxes. I did build a wooden shim that meant the supers could be used, but the beespace was messed up. At about £110 for a complete hive and a couple of supers these hives appeared reasonable value … but they actually represent possibly my biggest outlay on unsuitable kit ever 🙁

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat …

The obvious solution was to flog the boxes to some unsuspecting novice. However, since the design problems would provide a particularly unrewarding start to beekeeping, I didn’t do this and they’ve sat piled in the corner looking a bit forlorn. The original floor, brood box and roof were pressed into service as a bait hive last year and worked well. The supers have simply been stacked up, unwanted and definitely unloved.

Honeybee Democracy

Honeybee Democracy

However, the combination of a bulk delivery of extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene (aka Correx, though it certainly isn’t going by the price I paid) and the ease with which it could be converted into very useful roofs for about £1.50 each, suggested a way to use the supers. Two stacked supers – at least of these slightly smaller than normal “National” boxes – enclose a volume of about 43 litres. Conveniently this is only slightly larger than the 40 litres recommended by Tom Seeley in his excellent book Honeybee Democracy. The addition of a simple floor from a piece of Correx (so much easier to write than extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene 😉 ) stapled together with some scraps of wood from the offcuts bin and including an integral entrance of about 10cm2, a crownboard from strong polythene sheet and a Correx roof make a perfectly serviceable bait hive for the coming season.

In due course I’ll add a single tired old brood frame (I save these from the previous year, treated with DiPel [Bacillus thuringiensis sp. kurstaki spores] to prevent wax moth damage) containing no stores or pollen, which would simply attract robbers. The smell of ‘old bees’, perhaps coupled with a couple of drops of lemongrass oil along the top bar, is a strong attractant to scout bees from a swarm looking for a new home. I’ll fill the boxes with foundationless frames so that an incoming swarm can start building new comb immediately. These frames barely reduce the internal volume but provide guides for the bees to build parallel comb, thereby making it unnecessary to check whether the bait hives have been successful quite as frequently as you otherwise need to (unless you like sorting out the wild comb they’ll otherwise build from the roof).

Floor detail … what could be simpler?