Things were booming at the end of late winter, and early spring was right around the corner. I had to get to work, as I'm selling bees as well as honey this year. I also am increasing my apiary. So on an early March Saturday, home from working in Miami and suddenly in low-40s and rain here in Charlotte, instead of tending the bees I got to building. Boy am I glad I did.
Cold, wet weather persisted in February and March, giving us a traditional winter and spring here in Charlotte. It's been a while since that's happened, and most everyone's been spoiled by the global warming springs here, with bees bringing in nectar in the middle of February. Just ain't right. So this year Mother Nature delayed everyone's plans and got back on her regular schedule. This delayed plans for nuc and honey deliveries, but that's how the wind blows. In the meantime, I got busy building a Queen Castle. This will let me raise 4 queens at once in the space of a single hive body. I measured a deep hive body, cut out the pieces in 3/4" playwood, and used my circular saw (I don't have a table saw or any other such helpful equipment) to cut dados in the front and back for the four chambers.
I borrowed the idea from Don at Dixie Bee Supply, known as the "Fat Bee Man" to his YouTube fans. He's awesome. I also combined it with the Dan Coates' nuc plan, where the handles atop the outside walls form the rest for the frames, eliminating the need to make a rabbit cut for the frame rest. The castle will hold 2 frames each on the outside chambers, and 3 frames on the inside chanmbers.
See? Pretty cool, hunh?
I made a solid bottom and screwed it in place. The screws will let me take the bottom off and use this as a regular deep hive body if I ever need to in a pinch.
Olive and Honey helped by Easter-egging themselves in an unused flower bed topped with hay.
I used a sheet of louan to cut the divider walls and the chamber lids. Since I'm doing this by hand, each chamber has its own measurements, so I numbered each and their lids. I made migratory top (no bricks needed, since there's no lip for the wind to catch and these lids are quite heavy ... just attached a cleat on each end and it's secure).
Each chamber gets a vent hole and an entrance hole, on opposite ends.
Make one center chamber's entrance on the back, and one on the front. And put their vent holes on the opposite sides. Here you can see that chamber 2's entrance is at the bottom and it's corresponding vent hole, which is secured with 1/8" hardware cloth and a hot glue gun (man, I love those things) is on the opposite wall and at top. The entrances are tiny so only 2 or 3 bees are needed to keep out robber bees. I knew robbing would be an issue since nectar's was only just beginning to trickle in, while I've stopped feeding. I used a 1/2" bit for the entrances, and a 13/16" bit for the vents. The vents confuse would-be robbers and help keep them out, too.
Put the outside chamber entrances and vents one on each side. Now all 4 chambers have their own entrances and vents, on different sections of the box. I put one outside entrance at the bottom and one at top. I think it's a good idea to alternate positions, and I tried to keep the vents alternating with the entrance positions also.
I made the castle walls 9-3/4" tall, which is a little taller than the standard 9 5/8" height. I wanted extra clearance underneath the frame, so if one of my new queens happens to be on the bottom of the frame while you're inspecting it and putting it back in, you won't squash her. No one wants a squashed queen. Deep frames are 9-1/8" tall, so she's got plenty of room to run around on the bottom while I fitz with the frame and put it back in the box.
Now I can raise 4 queens in a single box. Pretty cool, hunh? I'll be building more of these for sure.
I took a couple of my extra nuc boxes and did the same thing, alternating sides so I could put these nuc boxes side by side on the stand. I also put the entrance holes on opposite ends and heights from the queen castle they'd be beside.
Since I'm expanding my apiary and selling bees this year, I need to make more equipment. That includes tops and bottoms, which are easy to forget about. I use screened bottom boards, and had been putting off building one for a while. Seemed intimidating. But I found the necessary 1/8" hardware cloth at Little Hardware in downtown Charlotte. Now, it was time to unravel that screen and make one. I took some raw 2" x 3/4" lumber my brother gave me, and planed down the edges. I cut them to length, using another screened bottom board as my measuring guide. I then cut off a landing strip that was 4" wide, which will go under the hive body just a bit and give the bees a place to land. I have the smallest hand plane imagineable. I'll be correcting that soon. Really hurts your palms after a while.
I used 1x1's to make a rest for the screen. The screen will allow any Varroa mites that the bees groom off themselves to fall out of the hive, another vital component of Integrated Pest Management in my chemical- and treatment-free apiary.
I attached the screen to the top, using hot glue and finished off with some staples. I sealed up the board with a 1x1 slat on the endso the board will have 3 square sides for the hive bodies to sit on (and so bees can't get out the back).
I took some scraps of louan and sawed them into thin strips and glued them along the bottom edge. This now allows me to close off the screen, if the hive is weak and it's super cold outside, or if I want to spray oil on the board and count mites and see how the colony is faring.
Then I had two empty nuc boxes and a 4-chambered queen castle ready for splits. I'd be making more, so I also made another hive stand out of 2x2's and lag bolts, atop cinder blocks. The lag bolts let me adjust the stand to get it at the right slightly forward pitch and to level it out on this little hill. I do love the simpler 2x16" lumber stand someone gave me that I put the nucs and castle on. I'm sure I'll be switching over to those types of stands in the near future, and use pavers and bricks underneath as needed to level out the stand.
I got out my extra hive bodies I assembled over the winter, and a simple plywood top I made at the last minute (yet again, I forgot about tops), with frames at the ready for the next sunny opportunity to go in and make splits. More hives also means more entrance reducers. I make my own. They're so simple!
Just cut a 1x1 to size, and then drill three 1/2" holes in it ... plenty of room for an expanding hive and reduced entrances so a transferred nuc that needs help defending itself only needs 6 or 8 bees to defend the entrance. All in all, this super cold, rainy Sunday turned out really well. I was really proud of myself, not buying any of this outside of the 1x1's and plywood, and only having a circular saw, glue gun, stapler, brad nailer and ruler as my primary tools. I learned my lesson last year: use cold, rainy days when you think you can't do anything to build stuff you need, whether now or in the future. You won't regret it, especially when the sun shines and those bees start flying!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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