Installing Bees in the hive
When your package bees arrive, they will come with instructions forinstalling them in the hive, but let’s go over the process briefly so that you’ll know what to expect beforehand.
First, of course, you’ll want to be sure that your hive is completed and ready. Have it situated in the location where you plan to keep the bees so that you don’t have to move it after the bees are installed.
Once the bees arrive, place them in a cool, dark place where they won’t be disturbed. Plan on installing them in the hive late in the afternoon.
When it’s time to install them, mix up some sugar water made of 1 part sugar and 1 part warm water. About a pint should be plenty. Put some in a spray mister, and spray it on the sides of the wire cage. You’ll be able to see the bees licking it up. Don’t worry about spraying in on the bees; they’ll lick it off of each other. Keep applying the sugar water to the cage until the bees are no longer taking it up.
Take the package of bees to your hive, and remove 4 or 5 frames from one side of the hive. Also put your entrance reducer and feeder in place, with the feeder jar full of sugar syrup. You can go ahead and put on your protective gear now, but it’s likely that the bees will be extremely docile. And this is the ONE time you’ll work your bees without needing to bother with the smoker.
Open the package and take out the feed can and the queen cage. There will be a small cork at one end of the queen cage. Take out the cork, and poke a small hole through the candy in the queen cage. You do NOT want to make a hole large enough for the bees to get through; use a toothpick or a small diameter nail. Wedge the queen cage in between a couple of frames, with the screen of the cage exposed to the bees.
Now pour the bees into the empty space in the hive created by the removal of the frames. Jostle the cage some to dislodge as many bees as you can. Since the bees are damp from the sugar water, they likely won’t be flying much. As the bees spread out in the hive, carefully replace the frames, and close the hive up.
Leave the bees alone for 5 days (keep an eye on the feeder jar, though. If they empty it, refill it.). Then, open the hive (using your smoker), and check to see that the queen is out of her cage. Normally, the bees will chew through the candy in the cage and release her, but if that hasn’t happened, go ahead and release her yourself.
In about another week, open the hive again to verify that the queen is laying eggs. You don’t have to find the queen, just look for the eggs in the bottom of the cells. If she’s not laying, contact the supplier of the bees. Otherwise, congratulations: your first honey bee colony is established!http://www.bees-and-beekeeping.com/buy-bees.html
Feed Your Bees
Starving to death is surely a horrible way to die, and who is not to say that a beekeeper who allows his bees to enter the winter without enough food for them to make it through the winter is not some kind of idiot? In most cases, a colony of bees needs about 70 pounds of honey, 14 capped deep frames, or 21 capped medium frames, to make it from now to April. Do your colonies have that much stores on board?
For the benefit of both beginners and experienced beekeepers, let me review how to feed your bees now that it is October, when there could be severe robbing on a flight day. This is NOT the time to feed 1:1 thin sugar syrup, but the bees need sugar syrup similar to honey which is 2:1 heavy syrup, 2 pounds of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water. That is so concentrated that it is difficult to get 2 pounds of sugar dissolved in any heated water unless the water is BOILING. Further, you dare not try to add sugar to boiling water while it is on the stove because you will probably burn the sugar and caramelize it like making fudge, which will make bees SICK. A good beekeeper will use a thermometer, dissolve 1 pound of sugar in a pint of hot water, bring that solution to a BOIL at 212°F, and then add another pound of sugar with a lot of stirring. (A real pain in the fanny, but so is anything that is of value). Those are the basic formula and rules.
What type of feeder are you going to use? There are basically 5 different types of feeders, but I personally think an upside down glass jar or pail is the ONLY one to use because there are far too many problems with any of the other 4 types. I will explain. By my standards, the ENTRANCE feeder is a total joke. It is not big enough, it attracts all kinds of robbers, but mainly bees will NOT leave a warm cluster to go down to the cold front entrance to get feed! It should NEVER be used for anything but firewood. The HIVE TOP feeder is a fine feeder in WARM WEATHER, but is totally useless in cold weather because bees will starve to death rather than break a warm cluster to go to food. There is the BAGGIE feeder that holds one or two gallon plastic bags of sugar syrup, but it suffers the same complaint as the Hive Top feeder that bees will not leave a warm cluster to travel several inches to the bags of sugar syrup. Lastly, there is the DIVISION BOARD feeder which is the worst of all feeders for use in cold weather; because the beekeeper has to totally open the hive to either inspect or refill the feeder, if it is warm enough for the bees to go to the feeder, many bees drown in the syrup, and like the Entrance, Hive Top, and Baggie feeders, bees will not leave a warm cluster and travel several inches to the Division Board feeder in cold weather.
