It’s Splitting Time!

Today we finally(!) had temperatures warm enough to split a hive.

This is the same hive that briefly had two queens last summer. When we checked it earlier this month (before all the cold weather), it had a lot of brood, so we decided it should be the first of two we plan to split.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but we over-wintered all our hives with honey supers this year. That’s the smaller top box (the proportions are skewed in this picture because of the angle from which it was taken) which was quite full of nectar and honey last fall.

During the summer, we place queen excluders between the brood boxes (the bigger bottom ones) and the honey super to keep the queen from laying eggs around the honey.

Many people prefer not to use queen excluders, calling them “honey excluders,” but we have found them useful. Maybe sometime we should experiment by leaving it off one hive and see if we get more honey.

In winter, we take the queen excluders out to allow all the bees access to the extra food, even though we knew we might end up with brood in the honey at the start of the spring nectar flow.

That’s exactly what happened, so when we checked the hives for the first time, we put the queen excluders back. We’d seen the queen in the hive that’s not as strong as the other two, so it was only in the two strong ones that we needed to remember the queen might have gotten caught upstairs.

I actually thought if she did, it might actually make it easier to split the hives. Supers are smaller, so there would be fewer bees, ergo the queen would be easier to spot.

As it turned out, she was in the super of the hive we split, and I actually spotted her. Me! The woman who has only ever spotted the queen one other time in a hive in my life!!!

This made splitting the hive much easier. We just moved the frame with the queen into the new eight-frame box* and filled the rest with a couple of frames of brood and some honey. We know most of the hive’s foragers will return to the orignal hive because they’re oriented to it, so we’ll be giving sugar syrup to the new split (with the old queen). This syrup is a ration of 1:1 sugar to water, with some Honey B Healthy added to encourage them to feed. I also added Honey B Healthy’s Amino B Booster, which supposedly helps with brood rearing.

We also discovered the wax foundation frames we experimented with last year were full of drone brood — not necessarily a good thing because Varroa love drone brood because its growth cycle is similar to the mite’s. Ugh!

I’m not sure if you remember, but we tried a couple of frames of wax foundation last year because we heard the bees really like it.

Newsflash! Ours didn’t. They dismantled it and rebuilt it with their own wax cells, which they decided should be drone cells.

The queen obligingly filled every one with drone brood.

We removed one to freeze (Try to look upon this as euthanising a few drones to benefit the hive because that’s what it is), which will take care of some of the problem, but we probably should have done both. Maybe we can find a moment to pull it when we work the other two hives.

The other issue is there is now a short super frame in a deep box (because it had the queen on it and we don’t have a great record of managing to move queens anywhere without damaging them). You can bet your life the bees are building comb on the bottom of it even as I write this post.

So, we’ll have to get that out too and replace it with a regular deep frame.

Still, it was a fairly easy split.

Of course, since the queen had been laying in the super, that meant all the eggs were up there, which meant we had to put the super back on the original ten-frame box so the bees could make a queen from the eggs.

Alternatively, we could buy a new queen to introduce, which would be faster because she wouldn’t have to be raised and then do the whole mating flight thing. However, a new queen costs upwards of $40, so we usually let the bees at least try to make their own first.

Obviously, we didn’t put the queen excluder back in because we don’t want to infringe the bees movement in any way while they are at this delicate point, nor do we want to separate the new queen from the rest of her hive if they are successful in this operation.

We know there were queen cups, but we’re not sure if they had eggs in them or not. So, they may be working from scratch, which could result in a smaller, weaker “emergency queen.”

In the past, we’ve only split after seeing queen cells in our hives, but we’ve learned that’s cutting it fine and risking a swarm. However, by splitting sooner, before there are full-sized queen cells, we may be taking the risk of them raising a not-so-great queen.

It’s sort of a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario, as seems to often be the case in beekeeping.

On another note, some people say if you split a hive, you need to move the new colony two miles away. But, we’ve learned otherwise. As long as you make sure there are plenty of nurse bees in the new hive, it will be fine. The foragers will mostly return to the old hive, but the nurse bees have never been outside, so they’ll stay and raise the young.

From one hive into two! Original, now queenless, hive is on the right, and the new hive with the old queen is on the left.

As you can see from the photo above, the bees are confused for a little while after the split, but they settle down pretty quickly.

We also took a quick peek in the super of the other strong hive to see if there was evidence of a queen, i.e, new eggs or very small larvae. There wasn’t, so she’s down in the brood boxes where she belongs.

Here’s a slo-mo and a time-lapse video of the girls bringing in pollen, which I took before we got busy with the split. I love to watch them come in loaded with beautifully colored pollen!

Next we need to turn our attention to the other big hive and do a check of the not-so-busy one too.

I’ll keep you posted!

*In an effort to keep The Engineer’s back healthy, we are trying to shift our hives from ten-frame to eight frame.

5 thoughts on “It’s Splitting Time!

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