Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Basics of Splitting Hives - Creating Nucs

Paul Kelly, is an Apiarist that works in the Field Laboratory, at the Department of Environmental Biology, at the University of Guelph, Ontario.

He attended our Beekeeper's meeting this month (Middlesex, Elgin & Oxford Beekeepers' Association) and he talked about some of the studies and surveys carried out over the last two years and gave a demonstration on how to create splits to make up for winter losses.

I did my best to take notes - so I can't guarantee they are completely accurate.
Also, sorry I have no photo of Paul to show from the meeting, but here's a photo of him from the summer when he won the bee beard competition at Clovermead's Apiaries (blog from 19 Feb 2009 - http://thebeejournal.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html).

My excuse for the lack of photos is that I was too focused on chatting with the beekeepers' and bidding in the Silent Auction to take photos. But I did win this amazing book printed in 1935 and a box of past issues of Bee Culture magazine. SCORE!!! This book is still in print and I have a new copy but it was a real thrill to get an old copy for my bee book collection. (the other photos below are from the book and don't relate to Paul's talk).

In Ontario, it is agreed that hives need to have their fall treatment done in August. Waiting to Sept/Oct is too late and a couple beekeepers who reported losses of 80% had done their treatments after Aug.

Paul mentioned that making up splits is essential to help make up for colony losses.

Note that these notes apply to beekeeping in Ontario. April and May is too early to create splits because the bees have not built up their population yet. The methods to divide a colony vary considerably, depending on the circumstances.

A new colony needs to be a full strong colony by the fall. It can be determined to be a full and strong colony if it has created a surplus of honey.

Splits should be done in late May/June and not after June. Splits that are done earlier will be smaller splits.

There are two kinds of colonies: 1 = Product and 2 = Replacements for Losses.

When dividing a hive and introducing a new queen, use light smoke so as to not scatter the bees.
Find the queen: Remove the second frame from the deep to be divided to create some space. Scan the frames quickly for the queen - looking for differences. Remove another frame and look down in box at the frames - the queen will avoid light and most often she'll be in the box moving to the next frame. Focus only on looking for the queen and nothing else. Once the queen is found, either put her in a queen cage or set the frame aside (Paul recommended resting the queen frame in front of the entrance so that if she falls off the frame she can go back inside the hive.

For the new nucleus hive, pick frames from the strong hive with both brood and bees--2 frames as a minimum. In June 3 to 4 frames are used to create a nuc. You will need to add bees too by shaking bees from some of the other frames because there will not be enough bees on the just the frames alone to keep the cluster warm during the cool nights. Also add an empty frame to the nuc plus 1 or 2 frames of honey and pollen.

Honey supers are put on the 1st of May, otherwise the deep will become overcrowded.
Paul puts a screen over the entrance of the new nuc hive to keep the bees inside the nuc box and he recommends taking it to another bee yard (another location farther than 3 kms) if possible. This would prevent the bees from straying back to their original hive.

One or two days later you can introduce a local queen. He did not recommend letting a weak colony raise it's own queen, stating that a weak colony won't raise a good queen.
If the new nuc is left longer than a week without a new queen introduced, they will create their own queen cells.

On the second day, open the screen from the front to release the bees. They will reorient themselves to their new location.
After introducing the queen, do not disturb the hive for one full week. If you open the hive before one week, the bees might ball and kill the queen.

After one week, when doing an inspection, it's not necessary to look for the queen. Just look for eggs.

A question was asked about letting the bees create their own queen and Paul's comment was that if bees are left to create their own queen, the bees will become mean.
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