The Never-ending (split) Story

This spring, BnB2 has perplexed me so much.  The colony built up very quickly, filling up the hive and making queen cups early on.  I kept thinking that they were going to swarm, but every time I’d do an inspection, there were no eggs or larvae in the queen cups.  My intent has been to split BnB2 and move some of the colony over to the new Hello Kitty (HK) hive.  I was hoping they would build some queen cells so that I could move them over and they could raise their own queen since having BnB2 genetics seemed like a good thing given how well they’ve done this year.  However, by June, there were no potential queens coming, so I decide to buy a new queen and do the split anyway.

BnB2 & HK before the split

BnB2 & HK before the split

Moving from BnB2 to HK was not going to be as simple as moving the combs because the hives have different shapes, which meant I was going to have to trim the BnB2 combs to fit in HK.  I had already practiced on some empty combs that I had left over from BnB1 after that colony died.  Combs are pretty brittle – especially in top bar hives where they are only supported on the top.  I found that a pair of scissors was the best for doing the trimming on the practice combs – quick and straight cuts.  Occasionally, I’d try to use a knife only to revert back to the scissors.  However, doing this in real time was going to be more difficult with bees climbing all over the combs.  All this was making me appreciate Langstroth hives which have standard sizes and combs can be easily interchangeable.

After two previous failed attempts to split BnB2, on June 18th, I decided I had to take the plunge.  I wanted to take 3-4 frames of brood/eggs and 2-3 frames of pollen and honey.  I already had some capped honey in the old BnB1 combs which I scored to make it easier for them to get into. I decided to put on gloves this day since I was going to be cutting combs with bees climbing all over my hands.  The last thing I wanted to do was get stung on my fingers and drop a comb.  Even with the gloves on, I managed to get stung just above the top of my glove on my bicep which really, really hurt!  I went through the whole hive to see what was available and then worked backwards, taking what I needed. I took some pollen combs and some brood comb that had some honey on them.  Although I examined each frame for the queen, there was no guarantee that I didn’t accidentally move her over to HK.

I made a video of the entire process that I was going to include showing how I cut the combs, but my computer keeps crashing and I wasn’t able to process it.  So, here’s a short clip I took on my iPhone.

I let HK sit in place for the day and that night we move it to the yard next door.  When I looked in the window just before we moved the hive, there were far fewer bees in there than that morning – most of the foragers went back to the original hive. Since they didn’t have any foragers, I decided to feed them some sugar syrup until they could build up.  The next day, I got a new queen from Tim Brod of Highland Honey Bees.  These queens are are not survivor bees (i.e., overwintered in this region), but are raised on stock that summers in Boulder County.   I put the queen in on Saturday, and then on Tuesday, I went in to release her.  Introducing a queen into a hive can be problematic if they don’t like her.  When you release her, you can see if the bees are trying to kill her (brush them away from the cage and see if they hang on like they want to get her).   In this case, they seemed pretty mellow.  There were a couple of supercedure queen cells that the bees had created from some old eggs or larva.  I removed those before I released her to give her a better chance at acceptance.

New queen for HK

First new queen for HK ready to release – note the supercedure cells in the middle of the comb.

I removed the cork from the queen cage and she scooted out onto the nearest comb and back around to the other side.  The next weekend, I went in to check on the queen and found no new eggs, no new larva and no queen!  There weren’t that many bees in there so I don’t think I missed her.  I didn’t see a dead body, so I’m thinking that when she scooted around the other side of the comb, she scooted right on out the entrance since it was right there. So now I had a queenless hive, no new brood to raise a new queen from and a quandry about what to do next.

I decided to get a new queen and try again.  This time I wanted to see if I could find a queen from some survivor stock.  I checked around at a couple of places and finally found that Dean Chapla of Nimbus Road Apiary.  Dean has been working on breeding survivor queens as part of the Colorado Honey Bee Testing Project aimed at bringing resistant honey bee stock that possesses the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene genetics, or VSH to Colorado beekeepers.

