Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making a Split

Today we made a split from one of our strong beehives.

We have currently six hives, some of which are doing pretty well and a couple of which are weak. A hive's natural instinct is to dramatically build up the number of bees in the hive throughout the spring. If the bees start to feel too crowded, they develop a new queen and then send her out with a swarm. Swarms are basically a colony that cleaves off the main hive and start a new hive.

Swarming is great for the bees --its how the reproduce-- but it slows things down for the beekeeper. If the hive swarms you are left with a diminished hive. Whats worse is that sometimes hives swarm multiple times.

That's where making a split come in. A split is a sort of artificial swarming process managed by the beekeeper. Essentially it means taking frames of brood (fertilized bee egg) from a strong hive, plus a frame each of honey and pollen and putting them in a new hive box, called a nuc (short for nucleus, since it is the nucleus of a new hive.) The trick is that you put the nuc box above the hive you took all these frames from with a queen excluder between them. (The excluder is a wire grate sized such that only worker bees can crawl through, exluding the queen.) That way, the worker bees can go up and tend the brood, but the queen is kept with the original hive.

After 24 hours, you just take the new box off the top of the hive and place it on its own. Presto, you've got a new beehive. The nurse bees tending the brood will stay with the nuc. You have to wait about 5 weeks or so to verify that the new hive has successfully produced a new laying queen.We can confirm that when we see new egg hatched in the comb. We might make a couple more splits from other hives, depending on how they build up in the next few weeks.

The photo above shows the split housed in a nuc box placed over the hive from which it came.

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