Queen Excluder – Look at Newest Buyer Feedback.

Of the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I enjoy. They have a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are simple to paint and are manufactured from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is actually a gaping maw, but which is easily fixed with a few wire mesh pinned into position. The beespace is additionally an issue as a result of compromises made to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, but again this could be fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s a bit irritating needing to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).

Colonies overwintered in these boxes did well and were generally at least nearly as good, and quite often better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased several of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually quicker to prise up one end from the crownboard and just drop fondant – or pour syrup – to the integral feeder from the brood box. Checking the other fondant/syrup levels takes seconds from the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.

Because of work commitments I haven’t had time this current year to cope with high-maintenance mini-nucs for bee smoker, so have already been exclusively by using these Everynucs. With all the vagaries in the weather within my part of the world it’s good to not 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 from the queen to become determined easily. I usually raise several batches of queens within a season which means I’m going inside and outside of a dozen or so of such boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming all of them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for a mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save resources, permitting them to expand with successive batches of queens.

Among the nice features of these boxes is their internal width which is almost however, not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames plus a dummy board to protect yourself from strong colonies building brace comb within the gaps in one or both sides of the outside frames. One good thing about this additional ‘elbow room’ is that these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, for instance when the bees build-up the corners with stores as opposed to drawing out reasons for the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space to introduce a queen cell or caged queen, check for emergence – or release – in a couple of days and after that gently push the frames back together again.

Better still, by taking out the dummy board there’s enough space to function from a single side of the box for the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to create space. The frames need to be removed gently and slowly in order to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway needless to say). However, since I’m generally seeking the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is a definite advantage. In the image below you can observe the area available, regardless if four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.

Adequate space …

To produce frame manipulation easier it’s worth adding a frame runner on the inside of the feed compartment (it’s the white strip just visible from the photo above) as described previously. Without it the bees have a tendency to stick the frames for the coarse wooden lip of your feeder with propolis, thereby making it harder to gently slide the frames together (or apart).

The brood boxes of those Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is simple to unite two nucs in a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) hence the resulting colony ought to be relocated to a standard 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. As the season draws with an end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, get rid of the queen from one to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and then – weekly approximately later – have a good 10-frame colony to get ready for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly in these nucleus hives.

† The only real exception were those who work in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks further ahead in their development by late March/early April this current year.

In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to appear carefully on the underside in the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen can there be. If she’s not you can then gently place it to just one side and initiate the inspection.

I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said such as “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on one brood having a QE and something super, topped using a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I was thinking it would be wise to add a frame of eggs towards the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, once they were queenless they’d utilize them to increase queen cells.

I used to be running out of time as well as anyway wanted eggs from your colony within a different apiary. When the colony were likely to raise a fresh queen I wanted it into the future from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recent batch of mated queens after they had laid up a good frame or two to indicate their quality. I closed them up and created a mental note to deal with the colony later within the week.

Once they behave queenright, perhaps they may be …

I peeked through the perspex crownboard this afternoon while going to the apiary and saw an exceptional looking bee walking about around the underside from the crownboard. Despite being upside-down it absolutely was clear, despite having a really brief view, that this was really a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly in regards to the super and wasn’t being hassled from the workers.

I strongly suspected she was actually a virgin who had either wiggled with the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and after that got trapped. Alternatively, and maybe more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near to the super throughout a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is in the bee shed and space is a little cramped during inspections.

I am aware from my notes how the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a few weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should certainly be sufficient time to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her on the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her inside the brood box. She wandered quietly down involving the brood frames and also the bees didn’t seem by any means perturbed.

When you were able to see the queen in the image a fortnight ago you probably did much better than I did … although she was clipped and marked, there seemed to be no manifestation of her from the bees clustered round the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned on the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) in the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells along with the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost in the grass, got injured or was otherwise incapacitated during swarming? Perhaps she did return and was then done away with? A pity, because they were good stock, along with already produced three full supers this year. However, I’d also grafted using this colony – see below.

I performed a colony split using a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking about swarming, with several 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present during the inspection. I knocked these back and introduced a frame of eggs from better stock. On checking the nominally queenless half in the seventh day they behaved just like they were queenright (no new QC’s about the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I have to have missed a sealed cell (presumably a small one) when splitting the colony the week before. After a little bit of searching – it had been a crowded box – I stumbled upon a compact knot of bees harrying a small queen, definitely the tiniest I’ve seen this coming year and never really any bigger than an employee. I separated the majority of the workers and managed to take a couple of photos.

The abdomen is just not well shown within the picture but reaches just past the protruding antenna of your worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally over the workers from the same colony. When flanked by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.

