Hive Splitting Day
Today was one of those days where I was excited and nervous all at the same time, it was the day I had decided to split our overwintered bee hive into two bee hives. For the last couple of months I’ve been watching the hive on warm sunny days, and I have been seeing a lot of activity. This is a good sign that the hive is strong and has a good population of bees. Last week I did my first hive inspection of the year. There were a few reasons for the inspection. One was to make sure there was enough honey and pollen in the hive and that they did not need any supplemental feeding to get them through until more flowers start blooming in about a month from now. Another reason for the inspection was to make sure the colony was “queenright” which means that the queen is laying eggs in a nice tight pattern and that there are all stages of developing bees (eggs, larvae, and capped brood) present in the hive. One last reason for the inspection was to make sure that there was enough room in the hive for the queen to lay her eggs and for the worker bees to bring in and store pollen and honey. So as you can see, it was quite a long to-do list I had for the first inspection of the year.
As often happens when I'm inspecting the bees, things don’t always go as planned. I conducted the hive inspection on a day when Sean wasn’t here, and not long after I started I quickly realized that I could have really used a second pair of hands. The top box on the hive is the honey super. The super is the type of box you put on the hive in the summer when the bees are storing lots of honey. I had left the super, which was almost completely filled with honey, on the hive over the winter so that the hive would have enough food to make it through their first winter. As I started the inspection I could see that most of the honey had been eaten and the queen had been laying eggs in the super and there was lots of brood (developing bees). The next step in the inspection was to remove the super and see what was going on in the hive boxes below, which would typically be filled with brood and lesser amounts of honey and pollen. I gradually was able to pry apart the two boxes, which was quite a challenge since as I’ve mentioned before the bees are quite fond of gluing the various components of the bee hive together with a very sticky substance called propolis. As I lifted the super up and away from the hive box below, I could see that there were quite a lot of bees in the box below. I also could see that the bees had built a lot of comb in the space between the two boxes and as a result there were lots of bees hanging on the bottom of the super that could be crushed if I were to set it down away from the hive to inspect the box below. Drats! Had I been prepared for this situation I could have made preparations to have an empty hive box available to set it on, but I had not anticipated this so rather than risk squishing a bunch of bees I decided to end the inspection for the day and return next week when Sean would be there to assist.
Fast forward a week and it was time for the next inspection. In the last week I had been seeing posts about bee swarms happening, and since the two top boxes in the hive had appeared quite full and I had been seeing lots of activity outside of our hive I was prepared to split the hive based on what we saw during today’s inspection. The queen and the rest of the bees typically move up in the hive as the lower boxes become full of brood and honey. They will also backfill the empty comb as bees hatch and honey is eaten, but once the hive becomes too full for them to go about their business of raising more bees, a swarm is inevitable. Rather than risk losing half or more of our bee colony to a swarm, I had decided that if the lowest hive box was as full as the upper two boxes had been, it was time to split the hive in order to hopefully prevent them from swarming.
We did the inspection today, and the hive was packed with bees. After prying apart the lower two boxes, which was quite a task since we had not separated them since installing the hive a year ago, the bees seemed a bit more agitated than usual. I had to work very slowly and carefully to avoid squishing bees as I worked to remove a few frames for inspection. It wasn’t long before a few of the guard bees began landing on our veils (the hats we wear with the screened front). I also had a few bees landing on my jeans which they don’t usually do. We decided it was time to finish up quickly and close the hive back up. We moved the middle hive box which was full of bees and brood and food stores to the new hive and put an empty hive box on top of it for the new colony to expand into. We also put an empty hive box on top of the original hive to give them some more growing room. Since one of the hives is now without a queen, that hive will need to raise a new queen. The next step for me will be to inspect both hives in a few weeks to look for signs that one hive has a laying queen and that the other hive is raising a new queen. As I’ve come to learn with beekeeping, this will be another one of those tasks that is easier said than done. But I’m doing the best I can, and although the learning curve is steep, it is truly a fascinating hobby and one that I hope to be doing for many years to come.