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Hive split

Hive splitOn April 21, our hive had four full frames of brood, and I figured it might take them about a week to reach the six frames I needed for an even split.  When the week was up, though, the weather turned windy and rainy, so I didn't get back into the hive until eleven days which point there were a whopping eight frames of brood!

I brushed dead bees out of one of the hives that perished over the winter and filled the brood box up with two frames of pollen, five frames of brood (two of which were halfway honey), and three frames of honey.  I didn't bother brushing any bees into this new brood box because there were scads of workers along for the ride already, especially once I took a whole super of honey (full of more bees) off the top of our healthy hive to add to its daughter hive.

The workers who were out foraging when I messed up their home will all go back to the old hive, and any foragers who I carried to the new hive during the split will probably drift back there as well.  That's no big deal, though, because I included extra honey in the young hive to make up for the lack of foragers.  I also made sure that there's plenty of capped brood in the young hive that will hatch into new foragers within a couple of weeks, so they'll be socking away honey before long.

Young locust leavesWhen doing an even hive split, you don't have to find the queen, so I don't know whether she's still hanging out in the old hive or has moved in with the newcomers in the young hive.  Wherever she's at, that hive will soon be back to normal, gathering nectar and pollen from the big producers that are about to bloom (black locust and tulip-tree).  Meanwhile, the queenless hive will be set back about three weeks as the bees figure out they're queenless (a day or two), earmark a few of the eggs as royalty (one to three days), feed the new princesses royal jelly during their 5 day larval stage, and wait out their eight day pupal stage.  Queenless hives usually hedge their bets by making more than one queen cell, but the queen who emerges from her capping first will systematically kill her competitors.  She soon goes on a mating flight and then starts laying, bringing the hive back into production.

That's assuming all goes well.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that within a month, we'll have two fully active hives instead of one.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I got some advice from a random stranger today at the local hardware store who saw Anna's post on splitting a hive and had to take issue with a couple of items. I'll try to paraphrase what he told me here.

"Your gonna end up with a dwindling hive that eventually dies out, rather than a new hive with this approach. Unless there is already a queen cell included in your extra box there never will be. You have to give the new hive a queen (buy one) or there has to already be a cell in the works. I've split alot of hives an know at least a little about what I'm telling you. One thing is true, the workers will never leave a hive with brood in it, they will stay and care for it. But they won't make a queen."

Comment by mark Tue May 3 20:21:32 2011
That's an interesting analysis, but from everything I've read (and seen), it's just wrong. Hives are able to requeen themselves when unforeseen events occur (like the queen getting smashed) because female egg cells don't have their caste determined yet (although male eggs can only be drones.) It's not until three days after laying, when the egg hatches and the workers begin to feed the larva that the baby becomes a new queen or worker. If they feed the baby royal jelly, it will grow into a queen, while if they feed the egg less nutritious, run of the mill pollen and nectar, she will be a worker. That's why it's essential to include eggs with each hive when splitting --- so that the hive without the queen can make a new one.
Comment by anna Wed May 4 07:13:16 2011
I should add that, from what I've read, if you wait until there are 6 frames of brood before making an even split, it has about a 90% success rate. Since all you have to lose is three frames of brood (about equal to 1 week of the hive bulking itself up), it seems worth risking a little bit of honey for that extra hive with nativized genetics. Sure, you can buy a queen and turn that success rate closer to 100%, but then you're not breeding a bee that can deal well with your climate, so chances are you'll have to keep buying queens.
Comment by anna Wed May 4 07:17:01 2011

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