Tag Archives: feeding

Fife’s fondant mountain

A little later in the year than usual due to work commitments …

In late August 2014 I described how I feed my bees fondant in the autumn. It’s a simple, quick, clean and efficient way to feed colonies. Additionally, I’m reasonably convinced that there are advantages for the bees as well as the beekeeper. The advantages (over syrup, either homemade or Ambrosia for example) are numerous:

  1. Readily available, pre-packed and very easy to store.
  2. Ready to use … just unbox it, slice it open and add to the hive.
  3. Addition takes only a minute or two per hive.
  4. Compatible with many Varroa treatments (Apiguard and sublimation are two I’ve used at the same time as feeding fondant).
  5. No spillages (during preparation or delivery) so far less risk of attracting wasps or getting into trouble in the kitchen.
  6. No need for specialised equipment such as Miller or Ashworth feeders that need to be stored for the remaining 11 months of the year.
  7. It’s taken down and stored better in cold weather (than syrup) as evaporation of excess water isn’t needed.
  8. You can get later brood rearing as the brood nest isn’t packed out with syrup (possibly, see below).

Point 8 is perhaps debatable. This is my impression having used it for several years, though I’ll admit to never conducting a proper side-by-side comparison. Fondant is certainly taken down more slowly than syrup. A full block (12.5 kg) might take 4-5 weeks, though it can disappear much faster. Since the water content of fondant is not wildly different from honey it takes about the same amount of storage space. In contrast, even thick syrup (2:1 sugar to water by weight) needs to be concentrated by the bees, requiring more temporary storage (where the queen might be laying or you might want her to lay to raise those all-important winter bees), reasonable temperatures and more energy.

Don’t take my word for it …

Peter Edwards of Stratford BKA used to have a posting on feeding fondant but I’m reliably informed it’s disappeared in a website revamp. He was a strong a advocate of the ease and benefits of using fondant … so don’t think that this is just my crackpot idea. Actually, it’s not his crackpot idea either … it’s not crackpot at all. And there are very few new ideas in beekeeping.

I’ve used nothing but fondant for winter feeding for at least 5 years. I’m not aware of any problems doing this. My overwintering colony losses are satisfactorily low and almost always attributable to issues other than feeding. Like a Mac, “It just works.

How to feed fondant

Open the box and slice the block of fondant in half. There are two easy ways to do this:

  1. Use a strong breadknife in the kitchen. Cover the opposing faces with clingfilm. The idea here is to stop the fondant ‘fusing’ back together as you transport it to the apiary.
  2. Use a nice sharp spade in the apiary … forget the finesse, just stomp down hard and cut the block in two. Don’t worry about the few bits of mud and grass that get included.
Neater but harder ...

Neater but harder …

In both cases leave the plastic wrapping on and don’t cut right through it … the idea is to open the block out like a book and place it face down onto the top of the frames. I used to leave the queen excluder in place but generally only do this if there’s a reason I might need to inspect the colony again (with care you can lift the QE and fondant off together). The plastic wrapping on 5 sides of each half block stops the fondant drying out.

Finesse ... nul points ...

Finesse … nul points …

A block of fondant is about 20 x 20 x 32 cm. You’ll therefore need to work out a way of providing sufficient ‘headroom’ under the crownboard. The easiest way is to use an empty super. Alternatively, where I’ve got insulated perspex crownboards, I invert them over a simple eke allowing me to see how fast the fondant is used and top it up as necessary. If, like me, you consider hive insulation important leave this in place under the roof. If I’m using a super to enclose the fondant I try and use a polystyrene one for the same reason.

Poly super and fondant ...

Poly super and fondant …

I usually remove the empty  bag when I do the midwinter Varroa treatment, or before if they’ve finished it (in which case I might add another half block or so if ”hefting the hive’ indicates it’s still a bit light). The bees usually build some brace comb on the top of the frames extending into the bag. Just gently smoke them down and scrape it off, or leave it there until the Spring.

The end is nigh

Feeding the colony up for winter marks the end of the practical beekeeping season for me. I usually experience a mixture of sadness that it’s over again for the year, together with anticipation of what’s to come the following season. With the exception of a few nucs and some colonies in the bee shed, inspections and any sort of regular checks on the colonies are over. The summer honey harvest has been taken – hopeless this season unfortunately – and Varroa levels have been monitored and minimised.