Go to a deli and ask the owner for empty gallon, GLASS jars that held dill pickles, pigs feet, mustard, or potato salad. He trashes them, but give him a jar of your honey and he will save them for you. Why GLASS, and not PLASTIC? When turned upside down, the weight of the sugar syrup tends to cause the plastic shape to collapse, and suddenly the syrup runs into the hive like "dumping a pail of water". Drill about 4 holes in the jar lid using a bit no larger than 1/16" or 3/32". A hole 1/8" is too large and the syrup might run all over the bees, which will kill them if clustered. If there is no emergency for you to feed, you simply invert the gallon jar over the hole in the inner cover. I put two little sticks, about 1/4" in diameter, near either end of the inner cover hole ON TOP OF THE FRAMES, so that the weight of the jug of sugar syrup can't bend the inner cover down on top of the frames below it. If you need to give the bees a LOT of syrup in a hurry, do away with the inner cover, and invert 1, 2, 3, or even 4 gallon jugs of syrup directly on top of the 10 frames and surround these jars with an empty deep hive body or 2 medium hive bodies to keep out the wind, rain, or snow. Feeding this way is so easy, because the jars are sitting right on top of the frames that hold the bees and the bees can feed themselves and store away feed without breaking cluster! Just in case you don't really understand bees "clustering" or the term "tight cluster": The wing muscles of a honey bee become paralyzed at temperatures below 50°, so when the outside temperature drops below 50°, bees think about "huddling up" to keep warm. When the temperature inside the hive gets down to about 40°, bees begin to cluster together tightly, and won't even move a distance of just 1-2 inches away from the cluster in fear of losing cluster warmth and becoming even leg paralyzed so they can't move at all and die. 1-2 inches is not very much distance, and that is very reason that the ENTRANCE feeder, HIVE TOP feeder, BAGGIE feeder, and DIVISION BOARD feeder all FAIL TO FEED BEES when it is cold, because the bees just can't travel the 5"-6" from the cluster to these feeders!
Lastly, don't tell me or others that a cold winter killed your bees, because you are just showing your lack of knowledge about bees. COLD temperatures, not even 60° below zero, killed healthy bees in tests conducted by numerous bee scientists, and this has been well documented in numerous bee books. Winter losses are primarily due to lack of AVAILABLE food, disease, mites (particularly the tracheal mite), death of an old queen, a hive weak in population going into the winter, lack of ventilation and DAMPNESS. Every colony should have an upper entrance at the inner cover level to release the damp exhaled breath of the clustered bees. Don't think of keeping warmth in a bee hive like keeping warmth in your house. Recently, we have learned that a SCREENED bottom board provides more ventilation and hence better winter protection for bees than the standard wooden bottom board. Talk to the working bee scientists and bee researchers of today if you don't believe this. Become a student of new things in our CHANGING TIMES.
So, let me be clear, don't be a fool and let your bees die of starvation, because you were too lazy to feed them! I have given you fair warning because I have seen a lot of light-weight colonies out there that could be saved by feeding heavy sugar syrup in October and November!
I hope you don't think this article is just the "prattlings of unnecessary beekeeping stuff" and that all these blunt statements are idle talk! All I'm saying is tend to the needs of your bees and if they're light in stores provide food for them, it will be your JOY to do so as a genuine beekeeper!
There are a number of reasons for making splits and a number of ways of making them. The main reasons for making splits are:
to increase the number of producing hives either in the current year or in the following year
To reduce the size of colonies to discourage swarming and to put off 'peaking' until the expected flow.
Control of mites
To produce income from sale of nucs.
