My new colony is doing great – the population absolutely exploded! In fact it boomed so much that the last week when I checked, every single frame in a two-deep was full of brood. I happily put on an extra box and walked away.
You’d think this would be a good thing, right? Except I was a little bothered by the fact that they had so little space left… only a few bits of honey at the edges of the frames. And the more I read about it, the more I realized that this was not so good. With no place to go and no room to expand, even with an extra honey super put on top, the bees would most likely swarm. The only reason they hadn’t already was probably because the nectar flow was over.
But… they had no honey stores, so I absolutely had to feed them, which means they would think there was a nectar flow… and they would definitely swarm.
Sure enough, I checked them again this morning and there were little swarm cells on the bottoms of a couple frames. Swarm cells with eggs in them. Which meant that if I didn’t intervene, I was going to lose half my bees within the week. I had to divide the hive on my own – make them think they’d already swarmed and free up more room in there. So I took a deep breath and put on my big-girl bee pants and figured out how to do it.
First thing I’d need was a nuc box. Like a whole little beehive, cover and bottom and everything, except made for five frames instead of ten. Tiny. And somewhat costly. And mail order only… which means weeks away, plus assembly time. But I needed one now. Like, tomorrow latest. So I rolled up my sleeves and figured out how to make myself a nuc box out of existing equipment.
Nuc boxes are 5 frames only because if you give bees more space than they can adequately protect, pests like small hive beetle and wax moths move in and can wreak real damage (don’t ask me how I know, it’s sad.) So I took a ten frame hive bottom and made it a little more versatile.
I cut the back support of a ten-frame bottom board right in the center, pried it up, and nailed it into the front. Now when the box sits on top, there are two entrances facing opposite directions, which is what you want for nucs anyway (don’t ask me why. I just do what the books tell me to).
If I do get lucky enough that this little nuc starts to thrive enough to be moved onto ten frame equipment, I can simply reverse the placement of the severed back support and voila it’s back to being a regular setup again. Woo for saving money!
I found a sheet of masonite and made a single panel that fit snugly inside the box. It rests on the bottom board and reaches all the way up to the top where it contacts the cover. It had to be really tight to prevent bees moving into the other side and possibly a) starting a war if there happened to be another nuc on that side at the moment or b) making all kinds of crazy wild comb in the empty part that would have to be discarded – but also loose enough that I could remove it when necessary. (I hope I got it tight enough – I’m not good at precision work, and those little tabs on the top were difficult). I added thin wood slats on either side of the bottom to thicken it so that it would still block access securely even if it got warped with the moisture or something.
With the boardman feeder attached, the entrance is nicely reduced to help protect the little colony while it gets on its feet. I hate using boardman feeders because of their reputation for encouraging robbing, but I have little choice here until I can figure something else out that gives them access to the sugar but still prevents intrusion onto the other side.
I put in:
- a frame of honey. I’ll still have to feed them heavily through the summer. I wish I had another frame of honey to put in there, but that is just how honey-poor Darjeeling is. None left to share. Or not all on one frame, anyway.
- the frame with the queen/swarm cells on it. How convenient of the bees to draw them all on one frame for me!
- a couple more frames with brood at all stages of development to continue supplying workers until the queen they -hopefully!- make starts laying on her own 2-4 weeks from now, and
- an empty but drawn frame for them to expand onto as they grow.
I shook in an extra frame or two of nurse bees as well. Since the young nurse bees haven’t been outside the hive on foraging flights yet, they’ll grow up thinking that this is their home and they won’t “drift” back to Darjeeling like the older, wiser foragers will.
Hopefully I didn’t accidentally include the queen anywhere in all these shenanigans. I didn’t see her anywhere. (I know she is still in Darjeeling somewhere, because I saw eggs).
I gotta say, I’m really really anxious about this whole thing. I’ve had such bad luck with bees – I mean, six years of trying and I’ve never had a single colony last more than two years. Now I finally get a colony that’s booming, and I go and weaken it on purpose?
It helps me feel better that everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to told me that I had to do it. But until I see a queen cell capped and developing… until I see that queen mated and laying… there is going to be a lot of holding breath and crossing fingers around here.