Tag Archives: poly

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?

 

Langstroth nuc conversion

I bought several Modern Beekeeping/Paradise honey 6 frame Langstroth poly nucs in a sale a couple of years ago. My recollection is that they were £29 each. These are fine quality poly nucs and I’ve previously described their conversion into 2 x 3 National frame nucs for queen mating. I wanted to convert the remaining nucs into standard 6 frame Nationals, similar in design to the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s. I think the latter is probably the best quality poly National nuc currently available but, at over £47, they’re not cheap and not without their faults.

Using scrap ply from the offcuts bin, a few bits of stripwood and some odds and ends it was relatively easy to convert the box non-destructively. One end of the box consists of a single piece of 11mm ply 239x243mm (w x h). The other end has an integral feeder made from two pieces of 5mm ply 239x240mm (w x h) separated by a 54mm wide piece of softwood. The feeder has a 3mm ply base. Because the MB nucleus boxes have internal mouldings I needed to add spacers (6mm and 9mm respectively) on the non-feeder and feeder ends. All joints were glued and stapled with a nail gun. I added plastic runners to the top edges, sealed the inside of the feeder with melted wax and fixed the ends in place with screws.

Unlike the Everynuc, this converted MB poly nuc has the correct beespace at the frame ends, top beespace and a small entrance (two 16mm holes, easily sealed for transport and easier to defend). The cost of the materials is negligible. Although I still don’t like painting these boxes, the handholds are useful and – if you can buy them in the sales from Modern Beekeeping – this converted nuc works out about 40% cheaper than the Everynuc and corrects most of its design faults.

That’s probably the last posting ever on converting poly nucs … I’ve now got more than enough for my modest needs. Other than infrequent repainting and the odd bit of filler to fix holes or damage I expect these to last and last.

2014 in retrospect

Hives in the frost

Hives in the frost

2014 was a pretty good year for beekeeping. The winter was not overly long or cold and colonies came through it in good condition. Spring was cool and damp – although colony build up was about normal it was difficult to find good enough weather for inspections. Despite the weather the OSR yielded well. The summer flows were good, with excellent lime and blackberry which persisted for a long time (and necessitated frantic frame and super assembly in mid-summer). I took the honey harvest off in mid-August but – in retrospect – should have left it longer to get more from the himalayan balsam. The autumn ivy was excellent, with the bees working it here until at least mid-November. I’ve ended the season with more honey than I’ve had in the last 4 years, a dozen strong colonies and some overwintering nucs. As always, some things went well and some things went badly (or at least, less well) and I hope I’ve learnt from both.

Three day old grafts

Three day old grafts

Queen rearing was patchy to say the least. This was entirely my fault. Although I achieved consistently high ‘take’ rates for grafting my work commitments meant I lost a couple of batches of queens by not caging the cells early enough. With queen rearing, timing is critical. I used a mixture of Kieler mini-nucs and 3 frame nucs for queen mating, losing some of the former to wasps and – stupidly – getting a 50% return of mated queens from the latter because the plastic crownboard (pinned down along the central wooden divider) buckled or stretched from the heat of the colony allowing one of the virgin queens to slaughter the other. D’oh! Needless to say, this is being fixed for the 2015 season.

Morris board

Morris board …

On a more positive note both preventing and capturing swarms went very well. The combination of clipped queens and prompt use of the Demaree method kept my production colonies under control and I’m only aware of losing one swarm from an over-stuffed 5 frame nuc early in the season. I increasingly favour the Demaree system (or versions of it, such as the use of a Morris board) for swarm control – it requires minimal additional equipment and keeps the colony together. My bait hives for capturing swarms worked well, particularly as I’ve learnt the best way to set them up is to use foundationless frames. The incoming swarm has somewhere to build immediately and they only need to be checked every few days. The combination of a nail gun (for frame assembly) and foundationless frames was a revelation – the former slashing frame building times and the latter providing the obvious benefit of reduced foundation costs, and a number of less obvious (but greater) benefits in terms of improved colony vigour.