There are many ways to make splits, but most ways are variations on the following:
Splitting a two storey hive in half and
selecting brood and feed from a colony (or colonies) and making up nucs or full size splits.
The term 'nuc' refers to a split or small colony that does not yet fill a standard 10 frame or 8 frame brood chamber. Nucs generally are designated as 1 frame, 2 frame, etc., with 3 frame being the minimum viable size if the temperatures are expected to approach freezing. One frame nucs can work, but are risky and often have poor results.
The time of year and size of the splits will determine how much honey the splits will make in the first year, if any. It will also determine whether they will be trouble free or a waste of time, effort and bees. Generally the earlier and the larger the split, the more they will produce and the easier they will be to manage, assuming that pollen and nectar are available in the field at time of splitting. A minimum of six weeks before a target flow is considered minimum lead time.
Adequate feed - both pollen and syrup or honey - must be available at all times in copious amounts in splits for them to be successful. Dry, hard capped combs of old feed may possibly be okay for a full strength colony, but nucs need liquid feed open, and near the brood. Honey in the hive is not the same as honey in the bee. If there is no nectar in open cells around the brood, your bees are starving, no matter that there may be a flow in progress, or that the hive is heavy. Nucs often need feeding during a flow, if best results are desired. We try to feed splits until they are ready to super.
Warmth is essential. Use entrance reducers until June, and don't expect overly small splits to amount to anything. Remember - you can always go back and split again and again, but not if the colony doesn't prosper. Ideally, bees seem to do best when they occupy about 80 or 100% of their hive space without crowding and burr comb building (when observed on a 72 degree day), and they have a little empty comb to work in. The challenge in beekeeping is that this condition is not at all stable, and the colony size often doubles almost overnight.
This 'exploding' happens when a large hatch of brood comes out. (See discussion of queens and laying cycles). Being able to anticipate when a hatch or a flow will demand more space is an art. Figure about three weeks after the first warm spell (80 degree F days and 40 degree F nights) when pollen is available that there will be a large hatch. This is because the queen will lay strongly and the bees will feed a lot of brood during the warm spell. All that worker brood begins hatching 21 days later.
for Splitting or Reversing
Brood must be available in all stages in both brood boxes of a two storey hive for the first two types of splits to work well. One way of ensuring this is to reverse at least a week before splitting.
Hives for side by side and takeway splits should be selected by tipping the two boxes forward and looking on the bottom bars and floor. If on a 72 degree day there are not bees covering the bottoms of at least six frames, the hive is not ready to split.
Reversing: This is advisable only if there are bees covering at least several bottom bars, indicating some brood in the lower box. This is a general guide-line and some latitude may be appropriate, depending on date and climate. We keep bees in Southern Alberta, Canada. Apple trees bloom May 15th here, and early May is our best splitting time. We may have occasional frost right into June, although May 24th is generally considered the time to safely plant a garden.
Reversing ensures brood will be raised in both boxes and expands the brood area - particularly with older queens, which are less inclined to lay throughout the hive . It also encourages reorganizing of feed in the hive and is thus stimulative. Moreover it ensures that the lower parts of all frames are used by the bees, reduces the honey barrier at the top of the hive, and makes the beekeeper realise when a hive is too light (starving) or too heavy (honey bound).
Be very careful about reversing too early in the season, hives that are not covering combs in both boxes because a very real danger of damage to the brood and colony exists if the weather is at all cool.
I am no longer recommending reversing in most cases. One thing that keeps queens from going down is the excessive scraping of top and bottom bars. The gap that results discourages the queen from going down and since we have stopped scraping the ladder comb from these wooden parts, we have less burr comb (sideways between frames), and have less need to reverse.
Side by Side Splits
The first two types of splits are best done in mid-May. In our country (Central Alberta) splits made before May 24th seem to produce as well or better than other similar colonies which are not split, provided that the hives are good and strong when split (See feeding protein supplement).
We almost always place a made-up empty brood chamber under each half of these two types of splits to allow for expansion and to allow room in case the split is made from the heavy half of the overwintered hive (unless we split a bit later and super, i.e. for comb honey). This way, the extra space is below, and does not cause much loss of heat. We then reverse and feed again as soon as the queen is laying and weather and flow conditions warrant.
Frame feeders are used both top and bottom and we feed liberally. We aim to keep our doubles at about 45 to 50 kg total weight all spring. This breaks down to 10 kg + 10 kg for boxes and combs, 2-4 kg for bees, 5 kg for lid and floor, and the balance - 20 kg or so, for pollen and honey. This is about 8 frames of feed. On all our splits, we use entrance reducers until June. Interestingly enough, our ideal weight going into winter is only 10 or 15 kg heavier -- 60 kg, measured in October.
Side by side splits
Side by side splits are splits made by placing two floors close together directly in front of a two storey existing wintered hive and placing one empty brood box on each new floor. One half of the old colony then goes on top of each. See diagram below. For cells, the other methods detailed below are usually superior.
In the case of a four pack palletized operation, splits can be made on the ground in front. Of necessity, the new hives will form a close-spaced row of four in front of the pallet. In the case that one hive is not strong enough to split, the other can still be split with no serious drifting resulting. The extra hives can later be removed from the yard and the remaining hives lifted onto the pallet.
We also have found that simply placing a floor on the ground beside each of the hives on the pallet and splitting onto it -- while leaving the one half on the original stand -- works just fine. This reduces the lifting and the splits can be removed to another location later, on a cool day when they are not flying much.
It doesn't matter on what kind of day these splits are actually made because even if the bees are flying, they will divide fairly evenly between the halves of the splits .
The queenless half should be given a queen, although, given 14 days, they will have their own - usually a pretty good one if there are eggs in the split, populations and stores are good and the weather is co-operative. (Around swarming season this method works well).
It is possible to just split a hive and walk away. Usually bees will raise a queen.
It takes 16 days to raise a queen from an egg.
If the hive begins immediately from a 1 day old larva (4 days old from the egg), the queen should hatch in another 12 or so.
It takes a week more for the new queen to get properly mated and laying enough that the results are obvious.
Compare that to a mated queen in a cage that can take 5 -- or more -- days to get out of the cage and another 5 to get laying well.
It is clear that under ideal conditions the use of a mated queen can have about a one week advantage over the split method described here.
However, since it takes ideal conditions to de-queen and introduce a mated queen successfully, and the side-by-side method can even be done in the rain, conditions will determine if the mated queen has a significant time advantage in real life.
Moreover, a ripe queen cell can be introduced to each half at time of splitting and reduce the time required under his method to about 11 days. 11 days is very comparable to the time that it takes a mated queen to get going.
Success under this method is also comparable to use of mated queens and runs over 80% -- typically up to about 95%.
This method can work very well with the right timing and conditions, under the hand of an observant beekeeper.
Here is a link to a sci.agriculture.beekeeping discussion on the matter
The major problem with this method is the 21-day broodless period (14 days queenless + 7 days to mate and start laying), so they have to be made early to make to reasonable strength in time for for the flow.
(This 21 day period might offer a good opportunity to use Apistan® to best effect).
Popping in (protected) cells at time of splitting reduces this 21-day delay to as little as 11, which is not a whole lot worse than the five or so that is average for mated queen introductions -- plus whatever time it takes her to get laying.
Moreover, there is a pent-up effect from the queenless period. The nurse bees get a rest and are really ready to go when the first eggs are laid and the hive really broods up fast when that new queen comes on-stream. In the more normal queenright half, the hive and queen may not be quite as enthusiastic. We have observed that established queens tend to lay in fits and starts during the spring.
From my memory of years when this was the only method of splitting we used, the splits that raised a new queen usually overtook the half with the old queen by July 1st.
If we pop in grafted cells, there also is the advantage of improving the stock -- assuming we picked a good mother...
One thing about the walk-away splits that people may not appreciate is that it can be done anytime you happen to be in the yard, with no requirement for timing, waiting for queens, etc. If you are there and a hive needs splitting, you just split it. If you don't have a floor, use a lid for a floor. If you don't have a lid, use whatever you can find. If you are fast enough, you may not even need a veil (How fast can you run?). Fix things later when you come back.