Nevertheless, winter preparations such as feeding the colony up, uniting weak colonies which are unlikely to overwinter well, protecting the colony from mice or woodpeckers and hammering down the Varroa levels are some of the most important activities of the year. If done successfully there’s every reason to look forward to having strong, healthy colonies to start the following season.


You can purchase fondant from bakers and wholesale bakery suppliers such as Fleming Howden. The price I paid – thanks to a friend in the East of Scotland Beekeepers Association – was  £10.55 for 12.5 kg. Ordering in bulk – for example via a co-operative purchasing scheme through your local association – makes a lot of sense and will reduce (or remove altogether) the delivery costs. Single blocks purchased from your local baker might cost 50% more than the price I’ve quoted. Sugar prices vary on the commodities markets … in 2013 I paid about the same as this year, but in 2014 paid only about £9 a box.

BFP wholesale used to sell fondant and had regional outlets (Tamworth in the Midlands and Livingstone in Scotland) from which collection was possible. However, although they have gone into administration, I saw one of their lorries on the way to the office this morning and it appears that the Leeds and Livingstone branches may have been bought and remain operational.

 If you have the storage space it makes sense to buy in bulk. Keep it dry and away from wasps, rodents (and other beekeepers) and it has a shelf life of at least three years. You’ll also find it useful for a mid-winter boost, for feeding mini-nucs when queen rearing, for blocking queen cages and for Chelsea buns 😉

What was that?

Zoom. Having moved back to Scotland in mid-2015 this is my first full season keeping bees here. The season has been very short. Some colonies weren’t inspected until the end of April and now, about 14 weeks later, it’s turned distinctly autumnal over the last week or so in Fife. Nectar flows have pretty much dried up, nights are much cooler and thoughts turn to preparing colonies for the winter. However, good winter preparation with strong, disease-free colonies and low Varroa levels means that, should Spring 2017 be early, the bees will be ready to take advantage of it.

The immediate priorities are to:

  • protect colonies from robbing
  • ensure colonies have enough stores
  • remove any honey for extraction before the bees use it

Robbing b’stards

Entrance reducer ...

Entrance reducer …

The very best way to protect colonies from robbing – either by other bees or wasps – is to keep them as strong as possible. Wasps can be very troublesome in the autumn. Smaller colonies and nucs are particularly susceptible to attack and can be devastated in just a day or so if not properly looked after. A block of foam or wood can easily be pushed into place on a full hive, reducing the space the bees need to defend. The underfloor entrance of kewl floors (right) have the added advantage of a narrow L-shaped tunnel that can be defended on the landing board and/or immediately below the frames.

It’s not unusual to have 2-4 frame nucs in mid-August, either being prepared for overwintering or with ‘backup’ queens while re-queening other colonies. If the colonies aren’t really strong enough to defend themselves they need to be given all the help they can. Reducing the entrance space to a single bee width helps a lot, particularly when the entrance is as cavernous as the design on the Thorne’s Everynucs that I use.

Reduced entrance ...

Reduced entrance …

Stores

There’s still sufficient time for strong nucs to be built up to occupy a full hive, but they need to be given sufficient space for the queen to lay and will probably require feeding unless there’s a good late-season nectar flow. This nuc (below) started the first week of July on just a frame of emerging brood, a frame of stores and a new queen and is just about ready for a full hive. Although not obvious from the picture, the feeder on the left contains a large block of fondant which the bees are busy with. This was added as soon as the flow stopped and before the nuc got dangerously light. The bees might have survived but the queen would have slowed or stopped laying eggs and development of the colony would have been retarded. This nuc is fast running out of space and will be moved into a full hive in the next day or two.

5 frame nuc ...

5 frame nuc …

The  integral feeder on these Everynucs has space for about a kilo of fondant. Here’s another nuc started a fortnight ago with a ‘backup’ queen that was also light on stores. The parent colony were showing signs of replacing the queen so I removed her and a couple of frames of emerging brood and left them in the corner of the apiary with the entrance stuffed with grass (to deter the flying bees from returning to the original colony). After a couple of days I removed the dried grass and they’re now ticking along nicely. As they’re a smaller colony and contain predominantly young bees they lack a strong force of foragers and so need regular feeding. If the original colony successfully rears a new queen I’ll have a spare for overwintering. If not I’ll unite them back together at the end of the month.