I checked the hive one more time on Thursday to make sure there wasn’t a queen and didn’t see her.  I wanted to make sure that there weren’t any laying workers either and didn’t find any eggs at all.  But there seemed to be some larva in some of the cells, particularly some drone cells.  That could be the sign of a laying worker, but I figured these were just left over from the original move.  On Friday, I picked up the new queen from Dean.  I told him my tale of woe and he suggested I move a couple of brood frames over when I put the queen in.   So, I stole a couple more frames from BnB2, put them in my little nucleus hive (nuc) and brought them and the queen over to HK.

Tool (cat litter) box, smoker and nuc with some new brood frames.

Tool (cat litter) box, smoker and nuc with some new brood frames.

When I went through the brood comb to put in the new queen, I found what looked to me like newly capped brood.  So maybe the queen is still in there and I’m just blind!  I also found another supercedure cell that I must have missed in a previous inspection, or maybe they let the first queen lay some eggs and built a new cell from one of those before killing her.  I proceeded as planned anyway – trimmed the 2 new combs from BnB2 and hung the new queen between a couple of combs.   There was the possibility that I took the queen from BnB2, so at this point, I could have anywhere from 1 to 3 queens in this hive.  Dean suggested I leave the cage corked for up to 5 days, so I’m on day 3 right now.

So, now I have to figure out what to do next.  I really don’t want to release the queen and have her get killed if there is already another queen in there.  And, I have to work this week, so I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to go back into the hive.  My current thinking is that if the first queen is in there and is laying nicely, then I’ll take out the queen I got from Dean and make a split with combs from BnB1 and BnB2 into a small 12 frame hive I have and put her in there.  I’m not sure where I’ll put this new hive though – I might have to move the Buddha!   This has been quite an exciting year so far and I’m sure the excitement is far from over.   Come fall, I might have to recombine some of the hives if they are not doing well.  I need to find some more 4-leaf clovers for luck!

 

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4 Responses to The Never-ending (split) Story

  1. Julie says:

    It sounds like Hello Kitty has not been very cooperative, but I suppose that’s what you get when you try to work with a cat. 😉

    When you took the brood from BnB2, did you brush the bees off? Or did you just move all the bees with the comb? If it’s been three days since you moved the comb, you could go into BnB2 and look for eggs. That would help you identify which hive got the queen.

    BTW, I did the same thing as you did — waited for the bees to start making swarm cells before I split. However, after talking with Peter Borst, next year, I plan to make splits as soon as I seen them making drone comb. From what I could gather from him, earlier splits will make more honey and build up more before fall. The bees will make queens from the eggs/larvae in the split just fine.

    Sounds like exciting things are happening Buddha’s Beeyard! Definitely look for more of those 4-leaf clovers! 🙂

    • Don says:

      I feel like I’m herding cats these days! 😉

      I didn’t brush off the bees because I figured that they could use a few more in Hello Kitty. I’m pretty sure the queen is still in BnB2 – I did give each comb a good look-see for her before I removed them. I do plan to go back in and check for eggs and/or emergency cells once the weather breaks. We’ve gone from way too hot weather to cold and rainy. On our recent hive tour, someone had a big magnifying glass with them – I think I need one of those to find eggs! I’m more worried about having the 2 purchased queens in HK than 3, but if I did move her, I guess I could take the queen from Dean (hey that rhymes) that’s still in the cage and put her in BnB2 and let the other 2 duke it out.

      One of the local mentors also starts splits when he sees drone comb – usually back in late March or early April. I should follow up with him to see how that worked out this year given that May was cold and rainy and could have affected queen mating. Unless I need to make up for a failed colony next spring, I don’t think I need to try for more splits to increase next year. I’m having quite a time keeping up with the 4 I have now. This pesky work thing keeps getting in my way! 😉 But if I do, I think Peter’s advice is good to force their hand.

      I hope your new queen is still alive. Patience, grasshopper!

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