Hive Split Update

'Em' and 'May', shortly after splitting.

‘Em’ and ‘May’, shortly after splitting.

Without further ado…

The first split

On April 26th, I inspected the first beehive split (christened Blazer—as in trail blazer) and her mother hive, Hortensia. The mother hive was full of both capped and uncapped brood (yay!!!), but Blazer still had nothing. I selected a frame of eggs from Hortensia and placed it beside a frame of pollen and nectar in the split.

I returned on May 2nd and found that the bees were in the process of building a queen cell. It wasn’t yet capped, but I have to say that it looked kind of ‘puny’ to me. The split has plenty of bees (about five drawn frames covered in bees) and plenty of pollen and nectar stores. We will check for signs of a laying queen toward the end of May. If the split appears queenless at that time, we will recombine it with Hortensia.

The second split

I inspected both the split (Em) and the mother hive (May) on April 27th. The split was going gangbusters, with lots of uncapped brood and a plump new queen that I glimpsed running away from me down between two frames.

May had no brood in any of its three boxes, and the bees seemed disorganized and aimless. There were, however, still lots of bees in the mother hive. I returned to the split and removed a frame of eggs and young brood. I used an X-Acto knife to cut out a swatch of comb measuring approximately one by one-and-a-half inches. I specifically selected comb where I only saw eggs.

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I used four toothpicks at the corners of the comb to secure it in the middle of a frame of pollen and nectar in the mother hive. I made sure that this frame was facing another frame of nectar and pollen and that it was situated near the center of the middle box. There are plenty of additional stores in surrounding frames. I also removed one of the frames in that box to allow room for the protruding toothpicks and comb.

I returned to inspect again on May 2nd. I found that the bees had built a smallish queen cell on the upper left corner of the attached swatch of comb. Surprisingly, the cell was already capped. This makes me wonder if I failed to spot a small larva in amongst the eggs, and if the bees chose this to be their queen.

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Looking down into the hive. The queen cell is on the left, but bees are covering most of it.

 

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A side view. A bee is hanging onto the queen cell.

I fear that the small size of the cell does not bode well for the queen’s viability. The small size may be due to the fact that older bees (the only bees left in this hive after more than a month without a queen) are not as good at feeding brood. Older worker bees can revert to acting as nurse bees in cases of emergency, but they may not be able to produce the same quality or quantity of royal jelly, the food required by queen bees throughout their larval stage and through their adult lives.

On the bright side, I did see a lot of activity on the frame with the queen cell, and a number of bees were covering the cell and moving around it.

As with the first split, if May’s second attempt at queen rearing doesn’t pan out by the end of this month, we will recombine the hives.

Conclusion

Why did one split and one mother hive fail to raise viable queens on their first attempts? In both cases, the mother hives had capped queen cells when I performed the splits. It’s possible that I jarred some of these cells, causing the unborn queens to fall to the bottoms of their cells and stopping their wings from properly developing. In this case, the young queens would not have been able to venture out for their mating flights.

On the other hand, I found no signs of queens that had become drone layers (this is often the case when a virgin queen is unable to properly mate). Maybe it is more likely that the queens perished on their mating flights. We had some extremely windy days in April, and there is also always the possibility of a queen being eaten by a bird when she leaves the hive.

Whatever the reason(s), we are keeping our fingers crossed for better results when the new queen cells hatch.

2 Responses to Hive Split Update

  1. Impressed isn’t the word for it!! My goodness you have to keep on your toes with your ladies don’t you and it all makes me feel I’m living on another planet, never mind another country! There’s so much to take in and prodding me to comment but I’ll need an age to go through everything so will make time at the weekend over a pot of coffee. No swarms here Sarah, in fact my poor bees must think it’s still winter as we only stopped feeding candy to them about 3 weeks ago and I currently stand over them watching at every opportunity to ensure they are foraging. We’ve had a couple of warm weeks by our standards and relatively dry but barely into the high 50’s so although that’s been enough to stimulate them into getting out and hopefully the queens to lay, we’ve not had a chance to make one thorough inspection yet! Who knows what’s going on inside those hives? One of mine is made up of a double brood box because they were expanding so rapidly at the end of last year but although it’s laden with capped honey brought in last autumn and so heavy I can barely lift it, they don’t appear to be eating it so when I can I’ll uncap some to encourage them to take it. A couple of times I’ve stood and pressed my ear to the brood boxes and can hear a gentle and contented humming so assume all is well. Unfortunately though the weather has deteriorated again and situated where are Isles are in line of both Atlantic and eastern European weather systems, climate change is having a devastating affect on our wildlife, especially insects and birds which makes us feel even more determined to ensure our bees survive but it’s a real worry and I envy you your sunshine and warmth because it’s obvious from the way your colonies expand that they’re extremely happy…. and so they should be!

    My greenhouse is packed full of seedlings bursting to get out into the beds at the allotment but as I hear torrential rain crashing down on the roof I’m sure that won’t be happening today.

    Will return tormorrow or Sunday. Happy beekeeping!!

    • Jackie, we’re honored that you’re taking the time (over a pot of coffee, no less!) to read and think through our various bee dramas. Seems our bees have an unfair advantage with the extremely mild coastal California weather. It’s always interesting to me to think about how bees make their way in so many different climates and ecosystems around the world. And it’s also interesting to me to think about the fact that honey bees are certainly not native to our neck of the woods. Are there any subspecies of honey bees that are actually native to the UK?

      There’s a piece of me that envies you your May downpours. I spent the first part of my childhood in northern California, where it is perpetually rainy and overcast, and I must admit a soft spot for this kind of climate.

      Here’s wishing your seedlings well!

      P.S. Please, won’t you consider starting a blog?! It would be such fun to keep up more closely with your gardening and beekeeping adventures.

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