Nuc with fondant ...

Nuc with fondant …

This is the same nuc as shown in the top image with the reduced width entrance. One of the advantages of feeding fondant is there’s no chance of slopping it about and leaving spills to attract wasps to the apiary.

The image above also shows a ‘crossbar’ I add to the Everynuc feeders; this prevents the frames sliding backwards when the nucs are in transit between apiaries. The integral feeder is useful, but it means there’s no ‘stop’ against which the end of the frame topbar can rest. There is a stop fitted across the bottom of the face of the feeder (shown in a previous post) but my experience is that the inevitable jolting of a car journey means the frames lift above this and then can slide about too much with the risk of crushing bees.

Supers off

I’m resigned to it being a poor summer for honey this season – a combination of a late spring and consequent slow colony development, variable weather during the summer and an extended queenless period for many colonies due (again) to lousy weather for queen mating. Clearers are now on the majority of colonies with filled supers. I’ll retrieve all the filled frames for extraction and make up new supers with the leftovers (incompletely filled or too high water content). The latter will go back onto strong colonies, either in the hope of a late season top-up from the himalayan balsam or for winter stores.

Clearers on ...

Clearers on …


The opening video clip was from the second series of Fawlty Towers first shown in 1979. Immediately before it Basil and Sybil are discussing their early married life …

Basil Fawlty … “Seriously, Sybil, do you remember, when we were first manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot?”

Sybil Fawlty … “Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.”

Just retrieving the clip from YouTube means I’ll now be spending half the evening chuckling over other bits of this classic series.

Basil Fawlty … “Well… may I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeeste sweeping majestically…”

Isolation starvation

Early Spring in the apiary

Early Spring in the apiary

During the autumn I united all but one of the weaker colonies in my apiaries (uniting the small colony with a large, healthy colony … there’s little to be gained by uniting weak colonies together at that time of year). The one small colony that did go into the winter has recently succumbed during the extended cold period we’ve had. On a day when other colonies had flying bees bringing in early pollen this one was suspiciously quiet. I lifted the crownboard and found a classic case of isolation starvation. The small cluster of bees were stuck with their heads buried in cells, despite the presence of sealed stores no more than 15cm away. There was no sign of disease, just a pathetic little cluster of bees. My records from the autumn indicated I thought this colony was “a bit on the small side … we’ll see”.

Isolation starvation ...

Isolation starvation …

You can see in the image that the bees had started rearing brood – there are about 30 capped cells in the picture and a few on the adjacent frame. There were good levels of pollen in the frames and sealed stores around the edge of several of the frames. However, in the prolonged cold snap the clustered bees were presumably unable to relocate to the stores and so perished.

Strong overwintered colony

Strong overwintered colony

Although all my other colonies had flying bees I took advantage of the sunny afternoon to add a block of fondant to them all, under a reversible insulated crownboard. I use the leftover fondant from autumn feeding which I’ve kept wrapped in plastic in the garage in a big box. The fondant is chopped up and stuffed into “carry-out” plastic food containers and covered with a sheet of thick plastic with a hole cut in the middle. Don’t use cling film to cover the fondant as the bees chew it up and make a terrible mess. Adding the fondant takes moments … a quick waft of smoke at the entrance, remove the roof, take the insulation out of the crownboard, lift the crownboard (giving it a sharp bash on the side to drop adhering bees onto the tops of the frames), add the fondant block near the cluster, replace the inverted crownboard, add the insulation on top and replace the roof. It takes longer to write than to do.

It’s even easier to add fondant to the Everynuc poly nucs. These have come through the winter really well and are bursting with bees. It takes seconds to peel back the plastic crownboard and slide a big lump of fondant into the feeder.

The added fondant should keep them going until either they need another top-up or the spring nectar flows start. Not long to go now 🙂

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

 

Ivy season is here

The ivy is flowering well here and the bees are working it hard to collect late season pollen and nectar. On a walk last weekend every bush in the sun was alive with bees.

