Making the Rounds

The procedure at this time of year is to work through yards, reversing hives , scraping, feeding, medicating, and removing brood and feed from hives as appropriate.

A maximum of two or three frames of brood in various stages of development is taken from a hive on each trip, and only from those hives that can easily spare it without hardship. Care must be taken to ensure that too much brood is not robbed from any one hive. Indeed, some promising hives are given brood. However, shake out any really slow hives onto the ground, no matter how pretty the queen may be and use the frames and boxes for making more nucs.

Shake just enough bees from each frame to ensure the queen is not on it. She is usually one of the first bees to fall off. Don't shake so hard you displace the worker larvae from the bottom of the cells, and don't shake any frames with a queen cell if you plan to get a queen out of it. Often a gentle quivering shake of a frame half withdrawn from the box dislodges sufficient bees to ensure the queen is left behind. A quick glance then suffices to ensure she is indeed not on the comb.

Be careful during this not to damage brood. Brood is extremely valuable and vulnerable. It chills, overheats, or dries out very quickly if left out of the hive in the wind, rain or sun - especially open brood. Keep it in a box with a frame of feed fresh from the hive on each side to keep it warm and sheltered.

Doing this work is like open heart surgery. It can do a world of good, but the metabolism of the hive is disturbed violently during the work and for some time after. Temperature regulation is temporarily lost and brood rearing is set back a day or two. Remember you are working to help the bees - so do things their way. Put brood close to other brood in the splits to share warmth, put the feed on the outside and don't put a warped frame next to a frame of brood, blocking its emergence. Preferably take several adjacent frames at a time from a hive and keep them in their same relative positions in the new split.

While there are few bees on the frames is an excellent time to scrape off excess burr and brace comb. One thing to keep in mind, however is that some ladder comb may serve you well. If your boxes are not perfect in their dimensions, there may be such a gap between the bottoms of the frames in the top box and the top bars in the bottom box that a queen cannot get over easily. Therefore you may inhibit the queen's travel through the hive by being too tidy.

Important Note: Watch the weather and forecasts during any splitting operation and try to allow a few hours at least between your last manipulation and any cold front coming through. Bees need a few hours to restore temperature regulation and resource layout to the hive. You don't want your work to be in vain.

If the work is going slowly and a flow comes on, the job must be suspended and a special quick round of all yards is necessary to give thirds to strong hives - with or without an excluder - to hold them until their turn comes. If an excluder is not used, then the third may be used to make up a split later when convenient, and the hive again returned to a two storeys.

Assembling and Managing Top Splits

As the beekeeper progresses through each yard, surplus brood and feed are accumulated into brood chamber boxes, each with a frame feeder, and placed above excluders on top of the second box of the strongest hives. The brood (which may come from several hives, including ones that have been shaken out) is arranged in an approximation to normal hive cluster shape, and warm, recently occupied feed frames are placed immediately to the sides. All the feed frames in the top splits are from the parent overwintered hives, not from storage or dead hives, as the bees and the bees will more readily occupy combs of feed that are fresh and warm and have the right 'scent'.

Frames of brood placed side by side in either the split or parent colony must be observed to ensure that the brood has room to emerge. Brood that is too close to an adjacent frame due to warping or careless spacing will be wasted.

The brood and feed taken from the parent colony is replaced with empty frames, frames of feed, or foundation as appropriate. This is an opportunity to do some constructive beekeeping and brood chamber maintenance. Some hives may be honeybound, and others may be starving in early May. Any old feed frames from storage or dead hives, are used in the strong parent colonies (below) which are strong enough to accept and recondition them

Medication with oxytetracycline is important when inserting new frames. Any foulbrood found may be removed, if serious - especially widespread scale on a comb. These combs should either be flattened in the diseased area with a hive tool and placed in the centre of a strong hive and medicated, or preferably discarded - particularly if you are not experienced or particularly religious in your medication rounds. Slight fresh outbreaks may be medicated and marked for observation. Usually they clean up and disappear if adequate medication is used. Diseased combs may be accumulated into special quarantine splits and taken to a nurse yard. With adequate populations and medication they will clear up and stay healthy once they have been clean for a season.

Each new split may consist of anywhere from one to eight frames of brood. Four is best for most purposes. One frame is not recommended. Two, or preferably three will ensure that your efforts are not wasted. Small splits are easily damaged by frosts, robbing, and are generally not viable. Larger splits will usually produce considerable honey, especially if made early and boosted with a second box of brood and bees once the queen is established.

The idea now is to leave the splits on the strong hive until the bees come back up and occupy the split and reorganise the stores a bit. We have a frame feeder in each of the three boxes and fill them all with 66% medicated sugar solution at this time. The top one we do not fill brim full because we may wish to move the split before the feeder is emptied, and spills are a nuisance.

The queen is, of course now confined to he original hive and has new frames there to lay in. The young bees come up through the excluder into the split to care for the brood, and some of the field bees will also work from the split - if you have an auger hole. So, after a short while, you have a nicely balanced population in the split and it can be removed to another yard to have a cell or queen installed. It is best to do so within 5 or 6 days or the brood will all be sealed, and the split will not hold its bees nearly as well. They may drift away after being moved to a new location.

During this waiting period you have basically a fully intact three story hive, getting all the advantages of size and population.

