Preparing and cleaning mini-nucs

A couple of years ago I bought some polystyrene mini nucs. Over the last couple of years they have seen some good use; raising a good number of queens, for loss replacement, expansion and swapping mean queens out to improve colonies (and reduce stings).

2014-05-05 17.55.25Anyway with a couple of years of use it was time to give them a proper clean and spruce up; I’d had some that had been plagued by wax moth to the point where they leaked syrup when I fed them. Wax moth, while mating a mess digging holes though wax and leaving something that looks like spider web everywhere, dig into hives when they want to pupate; in polystyrene they dig right into the hives and sometimes through. Leaking syrup, besides being annoying, messy and a waste, it attracts wasps in – which to a small hive, with few bees to defend, it is almost certain death.

The first steps I took was to take out the top bars and see what was worth keeping. Each box needs at least a comb and a half to start with, for holding the queen cell and for stores, in this 4 bar hive the other 2 can be broken stubs of comb or foundation to be built up. Better prepared beekeepers will store theirs in sealed boxes with acetic acid, to kill the wax moth, and anything else about. Acetic acid is vinegar, but where normal strength on the table is about 6%, this is 90% plus; not something to mess about with, oh and it eats metal.

The  next step was cleaning the boxes themselves. Clearly the usual option for sterilising20160131_175032 a hive, blow torching, wasn’t an option. Starting with scraping off propolis and wax – this can be surprisingly difficult to get right, and I found the best tool was a blunt small wood chisel. After this soap and a scrubbing brush – but scrubbing a bit hard can end up damaging the box. Using a old toothbrush for the nooks and crannies seemed like a good idea but was often not up to the challenge. Moving from washing up liquid to kitchen cleaners didn’t really make an improvement. For getting rid of propolis this stuff can’t be beat, but its quite caustic so beware, and with this then the toothbrush does start to come in very handy for small areas as the propolis is ‘melted’ by the spray.

20160131_220439The recommended solution to cleaning poly hives is a bleach solution (warning handling bleach can be a danger to health if handled incorrectly – watch out for fumes and wear gloves). After my attempts at cleaning there was still ground in muck and so bleach it had to be. It did shift a lot with brushing, but a better solution was to soak. Of course soaking polystyrene has its own challenges – it floats, even more than wooden  frames. The solution? Well there are a few options, I used wedging something on top between that an a cupboard above, putting heavy things on top, and finally tying it down with string. Having 10 boxes to do and different sized containers to soak them in having a few techniques helps. As the containers were classically washing up bowls they also were not deep enough for complete submersion, so 1 week soaking on one side and 1 week turned over was the solution there – not forgetting to soak the internal cover, floor slider and the front entrance disk.

After a couple of weeks the hives were all but clean, rinsing well to get rid of the bleach, short of a scrape of wax here and there. Time to resolve a couple more issues – from the first picture some of you may have spotted an issue – drifting. The bees tended to gravitate toward the box on the right as they returned and didn’t know which box was which, not being able to read the numbers (tsk).  Now bees see colour very well (apart from red) so it is said that having hives different colours can help prevent drifting, also having poly hives painted (on the outside only of course) makes them last longer and easier to clean.

20160312_124845Painting poly hives is not difficult, fence / shed paint is inexpensive, comes in lots of different colours and as long as you cleaned all the wax off the paint goes on well, a couple of coats does the job nicely. So easy that in this case I actually employed bit of 10 and 12 year old help. Be warned spilt paint does not go well with carpets and so split open bin bags covered in newspaper is a good solution (mostly). The only down side here is running paint from little people heavy handed with the paint can end up with the hives stuck to the paper – another scraping job for the blunt wood chisel.

20160319_175636The last job was re-assembly, another thing that had caused me issue was the entrance disks, held in by a screw, but not held in very well – the thread chewed the polystyrene and just came loose. On re-build I chose to fix this issue, drilling right through and fixing with a nut and bolt, with washers to make sure it didn’t just pull straight through. Finally I mixed and matched the roofs for the most discernible different and variety for the bees.

I still need to paint on numbers – for record writing purposes in queen rearing.

Lonely queen

I tried to overwinter a mating nuc this year for the first time. I put it inside a full size hive and padded with hessian sacking. But then the winter was too warm and they starved – too much flying, too little forage. They had filled the feed section with brace comb in autumn so it looked like they had plenty and I could not put more in for fear of drowning / burying bees on that comb.

