Tag Archives: poly

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.

Same time, next year

About this time last year a swarm arrived in a bait hive in my back garden in Fife. Almost exactly one year later a different bait hive in the same spot was occupied by another swarm … or, possibly, a very good-sized cast.

The bait hive was being investigated by scout bees for a few days but on 6th, which was a very warm day here in Fife, the numbers increased markedly from a couple of dozen to a hundred or more. On my return from work on the following day the swarm was in residence. My neighbour reported seeing a ‘huge swarm arriving’ at about 11am.

Foundationless frames and bait hives

The hive contained a single old, dark brood frame and about five foundationless frames, together with a cotton bud dipped in lemongrass oil. I’ve previously described why I think foundationless frames are so convenient for bait hives – they provide the bees with guides to build new comb without taking up significant space in the box. It’s worth remembering that the scout bees are seeking out a sheltered, south facing, bee-smelling (ideally), empty space of about 40 litres volume i.e. about the same as a single National brood box. Foundationless frames take up little space, but mean that an arriving swarm can start building new comb immediately … and they do.

I posted a photo last week of a swarm from the bee shed that had clustered because the queen was clipped and so unable to fly. I dealt with the swarm within a couple of hours of it settling. Once cleared, the wall of the bee shed was dotted with small crescents of wax as the bees had already started to build new comb. In the bait hive, when checked on the evening of the 8th (less than 48 hours after the bees arrived) they were well on their way to drawing out the first three foundationless frames, with the first of these being half full of nectar, presumably from the dregs available in the nearby OSR fields.

Mite treatment be needed?

Almost certainly … and there’s no better time. When swarms leave a hive they take with them up to 35% of the Varroa population as phoretic mites. A large swarm from a heavily infested hive can therefore introduce an unhealthy dose of virus-riddled mites to your apiary. These will rapidly spread to your other hives. I therefore routinely treat swarms with suitable miticides soon after they arrive, well before any brood is sealed. I don’t look for DWV symptoms or bother searching for signs of phoretic mites, I just treat. Due to work commitments this swarm had to be treated on the third day after arrival, before I was even certain whether the queen was laying or not. Within the first 24 hours after treatment (with sublimated oxalic acid) there were about 40-50 mites on the board, with more falling over the next couple of days. It’s far easier and more effective to treat when there’s no brood present and so give the colony the very best chance of getting well established without a pathogenic virus load.

Finally, after a day of heavy rain, I took advantage of the bees being all ‘at home’, sealed the entrance and relocated them to another apiary to make space for a replacement bait hive on the same spot … on the off chance that swarming here isn’t over yet.

If it is, then there’s always the same time, next year.


Same time, next year was a 1978 romantic comedy starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn about a couple, married to others, who meet by chance, develop an “instant rapport” or at least “really hit it off” (one of the quotes from the film) and then meet again, year after year, both gradually changing, ageing and dealing with life’s crises.

www.theapiarist.org’s year

This is the second full year that this site has been running. Visitor numbers to the site wax (no pun intended) and wane with the beekeeping season – lower in the winter and higher in the summer. This is perhaps not unsurprising … the online forums are much the same, though there’s a lot less bickering here in the winter and no-ones actually been banned. Yet 😉

Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar

Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar

Posts

The site has been visited by beekeepers (or visitors, or at least robots … ) from 132 countries over the course of the year. The most popular individual articles are on honey warming cabinets, Paynes poly nuc boxes, steam wax extractors and the one article I posted on the Saf Natura honey extractor (which continues to perform really well … the extractor, not the article). These were all originally posted in 2014 so have had time to permeate deep into the Googled-psyche of the internet. The most popular 2015 post was about avoiding – or removing – frosting in honey. Tim Foden posted some useful additional comments on this when I recently discussed making soft set honey. There’s also been quite a bit of interest in recent posts on oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal and the relative costs of the various Varroa treatments. Disappointingly, my semi-rants on the need for more sustainable beekeeping practices – including training and controlling imports – particularly in relation to stopping pathogen imports (both the visible ones like small hive beetle and the invisible, and untested, ones like new virus strains) have received relatively little attention (though they do appear to be recommended course material for a Masters degree of some sort). Maybe next year …

