Tag Archives: Nucs

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.

 

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.

Poly nuc insulated eke

Insulated eke with block of fondant in place

Insulated eke

The lid on Paynes poly nuc boxes is very thin.  This, and the internal feeder, are the weakest features of what is otherwise a well designed, robust and useful box.  You can improve the box hugely by butchering it removing the internal feeder.  This generates an eight frame nuc box which is also a good size (and weight … when struggling up or down a ladder) for housing all but the largest swarms. However, other than during the summer, the lid is far too thin.  On a morning with a heavy frost the thawed patch above the cluster is very obvious.  I’m convinced that top insulation is very important; I build crown board with internal insulation or roofs with integral Kingspan insulation for all my full-size hives.  With a little ingenuity and some primitive woodworking skills it is possible to construct an insulated eke for these Paynes poly nucs that has the additional advantage of allowing you to feed fondant to the colony.

Construction details

Construction details

Kingspan and most other expanded polystyrene-type (that’s probably not exactly the correct term, but it’s a description most will understand) insulation is 50mm thick. Since my woodworking skills are limited and I lack anything other than a simple saw I have to work with the softwood  sizes available off the shelf (at my excellent local Shepherds DIY store). Therefore, using 46 x 21mm softwood I build an eke, with simple rebated joints, that fits onto the nuc box, outside the short raised lip. This then needs an additional shim of 9 x 21mm softwood around the top edge. I add a thin strip of 3mm thick stripwood to the inside top edge of the eke and then create the raised lip (over which the lid will fit) using 32 x  9mm softwood (this is much easier to show in a photo than to describe). The intention is that the lid fits neatly over the ‘new’ raised lip, forming a reasonable seal against the weather.

Jablite cut to fit

Jablite cut to fit

After adding two to three coats of a suitable bee-safe wood preservative like Ronseal Fence Life I prepare a block of Kingspan or Jablite insulation, carving out a rebate to fit the raised lip of the eke … again, the photo should make this much clearer. FInally, cut a hole in the insulation to take a “carry out” food container with fondant. Don’t discard the piece you cut out … use it to fill the space if you’re not going to be adding fondant.

Inner corner detail

Inner corner detail

In the summer I usually use 2mm Perspex crown boards on these poly nuc boxes. After an inspection they can easily be slid across the top of the box, pushing bees away and down out of the way. These crown boards have no feeding holes in them. Therefore, in the winter I prepare a sheet of thick translucent polythene with a suitably placed flap over the top bars, add the fondant block and the insulated eke, topping the entire thing off with the 2mm Perspex sheet and the poly lid. The latter can easily blow away – make sure you strap it down or add a brick on top.

 

 

Fat dummies

The ‘Ben Harden’ queenright queen rearing method uses a double brood box in which much of the space in the top box (above the queen excluder) is filled with oversize dummy frames. These have the effect of forcing bees in the top box to be concentrated on the frames containing young larvae and, critically, the grafted larvae in the cell bar frame.

Correx and tape

Correx and tape

Normally the frame containing the grafts is accompanied by a frame of unsealed brood and two frames containing ample levels of pollen. The fat dummies that flank these occupy the remainder of the box and therefore each need to be the thickness of three and a half frames (i.e. 133 mm). They can be built from pretty much anything convenient – thin plywood around a softwood frame or Correx held together with duct tape work equally well.

To make them slightly more useful they can be filled with expanded polystyrene chips. They can then be used to ‘dummy down’ a weak colony in a standard brood box for the winter, effectively converting it to a four-frame nuc (assuming two are used) without having too much dead space for the bees to keep warm. If there is no flow grafted larvae will usually be ignored. To avoid this it is necessary to simulate a flow by feeding with thin syrup. It is therefore useful to build at least one fat dummy with an integrated frame feeder. Dave Cushman describes construction of fat dummies with a very narrow feeder, negating a requirement for a wooden float. Mine are wider, about 20mm, because that was the size wood I had at the time … I’ve not had problems with them being a bee graveyard.

Fat dummy with integral feeder

Fat dummy …

Two frame nucs

The completed box

The completed box

Two frame nuc boxes are extremely useful and relatively easy and inexpensive to construct. I use them throughout the season for all sorts of things, including:

  • carrying drawn frames, foundation, stores and/or dummy boards
  • mating nucs, primed with a grafted cell or a frame with a swarm cell
  • two frame ‘split’ to protect an old queen while the colony is re-queened
  • simple box to protect a frame with the queen while manipulating the colony e.g. harvesting nurse bees to populate mini-nucs, Bailey comb changes
  • transport box for grafted larvae, with the frame wrapped in a damp tea towel and a hot water bottle for warmth
  • a seat (for grafting, or just avoiding the damp ground)

Design

v1 … too narrow, too shallow

v1 … too narrow, too shallow

I think this type of box needs the following desirable attributes; wide enough to take two frames (perhaps plus a dummy board which means an internal width of ~85mm), top bee space so you don’t have to worry about crushing bees, ample space below the frames to accommodate a frame containing a long fat queen cell (30-40 mm isn’t too much), open mesh floor and secure entrance block. In addition is should be relatively lightweight and have handles that make it easy to carry. The one addition feature I’d like to have is stability, but this is tricky with such a narrow box … I strap mine to a hive stand if it’s being left unattended. Some of these desirable attributes are obvious, others were learnt the hard way (e.g. gently lowering a frame with a precious queen cell on the bottom bar into a box that was 1cm too shallow … oops). You can build one of these two frame nucs largely with wood from the scraps box and a simple range of  tools. Remember “measure twice, cut once“.