Anyway, at the weekend I started the cleaning up task, and was quite sad to find the queen sat almost completely alone on a mini frame 🙁

Lovely queens

I have been lucky enough to fall on my feet with nice queens this year. There has been some breeding (by which I mean selection of the best stocks and taking their swarm cells), some culling of mean queens and some successful rearing (cells to mated queens in mating nucs).
I’ve had a few queens go without permission, but its all turned out pretty well. Even the mean hive that I tried to requeen has lost its queen and become queenless and yet strangely still become less agitated and aggressive than when it had a queen.
Yesterday I sold a couple of queens to a friend at the bee club. He had some mean hives and wanted to do something about it – just as well as they were sited on an allotment. When I was there I stood across the apiary from them, about 15-20ft, and even without approaching never mind opening those hives I was attacked by a couple. Now I have had some rough hives, but never one with a guard radius like that. Either way those queens should be lovely and whether it takes a day or a month or two they should change those hives for the bettter. They were introduced to a hive of other bees from mixed hives to allow introduction before merging with the target colonies.
Oh the only queen rearing issue I have had is that my sky blue queen marker is a bit flakey. The ‘ink’ keeps separating and becoming watery and the queens keep rubbing it off around the hive. Hey, it ain’t all that bad if that’s all you have to worry about.


Hooray ! The queen from my early queen rearing exploits has been mated and is laying. My first (purposeful) queen-reared queen. My first green queen of the year, marked and clipped. She has a big golden abdomen,  far larger than last week when she was still a virgin.

Quick sideline – queens are marked in relation to their year. I mark mine the year they were born, others mark them for their first full year, i.e. the year after they are born. As long as you are consistent in which you chose its not a problem.

Year ending :

1 or 6 – White
2 or 7 – Yellow
3 or 8 – Red
4 or 9 – Green
5 or 0 – Blue

As it is 2014, my queen is marked green.

You can remember the order by the memnomic “When You Read Good Books”.

Actually talking about marking if you buy a ‘queen marking pen’ from a bee equipment vendor, you will pay between £4.50 and £6 for one pen. If you search for exactly the same pen by its brand name (on ebay, Amazon, Google etc) then you can get one for £2.10 to £2.50. Better still you get more choice of what colour, for example I have a lovely light green which shows up in the hive far better than the standard dark green and similarly with the blue. So search for “Posca 5” and save, getting about 50% off. No, I am not on commission,  I am just annoyed at people bumping up the prices on beekeepers for things.

Anyway,  I have a new queen and a super calm hive so I’m happy. More good news is the colony she came from had to be artificial swarmed today so I am going to have a few more of these lovely ladies by harvesting the emergency cells and bringing them on in mini mating hives.

Good news, bad news

A hatch, a hatch !!

So the dark patch / hole between the two bees with their bums in the air is a hatch, where a queen has cut her way out and emerged from her cell. This means she is out and roaming the hive, still a virgin until she is mature enough to go on mating flights (about 4 days from hatch – Saturday), and we have the weather and the drones (cross fingers).

I wasn’t so lucky with the two mating hives, they both failed. On opening them the queens were not being cared for and only about 20% of the bees that I had put in were left in the hive. Lessons – follow instructions about stocking mini-nucs, or at least move them to another apiary so the flying bees don’t just go to the hive they started in. I also suspect that putting the queen cells in the metal cages might have dissuaded the bees from looking after them due to being cold metal – next time have comb to press the cell into.

Still, I have a hatch from my own first grafting, one way or the other its a win. Even if the queen does not make it to mated, I’ve kept the colony from turning to laying workers (or just being bored).

I’m going to leave them to a week on Saturday (12th April) so she has had time to become mature and hopefully had a weather window to get out and mated; maybe by then I will get to see eggs, fingers crossed.


Change of plan & mating nucs

Bit of a change of plan. Following a chat with a fellow beekeeper, and the suggestion that combing over should not be an issue at all and was quite normal, I decided that I should try to raise all three queens separately. This was also helped along by the fact that I have a mean colony in one hive and a suspected failing queen in another.

Now previously I mentioned that I had prepared some mating nucs, so this seemed the solution here.  Looking at the frame the comb had increased overnight and now the cell I though was good because it was clear of extra comb was now linked to the neighbouring cell and starting to get its own covering. I cut between the paired cells with a stanley knife and then pried the combed over cells from the bar, leaving the partially covered cell on the bar and putting it back in the original hive.