Searches

Fat finger

Fat finger

The search terms make interesting reading though Google (by far and away the most frequent referrer accounting for 96% of direct searches) hides these for commercial reasons and I can’t be bothered checking Google Analytics. I hope the person who searched for a “cow dummy board” found what they wanted but suspect the visitor who searched for how to build your own collapsible bin 1.2m by 1.2m plans and designs” was disappointed. There’s been some recent interest how to “demaree nucs” which is a combination of terms I’d not expected to see and can’t see a need for. Can you? If the spelling errors that appear in the visible search terms are representative then it’s fortunate that Google and Bing both use algorithms to take into account common typos, fat fingers and the spektackularly poor spelling of many internet users. I use Akismet for spam filtering of comments and it’s amazing the garbage it’s successfully prevented from appearing online … any number of “free pianos”“genuine Louise Vuiton” (really?) bags and RayBan sunglasses. Most recently was a long and fascinating post (er, not) about “making your breath smell good” in response to my overview of foundationless frames (shurely shome mishtake?) I’m grateful to those who negotiated the “are you human?” Captcha tests and posted a comment or two. Without using Captcha tests I’d be swamped with more free pianos than I’d know what to do with …

Plans

I’ve managed to post a bit more than the once-per-week target I’d set myself (64 posts in total). I suspect this will be throttled back a little next year, though I have a range of new things (oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal treatment regimes, homemade label printing, DIY hive monitors etc.) that I’d like to cover. I’ve tended not to write purely topical posts (“My hives this week”, which sounds more like something you’d find in the comments pages of NHS Choices) – there are much better writers out there already doing this* – instead concentrating on more practical aspects of beekeeping. It’s sometimes difficult to achieve a balance between the ‘flow’ of the beekeeping year – the inactivity of the winter months vs. the never-quite-keeping-up activity in May and June – and writing practical and topical posts, after all, most practical beekeeping happens in that 2-3 months between the OSR starting and the end of the swarming season. I’ve already had some interest in discussing the bee shed (and will try and respond to other requests) and want to expand some aspects of queen rearing as I get more experience of different approaches. In particular I’m interested in looking at practical solutions – like vertical splits – for small scale beekeepers who don’t want to graft but do want to improve their stocks. Having moved to Scotland I also now have potential access to some very scenic apiary sites (at least used by friends, even if my own are relatively dull and boring) and I’m hoping to combine visits to these with my photography interests.

It’s never too late to join the 21st Century …

I’ve finally got round to including a widget (right) to mirror my Twitter account @The_Apiarist. This was created way back in January 2014 but got forgotten and was subsequently suspended by Twitter … presumably due to inactivity. More topical things might end up there (if I remember), leaving the more practical stuff for these pages …

Mid-April 2015 queen ...

Mid-April 2015 queen … I hope to see her again in about 4 months

As the year draws to a close I hope that in 2016 your mite numbers are low, your colonies docile, your queens visible and your supers heavy.

Happy New Year

David


* on bees, not urticaria

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.

 

Imports

Planning

Planning …

Last week I moved more than a dozen colonies to Fife where I’m going to be living and working from the beginning of August. Due to the vagaries of queen rearing this year this was slightly fewer than I’d intended, but – for one person doing all the heavy lifting – was still a reasonable amount of work and a bit of a logistical nightmare (they were spread over 4 different apiaries and were in three different sized boxes). There was also the large piles of additional boxes – supers, broods, a variety of poly nucs, stands, ekes etc. that needed to make the trip.

Rather than use framed travel screens I simply stapled plastic insect netting across the top of all the boxes. This is available by the metre at a reasonable price and can easily be cut to size with a Stanley knife. I took a variety of boxes – 5 and 8 frame poly nucs and four full Nationals, two of which were on double broods. Some of the nucs were expanding so fast I was moving them up to 8 or 11 frame boxes in the week preceding the move. All were on open mesh floors.