Smoker

Smoker

The first inspections of the 2015 season are still several months away so there’s ample time yet for preparation. This includes painting several more poly nucs, frame building and wax filtering. I’ll make an annual batch of mead in the hope that – one year – it will be drinkable. Beekeeping is too dependent upon the vagaries in the weather to make definitive plans or resolutions. However, I do intend to experiment with upper entrances during Bailey comb changes and Demaree swarm control, to use more foundationless super frames and to overwinter more nucs for the 2016 season.

Finally, this website has been running for about a year. Looking at the visitor stats it’s clear that the most popular posts have been on honey warming cabinets and Paynes poly nuc boxes (though in fairness, these were also some of the earliest posts), with visitors from over 100 countries in total. I hope you found something useful here.

Happy New Year

What it's all about …

Not too long to wait …

 

Woodpeckers

Chicken wire cage

Chicken wire cage …

In very cold weather green woodpeckers can cause damage to beehives when they try and get at the bees and brood. Until the temperate is below 0ºC for an extended period this usually isn’t an issue, but in a prolonged cold snap beehives can represent easy pickings for a hungry bird. I believe that this is learned behaviour and appears to vary in different areas. Around here they know that cedar, or even better poly, hives can be ransacked so these need to be protected during the winter. There are two easy ways to achieve this. One approach is to build a cage of chicken wire, supported on canes. This can be lifted away reasonably easily and ensures the hive doesn’t get too damp. However, it’s more difficult to construct and takes up more storage space during the summer. The alternative approach is to wrap the hive body in old plastic fertiliser or compost sacks. Damp proof membrane (DPM) is often available in skips and is even better as it it more robust and doesn’t get shredded in high winds.

Wrapped for winter

Wrapped for winter …

Using drawing pins I attach the DPM around the top of the brood box. Don’t fix it to the crownboard as you’ll probably have to lift this mid-winter to apply oxalic acid. If the plastic is fixed to the brood box it can usually be left in place during oxalic acid treatment. A single layer thick is sufficient … it presumably works by preventing the woodpecker perching on the side bars and breaking through. Whenever I’ve seen woodpecker damage it’s always to the sides of the brood box where the frame lugs are.

Polystyrene hives need additional protection for the roof as well. I’ve even had blue or great tits damage the roof of an overwintered Paynes nuc box. I tend to move these nucs to a sheltered spot in the garden which is rarely visited by woodpeckers, rather than leave them unattended in out apiaries. Finally, if you do use plastic, use sufficient pins to hold it securely in place in bad weather and don’t leave any gaps for Woody to get through …

Which poly nuc?

Which is the best poly nuc? Over the last few years a number of manufacturers and suppliers have started selling polystyrene nucleus (poly nuc) hives in the UK. Some of these are specifically designed around the popular British National frame dimensions, others take advantage of the larger size of Langstroth frames to provide a box that will accommodate National frames, or that can be readily modified to take them.

I’ve used three of the most widely available – in order of increasing price – from Paynes, Modern Beekeeping and Thorne’s. I’ve also commented on the use or modification of each of these poly nucs elsewhere on this site. To simplify the comparison I list below what I consider to be the best and worst features of each of these poly nucs, with a few additional comments on their use.

Paynes poly nuc (£31)

Paynes 8 frame conversion

Space for 8 frames … just

Pros

  • British National dimensions (6 frame), no modification needed
  • Eke available for 14×12’s or to feed fondant
  • Reasonable price, particularly if you buy in the sales or in bulk (good discounts can be had)
  • Convenient handles for carrying
  • Easy to paint
  • Box plus lid, no removable floor (wire open mesh floor)
  • Can be readily converted to a (more useful) 8 frame poly nuc
Insulated eke

Insulated eke …

Cons

  • Internal feeder is too narrow and is difficult to empty if the box is occupied with bees
  • Box plus lid, no removable floor
  • Roof is far too thin and flimsy (build an insulated eke for winter use), side walls are just about OK