Flowering ivy

Flowering ivy

 

My colonies never collect enough ivy nectar to get much of a crop of honey from, but I’m told it’s an acquired taste. When it crystallises it sets rock hard and the bees often cannot or do not use it as stores during the winter. When you open the colony in the spring there is still a part-filled frame of hard dark honey, usually with a waxy appearance, from the previous season’s ivy.

By feeding relatively early in the season (mid/late August) I get the Varroa treatment completed with the intention of giving the bees time to generate those all-important overwintering bees once the queen starts laying again (Apiguard often slows or stops the queen from laying). Perhaps the brood box is already packed with stores? However, the ivy pollen is very useful, both for brood rearing now and for early spring.

Late season pollen

Late season pollen …

Buy!

Nasdaq sugar futures

Nasdaq sugar futures

Sugar prices are set on the world commodity futures markets and can vary significantly. These variations eventually filter down to influence the price we pay in the supermarket. This was obvious when I was stocking up on fondant at BFP Wholesale today. This time last year I paid about 15% more for 12.5 kg blocks … today they were under a tenner. Therefore now is a good time to stock up (and going by the graph the prices may drop further, but I’d run out so had no choice). Fondant keeps quite well in a cool dry place as long as you keep it wrapped up and out of the reach of mice.

Although the one-off cost of 25 blocks is not insignificant, it’s a relatively small outlay when you compare it to the value of the (stolen) honey it’s being used to replace. I’ve not yet done the sums, but have probably averaged 75-100 lb of honey from each production colony this year. It’s been a very good season. Each colony will get 1 – 1.5 blocks of fondant over the next month or so to keep them going until next Spring, with additional being used for overwintering nucs.

312.5 kg of fondant

312.5 kg of fondant …

 

Feeding fondant

Feeding fondant

Feeding fondant …

With the season nearly over, now is the time to feed the colonies well and treat for mites so they have the best chance of overwintering successfully. I almost exclusively use fondant blocks for autumn feeding. I prefer feeding fondant to using syrup or Ambrosia for several reasons:

  • I don’t have to spend hours over the stove making syrup from hot water and granulated sugar or collecting gallons of Ambrosia from our co-operative purchased tanks
  • I don’t need any specialist additional equipment (such as Ashforth or Miller feeders) which need storing for 11 months a year. Fondant is simply added under the crownboard (see below).
  • Fondant appears to attract fewer wasps and doesn’t encourage robbing by other bees, possibly because there are no spillages using it.
  • I think fondant encourages later brood rearing as the bees take it down more slowly than syrup, so the brood nest never gets packed out with stores leaving the queen nowhere to lay.

I first heard about autumn feeding with fondant from Peter Edwards who provides excellent justification and instructions. Most of my colonies have perspex crownboards with an inbuilt eke on one side. The 50 mm gap isn’t enough to accommodate a big block of fondant, but addition of a simple eke from 46 x 22 mm softwood provides sufficient space, and the eke (unlike the Ashforth feeders) is both inexpensive to make and has lots of other uses.

Fondant (often called Bakers fondant) can be purchased from places likes BFP Wholesale who have depots around the UK and offer competitive pricing – particularly if you purchase ten or more 12.5 kg boxes at once. At the very least you are likely to need one 12.5 kg block per colony. Prepare the fondant by cutting a block in half along the long axis. Cover the cut faces with a single sheet of clingfilm (if you don’t do this they ‘fuse’ back together and are tricky to separate again), reassemble the block and put it back in the box for easy transport.

Insulation in place

Insulation in place …

Feeding with fondant is simplicity itself … having removed the supers to extract the honey I leave the queen excluder in place. I add the shallow eke and place the block of fondant with the cut face down on the queen excluder. I replace the perspex crownboard inverted, and balance the insulation block on top, before replacing the roof. You can use an empty super in place of the eke and inverted crownboard but – with luck – they’re all full of frames ready to extract if it’s been a good season. I add Apiguard at the same time, rather than feeding and treating for mites at different times. There’s little late season forage here, so not a lot to be gained from delaying feeding.