Dimensions

Internal dimensions of my two (National) frame nuc box are:

  • Length – NNN mm
  • Width – 85 mm
  • Depth – NN mm
Internal floor frame

Internal floor frame

The precise measurements of wood needed depend upon the what you have available. The side panels on mine are 8mm exterior plywood. The end panels are build from 18mm and 12mm scrap ply to generate the necessary thickness to accommodate the frame lug. The framed open mesh floor is from 21mm thick softwood. The entrance block is 9mm softwood. The crownboard is a Perspex offcut; although it’s convenient to be able to see through it a simple piece of thin plywood will do fine if you’ve got no Perspex. The roof has 12mm thick end panels but the sides and top are built from thin ply to keep the weight down. 

Although it’s unlikely you’ll keep bees in one of these boxes for long periods (even getting a queen mated and observing how well she lays only takes two to three weeks) pay attention to the beespace, allowing about 6-9mm gap between the frame and the end walls. 

Construction

OMF

OMF

Using softwood, with glue and screws holding together simple joints, build a floor frame with suitable external dimensions. The side walls will be attached directly to the floor frame. Cut a piece of mesh to size and nail it down using roofing felt nails or similar. The side walls are simple rectangles of 8-9mm exterior grade plywood. To ensure the crownboard and lid sits flat it is important that the corners of the side walls are exactly 90o.

 

End

End

The end panels are the same width as the floor frame – they are attached ‘inside’ the side walls. The cross-sectional view is shown (right), with the external end piece also acting as a handle for lifting the box. Remember to take account of the need for frame runners and fit these before assembling the box. 

Fit the side walls in place using glue and screws, ensuring that the top edges are parallel and level – that way the roof will sit flat. Fit the end panels in place, ensuring that they are vertical, using glue and screws through the side walls. The top of the end panels should be level with the top of the side walls. Don’t worry about minor gaps … once full of bees they’ll use propolis to seal these up.

Entrance

Entrance

The easiest way to provide a suitable entrance is to drill a 12-15mm hole through one of the end panels and use a foam plug to block it when it is not required. However, although more work, a better way to provide a secure and removable entrance is to cut the bottom of one of the end panels down by 9mm, thereby leaving a 9mm slot once the end panel is fitted (flush with the top of the side walls). A short piece of 9mm softwood can be used as an entrance block and this can be held securely in place with a bent nail.

Top

Top view

Cut a thin piece of ply slightly larger than the surface area of the top of the box and frame the inside with 21mm x 21mm softwood. Add end panels (using slightly thicker ply to make the next step easier) and then add thin side panels, securing them with gimp pins to the edge of the end panels. The roof should be lightweight and shallow. Make the side and end panels of the roof sufficiently short that you can easily access the handholds on the end panels of the box body. I’ve not bothered covering the roof with anything to waterproof it.

Give the entire exterior surface of the box 2-3 coats of something like Ronseal Fence Life or other bee-safe wood preservative.

Finished bottom view

Finished bottom view

For convenience fit a carrying handle. I used a single piece of braided polyester cord. Drill four suitable diameter holes through the side wall and floor frame, beneath the mesh floor. Run the cord through these via a short offcut of garden hosepipe to make a comfortable grip, knotting the two ends of the cord underneath the box. Before cutting off the unused cord make sure the handle is a) long enough to move completely out of the way, so the top of the open box can be readily accessed, and b) short enough to ensure the box is clear of the ground when being carried.

In use

I usually carry a frame of foundation, a frame of sealed stores and a dummy board in one of these boxes. That covers most eventualities and saves too many trips to and fro to the car, or worse, to and fro the apiary. When I’m queen rearing I use the box to carry grafts from wherever I’ve done the grafting to my cell raising colony (which is often in a different apiary). I wrap the frame of grafts in a damp tea towel. On a cool day I’ll add a large flat pre-warmed “freezer block” into the box to make sure the grafts don’t get chilled. If I’m doing something with the colony and want to ensure the queen stays safe I’ll put the frame she is on into the box, put the lid back on and tuck it in a shady corner somewhere. Finally, I’ve used one of these two frame nuc boxes as mating nuclei, adding a frame of emerging brood, a frame of stores, an additional frame’s worth of nurse bees (shaken on top … actually add these first as the ‘target’ is rather small if the box is full of frames) and primed it with a sealed queen cell hanging between the top bars of the frame.

As indicated at the beginning, these boxes have little lateral stability. If they are going to house bees for any length of time strap them to a hive stand or something secure.

A version of this article appeared in Dr. Bodgit’s DIY column in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter from Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.

 

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.