Monday, May 10, 2010
Splitting a Bee Hive
Disclaimer: As I said I was suffering allergies on the day this was done. To combat that I had to spend brief periods in the house and out of the pollen storm. So the information provided here might not be 100% accurate. I have done splits with my own hives though and I feel that this is one of those things everyone has their own way of doing. It is a simple idea of taking some frames out of one hive and putting them in the other with some workers. It's best if The Queen go to the new location with a good portion of the hive and swarm cells be left in the old location or in a nearby split. That said, here is my take on the events of that day.
This meeting in particular focused on splitting a hive. At this time of year the bees are planning to swarm. This is the natural process of the hive dividing to start a new hive.
What happens is the workers build Queen Cells, as shown in this video. From these will hatch The Queen's successor. The Queen gets along with all her daughters but sister queens will fight and duke it out. The Queen (the mother of the entire hive) will fly off with the "Swarm" which is comprised of as much as 60% of the workers.
The new queen takes over the old hive and her mother's legacy. She mates usually within 5 days of taking over, weather permitting. Her flying away from the nest is no big event. She is a bee like any other, has her own wings, has a stinger to defend herself, and the workers don't really care as long as someone's laying eggs. The males absolutely adore her though and will fly after her in droves from miles around. The average queen bee mates with 8 to 16 males before returning to work. (Usually 5 years later she runs out of sperm and can produce nothing but males, and should be replaced immediately.)
(Again though all this is "how it's supposed to happen" weather permitting. Issues like the hive swarming multiple times, two queens leaving with the same swarm, the new queen didn't have a nice day of weather all week so she couldn't mate all happen more often than one would expect.)
Dividing a hive so there are 25 queen cells in each half is also crazy. Feel free to rip a few out or save the queens in a Nuc (tiny hive) or "Queen Castle" (special box that holds 4 hives), The idea being either to chuck em or save em. But you want at least 1 queen cell in each box, keeping the number below 10 give or take is what you want. Or just let them duke it out. The more queen cells though and the more likely they are to swarm multiple times. New Queens take to much competition as the hive is still to big and this causes another swarm. This can continue upwards of 5 times from a single hive which like watch your money fly away, and should be stopped with good beekeeping. Otherwise you'll be supporting the feral bee population of your area.
While looking through frames for sighs of The Queen try and keep track of how many queen cells there are on each frame. Get rid of as many queen cells as needed but remember to keep a few. The queen cells need to stay in the old location. Try and get The Queen and her half of the hive to the new location.
Sort of knowing where The Queen is, matters because the half of the hive that still has The Queen might still try and swarm if new queen cells start hatching. I say "Sort Of" because finding a queen bee is hard to do, even among beekeepers. Finding eggs in cells is a good indicator of where she is though. Knowing where she isn't can be just as good.