Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Buildup and Thoughts on Splitting Hives

The usual iffy winter months of February and March turned out to be mild for the girls this year with no major storms passing through.  The hives have been building up and look like they will be in good shape by the end of April.  In talking with many beekeepers is seems that this was another hard year for the bees and many beekeepers are seeing very high losses.  

From dawn to dusk, they are always working.

There has been is a good selection of flowers available and I have been seeing a lot of pollen coming in.  The cherries and dandelions are out in force right now providing the bulk of resources. We also have been getting short waves of nice weather (as opposed to 24/7 rain) which really gives the hives an opportunity to collect good pollen and fresh nectar.

Cherry blossoms.

Flowering Red Currant

Corylopsis (Winter Hazel)

Hive Splitting as a Management Option for Overwintered Hives

Spring has arrived in soggy northwest fashion bringing with it a variety of blooming flowers and the girls have been busily working them to bring in food to build up their numbers.  Overwintered hives might struggle a bit at first but once they hit that sweet spot they will explode in numbers and can quickly make plans to swarm.  This is the time of year that you will want to maximize the hives buildup to produce the largest workforce possible while suppressing the swarming instinct.  Each hive is a little different in how fast it will build up and it is necessary to make inspections every 7-10 days to check for swarm cells.  However if you are a bit of a lazy beekeeper and/or don't have enough time there is another option to consider as a swarm preventative which is to make a split.

There are many ways to split a hive and the simplest is to equally divide all the resources between the two hives making sure both new hives have eggs and young larvae.  The side that doesn't get the queen will create emergency queen cells from young larvae.  You can also take several frames and the queen from the hive to make a nuc letting the stronger hive make the queen cells.  Timing is important and ideally you want to make a split when the hive is strong enough and there are plenty of drones available.  Some hives will be ready to split in late April and others early June so you have to watch the weather, but you usually should start a split before the first major flow.

After starting a split you need to check back in about a week to make sure that queen cells in the queenless half look good and are close to being capped.  You should see multiple cells which will indicate that everything is going well and a new queen will be emerging in the next week.  At this point you will want to leave the hive alone for 2-3 weeks to allow the new queen to emerge and go on mating flights and eventually start laying.  After the queen starts laying the hive will take another three weeks for these eggs develop into workers and you can confirm the new queen has a good laying pattern.  Pausing for a moment consider the math here and you can see why this is an effective way to prevent swarming as it will take about two months before the hive is adding new bees and building back up again.

There are also a few other advantages to making splits.  You build on the genetics of your overwintered hive and will raise a new locally mated queen.  The queenless hive goes through a brood break which can help with mites and brood diseases.  You now have a nuc backup in case something happens to one of your queens or as a resource you can sell to another beekeeper.  Also the brood break allows the workforce of your queenless hive to focus resources on nectar and pollen collection and can potentially boost your harvest if timed correctly with the flow.  There are also many things that can go wrong when making a hive queenless so be sure to consult with an experienced beekeeper or mentor before starting.  Good luck.

Evergreen Clematis

The Big Leaf Maple is a fast growing northwest native found primarily between the Cascades and the coastline.  They will outgrow the native evergreen trees but at the cost of having brittle branches and a shorter life span.  Often home to a variety of wildlife and mosses they provide summer shade and an inescapable downpour of leaves in fall.  While there are many varieties of maples in the area the Big Leaf Maple is the largest and often grows into large twisted masterpiece of the landscape.  The blooms of these giant trees can create a minor flow if we are lucky enough to get several days of sunshine in a row.  If you find yourself under one of these trees on a sunny spring day be sure to listen for the hum of the bees.

Big Leaf Maple Blooms

Forsythia blooms. I've been seeing the bumble bee queens in these as well.

Daphne odora 


Vinca minor

Aubrieta deltoidea

Daphne laureola in bloom. This may look nice in the garden but it is a noxious weed and unlike many of the others that the bees love, the sap, leaves and berries of this one are toxic for us and pets.

Hives checks (3/30/2013)

Saw the queen and several frames of brood.  The hive is growing and they look like they will be in a good place by the end of April.

Icon Daughter
Saw the queen and several frames of brood.  This hive is building up quickly and saw several patches of drone brood on the way and some newly emerged drones.  I wouldn't be surprised if these girls try to swarm before the end of April.

Solid brood pattern getting capped.  You can see a few drones here as well.

To my surprise I saw a small patch of brood and the queen running around.  I'm not sure how they are still alive with maybe a few hundred bees, but they are.  The lack of storms this month is probably the only reason they are still around.  I've got my fingers crossed for them.

This hive is building up faster than I thought.  They are covering about half the frames in the hive at this point.  They had 2 full frames of drone brood on the way and many drones already running around.  I suspect they will want to swarm before the end of April which is on par with what I've seen before from this queen line.  I guess they didn't get the memo that most other hives died or aren't that far along yet and they need to wait for them to make drones.

Several frames of drones coming in this hive which is a sign they might try for an early swarm.

Here is a shot of the queen herself.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff


  1. Hi Jeff, love your blog! I'm glad you are getting there splitting the first hive. Don't be too concerned by having drones and queens from the same queen. Although the drones have all the genes of their queen, the workers and daughter queens will also have the drone genes the mother queen has mated with. And because the queen mates with a few drones in her mating flight, she has different DNAs stored in her sperm pouch. The eggs laid in the same day from you can make a draft to raise queens can have different drone DNA, so the resulted queens are quite different. From the same batch of queens I had a few completely yellow and others with black tip on the abdomen. The bees know what they are doing. If you have drones, do a queen rearing and split the strong hive. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for the comment Ro-Bot-X. The concern with the drones is waiting long enough so that the Drone Congregation Areas (DCA) ave plenty of drones from multiple different queens/hives so the virgin queen gets genetics from many different hives. The drones I'm seeing now will need another 7-14 days to emerge and then 14 days to become sexually mature. That would means we should start seeing the done levels in the DACs increase around the end of April.