Because one of my bee hives did not survive the bitter cold winter, I am learning to split the surviving hive. The goal here is to both try to avoid a swarm and to start a new hive to replace the little freezy bees.
Now that extreme temperature fluctuations are to be expected, I know that package bees from warmer climates are not the right way to go. If the bees are to survive, they have to be acclimated to our increasingly long, cold winters. Splitting the hive that survived the Endless Freeze that was the 2013-14 winter, seemed like the only logical choice.
Speaking to a local beekeeper whose 50+ hives ALL survived the winter, I learned when and how to make the split.
In this area, swarms typically happen in June. This is when the hives are full and there isn’t any room left for the queen to lay new eggs (all the available cells are filled with eggs or the workers have filled them with nectar). If the hive has hit maximum capacity, the bees will signal to one another that it is, quite literally, time to split.
At this point, about half the hive will prepare to depart, first ensuring that they are leaving behind sufficient brood to manage the hive while another queen is created. They leave behind what are called queen cells or queen cups, and count on one hopeful queen to develop, survive, and mate.
So, knowing that the weather has been warmer, June is just around the corner, and my bees have been little pollen-carrying maniacs of late, it seemed like it was time to try my hand at helping these guys start their new colony.
Bees are probably at their most docile when about to swarm. They are not interested in anything but the task at hand but, despite this, I decided to wait until evening to mess with their housing situation.
Once dusk rolled around, I gently smoked the hive, removing the topmost super that was packed full of bees, honey, and capped brood. I placed this super right next to the original hive, but turned it 90 degrees (away from the hive) so that the bees would not be inclined to return to their original digs. This slight variation in location is enough to effectively disorient them and prevent them abandoning their new setup.
Atop this super, I placed another super that was filled with frames full of drawn comb. This gives the bees a little bit of a head start (they don’t have to draw the comb again; they can skip right to filling it with eggs and nectar). You can certainly provide them with foundation, if that’s all that’s available, but drawn comb is preferable if you happen to have it.
And now, I just have to wait three days.
And this is the really important part.
After three days, I’ll need to open up both hives and look for eggs. Only one of the hives will have eggs, because only one of the hives will house the queen. I won’t know where she is until I can find freshly-laid eggs. Once I find her (or evidence of her), I know that I’ll need to move frames with eggs into the hive where she isn’t. This will provide the other hive with what they need to start creating the queen cups they would have made prior to the swarm they didn’t have to have.
That last “sentence” might require a re-read. Or two.
Because I am always 100 percent positive I am going to kill all of my bees no matter what I do, I feel I should be prepared to have killed all of my bees by having split too early.