This one advantage often puts these splits a week to ten days ahead of other splits at the start, if the other method means ordering and waiting for a queen. That makes the final outcome close.
It is also an ideal solution to hives with swarm cells started. If you bust such hives in half, they are already on the way and you will have new queens in a shorter time than if they have to start from scratch. If you give each half a second brood box at the time of splitting, you will seldom see any more indication of swarming in either half.
Introducing Queens into Splits
There are several recommended methods of introducing a queen to the new splits:
The most obvious is to simply look for the old queen, then insert a new mated queen or ripe cell into the queenless half which is right next to it. This is slow, frustrating work, unsuited to the scheduling of a commercial operation.
Another method is to wait until the fourth day and then look for eggs and add a queen to each queenless half. This does leave one split queenless for about a week, including introduction time. Moreover it requires two visits and the second one may be in the rain.
If ripe cells are abundantly available, the simplest solution is to just immediately (or when convenient within several days) stick a cell -- in a cell protector -- between the top bars of each split without checking for queens. The half that requires a queen will have one laying by about eleven days, and the other will likely reject the emerging virgin, but will sometimes allow the new queen to supersede the original. Acceptance rates with ripe cells is, on average, comparable to mated queens and the cost and labour is much less. Moreover you can easily raise cells from your own stock.
The main advantage of side by side splits is that if one is inserting mated queens, the work of identifying the queenless half is simplified greatly. The other is that this can be done on hot days when bees could not be transported without a mess. Extra hives can be moved out when convenient - possibly by another crew and truck when yards are available for them. Splitting can then proceed more quickly. The disadvantage is messy looking yards (temporarily).
Two queening can also be accomplished by stacking the splits back up when the new queen is laying, or some people use a special manifold box to combine the hives under a single stack of supers and excluder.
Takeaway splits are splits made where one of the two boxes of an over wintered hive is removed and taken to another yard and established as a colony there, either to fill empty spaces in another established yard, or to start a new yard.
If executed when you are sure the bees have not been flying for several days (rainy or cool weather), the splits can even be left in the same yard without problems. Bees forget and re-orient after as little as one day without flight during off-flow periods. Be careful with this though, if there are any significant flows on, allow three days. During major flows, virtually every bee in the hive flies and will return to the original stand - this must be true or the abandonment method of honey pulling simply couldn't work - and we know it does.
The only real problem with the takeaway method is that the second half of the hive is not readily available for comparison in queen searches when mated queens are to be used , and requeening is much slower. However, it is much neater as far as yard layout is concerned, is superior in the case where ripe queen cells are plentiful - plentiful enough to stick one (in a cell protector) into each half without searching for queens. All the lifting and moving are completed in one operation, but it may also be slower, because transport to new yards takes time. The additional (bottom) brood chamber may be given to the takeaway half after transport to the new yard - especially if manual loading is used.
If early morning or a rainy day is chosen for the task, or if all hives in the yard to be split are smoked lightly at the entrance and repeatedly smoked so that foraging stops, all the bees will all be home and splits will be fairly even. However, if a flow is on and it's warm, and it's later in the day, it will be hard to keep the bees on the truck until you leave the yard, unless you are quick, have a good smoker, and have a helper or two. This type of splitting is best done when it is cooler, but not cold. Early morning is good. Showery weather is fine too. The bees are often lazy, if not always exactly friendly, when the humidity is high.
This method is good where there are enough ripe cells available to stick one cell into each of half of all spits without bothering to look for queens. One cell is likely wasted, but it usually takes much more time to find queens than to raise cells. Moreover requeening can take place at the time of splitting or any convenient time within days after if cell protectors are used. If the hives start their own cells, they do not have to be torn down, and they offer back-up in case the cell introduced by the beekeeper is defective.
You can tell if your cell worked because the queen will be laying in 11 days. If your cell malfunctioned, then a queen should be obviously laying in 21 days. That ten day difference is a huge difference in the spring when you are trying to build up for a flow. It is half a generation.
The advantages of takeway spits are that the yard layout is not disrupted and new yards can be started with the splits.