The colonies take the fondant down over the next days and weeks. This happens at very different rates. Some of my colonies have already taken at least a quarter of a block (3+ kg) in about a week, with others barely touching it yet. However, by mid-late October I expect most to have emptied the blue plastic bag the fondant is supplied in. I then remove the ’empties’ and the queen excluder on a warm day and wrap the hives in DPM to prevent woodpecker damage. If the bees haven’t finished the fondant it can be left on overwinter, with any remaining being dissolved to make a stimulative 1:1 feed in the spring. Fondant has a long shelf life. If kept wrapped, cool and away from mice it will keep well over a year.

Hivebarrow and fondant

Hivebarrow and fondant

Overwintering nucs

Rosebay willowherb

Rosebay willowherb …

And suddenly the season is almost over. The lime and bramble are finished, the rosebay willowherb (fireweed for those from the USA) is nearly over, honey has been harvested (but in my case not yet extracted) and queens are starting to slow down their laying rate. There’s almost nothing to do in the apiary. Colonies are unlikely to swarm this late and so inspections can be reduced in frequency. Drones are getting chucked out of the hives and queen rearing becomes a bit hit and miss, with poorer weather, cooler temperatures and the real probability that they won’t get mated properly.

This is when I prepare nucs for overwintering and rationalise my colonies to keep the stocks I want to feed up for winter. I split up my weaker colonies, using the brood and bees to populate 5 frame poly nucs to which I introduce a recently mated queen. Although established queens heading big colonies may well be slowing down, queens mated in the last few weeks will probably be laying really well. It’s therefore possible to start the nuc with just a frame of sealed brood, a frame of stores, a frame of drawn comb together with another frame of bees shaken on top. I use a dummy board to restrict the space the bees have to the three frames and introduce a mated queen in a sealed JzBz introduction cage, hanging from the top bars on a cocktail stick carefully (to avoid impaling the queen!) pushed through the JzBz cage.

Stuffed

Stuffed …

I either move the nuc to another apiary (>3 miles away) or stuff the entrance with grass to stop too many of the flying bees from returning to the colony they were harvested from … the reality being that the colony has almost certainly been split up completely and no longer exists. If you put the nuc boxes back on the original stand one usually ends up being much stronger as the flying bees preferentially return to it. A day or two later I return and remove the cap from the JzBz cage, allowing the workers to release the queen by chewing through the queen candy the cage neck is packed with. By this time the bees will probably have found a way out and will be busy foraging … if they have to struggle through the grass for too long they lose lots of pollen at the colony entrance.

Pollen

Loads of pollen

A week or so later I check the queen is out and laying well, adding two further frames  – usually one of stores and one of drawn comb, depending on the weather. This is the five frame colony that will be overwintered.

5 frame Everynuc

5 frame colony in an Everynuc …

Through late August and early September these nucs need to be monitored reasonably carefully. If there’s no forage they will almost certainly need feeding. They will also need protection from wasps. Finally, once the colony is strong with good numbers of bees for overwintering they need to be fed with syrup. This year I’m using the recently introduced Thorne’s Everynuc with an integral feeder (see the picture above). I’ll use this to feed Ambrosia and work out a way to provide additional fondant in mid-winter if needed.

Here's three I prepared earlier ...

Here’s three I prepared earlier

Queen rearing and the June gap

Cloud

Here we go again

The oil seed reap (OSR) and hawthorn have finished here and there’s very little forage available for colonies. To make matters worse the weather has been changeable, restricting the time available for colonies to forage. Small colonies, such as casts that have been attracted to bait hives, have lacked sufficient numbers of foragers to store any nectar and have needed feeding. Small, weak, nucleus colonies have starved unless supplemented with syrup. In contrast, large swarms have fared much better – it’s almost as if there’s some sort of size threshold below which the colony isn’t able to cope with adverse conditions.

This poor weather has caused significant problems for queen rearing.

  1. Virgin queens are taking ages to get mated, far longer than happens in settled weather. Many of the days have had warm, clear mornings, but with thunderclouds building up around lunchtime leading to a deluge in the afternoon – the peak time for queen mating. Many mating hives have gone queenless over the last fortnight.
  2. Without a significant flow, getting cells started – at least in the queenright queen rearing system I use (the Ben Harden method) – means the colony must be fed syrup for the few days between adding the grafted larvae to the cell raising colony and the 9th day (after egg laying) when the cells are sealed.

