July In The Hive – More About Hive Splits

Example of Bee Hive Split (Not My Hives…)

Ordinarily, I would be giving you routine advice about maintaining your hives in July – do bi-weekly inspections, add honey supers as needed, be on the lookout for honey robbers, and harvest your honey when appropriate.  (Remember bees need at least 60 pounds of honey – two shallow supers – for their own consumption during the winter.)

But my July was anything but ordinary. I lost a hive of Italian bees and discovered I had a Buckfast hive that was overcrowded. As a result I did a hive split to make two hives out of one.

There are a number of reasons to do a hive split, the most common being 1.) to get more hives and 2.) to prevent swarms. I split my boiling Buckfast hive for both of those reasons.

When I first thought of doing a split, I wondered whether it was too late in the season. Typically, splits are done in May or early June after the original hive has had time to build up. I was nearing the middle of July.

Was it too late to do a split?

I checked The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush. According to Michael, you can do a split as late as August, provided you have a good honey flow into the fall.

So I went ahead and did the split on July 12. So far, so good!

I’m going to do an inspection today, and I’ll report back on the status of the new hive later.

Queen Boadicea Has Ascended The Throne!

I know I was supposed to wait a week before checking on whether Queen Boadicea had escaped from the Queen cage, but I just couldn’t. The bees in the new hive were looking particularly orderly, so I had to take a peek.

Empty Queen Cage!

The Queen cage was empty.  The good thing about checking sooner rather than later is that the bees haven’t had a chance to make a lot of messy brace comb in the space where the cage was placed.

But was She alive?  I checked one or two frames before I found her, playing with her sisters!  She has apparently been accepted by the older girls, and will soon be Large And In Charge!!

What a good day!!

The Queen Is In Residence

Statue of Boadicea near Westminster in London

It was looking like it might rain, so I went ahead and installed the Queen in her new home.

To ensure that Boadicea‘s new subjects accept her, I am using an indirect method of release into the new hive.

There is a white plug of candy in one of the three circular holes in the Queen cage.

White Candy Plug

The Queen and her attendants will eat through the candy over the next few days and escape from the cage. This will give her subjects time to get acquainted with her and accept her as their monarch.

I am smearing wax and honey from the hive on the cage so that Boadicea will pick up the scent of the hive.

Smearing Wax And Honey On The Cage

I am also poking a hole in the candy plug to make it easier for the Queen and her attendants to escape. I’m careful not to stab any bees in the process!

Poking A Hole In The Candy Plug

Finally, I added two small nails to hold the cage in place between the brood frames.

Now I am ready to go!

It was great to hear the loud buzzing of the new colony as I removed the top super. The bees seemed interested in the new Queen and quickly surrounded the cage.

I was happy to see that the bees had already made progress in drawing out the empty frames. On one frame I saw the beginnings of a Queen Cell.

Now I will wait a week and check on the progress of the Queen.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Tomorrow, the extraction of honey from the old hive!

Queen Boadicea Has Arrived!

Thanks to the miracle of UPS, Queen Boadicea and her retinue arrived about an hour ago.

The Queen And Her Attendants

I’m letting them cool off from their trip, and will be installing them in an hour or so.

Here is a better picture of the Queen. She’s the one wearing the yellow dot.

Queen Boadicea Wearing Yellow

More later.

I Couldn’t Walk Away

Okay, I know I said I was going to do a “walk away” split, and let my Buckies create their own Queen.  But I just couldn’t walk away and leave them Queenless.

It takes at least 15 days for them to make a Queen, for her to mate, and then for her to start laying.  And that’s if everything goes perfectly!  I just can’t take that chance, especially after the demise of the Italians.

So, yesterday evening I ordered a Buckfast Queen from BeeWeaver Apiaries in Navasota, Texas, to be delivered by UPS.

Queen Bee In Shipping Box

I’m glad I didn’t dither too long, because BeeWeaver is only selling Queens until July 15, and it is one of the only suppliers of Buckies in the US.

She should be here today or tomorrow.  I’ve named her Boadicea after the 1st century British Warrior Queen.

I’ve decided to put off honey extraction until Friday morning to give the bees a chance to calm down and for my muscles to stop aching. Those boxes are heavy!

More later…

Doing The Split

I have two hives, one in my front garden and one in my back garden.

My Front Garden Hive

I have Buckfast bees in my back garden, and it’s a very established hive.

It’s also a very tall hive. There are two deeps, a medium and two honey supers.

In the past, when the bees needed more room, I just slapped on another super or two. If I keep on going on the same way, pretty soon I’m going to need a ladder.

But the Buckies seem to love it! They haven’t shown any signs of swarming, and they’ve been very productive.

The hive at the White House is tall, so I figured it was okay.

White House Bees

In my front garden, I used to have Italian bees. This was their first year, and they didn’t make it. It was very sad.

So I decided to split the Buckfast hive. I’ve never done a split before. There’s something intimidating about the concept.

I also have a confession to make. My Buckfast bees are so healthy and happy, I leave them alone for the most part. I’m of the “if they’re okay, don’t mess with them” school of beekeeping.

But my empty hive was making me sad. So I took out my copy of  The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush and started reading up.

I decided to do what Michael calls “a walk away split.”  Basically, you do a split without giving the new hive a Queen. Then you walk away and let them sort things out. After four weeks you check to see if you have a laying Queen.

When I opened the Buckfast hive this morning, I realized it was a good thing I was doing a split. The hive was absolutely to the rafters with bees and honey!  They need fewer bees and honey and more room to expand.

Honey extraction was going to have to wait until tomorrow though. Today, I had to find at least ten frames of brood and honey to form the core of the new hive.

I found it in the medium super, which was perfect because the new hive has all medium boxes.

I carefully placed the 10 frames in the new hive boxes, and gave the bees six more empty frames to build on. Then I shut up the hive and crossed my fingers. Split accomplished!

But I still have the problem of not enough room in the original hive.

Tonight I’ll be building frames. LOTS of frames!

And tomorrow I’ll be removing at least half of the honey frames for extraction. I’ll replace them with empty frames, and the bees will have plenty of time to make more honey before fall.

If this works, I may never buy another package of bees again!!