One of the things that I really like about the hobby of beekeeping is that you can be personally involved in as much or as little of the creation of the hive components as you want. If you don't want to (or can't) deal with any woodworking, you can purchase everything fully assembled, and even painted, ready to use. But you pay a premium for that. Or you can go half way, getting the items pre-cut, but unassembled. You assemble the parts; nail, glue, and paint; then you are set. This is what most people do (myself included). But you still have to pay for shipping costs (wood is heavy). Then there are those who cut and build everything from scratch.
Some items just don't make sense to create from scratch - like the frames. There are many intricate cuts needed to build a frame, and they are not that expensive (a little over $1.00 in quantity), so the time/value isn't there. But then there are the simple items, such as a hive body. It's basically 4 pieces of wood nailed/glued into a topless and bottomless box. I have made these (although I can't do the fancy box joints; mine are just rabbet joints or simpler) with good success.
As I've mentioned previously, I am not a woodworker. I don't have a shop, and have the basic tools. Every time I want to do anything, I have to pull out my wife's van and take over the garage for a while (and my wife is very patient with me on this).
But as I contemplated raising queens this year, I was reading about queen castles. A queen castle is a special hive body which is divided into 3 (or 4) sections, each with their own entrances. Basically it's equivalent to 3 or 4 nuc boxes attached together. Sure, I could buy one on-line, but I wanted to try something different.
Beekeepers tend to like to experiment, and that includes making modifications to standard equipment. So I wanted to try to "improve" the queen castle in the following ways:
- More space below the frames - one complaint I have with a couple of the all-in-one nuc boxes I have is that there isn't a lot of space below the frame. If I have a frame with a queen cell hanging off the bottom (as is often the case for swarm cells), it can be damaged when I put it in the nuc.
- Adjustable space above the frames - when you make a nuc, you often have to feed pollen patties to help the nurse bees along. A pollen patty won't fit in the regular bee space (3/8") on the top of a standard nuc, so I wanted more
- Able to easily feed syrup - I want to be able to put a jar of feed above each of the sections.
I started by measuring the inner dimensions of one of my deep hive bodies, and added 1/2" on the bottom (for the extra space for queen cells hanging down) and 3/4" above the bars (for the pollen patty). I decided to use 3/8" plywood for most of the box, which is why I focused on the inner dimensions of the brood chamber (normal wood used for hive bodies is 3/4" thick). I also decided to not have to rabbet any of the plywood; but instead I would overlap pieces of plywood for the frame rests (a technique currently being used for plywood-based nuc boxes on Beesource).
I started off with my big sheet of plywood, and transferred my measurements to it. You can't see it, but the plywood is sitting on a couple of garbage cans in my driveway (since I have no shop):
The other week I had an old broken down dresser I demolished (and burned a lot of it in my firepit - Mmmm s'mores!). I saved parts of it for re-use, like the drawer bottoms. The bottoms were made out of the same material as pegboard boards, and it was thin and stiff. I had an idea those pieces would work great for the dividers in the queen castle.
Here you can see the slots I cut for the dividers:
You can also see that the front and back ends (where the frames rest) were cut lower, and then I attached another piece of plywood on the outside to complete the box:
You can also see above that the plywood was very "knotty" on the non-good side. I decided to give the bees the smooth side, and left the crappy side on the outside. I'm just going to paint it anyway, and we aren't going for looks (plus, the bees don't care).
Another modification I made to the standard queen castle design was to add some mini landing boards for each entrance. You can see them here on the bottom board:
Here is the queen castle with the bottom board and side pieces attached. You can see that the frame rests are extra deep. My modified top covers (below) will account for that space:
Vent holes are drilled, and they will be covered with 8-count metal mesh inside:
Here is a shot of the dividers. They go all the way to the bottom of the box, and also block on the frame rest:
Here is a shot of one of the modified inner covers. You can see it's a piece of 1" board (which is really 3/4" in thickness) attached to the plywood piece. The 1" board fits inside the rim of the castle:
With the inner covers in this position, there is proper bee space on top of the frames:
With the inner covers in this position (flipped over), there is an extra 3/4" on top of the frames, perfect for a pollen patty:
Here's the top cover I made:
I painted the castle with some white outdoor paint I bought on sale. I learned that bees orient by position of the hive, but also by color and patterns. So I painted a different color/pattern on each of the 3 sides:
So now I have a queen castle ready if/when I decide to raise some queens!
Since I had the tools out already for the queen castle, I decided to make another useful piece of beekeeping equipment: a Snelgrove board. This is basically a hive divider with a screen on each side (so the heat can be shared). Then on each of the 4 edges (on both sides) you build closeable bee doors. Here are the plans I followed (the link is to a PDF file), and it was very easy.
I'm not going to go into detail as to how the board is used - you can read about it in this very detailed slide presentation.
So here's the final item: