Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Try, Try, Try Again
We've kept bees for several years now, but only one hive. For some reason, keeping a second successful hive eludes us. Our one hive really thrives. It is so strong that during the ice storm last year a limb fell on it and blew it apart. We found it lying on the ground in pieces with a cluster in one of the boxes. We put it back together and expected the worst. Not only did it survive, but we harvested honey all summer from it.
Apparently even an ice storm can't take down our one hive, but when we try for a second one, it fails, every time. We've bought packages of bees more than once, replaced queens, caught swarms, you name it, we've tried it with the exception of splitting our hive. So, this year I decided to try splitting our hive. Why would I keep trying to have a second hive after so many failed attempts? Well, I'm as stubborn as a mule and a sore loser. You can ask my husband.
Splitting the hive means basically that. You try to divide the population and put one half in another hive. It's a man-made swarm. As the population builds up in the hive, it becomes crowded which triggers a swarm, which is a natural split. When bees swarm, the mother queen leaves with a portion of the population, and the newly emerged queen stays and takes over the hive. With it being early spring, I knew they were building up for a swarm soon so I decided to try to beat them to the punch. So a few weeks ago, a friend came over to help me.
The goal is to take frames of brood that have all stages of development, eggs, larvae, and capped brood as well as cells of pollen and honey and move them to a new hive. You replace the frames you take from the original hive with empty frames so the queen has room to lay more eggs. It's great if you can find your queen in the original hive as you can make sure she stays where she is, but if you can't find your queen, you can either let each new colony make a queen, which they will naturally do in the absence of one or you can add a queen. Since I have failed so many times I decided not to spend anymore money and to let nature take its course and let each hive rear a queen if there wasn't one. A few of the frames had queen cells so we left them on the off chance that a queen wasn't present. There was capped honey already in the hive so we gave each hive a frame or two of honey to help feed them while they transitioned. We also made sure each hive had approximately the same amount of bees. Of course, the foragers that were out foraging were going to come back to the original hive. But, we were hoping any foragers that got dumped in the new hive would reorient themselves and stay with the new hive. Often beekeepers move the new hive several miles away so the foragers in the new hive have to reorient themselves, but I really didn't have the means to do that, so I took a chance.
The original hive recovered quickly and even swarmed about a week ago. I imagine our original queen was left in that hive and one of the queen cells we left as a safety precaution hatched so it swarmed. I'm fine with that because it's still a really strong hive. Well, low and behold, I went out to observe yesterday and saw bees bringing in pollen on the split hive. This video shows foragers coming in and going out. It's still a weak hive as it had to rear a queen and has to build up its population, but I'm encouraged!
Please wish me luck!