The disadvantages are
that both halves are not available for reference to speed queen locating (if necessary), and that
transporting hives may slow this method of splitting which must ideally be accomplished within the first two weeks of May for best results.
transporting hives on hot, sunny days and/or when a flow is in progress may result in many lost bees, drifting, uneven splits and uncomfortable working conditions.
Side by side and takeway splits are 'quick and dirty', usually work well, and avoid having to work through brood chambers frame by frame. They allow a lot of splitting in a short time with unskilled and/or clumsy help. They do not allow the same flexibility in adjusting feed and brood as progressive splits. Disease checks are usually omitted.
Progressive (Top) Splits
Progressive (Top) Splits are a different approach altogether to splitting. Using this method, splitting progresses all spring, and even into the summer. There is no rush to complete splitting in Early May, or even before supers go on. Hives are worked through frame by frame. Scraping excess burr comb, requeening, disease checks, changing frames and other adjustments may suggest themselves to the beekeeper as he works. Superior stock can be spotted for potential breeding selection. Earlier splits will be producers, later splits will allow for increase. All splits must be fed liberally until they weigh 50kg and are into thirds. We are assuming hives here have been overwintered in two standard Langstroth brood boxes.
This form of splitting can be accomplished while working through yards and doing other spring tasks. Only the hives strongest in bees and brood contribute to splits. Some equalizing (giving brood and bees to weaker hives) may be done, but in my experience, it is almost always a waste of time, brood and bees.
Poor colonies are poor for some good reason and therefore should be shaken out. The hardware and brood can be used in making new splits. Even if a queen seems to have a good pattern and look good, the real proof is her colony: If it is poor, then she is best lost in the grass or crushed. She has had her opportunity to prove herself and sadly -- for no visible reason -- has failed to measure up. Perhaps it was chance, but likely not. We do not want her drones in our yards mating our good queens. Sentimentality and false economy in trying to use a poor queen cost money, and maybe (later) the hive.
On the first round, hives have not yet been reversed, but there are usually some ready for splitting. Here's how it goes:
Hives not yet ready to split are reversed as soon assuming they are strong enough - bees covering some bottom bars - and the weather is settled.
The hives from which splits are made may or may not be reversed at this time because, in the act of splitting, brood and feed is manually adjusted and empty comb is provided for the queen in the top box.
Weak hives are either shaken out into the grass a few yards away or (if you don't mind taking a chance on wasting resources) boosted a bit with brood and bees. They may not be ready for reversing even then. They should be marked for destruction if they haven't shaped up by the next visit.
Making the Rounds
The procedure at this time of year is to work through yards, reversing hives , scraping, feeding, medicating, and removing brood and feed from hives as appropriate.
A maximum of two or three frames of brood in various stages of development is taken from a hive on each trip, and only from those hives that can easily spare it without hardship. Care must be taken to ensure that too much brood is not robbed from any one hive. Indeed, some promising hives are given brood. However, shake out any really slow hives onto the ground, no matter how pretty the queen may be and use the frames and boxes for making more nucs.
Shake just enough bees from each frame to ensure the queen is not on it. She is usually one of the first bees to fall off. Don't shake so hard you displace the worker larvae from the bottom of the cells, and don't shake any frames with a queen cell if you plan to get a queen out of it. Often a gentle quivering shake of a frame half withdrawn from the box dislodges sufficient bees to ensure the queen is left behind. A quick glance then suffices to ensure she is indeed not on the comb.
Be careful during this not to damage brood. Brood is extremely valuable and vulnerable. It chills, overheats, or dries out very quickly if left out of the hive in the wind, rain or sun - especially open brood. Keep it in a box with a frame of feed fresh from the hive on each side to keep it warm and sheltered.
Doing this work is like open heart surgery. It can do a world of good, but the metabolism of the hive is disturbed violently during the work and for some time after. Temperature regulation is temporarily lost and brood rearing is set back a day or two. Remember you are working to help the bees - so do things their way. Put brood close to other brood in the splits to share warmth, put the feed on the outside and don't put a warped frame next to a frame of brood, blocking its emergence. Preferably take several adjacent frames at a time from a hive and keep them in their same relative positions in the new split.
