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More poly nucs

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

No space for a divider 8-(

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

The final product

The final product

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

Internal fittings

Internal fittings

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

Perspex cover

Perspex cover

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

Construction

Glued and screwed

Glued and screwed

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

Access to feeder

Access to feeder

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

Correx entrance block

Correx entrance block

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

 

Paynes poly nuc boxes

Paynes poly nuc

Paynes make a reasonably robust 6 frame polystyrene nucleus box complete with an integral feeder for syrup. Having used these for a couple of seasons I’ve ended up modifying them to better suit my beekeeping. The resulting box now has eight frames, runners, a clear crown board and much improved roof insulation.

Before providing the grisly details I should add that my Paynes poly nuc boxes are first generation models. The current ones have a different type of entrance.

Welcome!

Landing board

Landing board

The entrance is the first thing for modification. I use gimp pins to add a small Correx landing board. This encourages the bees to climb back into the hive, rather than accumulate under the mesh floor. It’s a daft design on the original, but easy to rectify. As an aside, when transporting the nucs I stuff the entrance with a single block of dense foam, cut slightly oversize. With this wedged in place all is secure. When painting the nucs I add some colour to the entrance in the hope it provides a pattern that is easy to recognise.

Frame runners and bee space

Runners

Runners

I install frame runners to make moving frames around easier. If you don’t do this you will need to thoroughly varnish the ‘lug rest’ or the bees will propolise everything together. Gorilla glue seems to work fine when gluing metal or plastic runners to the polystyrene. Adding frame runners makes the nucs bottom bee space … or at least removes the top bee space they started with.

Crown boards

Crown boards will be needed, if only to stop the bees propilising the roof down (and it’s so flimsy I’d worry about it breaking when trying to lever it off). The cheapest and easiest solution is to use a sheet of thick clear polythene. Cut it exactly to size or the roof won’t ‘sit’ down properly. This works well – just lift the corner and give them a gentle puff of smoke when inspecting them, then peel slowly back. Alternatively, I’ve used 2mm Perspex sheet (just about visible in the photo above). Since this has some rigidity it can be gently slid back over the top of the frames and the bees will be pushed down or away.

That hopeless internal feeder

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

Look … no feeder!

All the changes above convert the poly nuc from being OK to actually useful. However the weak part of the design is the inbuilt feeder. It’s rubbish. It needs thorough painting before use or the syrup soaks in and goes mouldy, it’s far too narrow and it can’t be emptied without tipping everything upside down. It ended up being a fermenting grave for bees. At first I simply used duct tape to seal it off (remembering the entrance over the wall needs sealing as well) but then read posts by Adam on the SBAi and BBKA sites about converting the nuc into an 8 frame box. Using care and a considerable amount of brute force, a bread knife, a Stanley knife and a small saw it’s possible to remove the wall of the feeder completely. You’ll discover that the (inevitable) blood cleans off the poly relatively easily. By butchering the removed poly you can then rebuild the ‘lug rest’ region, sticking everything in place with one of those space-filling glues (I’ve used Mega Grip). Sand everything level and replace the frame runners.

Remember it doesn’t have to be pretty … just functional. I smeared the inside joins with wood filler to try and exclude any crevices that could harbour pathogens and to discourage the bees from nibbling the exposed, rough, polystyrene.

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

Packed 8 frame nuc

The end product is a very serviceable 8 frame poly nuc box. Much improved over the original design. You can use a standard frame feeder for syrup if needed, or bodge together an eke to both improve the roof and allow fondant to be fed.

Being lightweight and of reasonable capacity these make ideal swarm collection boxes. They can easily be held one-handed while balancing precariously on top of a ladder … at least when empty! I usually shake the swarm into the empty box, gently add eight frames with foundation, pop the lid on and either put them on the ground on a sheet or securely balance them somewhere suitable to allow the stragglers to arrive, then seal them up with a foam block and move them.

Improving the roof and insulation

Eke and fondant

Eke and fondant

The roof is a weak point in the design, being much too thin to provide really useful insulation. Using a little ingenuity, some strip wood and a block of Kingspan it’s possible to construct an insulated eke that can house a 1kg block of fondant in a fast food container. Using new materials I reckon these cost about £5 to make, much less than the price of the Paynes eke alone (which still has the problem of the thin roof). 

In the future I’m considering converting one of these boxes into a twin 4 frame design, by adding a Correx divider, sealing the original entrance and adding new entrances at opposite ends of the box. This would be a useful size as a mating nuc, or could possibly be used to overwinter bees in a sheltered site … watch this space.

Update

It turns out that these modified boxes are a fraction too small to be split into a twin 4 frame design. Although a newly converted box will comfortably fit 8 frames, once they are propolised there’s too little space – even using a very thin central divider made out of Correx.

Paynes 8 frame conversion

Space for 8 frames … just

A far better solution is to modify a ModernBeekeeping Langstroth poly nuc which, with some scrap plywood, can be converted into a twin 3 frame design with opposing entrances and an inbuilt feeding compartment. I’ll post separately on this in due course. I’ve posted details of these separately.