Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Walk Away Splits and Swarms

They say a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.  And it can be.

It's swarm season.  The problem I have is a new job that doesn't have a lot of flexibility to get time off.  Then add in Mother Nature not cooperating with sunny weather on the weekends.  Its a recipe for bees in trees.....

I have a few hives that have a stronger swarm genetic.  I know who they are and I know I have to watch them carefully.  They're always the first bees to swarm in spring.  They are good producers and very gentle, making for smoke free occasions when working the hive so I guess one fault against them isn't quite so bad.

The hive I call Echo started off as a tiny swarm from one of my hives.  There were about 200 bees in this swarm.  Most beekeepers wouldn't be bothered with a hive this tiny, especially late in the year but I'm a hobby beekeeper so I can give more time to these things.  The swarm was happy to move into a super I set out for them and after about two weeks they had a queen present in the hive and laying eggs.  Note this hive would have been the fourth or so swarm that left the main hive and that's why it was small.  They also had a virgin queen.

But they sure have made up for their smallness.  They are doing exceptionally well.  And it was time for a split.

The first goal in a split is to find the queen.  The hive is in four medium supers.  I removed the top one and set it down.  I start by removing an outside honey frame, check for the queen, and set it aside.  Then frame by frame I lift out and search for the queen.  Then on to the next box, removing it and setting it down (not on top of the previous box).  After searching all 4 boxes I could not find the queen.  They certainly had 15 or so queen cells capped and ready to hatch.

My queen mojo had failed me.  Normally I'm a really good queen spotter.

While pulling frames its unfortunate but often a lovely queen cell will get torn open.  That's what happened to two queen cells.  One queen came right out into my hand and she was running.  I quickly took her over to a hive that I knew was queenless and held her up to the opening.  She ran right inside.  Another queen got out of her cell and I put her in another hive that I had previously split and I knew was producing a queen--that hive was actually the mother hive that Echo originated from.

I found another cells that was open and the queen was gone.  She would have climbed out and gone down in the hive.  Later that day the bees put a queen out in front of the hive dead.  She had no injuries so I can only assume that she was not ready to be hatched yet.Now I had waited all day to be able to open this hive.  It had been cooler and very overcast all day, threatening rain.  All I dared do in the yard was put supers on the hives just to give the bees more room.  But when I took Echo's inner cover off I could hear queens piping.

Piping is a high pitched peeping sound that queens make to challenge each other.  It means as soon as I hatch the fight is on!  It also means that these queens are ripe for hatching at any moment.

So when the weather finally warmed up a bit and the sun started to come out and the bees started to fly I went right to work splitting this hive.

But after all that searching, no queen.  Instead I opted to split the 4 boxes evenly with supplies:  Frames of honey each, frames of pollen each, frames of capped larvae and open larvae each.  I shook bees into the split.  Most of all I made sure both boxes had queen cells.  I closed them up and that was it.  Now I had two supers for each hive.

It's called a Walk Away Split.  I set them up and then leave them to sort out who the new queen will be.  After a week or so I'll check back to make sure they each have a laying queen.  If the weather stays rainy (and it has) it may be a couple weeks before they have mated queens.

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