There’s not much that can be done about improving the chances of getting queens mated, other than ensuring a supply of freshly emerged virgin queens ready to take advantage of any suitable breaks in the weather. After more than three weeks in a 2-3 frame nucleus I’m usually pessimistic about the chances of getting the queen successfully mated.

In contrast, with relatively little effort you can feed syrup to the cell raising colony, thereby ensuring the larvae are given the best chance of success. If the cell raising colony has supers on I temporarily remove them to another hive to prevent the bees simply storing syrup in with nectar.

Queenright queen rearing colony

Remove the supers …

In practice the easiest way to achieve this is to set up the queenright cell raiser the day before grafting (as described in detail previously) with a clearer board on top of the upper brood box, beneath the supers. When you come to add the grafted larvae, first remove the supers which are now cleared of bees and put them aside, gently slide the cell bar frame between the frame of unsealed larvae and pollen, add 150-200ml or 1:1 w/v (thin) syrup to either a fat dummy feeder or frame feeder in the upper brood box, then put the crownboard and roof back. Add the removed supers to other strong colonies in the apiary.

3 day old QCs ...

3 day old QCs …

Unless the weather dramatically improves I then check the colony daily, adding a further 150-200ml of thin syrup to the feeder. This just takes a few minutes and results in minimum disruption … a quick waft of smoke at the entrance, the same amount through a slight gap beneath the raised corner of the crownboard and then gently remove the crownboard. The day after grafting I check the larvae to see how many have been accepted. There’s no need to check the cells on the next 3 days (despite the picture shown here), simply add a bit more syrup to the feeder. On the fifth day after grafting the cells should be sealed and there is no longer any need to continue feeding. In addition to preventing tainting the honey supers with syrup, removing the supers also concentrates bees into the brood boxes.

Bait hives – success

Bait hive …

Bait hive …

Sometime in the first week of May two of my bait hives were occupied by swarms. One was knee-height in a field and the other was above head-height on top of my greenhouse. I was away all week so cannot be sure the date the swarms moved in (though looking back at the weather records I suspect it was mid-week). The bees seem to be drawing out the frames well but it’s been too cold to do an inspection. This is a good example – both my absence and the lousy weather – of a situation when a box full of frames allows the bees to get established, rather than adding the frames after it’s occupied. The clear ‘crownboard’ on these Modern Beekeeping poly Nationals make it simple to take a quick peek without disturbing the colony too much.

Occupied bait hive ...

Occupied bait hive …

In the larger swarm (right) the colony has divided to occupy the two frames of old tatty drawn comb I left on either side of the box. In retrospect I think only one manky old brood frame is probably needed, so when I transfer these to new boxes I’ll re-populate the bait hives with nine foundationless frames and one old frame. Despite the temperature (which has hovered between 11 and 13oC most of the last few days) there’s a reasonable flow on from remaining OSR, so I’m not feeding them. Pollen was being taken into both colonies today when I checked, suggesting there’s a mated, laying queen present.

Lemongrass oil ...

Lemongrass oil …

The forecast looks to be improving for the end of the week. A lot of colonies appear to be delaying swarming because of the inclement weather. Several inspected at the weekend in the association apiary had sealed QCs but the queen still present (we couldn’t avoid the bad weather as we were running a queen rearing course and needed larvae for grafting). Therefore I’m going to empty these bait hives as soon as possible, move the captured swarms to a temporary apiary, refill the boxes with more frames, add a drop or two of lemongrass oil and put them back in position.

Finally … I’m not aware I’ve lost a swarm as my queens are all clipped (I think) so these two are likely from one of the many other beekeepers in the area. Thank you!

More poly nucs

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

No space for a divider 8-(

The poly nuc marketed by Paynes can be usefully converted into an eight frame box by getting rid of the internal (infernal) feeder as previously discussed. I’d hoped to divide these into two, adding a second entrance, to use for queen mating. Two or three frame nucs take more bees but need less maintenance than mini-nucs. However, the eight frame box is fractionally too narrow to split down the middle to create two four frame nucs, even using a thin sheet of Correx. The central entrance – at least in the original versions of these boxes – is also poorly designed and would have needed modification.

