This year, our hive is doing wonderfully! The bees are incredible active and the brood and honey are quickly filling up all the hive space we can give them.
A couple weeks ago we checked the bees. At the time our hive only consisted of two large brood boxes. These boxes are meant for the bees to raise brood and honey for the continuance of the colony.
Upon inspection, we found that these boxes were almost completely full. The bees usually work from the center frames out to the outer frames, and all were full of healthy brood and honey except for the two outer frames, which were about half full.
We decided it would be a good time to add our harvest box and queen excluder. The queen excluder is a thin plastic layer with small slits. The slits are large enough to allow worker bees to pass through, but too small for the queen to fit. This prevents the queen from laying eggs in the harvest boxes and keeps the harvest honey clean.
After adding the harvest box, we began second guessing our decision. At this point in our bee keeping, we are more interested in expanding our number of colonies, than having a good honey harvest. We’ve been looking for a good opportunity to split our hive and decided that maybe we should concentrate on that.
To understand how to split a hive, you have to understand a bit about the bee’s instinct to swarm.
If you don’t give bees ample room in their hive, they will swarm to find a new home with more space. If they swarm half (or more) of your bees will take off with the old queen. The bees left behind will sense that the queen is gone and make a new queen by feeding royal jelly to a larvae.
When you split a hive in a controlled setting, you force the bees into a swarming situation. It’s best to split the hive when it’s getting very full. The bees will begin preparing to make another queen and you will know this by finding queen cells in your hive.
To properly split a hive, you should add a frame with one of these queen cells to a new hive box. Then alternate empty frames with frames filled with brood from the original colony.
Our mistake came in that we added the harvest box right when they were “probably” getting ready to begin preparing to swarm.
This immediately gave the bees more room in their box and they lost the desire to leave to find a larger home.
But after inspection of some of the brood frames we found that there were plenty of brood in all stages of life. Even some very young larvae.
We decided to split the hive anyway in the hopes that the new hive would sense the absence of a queen and feed one of the eggs/young larvae royal jelly to create a new queen in the new hive.
We figure, worst case scenario is that the bees will leave the new hive and return to the old.
Right now the bees are attending to both hives. We will know if the split worked if we check the new hive in a few weeks and see evidence of a queen cell, or brood in the new, empty cells.