The photo above was taken nearby the end of May, shortly before I removed the initial batch of cells from your cell raising colony setup having a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised through the colony that subsequently swarmed in the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged in the circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather from the second week of June, matured for a while and – nearly time they could be expected to mate – got trapped in the colonies by ten days of poor weather.

And they’re off

However, throughout the last couple of days the elements has picked up, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights and the workers have started piling in pollen. Many of these are excellent signs and advise that a minimum of several of the queens are already mated and laying … we’ll see in the next inspection.

I conducted my first inspections of colonies away from bee shed a couple weeks ago. One colony who had looked good entering the winter months had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees once i lifted the crown board … but a number of the first bees to consider off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them you can hear their distinctive buzz because they fly off clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too soon for significant numbers of drones being about as to what is turning out to be a late Spring.

Drone laying queens

Sure enough, the initial frames contained ample stores along with the frames in the midst of what needs to be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to put in. However, the sole brood had been a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this year and had develop into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is at a distinct patch indicating it had been a DLQ rather than laying workers which scatter brood everywhere in the frames. There were no young larvae, a few late stage larvae, some sealed brood and a few dozen adult drones. The lack of eggs and young larvae suggested the queen could have either recently given up or been disposed of. There was a rather pathetic queen cell, undoubtedly also containing a drone pupa.

Drone laying queen …

I believe this colony superseded late last season so the queen would have been unmarked. In addition, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a quick but thorough search through the box failed to locate her. I had been lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook all the bees away from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that this bees would reorientate to the other hives within the apiary.

I tidied things up, made sure the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the place where colony ended up being sited … there was clearly an excellent sized cluster of bees accumulated on the stand. It had been getting cooler and yes it was clear how the bees were not planning to “reorientate towards the other hives from the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely these folks were likely to perish overnight as the temperature was predicted to lower to 3°C.

I never think it’s worth mollycoddling weak or failing (failed?) colonies early in the year as they’re unlikely to accomplish sufficiently to have a good crop of honey. However, In addition, i try to avoid simply letting bees perish as a result of deficiency of time or preparation on my part. I therefore put a small number of frames – including certainly one of stores – into a poly nuc and placed it around the stand instead of the previous hive. In minutes the bees were streaming in, in much much the same way like a swarm shaken on a sheet enters a hive. I left those to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. When I returned these people were all from the poly nuc.

Since I Have still wasn’t certain where DLQ was, and even if she was still present, I placed several sheets of newspaper across the top of the the brood box on a strong colony, locked in place using a queen excluder. I made several small tears from the newspaper using the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony ahead.

The following day there seemed to be lots of activity in the hive entrance along with a peek with the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed through a big patch of your newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in some days (it’s getting cold again) and definately will then get rid of the top box and shake the remaining bees out – if there’s a queen present (that is pretty unlikely now) she won’t know how to come back to the latest site.

Lessons learned† … firstly, prepare yourself during early-season inspections for failed queens and also have the necessary equipment at hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no requirement to rush. These bees had been headed with a DLQ for the significant period – going by the amount of adult drones and small remaining amount of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another day or two wouldn’t make any difference. Instead of shaking them out because the afternoon cooled I’d have already been better returning another afternoon using the necessary kit to get the best of the bad situation.

I checked another apiary later inside the week and discovered another few hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In case the former they’d have again been supercedure queens since they ought to have been marked white and clipped from your batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season utilizing a circle split. However, this period I had been prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down by using a queen excluder. All of the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised just last year – will be the most I’ve had in one winter and make sure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.

These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable quantities of drones or drone brood – were also notable for the a lot of stores still contained in the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and powerful northerly winds keeping the temperatures – along with the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies will still be strengthening well, using remaining stores once they can’t go out to forage. Because of this there’s a real chance of colonies starving. In contrast, colonies with failed queens will probably be raising little if any brood, therefore the stores remain unused.

A vertical split describes the division of the colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – on a single floor and under the same roof, with the goal of allowing the queenless colony to raise a fresh queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies from your original one. This method can be used a means of swarm prevention, in order to requeen a colony, in order to generate two colonies from a, or – to become covered in another post – the starting place to generate several nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of queen excluder … with no need to graft, to get ready cell raising colonies or manage mating nucs.

Wally Shaw has written an outstanding self-help guide to simple methods of making increase (PDF) consisting of several variants from the straightforward vertical split described here. You will find additional instructions located on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … where the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is particularly good, but includes complications like brood plus a half colonies and numerous further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to your situation when you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers on the top – and would like to divide it into two.