The Split

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Over at the garden, we’ve encountered a number of issues this summer including a swarming hive, a queenless hive, and a virgin queen that missed her mating window. While we may be losing one hive, we were able to split a very strong hive into two hives about a month ago.

Typically, what happens is that the hive will become so strong and full of resources that they decide to swarm and reproduce as I’ve talked about in previous posts. As I noticed my hive was preparing to swarm, I decided to beat them to it and simulate a swarm by splitting the hive in two. Ideally, you take half the hive which includes frames of honey, frames of eggs, frames of larvae, and frames of capped brood to start a split hive.  It is important to take bees in all stages of brood development to ensure that there have a consistent build up in population and avoid any dips in numbers.

What was unusual about my split is that I believed that not only did my bees want to swarm, but they also wanted to replace the current queen.  I believe I had a faulty queen in both of my hives (roof & garden) due do negligent treatment from my bee supplier. If you remember, in my roof hive, they replaced the queen as well.

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Luckily, when I was preparing to split, I spotted a virgin queen. You can tell that she is a virgin because her abdomen is short and not engorged with sperm glands from male bees.

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Actually, after spotting her I decided I would not split the hives assuming she had killed the other unborn queens. The day before splitting I had done an inspection and found at least a dozen capped swarm cells.

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You can see in the photo above, the queen never emerged from this cell. Instead, the virgin queen stung her through the cell wall, killing her. The worker bees must have been quick to remove her carcass.

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By the time I made it down to the bottom super, I found that the virgin queen had destroyed most of the other capped queen cells with the exception of a few she missed.

Having found queen cells still in tact, I planned to do the split once again. However, there were not nearly as many queen cells as I had spotted the day before. The virgin queen may have emerged from one of these and killed a few off. It is also possible that the worker bees aborted some of them.

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So treating the virgin queen as if she was the mother queen, I moved her to the split along with many of her undeveloped sisters (the worker bees, of course). After setting the hive up with the apiary, I did my best to make sure they had an even amount of resources. My hope at this point was that the split hive bees would acknowledge this as their new home and not retreat back to the parent hive. To help this, I put obstacles in front of the entrance to cause the bees to do reorientation flights.  This was somewhat successful.

I was also hoping that the virgin queen would take a successful mating flight. Additionally, over in the parent hive, I was hoping a new virgin queen would emerge from one of the queen cells and also take a mating flight. Splitting hives is never guaranteed.  A new queen might not emerge, might not mate, or might get killed on her mating flight (tasty snack for a bird).

Usually one hive contains the mother queen bee and the other contains her daughter queen bee.  In my situation since the mother queen bee was rejected and probably destroyed, these two hives are actually sister queen bees.

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I am happy to report that I saw signs of healthy mated queens in both hives. The older sister’s name is Beeatris II and the younger one is Gabee. The queen on my roof is Beeyonce II. The split hive was a little low in numbers, just as I had expected.  To give them a boost, I took two frames of capped brood from my roof hive and put them into the split hive.

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Hopefully they continue to rake in the honey and build up strongly before winter!

When Everything Looked Great*

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Oh the good times.. when the queen was laying and the worker bees were bringing in honey and pollen. Where did those times go? Okay, that is a bit dramatic. In reality, this summer has the potential to create some strong colonies and produce lots of sweet, sweet, honey.

*Over at the garden, we’ve already dealt with Spencer’s hive swarming. My hive has had a great start to the beekeeping season with a few issues along the way.

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All the rain we have been having has been great as the bees have been raking in the nectar and making honey.

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Before installing this hive, I converted my solid bottom board into a screened bottom board. This allows better airflow in the hive and also helps control varroa mites.  When the varroa mites fall off a bee, rather than climbing back up and into the brood chamber, they fall through the screen and out of the hive. Unfortunately, the screen mesh I installed was just big enough for bees to squeeze through when entering and exiting the hive. When they squeeze through, the mesh scrapes their pollen baskets and flicks the pollen granule to the floor. What you see in the photo above is a pile of pollen under the hive. There has been a lot of pollen this year and I know they have also brought pollen in from the front, so I am not too concerned.

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Bee pollen is actually a super nutrient. Some people take bee pollen as a natural energy supplement. It also has a very interesting taste and texture. The bees won’t recollect the pollen once it has fallen on the ground. Rather than let this pollen go to waste, I collected most of it and put it in a jar in my fridge that I snack on from time to time. Just another delicious byproduct of beekeeping.

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Here is a great example of a good laying pattern.  You can see a little white rice-shaped egg in each empty cell. When a healthy queen is laying properly, the pattern is densely clustered, with one egg per cell.

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The egg develops into a larvae and eventually capped with wax. The capped larvae is the final stage of brood before hatching into a baby bee. Again this is a very dense pattern, which is great.

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Honey is also capped with wax. After the bees bring in nectar, they wait until they have the right level of moisture in the cells before capping it off, which is when it is officially considered honey.

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With a hive is thriving and doing great with resources, it is only natural that the bees start to consider swarming.  Here are two queen cups the bees have created in preparation to swarm. Looks like I will have some work ahead of me.

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