Modern beekeeping (Paradise Honey) poly nuc (£37)

MB poly nuc

MB poly nuc …

Pros

  • High quality build with dense, thick, poly
  • 6 frame
  • Entrances at both ends for conversion to dual, three frame nuc – which can also be achieved with National frames and a bit of DIY
  • Thick roof requiring no additional insulation
  • Removable floor with integral plastic mesh
  • Good handholds for carrying
Correx entrance block

Correx entrance block …

Cons

  • Langstroth dimensions (only an issue if you don’t use Langstroth frames of course)
  • Too many nooks and crannies to make painting easy – at least with a brush
  • Requires strapping together for transport (removable floor)
  • Entrance reducers are a daft price (but Correx makes a good substitute)

Thorne’s Everynuc (£47)

Everynuc

Everynuc …

Pros

  • High quality build with dense, thick, poly
  • 5 frame (plus a dummy board)
  • Excellent thick, solid roof
  • Clear plastic crownboard
  • Removable floor with integral wire mesh
  • Varroa monitoring tray
  • Integral syrup/fondant feeder (users of Langstroth frames can buy a nicely designed polystyrene Miller-type syrup feeder)
  • Smooth roof and side – easy to paint
Entrance reducer

Entrance reducer …

Cons

  • No convenient handholds for carrying
  • Entrance is much too large and no entrance block supplied
  • Bee space is a bit wayward in places
  • Langstroth (but already converted to National, so not really a con at all)

 

Conclusions

You will likely see lots of the Paynes poly nucs in visits to apiaries. They were one of the earliest to the market and can be bought in bulk at a big discount. However, price aside, there are too many compromises in my opinion to make them a good investment, particularly if you intend to routinely overwinter colonies. Nevertheless, when converted to 8 frame boxes (as originally described on the BBKA forums), they are excellent for collecting swarms – light enough to carry up a precarious ladder, no removable floor to drop and large enough for all but the very biggest prime swarms. Some people also use them as bait hives, though the volume is not ideal according to Tom Seeley.

Quality-wise there is little to choose between the MB/Paradise Honey and Thorne’s Everynuc. Other than the issue of painting, if you use Langstroth frames, either would be an excellent investment. However, the Thorne’s Everynuc can be purchased with an integral feeder that also converts the box to take National frames “off the shelf“. Despite the higher price, this convenience and the removable Varroa tray, probably makes the Everynuc the best choice. The deficiencies of the Everynuc can be readily fixed. With care, poly nucs should last a couple of decades at least, which makes the price premium for the Thorne’s offering (actually built in Germany) pretty much irrelevant.

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

Everynuc poly nuc

Everynuc

Everynuc …

Thorne’s have introduced two new poly nuc hives recently – one called the Polynuc (~£27) and the other the Everynuc (~£47). Both are available in British National dimensions. I’ve not seen the Polynuc but consider the walls, at 22mm, to be a little on the thin side for overwintering colonies (perhaps about the same as the Paynes poly nucs). However, I have recently taken delivery of half a dozen Everynuc poly nucs with the intention of expanding my stock, by splitting production colonies (after the honey harvest) and using mid/late season-reared queens to take them through the winter. Here are my first impressions.

Everynuc floor

Everynuc floor

The Everynuc is an interesting design. It’s available in a range of different sizes; Langstroth, National, Smith, Commercial, 14×12, Dadant etc. All have a rectangular, preformed (i.e. no assembly required) brood box with 40mm thick walls and neat metal runners at each end for frames. I suspect this box is the same size for all frame sizes. To accommodate smaller frames e.g.  National in the Langstroth-sized box, they supply a slot-in feeder that takes 2.2 pints. The deeper frames e.g. 14×12 and Commercials also include a 40mm or 60mm eke that presumably goes between the brood box and the removable floor. The latter is sloping, with open mesh and has a removable tray for Varroa monitoring. There is a clear plastic crownboard and a thick roof. The exterior of the box is commendably smooth, so much easier to paint than the Modern Beekeeping/Paradise Honey boxes).