The final product

The final product

Until 2014 there were no generally available National poly nucs other than the Paynes offering (this is in the UK; Thorne’s have recently introduced one). I therefore purchased some Langstroth poly nucs from ModernBeekeeping in the sales. These are very high quality poly nucs. They are the Paradise Honey Bee Box’s, made out of very dense poly, with a separate removable open mesh floor. They also have a good thick roof – far superior to the Paynes box. They have the additional advantage of being designed to be divided, with lugs in the end panels, a shallow slot in the floor and twin entrances at opposite ends. The only drawback to these boxes is the sculptured exterior which makes painting them tiresome. I used 2-3 coats of thinned masonry paint.

Internal fittings

Internal fittings

I wanted to retain the option to use these as standard 6-7 frame nucs in the future, so designed a removable divider that (non-destructively) created two x three frame nucs. Being Langstroth’s, they’re significantly bigger than a National box. However, with a little ingenuity, this extra space can be used to create an internal feeding compartment for fondant or sugar. In the first boxes I converted I blocked the top of the feed compartment with a removable scrap of perspex and drilled through the end panel. I’m going to try some this year without the perspex … simply allowing the bees to clamber over the end panel to access the fondant.

Perspex cover

Perspex cover

I used these boxes for queen mating late in the season in 2013. I divided a colony – with the addition of a few frames of stores – to create five three frame nucleus colonies, four of which were queenless and housed in these three frame poly nucs. The queen from the donor hive went into a dummied down standard nuc with a frame of stores and brood. I moved the poly nucs to a separate apiary, added a sealed queen cell and got them all successfully mated. These small colonies were appreciably stronger than a mini-nuc and were better able to defend themselves against wasps (Kieler mini-nucs in the same apiary were robbed out by wasps). The bees did well in these boxes, soon built up and were moved on to larger colonies. Since it’s possible to overwinter colonies in Kielers, I see no reason why a strong three frame nuc – or rather two of them – wouldn’t be OK in anything but the harshest winter in one of these modified hives.

Construction

Glued and screwed

Glued and screwed

Construction is relatively simple, requiring little more than a sheet of 6mm ply, some offcuts from the scraps box, some softwood, a couple of G clamps, wood glue, screws and – inevitably – Elastoplast. I used the central divider as a sort of spine, to which I attached 15mm ply end panels, spaced the correct distance apart to fit a National frame. The easiest way to do this is to add some 8mm – beespace – softwood to the sidebars of a brood frame and then just mark where to attach the end panels to the divider. The four end panels need to be glued and screwed in place, using a set square to ensure they are perpendicular to the divider, and clamped until secure. It is easiest to make all the modifications (below) to these end panels before fitting them in place. The top edge of the divider is widened by the addition of two thin strips of softwood (3mm x 15mm) which extend to create the lugs that separate the original frame rests of the box.

Access to feeder

Access to feeder

The ‘entrance’ end panel must be clear of the floor, the other one must reach all the way to the floor. The entrance end panel also needs 6mm softwood spacers on the back to protect the small poly lugs that hold the central divider in place. The other one can have a hole drilled through it and covered with a scrap of queen excluder (though see additional comments above as to whether this is necessary – work in progress). Both end panels will need frame rests on the upper edge – those horrible plastic ones provided with Thorne’s second quality supers are just fine. The original boxes are top bee space and this is the way I’ve arranged mine.

Correx entrance block

Correx entrance block

Running two colonies side by side is straightforward, but you need to ensure that each side is bee tight and that you can work with one colony without disturbing the other too much. I use a thick plastic crown board, fitted to the central divider with drawing pins. The bees can’t propolise this stuff down too easily, I can see enough through it to see colony expansion and it’s easy to peel back and hold down with you hive tool when you need access. Once it gets too mucky it can easily and cheaply be replaced. Don’t purchase the entrance reducers from ModernBeekeeping (as they’re a daft price) … use Correx offcuts instead, with different colours to help the bees orientate back to the colony.