A combination of the incorrect sized van being delivered, a large desk making the same trip and a stack of stands and other equipment – floors, supers, roofs etc. – made for a sort of Rubic’s cube packing puzzle. However, late in the evening everything was aboard and secure, although one colony had to sit on the passenger seat. The near 400 mile overnight journey was straightforward, with a single stop midway. It was a cool evening – one of the reasons for travelling overnight, the other being the “sheer weight of traffic” on the M6 – but I still sprayed water over the mesh tops of the hives in the car park of the Tebay service station at about 2am.

 

After arriving and a brief nap I arranged the colonies in temporary apiaries. The travel screens worked well and it was an easy job to prise the staples out of the poly nucs. It was less easy on the cedar boxes and I think a better solution would be to hold the mesh in place with a spare eke, strapped down tight, or perhaps simply pin the overhang down round the sides.

A local queen

A local queen

Are these local bees or are they imports? They’re not local to Fife, that’s for sure, but they’re a damn sight more local than something flown in from the other side of Europe. Some of my stocks are grafted from larvae derived from Colonsay queens but the majority are mongrels, selected on the criteria important to me; temper, health, steadiness. The climate in Fife isn’t hugely different to the Midlands in terms of overall rainfall, average temperatures etc. It’s a bit cooler and quite a bit windier, so it will be interesting to see how they perform in the run up to winter, and how they build up again for the 2016 season.

 

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 …

 

Churchyard swarm

Quiet churchyard

Quiet churchyard

While away on ‘bee health’ business for the day in York I received a call around midday that there was a swarm settling in a small tree in a local churchyard. The combination of the words “small tree” and “within arms reach” is always reassuring, so I promised to have a look when I got back. Inevitably I was delayed and it was nearly 9pm by the time I turned up in the churchyard. I fully expected it to have been collected by another beekeeper, or to have disappeared to a bait hive or even the church tower … but it hadn’t. The swarm was quite small (I suspect it may be a cast) and tightly clustered – exactly as described, in a small tree easily reachable without steps. Excellent.

As the final peals of the bells died out I dropped the swarm into an eight frame poly nuc box, gently lowered a full complement of foundationless frames on top, replaced the perspex cover sheet and roof and waited while the few stragglers entered the box. It was lovely sitting in the gathering gloom listening to the fanning bees at the entrance – indicating the queen was in the box – as the evening ebbed away. It was too dark for any photographs unfortunately. Shortly after 10pm the nuc box was installed in my garden on a levelled stand – to allow the bees to draw the foundationless frames out vertically – and they were busy making orientation flights when I checked at 6am the following day.

Although the bees looked perfectly healthy I’ll keep them away from my main apiaries until I see some brood and can check them thoroughly. In the meantime, and before they have sealed brood, I’ll treat them with oxalic acid vapour to minimise the phoretic mite numbers. To help them draw out new foundation I’ll give them a few pints of thin syrup (I’m still using up some old fondant left over from last winter) if the current nectar flow dries up – the rape is gone and the blackberry is just starting, but my other colonies are bringing something in. Finally, I’ll keep a close eye on their temper and general behaviour and, if unacceptable, will either requeen them or unite them with another colony.

Circle splits

I’m aiming to raise 12-24 five-frame nucs this summer to populate new apiaries and provide bees for my day job. These will also provide the stocks to replace early season sales of overwintered nucs and donations to friends struggling with misbehaving colonies. The first round of grafting started relatively late (16/5/15) due to the protracted cool weather this spring – even had I managed to raise queens, the prospect of getting them successfully mated would have been limited.

Select the best, replace the worst

Larvae were selected for grafting from one of my best colonies – chosen on the basis of the desirable characteristics I’m able to easily subjectively judge. These include disease, good behaviour and performance. Disease and behaviour are straightforward – obvious signs of chalkbrood or deformed wing virus, running excessively on the frame, following, pinging off the veil or attacking a hand slowly moved over an open colony would all preclude a colony from being used as a source of larvae for grafting. Performance is far more difficult to judge when comparing a relatively small number of colonies. I look for colonies that overwinter well, that build up strongly in Spring and that are headed by queens that exhibit a good laying pattern.

