Queen Excluder – Read the Most Up-to-Date Shopper Assessments.

In the polystyrene nucleus hives (polynucs) I’ve seen, owned or butchered, the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s is the one I prefer. There is a separate OMF floor and Varroa tray, are simple to paint and are produced from dense, robust and thick (i.e. well-insulating) polystyrene. The entrance is a gaping maw, but that is easily fixed with many wire mesh pinned set up. The beespace is additionally a challenge as a result of compromises designed to accommodate both long-lugged National and short-lugged Langstroth frames, yet this is often fixed easily and cheaply (though it’s somewhat irritating having to ‘fix’ a box that costs almost £50 ?? ).

Colonies overwintered within these boxes did very well and were generally at the very least pretty much as good, and sometimes better, than my colonies in cedar hives†. Although I’ve also purchased a number of the Miller-type feeders it’s actually simpler to prise up one end in 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 through the clear flexible crownboard and barely disturbs the colony by any means.

On account of work commitments I haven’t had time this year to deal with high-maintenance mini-nucs for hive tool, so have already been exclusively with such Everynucs. Using the vagaries of your weather inside 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 alongside full-sized brood frames that permit the laying pattern of your queen to be determined easily. I raise a number of batches of queens in the season and also this means I’m going out and in of any dozen roughly of those boxes regularly, leading them to be up, priming all of them with a sealed queen cell, inspecting them for the mated queen etc. I start them off as 3 frame nucs, dummied down, to save resources, letting them expand with successive batches of queens.

One of several nice options that come with these boxes is the internal width which can be almost but not quite sufficient for 6 Hoffmann frames. You therefore want to use five frames plus a dummy board to prevent strong colonies building brace comb within the gaps on one or each side of the outside frames. One benefit of this additional ‘elbow room’ is these boxes can accommodate slightly fatter brood frames, as an example when the bees increase the corners with stores instead of drawing out foundation of the adjacent frame. There’s also ample space introducing a queen cell or caged queen, check out emergence – or release – in a couple of days and after that gently push the frames together again again.

Even better, by removing the dummy board there’s enough space to be effective from a side of your box to the other without first removing, and leaving aside, a frame to create space. The frames really do need to be removed gently and slowly to avoid rolling bees (but you will this anyway of course). However, since I’m generally looking for the nicotqueeen mated and laying queen ‘slow and steady’ is really a definite advantage. Inside the image below you will see the room available, regardless if four of your frames are reasonably heavily propilised.

Only enough space …

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

The brood boxes of the Everynuc’s stack, meaning it is simple to unite two nucs in to a vertical 10-frame unit using newspaper. The vertical beespace is wrong (the boxes are appreciably deeper than the usual National frame) and so the resulting colony needs to be transferred to a typical 10-12 frame brood box before they build extensive brace comb. Since the season draws to an end it’s therefore possible to take pairs of boxes, eliminate the queen from a to requeen another hive, unite the colonies and after that – every week or so later – have a good 10-frame colony to prepare for overwintering … or, naturally, overwinter them directly over these nucleus hives.

† Really the only exception were those who are in the bee shed that have been probably 2-3 weeks even more ahead inside their development by late March/early April this year.

In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to search carefully in the underside of the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen could there be. If she’s not you may then gently place it to 1 side and start 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 using a QE then one super, topped having a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I was thinking it will be a good idea to include a frame of eggs for the colony – should they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, should they were queenless they’d rely on them to boost queen cells.

I found myself not having enough time as well as anyway wanted eggs coming from a colony within a different apiary. When the colony were going to raise a new queen I wanted it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and give them certainly one of a newly released batch of mated queens as soon as they had laid up an excellent frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to handle the colony later in the week.

Should they behave queenright, perhaps they are …

I peeked with the perspex crownboard this afternoon while seeing the apiary and saw an exceptional looking bee walking about about the underside of your crownboard. Despite being upside down it absolutely was clear, despite a very brief view, it had been a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly regarding the super and wasn’t being hassled with the workers.

I strongly suspected that she was a virgin that had either wiggled with the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and then got trapped. Alternatively, as well as perhaps much more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame nearby the super in a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is within the bee shed and space is cramped during inspections.

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

In the event you been able to see the queen in the image a fortnight ago you probably did superior to I have done … although she was clipped and marked, there is no symbol of her inside the bees clustered throughout the hive entrance. Furthermore, once they’d returned on the colony she was clearly absent (an oxymoron surely?) at the next inspection – no eggs, several well developed queen cells and the usually placid bees were rather intemperate. Perhaps she was lost from 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 coming year. However, I’d also grafted with this colony – see below.

I performed a colony split employing a Snelgrove board. The colony was clearly thinking of swarming, with a few 1-2 day old unsealed queen cells present throughout the inspection. I knocked these back and introduced a frame of eggs from better stock. On checking the nominally queenless half around the seventh day they behaved just like these people were queenright (no new QC’s around the frame of eggs provided or elsewhere, calmer than expected etc.). I must have missed a sealed cell (presumably a tiny one) when splitting the colony a few days before. After a bit of searching – it absolutely was a crowded box – I stumbled upon a tiny knot of bees harrying a small queen, definitely the tiniest I’ve seen this year rather than really any bigger than an employee. I separated most of the workers and managed to take a number of photos.

The abdomen will not be well shown from the picture but extends to just past the protruding antenna of the worker behind her. Overall she was narrower and only fractionally beyond the workers from the same colony. When encompassed by a golf ball-sized clump of workers she was effectively invisible.