Actually I left a step out there, I prep’ed and filled the mating hives with bees, using a correx nuc box to shake a commercial frame into each box. I put each cell into a wire cell protector, because I didn’t have comb on the bars in the mating hive and needed something to hold the cell. The entrance dial on each of the nucs was then turned to ‘vent’ to keep the bees in – don’t worry they had lots of fondant to feed on in the rear compartment. The bees will be let out tomorrow once they have acclimatised to their new home and queen cell.

Given the timetable of events the queens should hatch on Monday or Tuesday; I’ll pop back on Wednesday to see what has hatched.



Three, three, the rivals

So three cells have been made; three out of 30, but I only need one queen.

Well I say three, but two of them are heavily combed over, so maybe that means they are dead in the cells.

As I only need one I am going to leave them in the queenless hive and if they are all viable then they can fight it out to see who is going to rule the roost.

Today’s the day

I did my queen rearing today.

As the donor hive only had 4 frames of brood I didn’t want to leave them short at this time of build up.

I grafted tiny larvae from cells using a paint brush. I found that trying to see tiny larvae in a cell with a veil on and have fine hand eye coordination nearly impossible so I had to remove it. Fortunately the bees were smoked and calm so didn’t bother me.

I put the larvae in some plastic cell cups on a bar and put the bar in a frame. Then put the frame in the queenless hive.

I will now wait 9 days.

Mini nucs’ prep

Last year I went on a queen rearing course and at the end I bought some mini nucs. They needed cleaning first so I did that first.  Then I was left with an interesting design choice by the manufacturer of having a bottom entrance. So I decided to change it, cutting a hole in the front and adding a rotating disc opening restrictor; one of those things you turn to choose open, vented, closed or queen restricted. Well a picture paints a thousand words so here….

As I had cut out the new entrance with a hole saw I had a nice chunk of wall material with which I could fill up the old entrance.

Then I took the top bars and cleaned them up and melted the wax in the slot and used it to hold a new starter strip.

On occasion I have broken foundation sheets, either in storage or when trying to put them into frames. This is why is it a good idea to keep them. In the background is my jar for odd bits of wax, which can be used as hot glue or melted elsewhere for reuse.

Finally, my old friend correx (aka fluted board plastic) came to my aid as an inner cover which I am told is a good idea. Just cutting round the nuc as a template and then trimming a bit so it does not get stuck in the lid as you lift it.

Red is what I had, if they did clear that would have been better as I could have seen the bees through it.

All it needs now is a sugar tray for the back section, some bees and a queen cell.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war

Also know as “come on queeny, go and get mated and get on with it”.

It has been a while since I saw an egg in any of my hives, and today is mating day, woo woo… It has been 6 days since a swarm emerged and I caught and boxed it shortly after that; and its been 6 days since I watched a queen emerge that I introduced to my Apidea mating hive. Added to that the weather has just rocketed in temperature and the bees are out in force.

Today I visited one apiary and removed the queen excluder that I had placed there when I put the swarm in its new brood box last week. They have done very well, pulling out nearly all the comb in the box. Unfortunately they mostly ignored the food I gave them to do this with, instead choosing to forage for the food first and then build comb. I should not begrudge them I guess, I’m sure eating all the nectar around to make wax with is much tastier than sugar syrup. I’ve STILL not seen a queen, but she must surely be there, it was a swarm after all. They’ve been making pickled pollen and storing nectar / sugar in the cells so I’m sure they have a good reason.

With that inspection in mind I think I have decided I don’t like the national brood frames, they are so dinky in size compared to a commercial so far less efficient for me and the bees.

And I’ve checked in my mating hive, and she’s certainly not in the queen cage, so she must have been released and integrated herself into the hive. The bees seem happier too, less flighty when I opened the roof, and they are building out the third frame in the box with comb. I was just about to take it out and put in some pulled out comb for them to help them along and noticed they had started themselves with a lovely white piece of home-made comb in a tear-drop shape. If only I had an extra pair of hands to take photos; well I’ll have to do something about that. I also moved the box to on top of the shed rather than hidden down the side, that way it should get more afternoon sun; at 4:30 it was already in the shade. In their new position they will get sun ’til 7:30 or so, and its about 3ft above the old position so I’m sure they will have no problem finding it.