Phew... we made it through the long cold winter!
Now that you may have had a chance to quickly check on your hives, and feed them ... it’s time to start planning for the upcoming seasons.
Will you expand your apiary this year? Or replace any lost stock?
One option is if you have strong heavy hives you can split them.
Benefits: FREE BEES!
You can turn a single colony into 2 or even 3 if they are strong enough.
Splitting your hive can decrease the chance of the bees doing it on their own and swarming. Taking your proven strong queen with them, leaving behind a newly emerged queen that may or may not produce the way the previous one did.
Having multiple hives, especially in pairs increases your over wintering success.
What is a split? Literally what it is called... splitting one strong hive into multiples and adding in a new queen to the new colony.
How to do it? There are a couple of ways to do a split, but the most important part is that both the primary colony and the new colony have enough resources, bees, feed, and a strong queen to support themselves.
One way is: Take 2-4 frames of eggs and brood of all ages from your original hive and add some feed into a new box. Make sure you are leaving the bees behind in the original hive or moving the hive a couple of miles away so the bees don’t migrate back. You should add bees from another colony that is further away if you want to keep your new colony close to your primary one. 3-4 frames of shaken bees should be enough. If you don’t have quite enough bees in the primary colony, this may be an option even if you are moving the colony.
Then you need to consider where your queen is going to come from.
You have a few choices for the queen.
1. You can allow the hive to produce their own queen. This can be a risky choice because you aren’t guaranteed the colony will produce a healthy queen and be strong enough to sustain the 20 or so days until that queen is bred and laying. This choice also delays your hive from growing its population for up to 30 days, meaning it’ll be later in the honey season before they’re strong enough to produce honey to share with you. There is a chance your new colony won’t have a good honey crop until the following season. *If you choose to allow the hive to create its own queen it’s important that you moved frames with eggs, not just brood from your primary colony!
2. Using a swarm cell from a different hive. Take a swarm cell and allow it to hatch in your new colony. This can take up for 14 days for the new queen to hatch and breed. This can have challenges of its own. Queen cells are hard to judge the age if you haven’t been following them from day one. When they are young, they are very fragile and over handling can damage the queen inside.
3. Purchasing a bred queen with proven strong genetics. This option will cost you around $35 for a new queen. The queen you receive will be bred from a colony that has been selected for specific traits. Strong over wintering, non-aggressive, fast build up, and strong honey producers. Introducing a new queen to the colony takes 1-3 days depending on how accepting the hive is of a new queen. This also gives you an opportunity to expand the genetics of your apiary. Bringing in a new queen, allows a variety of genes in your breeding drones.
When to split? It’s important that your old colony and new colony have enough resources to feed and brood. Ensure there are ample amounts of flowers blooming so they can rebuild strong and quickly.
Mid to late spring is usually when most people split their hives. Pay attention to the season, the weather, and the flowers. Each location is different and so is each year.
Bred queens are available mid to late spring but need to be ordered early so you get them on time.
What you need to split? First and foremost you need a strong primary colony. Your primary colony needs to be strong enough to hold its own with half the bees and brood plus you need enough brood to create your new colony. This colony should be in good health with low mite counts and not have any noticeable diseases or issues. If a colony is stressed, even if it has a lot of bees, it will struggle to rebuild its population if it is already spending its resources on fixing a problem.
It is recommended that you use an over-wintered colony instead of a new package or nuc you purchased this year. New colonies have their own stresses, so it is best to choose a colony that you know has the strength to sustain a split.
The supplies to handle another colony in your apiary. Do you have enough supers? Enough frames and bottom boards? Plan to get your needed equipment early so you aren’t delayed in splitting your hive.
You need protection for your new colony and primary colony. They will have less bees to protect their resources and are at risk for robbing. Consider using an entrance reducer until the colony is strong enough to protect itself.
Potential challenges After your split it is important you are checking and monitoring your primary colony and new colony more frequently. Make sure to check for eggs and to find the queen. To know to they have accepted her and she is laying well. It usually takes 5 days after a bred queen is released before she begins to lay. It can take up to 15 days for a virgin queen to be bred and begin laying.
If you end up with a queenless hive and there aren’t any eggs, you have a few options. You can requeen with another purchased bred queen or you can take a loss on the split and add the bees and brood to other hives that may need a bit of a boost. Keep in mind that if a hive does not have any eggs they won’t be able to make a new queen. A decision either way needs to be made.
Robbing. Even if you have protected the hive with an entrance reducer, this is still a concern for the smaller hives. If you find this is happening, you can move the hive to a different location away from stronger hives until they are strong enough to protect themselves.
If you didn’t add enough bees to your new colony or didn’t leave enough in your primary colony, you will notice their population remains small. You can add more bees from colonies a few miles away to boost your hives.
Important points - plan early! Don’t delay. - Decide how you are going to queen your new hive. Do some research on your choice. If you are going to order queens, Legacy Queens still has some 2019 available for pre order. - Order your queens ASAP. Order or pick up your needed equipment before you plan to split - Choose which hives you might split and plan where you are going to locate the splits early in the season.
I hope your spring is going well. If you find that you have lost your hives over winter and want to replace them, JNJ Honey Shop and Apiary still has nucs available for pre order.
Follow Legacy Queens for up to date beekeeping tips and tricks.
Please share this post with anyone who likes bees, wants bees, or has bees!
Good luck and happy beekeeping! 🐝