Tag Archives: Thorne’s

Hive tools

Man is a tool-using animal, Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881)

The Scottish philosopher wasn’t talking about beekeepers, but he might as well have been. The quotation goes on something like “Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all”. Which pretty neatly sums up the beekeeper who has lost his hive tool in the long grass.

Hive tools ...

Hive tools …

Conducting a full inspection without a hive tool is a a thankless task. You can’t crack the crownboard off (unless it’s a sheet of heavy-duty plastic), propolis acquires the adhesive properties of SuperGlue and your fingers become clumsy, fat, bee-squashing sausages as you try and prise the frames apart.

A personal choice

There’s a huge choice of hive tools available. At the recent Welsh BKA Convention I saw about a dozen different designs on the Abelo stand alone, several not in their catalogue or on the website. Thorne’s list about 17 different hive tools. We’re spoilt for choice. Over the last few years I’ve bought, borrowed or otherwise acquired about eight different styles … some of those that haven’t been lost, given away or discarded in disgust are pictured here.

Take your pick ...

Take your pick …

From left to right …

  1. Thorne’s traditional hive tool. Perfectly adequate. Nicely weighted and pretty good quality stainless steel.
  2. Cheap knock-off variant of Thorne’s Claw Hive Tool. £2 each from a long-forgotten stand at a beekeeping convention. Light and relatively short (8″). My favourite by a long way. I bought half a dozen of them and wish I’d bought more.
  3. An American hive tool originally sold by Modern Beekeeping but now available from Thorne’s who call it their Frontier Hive Tool. Great quality, excellent scraper blade but too heavy and long for me.
  4. El cheapo hive tool bought from eBay. Strong, long, heavy and coarse. Horrible in my view. This one lurks in the bottom of my bee bag and is only brought out in a dire emergency.

Care and maintenance of hive tools

There’s really only two things that you need to do with hive tools in terms of care and maintenance. You need to keep them clean and try and avoid losing them.

Washing soda

Washing soda

I specifically said ‘try and avoid’ as losing hive tools is one of the inevitabilities of beekeeping. Like getting stung, running out of supers, not having enough frames, missing queen cells and ‘rediscovering’ a lost hive tool with the lawnmower. I lost three in one apiary a few years ago, finding all of them in the winter as the herbage died back. You can reduce losses by painting them bright colours. Blue works well. I’ve got a nice quality bright blue hive tool given out by Mann Lake when they first started up in the UK … somewhere.

Hive tools soaking

Hive tools soaking

Hive tools need to be kept clean. I keep a bucket containing a strong washing soda solution in each apiary. Between inspections the hive tools are immersed in the bucket. This guarantees three things; there will be a hive tool available for your inspections, the hive tool will be clean and the paint will have probably peeled off. The Frontier-type American hive tool (second from right, above) was originally bright yellow. This bucket is also a great place to keep a small serrated utility knife which is useful for all sorts of tasks during the season.

I know some people who keep a separate hive tool for every hive in an apiary as part of their ‘good hive hygiene’ practice. This seems like overkill to me and ignores the level of bees drifting between colonies. It’s easy enough to dip the tool in the washing soda between inspections if needed … and saves investing in loads of hive tools 😉

Lost and found ...

Lost and found …


 Thomas Carlyle had a famously unhappy marriage to Jane Welsh. The novelist Samuel Butler said It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.”

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.

 

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.

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.

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 …

BBKA Spring Convention

The move to Harper Adams College has improved the facilities available to people attending the BBKA Spring Convention – there’s more space for the trade exhibits and much better quality lecture theatres for those both speaking or listening in the educational talks.

However, speaking to some of the people running the trade stands (on the Friday, which was the only day I attended in 2014), the impact of BeeTradEx is perhaps beginning to have an effect. There appeared to be empty spaces in the trade tents – though this might have been for exhibitors waiting until the Saturday to set up – and discussion of some exhibitors being offered additional space at no extra cost. I suspect UK beekeeping may not be big enough for two large trade shows per year, particularly since they occur within a month or so of each other.

Business appeared to be steady, presumably because the orgy of beekeeping retail therapy largely occurs on the Saturday, but the ‘new boys’ on the Mann Lake stand said they’d underestimated the stock needed and were considering making an overnight run to Canterbury to stock up. Remember to give the Mann Lake people your email and get a free hive tool in return to lose sometime later in the season.

For the first time (in my memory at least) the trade tent was open on the Friday afternoon and into the evening. This was very welcome. Having spent the afternoon in the Insect Pollinators Initiative presentations I rushed around, stocking up on the essentials I needed. I had a quick look at Thorne’s new poly nucs which appeared to be pretty good quality (and, because they’re smooth on the outside, easy to paint) and their one handed queen catcher, which was disappointingly cumbersome.

As always, everyone was very friendly and it was a great opportunity to catch up with old, and make new, friends. I just hope that the introduction of BeeTradEx doesn’t damage the BBKA meeting … without the bustling trade stands I’m not sure how much of a draw the convention would be.