The picture above was taken close to the end of May, shortly before I removed the very first batch of cells from your cell raising colony create using a Cloake board. These honey gate were from grafts raised in the colony that subsequently swarmed through the bee shed. The cells went into 3 frame poly nucs arranged within a circle split, the queens emerged during glorious weather within the second week of June, matured for several days and – just about the time they might be needed to mate – got trapped in the colonies by 10 days of poor weather.

And they’re off

However, throughout the last few days the elements has gathered, I’ve seen queens leaving on orientation or mating flights as well as the workers have started piling in pollen. Most of these are good signs and advise that a minimum of some of the queens happen to be mated and laying … we’ll see at the next inspection.

I conducted my first inspections of colonies away from bee shed a week ago. One colony which had looked good going into the winter had about 5-6 ‘seams’ of bees when I lifted the crown board … but a number of the first bees to take off were big fat drones. Even without seeing them it is possible to hear their distinctive buzz because they disappear clumsily. Something was wrong. It’s still too early for significant amounts of drones to get about with what is turning out to become late Spring.

Drone laying queens

Sure enough, the initial frames contained ample stores and the frames in the middle of what ought to be the brood nest have been cleared, cleaned and ready for the queen to lay in. However, the sole brood was really a rather pathetic patch of drone cells. Clearly the queen had failed early this year and had turn into a drone laying queen (DLQ). The brood is in a distinct patch indicating it was actually a DLQ as opposed to laying workers which scatter brood all around the frames. There were no young larvae, a number of late stage larvae, some sealed brood plus some dozen adult drones. The absence of eggs and young larvae suggested that the queen may have either recently abandoned or been discarded. There is even a rather pathetic queen cell, certainly also containing a drone pupa.

Drone laying queen …

I think this colony superseded late last season hence the queen could have been unmarked. Furthermore, it might explain why she was poorly mated. However, a simple but thorough sort through the package failed to locate her. I found myself lacking equipment, newspaper and time so shook each of the bees from the frames and removed the hive … the hope being that the bees would reorientate on the other hives from the apiary.

I tidied things up, made certain the smoker was out and packed away safely and quickly checked the area in which the colony have been sited … there seemed to be a very good sized cluster of bees accumulated about the stand. It had been getting cooler plus it was clear the bees were not gonna “reorientate to the other hives in the apiary” as I’d hoped. More likely these folks were going to perish overnight as being the temperature was predicted to decrease 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 make an attempt to avoid simply letting bees perish due to insufficient time or preparation on my own part. I therefore put only a few frames – including certainly one of stores – right into a poly nuc and placed it in the stand instead of that old hive. In minutes the bees were streaming in, in much exactly the same like a swarm shaken out on a sheet enters a hive. I left these people to it and rushed back to collect some newspaper. When I returned they were all from the poly nuc.

Since I Have still wasn’t certain where the DLQ was, or even if she was still present, I placed several sheets of newspaper across the top of the brood box with a strong colony, kept in place with a queen excluder. I made a few small tears throughout the newspaper together with the hive tool and then placed the DLQ colony at the top.

The following day there is lots of activity at the hive entrance and a peek with the perspex crownboard indicated that the bees had chewed via a big patch from the newspaper and were now mingling freely. I’ll check again in some days (it’s getting cold again) and can then take away the top box and shake the remainder bees out – if there’s a queen present (which is pretty unlikely now) she won’t understand how to go back to the brand new site.

Lessons learned† … firstly, be ready during early-season inspections for failed queens and enjoy the necessary equipment at hand – newspaper for uniting, a queen excluder etc. Secondly, there’s no reason to rush. These bees have been headed from a DLQ for any significant period – going by the numbers of adult drones and small remaining volume of sealed and unsealed drone brood – another few days wouldn’t make any difference. Rather than shaking them out since the afternoon cooled I’d have been better returning another afternoon together with the necessary kit to make the most efficient of any bad situation.

I checked another apiary later in the week and discovered another few hives with DLQ’s ?? In cases the queen was either unmarked and invisible, or AWOL. In the event the former they’d have again been supercedure queens because they must have been marked white and clipped from your batch raised and mated in late May/early June last season employing a circle split. However, this time around I found myself prepared and united the boxes likewise over newspaper held down using a queen excluder. All the other colonies I checked were strong. However, these three DLQ colonies – all nominally headed by queens raised this past year – are the most I’ve ever had within a winter and make sure exactly what a poor year 2015 was for queen mating.

These three failed colonies – along with the presence of variable amounts of drones or drone brood – were also notable for that huge amounts of stores still within the hive. Although it’s been unseasonably cold this April (with regular overnight frosts and robust northerly winds keeping temperatures – and the beekeepers – depressed) healthy colonies will still be developing well, using remaining stores whenever they can’t escape to forage. As a result there’s a genuine chance of colonies starving. In contrast, colonies with failed queens will probably be raising little if any brood, so the stores remain unused.

A vertical split describes the division of any colony into two – one queenright, other queenless – on the same floor and underneath the same roof, using the intention of allowing the queenless colony to boost a whole new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies through the original one. This approach can be used a means of swarm prevention, as a way to requeen a colony, in an effort to generate two colonies in one, or – to be covered in another post – the starting place to create a number of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of nuc beehive … without the need to graft, to put together cell raising colonies or to manage mating nucs.

Wally Shaw has written an outstanding help guide to simple means of making increase (PDF) which include a number of variants of the straightforward vertical split described here. There are actually additional instructions seen on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management – Under One Roof … when the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article is specially good, but includes complications like brood and a half colonies and a number of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my description to a situation once you have one colony – on single or double brood boxes, possibly with supers ahead – and wish to divide it into two.