Good laying pattern

Good laying pattern …

I chose a strong, healthy colony for queen rearing using the Ben Harden queenright system. Despite their vigour, this colony was also bad tempered and unpleasant to handle. With queens, nature is all-important, whereas nurture is only relevant in terms of feeding the developing larvae … using a bad tempered colony to raise cells does not influence the temper of the colony headed by the resulting queens (at least, this appears to be the case and I’ve not seen anything to suggest otherwise). I therefore sacrificed the queen and split the cell raising colony up to populate the nucs for queen mating.

Vince Cook and circle splits

Queen rearing simplified

Queen rearing simplified

A single brood box setup for queenright queen rearing will probably have at least 10 frames of brood at this stage of the season – most of these are in the bottom box, with a frame or two of (now likely sealed) brood adjacent to the cell bar frame in the upper box, flanked by the fat dummies. These brood frames, and the adhering young bees, can be divided approximately equally amongst a number of 5/6 frame nucs arranged in an inward facing circle around the original colony (which is disassembled and removed during the process). The returning or displaced foragers should then distribute themselves roughly equally amongst the nucs. This method was developed by Vince Cook, a New Zealand beekeeper, and is described briefly in his small book Queen rearing simplified.

This was something I’d not previously tried. I usually either make nucs up and move them to an another apiary to prevent the loss of returning foragers, or make up mini-nucs for queen mating by harvesting nurse bees. However, the unpleasant temperament of the cell raising colony meant that this was an ideal opportunity to sacrifice the queen and use the entire colony to populate nucs for mating the newly raised queens.

Circle splits in practice

In preparation for splitting the colony I’d moved the hive to the centre of a large hive stand (containing no other hives) with a reasonable amount of clear space around it. Division of the colony was then relatively straightforward:

  • On arrival at the apiary I very gently smoked the cell raiser, removed the cell bar frame containing the caged queen cells and placed it – together with a few hundred adhering bees – in a two frame nuc box for safe keeping.
  • I removed the upper brood box and placed it on an adjacent hive stand and then went quickly through the lower brood box, found the queen and put her in a cage in my pocket.
  • I stuck a spare hive tool into the ground directly underneath the entrance to the colony destined for division – by marking this spot I was then able to distribute half a dozen 5/6 frame poly nucs approximately evenly around a circle centred on the hive tool. Due to space restrictions in the apiary (the farmer ploughed all the field margins this year) the entrances to the nucs were all about 1.2 metres (i.e. about twice the length of a Langstroth poly nuc lid, which was my measuring device) from the ‘donor’ hive entrance. Furthermore, due to a lack of suitable hive stands the nucs were actually arranged two per side on a rough equilateral triangle. I doubt any of this really matters, but a perfect circle it was not 😉
  • Each nuc box already contained a frame of stores, a frame of foundation and a dummy board.
  • It was then a simple case of going through the brood boxes distributing sealed brood and associated bees approximately evenly around the circle of nucs. I didn’t shake any bees into the boxes. Some bees were milling around, but – perhaps because it was relatively late in the day and I used the minimum amount of smoke and was as gentle as practical – the majority stayed on the frames. With something like 11-13 frames of brood – some all sealed, some drone, some frames only recently laid up – this was not an exact science.
  • Having distributed the brood and frames from the donor colony I then retrieved the sealed queen cells and placed one in each of the nucs, pushed into the comb an inch or two from the top bar, using the ‘ears’ on the Nicot cup holder embedded in the comb and trapped in place with the adjacent frame.
  • Finally, I made up each nuc box with additional frames of foundation or drawn comb, pushed the frames gently together and replaced the crownboard and roof. Each was then firmly strapped onto the hive stand.

After care

A day or two after the virgin queen should have emerged (but well before any mating flights might occur i.e. 5-6 days after emergence) I checked the – approximate – circle of nucs to ensure they were reasonably well balanced in terms of strength. Using the gentlest waft of smoke I separated the frames and retrieved the – now vacated – queen cell. All the queens had emerged and should get mated over the next couple of weeks … during which time they will be left undisturbed.

All gone ...

All gone …

It was interesting to note that the nucs were all very well behaved when I checked them, despite originating from a colony that has been consistently unpleasant all season. This isn’t unusual – small colonies are almost always better behaved than full colonies and the presence of a queen, even a newly emerged virgin, often noticeably settles a colony down.

What’s next … ?

Queen rearing using a Cloake board, something I’ve not used before.