Contributed by Tyson Hermes
Editor's note: Tyson's story is quite timely as we prepare for the spring season. Many of us will lose some hives for various reasons over the winter slumber and we encourage you to make a proactive plan on how you will recover from any losses. Splitting your hives is the easiest and cheapest way, but you want to have your plan from the start as all the resources in the original hive are needed for such an expansion. Happy Holidays!
Coming out of the Winter and into Spring of 2013, I found that 3 out of my 4 hives had died. This was a difficult reality for a new beekeeper. It was also a difficult Winter for my hives, (I believe) mainly because of the fluctuation in temperatures we experienced. I counted 8 days throughout the Winter where temperatures were 60 degrees F or higher during a beautiful sunny Winter day, then plummeted to near freezing at night. Each time, wiping out a handful of bees that had released from the cluster, for a cleansing flight, or to forage.
My only hive that survived obviously got my full attention. I decided to split the hive to increase my colonies. The following is the detail of what I did…
On a side note, I like to document the dates when things are blooming in my area. I find this to be a much better gauge of the bees’ schedule than the actual date. For instance, this past Spring occurred 3 – 4 weeks LATER than the Spring of 2012 according to the blooms of dandelions, daffodils, honeysuckle, and black locust.
On April 30th, the Lilac and Wysteria had just begun to bloom. I knew we were still about a week away from the Black Locust bloom (the premier nectar source in my area, picture below). I decided to split my winter survivor. The hive was 3 deeps tall. Two deeps were from the Winter, and one was added when the dandelions began to bloom. I opened the hive, found the queen (and making sure there were eggs and brood present), removed the entire frame with the queen on it, and placed it in a 5-frame nuc. I also put one frame of brood, one frame of pollen, one frame of nectar/ honey, and one empty drawn frame into the nuc.
I returned to check on both the hive, and the nuc after 1 week. I was pleased to see that the original queen was still in the nuc, and prolific as HECK! There were 3 frames of brood and eggs. I went ahead and upgraded the 5-frame nuc to a 10-frame deep.
Next I opened the original hive. It was amazing! After 1 week of the removal of the queen, there had to have been 25 capped queen cells in there! I began to divvy the queen-cell frames among four (4) 5-frame nucs. Some of the frames had 2 or 3 queen cells on them. I left them all intact, and figured nature would sort things out. Again, each nuc received a frame of brood, a frame of pollen, a frame of nectar, and a frame of empty comb. The original hive had at least ten (10) queen cells in there. Some beekeepers say this is risky (queens may hurt each other, or swarm), but I decided to let nature and the bees determine the best queen for the hive. Upon the completion of each nuc, I lightly stuffed some grass in the entrance in hopes of keeping the bees from drifting back to the original hive.
From here, I checked the nucs weekly. Many times I could not find the queen. Sometimes she is hard to find when she is young, because she is not much bigger than the workers. Don’t worry. The more important thing I was looking for was eggs and brood. This is a sign that not only is the queen present, but that she has successfully mated.
After about 1 month, all four nucs had successfully mated queens, as well as the original hive. I marked the queens with a “red” dot to signify their age, and to make them easier to find. The original “white-dot” queen had continued to flourish. So, the ONE Winter surviving hive became SIX hives!
Now, an important side note… These split colonies did fine collecting honey and pollen to sustain themselves. Throughout the course of the season they each built up to fill 2 deep 10-frame hive boxes. However, I never felt that there was an abundance of honey, to the point where I felt comfortable harvesting anything. It is important with Spring Splits, to look forward to next year. I hope all of these hives will make it through Winter.
My Spring 2014 plan is to continue to grow my apiary. If only four (4) hives survive, I will use 2 hives for honey production, and split the other 2.
I am already anxious for Spring’s arrival. I plan on being very busy as soon as the Lilac and Wysteria blooms. I hope this article gives you the courage to try! Remember to KEEP NOTES! Please feel free to contact me if you would like help. Email, or phone: 859-992-2470.