Bee space

Bee space

Thorne’s claim the Everynuc is top bee space. Well, it is and it isn’t. In the National size, the top edge of the feeder sits 2-3 mm above the frame runner, meaning that the top bar slopes. To rectify this I’ve cut a couple of millimetres off the bottom of the feeder lugs, effectively lowering the feeder sufficiently to restore top bee space. While we’re on the subject of bee space, it’s definitely wrong at the end of the box without the feeder where I measure the gap at 1.5cm. This is poor and may reflect some sort of compromise to accommodate the different length lugs on National and other types of frames. For the moment I’ve not done anything about this, but if brace comb becomes an issue I intend to skin the inside end panel with some 8mm ply to restore the correct bee space.

Not 6 frames

Er, no …

The Everynuc is designed for 5 frames and a dummy board. With brand new frames you can just about cram 6 frames in, but as soon as the Hoffman spacers get a bit of propolis on them it’ll definitely be a 5 frame box. With good thick walls and a solid roof this is a good size to overwinter.

FIve frame poly nuc

FIve frame poly nuc …

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

In addition to lowering the feeder I’m looking at ways to add a metal or plastic runner to the inside edge of the feeder, fitted just proud of the cut ply, to make frame manipulations easier. I’ve also added a thin piece of stripwood across the top of the feeder to stop the frames sliding backwards and forwards when the boxes are being moved. There is a small wooden spacer on the bottom edge of the feeder, but this additional cross brace should add a bit more security and prevent bees getting crushed. On the subject of moving colonies, I routinely make up 2-3 frame nucs for queen mating and then transport them from one apiary to another. Rather than letting the frames slide about side to side I’ve cut small blocks of dense foam to wedge them tightly in place for travel. An additional block of foam will be required for the entrance, which is wide and, with the short ‘landing board’, an awkward shape to block with mesh held in place with drawing pins (my favoured solution to transporting nucs).

Everynuc entrance

Open wide …

First impressions of these nucs are reasonably positive. The beespace might be a problem, the frame feeder really shouldn’t need lowering and the entrance is likely to require some sort of reducing block to prevent robbing. However, the poly is dense and well moulded, with no real nooks and crannies to harbour pathogens. Cleaning should be straightforward. The boxes will stack if it is necessary to unite colonies.

Finally, I wonder how many beekeepers noticed the name of the manufacturer of the clear plastic crown board …

Bayer Everynuc crownboard

Bayer …

Lost and found

Walking back from my out apiary this evening and I saw this reasonably new natural comb in the bushes. This must have been a swarm I missed a month or so ago, though perhaps not from my colonies as the queens are all clipped. Most swarms settle a short distance from the hive they leave, then move elsewhere … this comb was a couple of hundred metres from my nearest colony.

Natural comb

Natural comb …

We had some good weather at the beginning of May. I was abroad and when I returned at the end of the first week I discovered a swarm had moved into a bait hive on top of my greenhouse. Perhaps it moved there from this tree? There are bees in both adjacent fields so this might have been the source. The comb was a foot or so deep from the branch it was connected to. I suspect that, having swarmed, the weather got worse, trapping the swarm in the tree for several days, during which time they built the comb.

In contrast, here’s one I did catch at the end of last month. I noticed this late in the evening and had to use flash to photograph it. It was at head height on a rotten branch.

Swarm of bees

Swarm of bees

I gave it a good shake (snapping the branch and dropping bees everywhere) into a Paynes poly nuc and left them on the ground overnight to sort themselves out. Within two days they’d drawn out sufficient foundationless frames for the queen to start laying and now, fifteen days later, are in a full hive with nearly 9 frames fully drawn and packed with eggs and brood.

Captured swarm in 8 frame poly nuc

Captured swarm in 8 frame poly nuc …

The queen in this swarm was large and pale, nothing like the ones I usually rear, so I suspect she’s a generous gift from an unsuspecting local beekeeper.

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!