Once your queens or cells are available, and you have time, You have two choices:

  1. Just remove the excluder and replace it with a solid or double screened inner cover with he notch up (to encourage upward migration) and introduce your queen or cell. Or
  2. Remove the split and carry it off on a new floor to a new location a mile or so away and introduce the queen or cell. See below...

In the second case, you will remove the split after the queen is established and laying.

A full range of brood ages should be included in each spit, including one frame with eggs and open brood, if at all possible. This will serve to attract and hold bees when the split is eventually removed -- up to 6 days later.

After a yard is finished, there will be some hives with splits on top as thirds. We feed all hives syrup, filling all the frame feeders, unless we plan to move the splits immediately, in which case we leave the top one 1/3 empty to avoid spillage.

We normally leave the splits on hives for several days, until a batch of cells is ready - but they can be removed immediately to have queens or cells inserted, if available. If you wish to take the spits away on the same visit as they are made up, then leave the lids off the splits as you go -- assuming it is a warm day and the bees are actively flying. This will encourage the bees to come up. Careful repeated smoking at the bottom entrance will also help move bees up into the splits. The best way, however is to average three days or so before removing them, They have the assistance of the full hive population in getting re-organized.

These splits can be used as new colonies by removing them to new yards and placing them on a floor with an entrance reducer or they may be used as seconds on previous splits - resulting in producing colonies. This gives a lot of flexibility if you are raising your own cells. First, the splits can be left on the parent hives for as much as a week - if you had eggs in the splits. After that all the brood will be sealed, and the splits may not hold their bees well when moved away. Second, during this time they can be used either as splits or as boosters. This allows one to time the arrival of a batch of cells or queens without leaving a split queenless for long, and provides an alternate use if cells or queens are unavailable.

The advantages of progressive splits are that they allow ongoing swarm control all spring, place less stress on the colonies, allow for general improvement and equalizing of the colonies, spread the work out over a longer span and allow splits and cells to be available at the same time. Indeed, this method is not dependant on expensive imported queens, and can accomplish equal expansion using only locally produced cells. Swarm or supercedure cells can be utilised for those who do not raise their own cells or have a nearby source.

Some tips on Splits

We normally do not try to requeen any splits that do not take a queen on the first try. We use it as a booster under a good single box split next to it in the yard. After the first failure at requeening, the bees are older, and the split weaker. Why waste a queen or a cell on it? It's better to go out and make more splits with your resources.

'Don't put a first class resource into a second class result' - Peter Drucker

- It is easy to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of your hives which never will do well. I try always to spend my time on the good hives that show promise and shake out or combine the losers as soon as they show their colours, so I can get on with the important stuff..

If your split had eggs, even if the queen or cell you put in does not work, you may well find you have a nice looking laying queen in three weeks - courtesy the bees themselves. Sometimes we don't get back to check. Usually things work out.

A secret for successful splitting

Farrar recommended that each brood box have an auger hole below the hand hold. We have experimented with and without and find that there are any more advantages than disadvantages. We have a 1 inch auger hole in each brood box. In particular, we find that

  • Splits with 1 inch holes attract and hold bees better than those without, often by a factor of two.
  • Hives with holes have less drifting between hives, and there is less tendency for bees to drift from weaker to stronger hives.
  • Unused or unwanted holes can be blocked with inexpensive 'capplugs'
  • We can cut grass in yards later in the spring, leaving more wind shelter, and reducing labour costs.
  • The hole is useful as an upper entrance for wintering. We don't need special winter lids or inner covers.
  • Bees can fly directly from the cluster without having to walk a long way through the hive.

If this splitting goes on into June or even July, then you will have supers on. This is not a big problem if you have excluders above the second. Just strip the supers off the first hive in the yard. Work on the hive, then place an excluder on and take the supers from the next hive and place them on top - and so on. The bees will merge into the new hive, or go home. No problem - after all, we're equalizing. If you don't use excluders, then unless you know where the queen is the supers should go onto their own hive. Of course, after July 15th, losing or killing queens is not a concern, as the bees will raise a very nice one themselves and you will have requeened cheaply. Bees from eggs laid after mid-July usually do not contribute to a crop.

Using Mated Queens Vs. Cells

Another option for requeening

Another option besides the normal two that we think of (cells or queens in cages), is using queens in mating nucs. Mated, laying queens in nucs can be carried to the yard, then caught and chased into the split as soon as it is made and placed on top of the hive above an excluder or separator board. This takes advantage of the fact that in spring and summer a well fed hive of bees will ordinarily accept multiple laying queens separated by excluders -- provided only the queens are similar in condition.

Having a selection of queens laying in nucs at all times is a convenience. The queens can either come from a queen shipper, or be raised in your own outfit.

In the first case, you take advantage of the fact that queens are more readily accepted into small hives and also have an advantage in that the time required for acceptance and resuming of egg laying takes place in a tiny hive using only a few handsful of bees, rather than a full sized hive or nuc which might kill the queen or lose valuable time waiting.

Even in the case of requeening a poor hive with a failing or failed queen, you will seldom lose a mated laying queen if you introduce the queen on the centre frame of three frames of brood removed from a nuc. The three frames may safely be placed in the centre of the hive in place of three frames which are removed.

Future Topics:

Age of Cells

Emerging date





Queens and laying cycles

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