Winter is the time of year when beekeepers like me take to the wood shop for building the next season’s equipment, because once spring gets underway there’s no time for anything but working hives.
Last year I spent several months designing, building and painting mating boxes to expand the queen rearing side of my business.
For many years I’d been using nuc boxes and queen castles for mating boxes. In the image above, the queen castles are the white boxes in the top center. Basically, a queen castle is a modified hive body that divides into three or four sections so that multiple queens can be raised in each box. This method has its advantages, in that you can use standard frames to maximize queen rearing capabilities using fewer resources. The problem is that its hard to keep just two frames thermo-regulated properly, so when it gets cold, the bees can have a tough time.
Last year I decided to make the investment into mini mating nucs. I’d tried a few the year before and found them to be less resource intense than standard nucs because they occupy essentially one quarter of the space than a regular nuc, but the shape allows for better thermo-regulation by the nurse bees. Above are my test boxes from 2017 sitting on top of standard hive equipment.
Next door is a shop full of young hipster dudes volunteering to make the rigging for a wooden-mast sailing ship called the Matthew Turner, which was built in the old ship yards at Liberty Ship in Sausalito. Every day I’m out painting, guys walk by and ask what I’m doing. They think its cute, all these bright colors, like I’m painting dollhouses or something. Sometimes I have the patience to explain that queens see in a color range from orangey-red to ultraviolet, and that the colors help them orient so they return to the right hive after their mating flights. Other times I use the respirator and my headphones as an excuse to ignore them so I can get some work done. #notheretomakeyourlunch
Ultimately the minis were a big success, and I was able to provide queens for all my nucs in 2018, plus sell plenty of queens to my local beekeeping community.
This week I’ll be back in the wood shop to make improvements to the mini lids so they are more weatherproof. The hinges were ok in concept, but not so much in principle. They leaked in heavy rains, and I think it might be better to have a double inner cover and solid telescoping. To be continued…