While there are few bees on the frames is an excellent time to scrape off excess burr and brace comb. One thing to keep in mind, however is that some ladder comb may serve you well. If your boxes are not perfect in their dimensions, there may be such a gap between the bottoms of the frames in the top box and the top bars in the bottom box that a queen cannot get over easily. Therefore you may inhibit the queen's travel through the hive by being too tidy.
Important Note: Watch the weather and forecasts during any splitting operation and try to allow a few hours at least between your last manipulation and any cold front coming through. Bees need a few hours to restore temperature regulation and resource layout to the hive. You don't want your work to be in vain.
If the work is going slowly and a flow comes on, the job must be suspended and a special quick round of all yards is necessary to give thirds to strong hives - with or without an excluder - to hold them until their turn comes. If an excluder is not used, then the third may be used to make up a split later when convenient, and the hive again returned to a two storeys.
Assembling and Managing Top Splits
As the beekeeper progresses through each yard, surplus brood and feed are accumulated into brood chamber boxes, each with a frame feeder, and placed above excluders on top of the second box of the strongest hives. The brood (which may come from several hives, including ones that have been shaken out) is arranged in an approximation to normal hive cluster shape, and warm, recently occupied feed frames are placed immediately to the sides. All the feed frames in the top splits are from the parent overwintered hives, not from storage or dead hives, as the bees and the bees will more readily occupy combs of feed that are fresh and warm and have the right 'scent'.
Frames of brood placed side by side in either the split or parent colony must be observed to ensure that the brood has room to emerge. Brood that is too close to an adjacent frame due to warping or careless spacing will be wasted.
The brood and feed taken from the parent colony is replaced with empty frames, frames of feed, or foundation as appropriate. This is an opportunity to do some constructive beekeeping and brood chamber maintenance. Some hives may be honeybound, and others may be starving in early May. Any old feed frames from storage or dead hives, are used in the strong parent colonies (below) which are strong enough to accept and recondition them
Medication with oxytetracycline is important when inserting new frames. Any foulbrood found may be removed, if serious -especially widespread scale on a comb.These combs should either be flattened in the diseased area with a hive tool and placed in the centre of a strong hive and medicated, or preferably discarded - particularly if you are not experienced or particularly religious in your medication rounds. Slight fresh outbreaks may be medicated and marked for observation. Usually they clean up and disappear if adequate medication is used. Diseased combs may be accumulated into special quarantine splits and taken to a nurse yard. With adequate populations and medication they will clear up and stay healthy once they have been clean for a season.
Each new split may consist of anywhere from one to eight frames of brood. Four is best for most purposes. One frame is not recommended. Two, or preferably three will ensure that your efforts are not wasted. Small splits are easily damaged by frosts, robbing, and are generally not viable. Larger splits will usually produce considerable honey, especially if made early and boosted with a second box of brood and bees once the queen is established.
The idea now is to leave the splits on the strong hive until the bees come back up and occupy the split and reorganise the stores a bit. We have a frame feeder in each of the three boxes and fill them all with 66% medicated sugar solution at this time. The top one we do not fill brim full because we may wish to move the split before the feeder is emptied, and spills are a nuisance.
The queen is, of course now confined to he original hive and has new frames there to lay in. The young bees come up through the excluder into the split to care for the brood, and some of the field bees will also work from the split - if you have an auger hole. So, after a short while, you have a nicely balanced population in the split and it can be removed to another yard to have a cell or queen installed. It is best to do so within 5 or 6 days or the brood will all be sealed, and the split will not hold its bees nearly as well. They may drift away after being moved to a new location.
During this waiting period you have basically a fully intact three story hive, getting all the advantages of size and population.
Once your queens or cells are available, and you have time, You have two choices:
Just remove the excluder and replace it with a solid or double screened inner cover with he notch up (to encourage upward migration) and introduce your queen or cell.
Remove the split and carry it off on a new floor to a new location a mile or so away and introduce the queen or cell. See below...
In the second case, you will remove the split after the queen is established and laying.
A full range of brood ages should be included in each spit, including one frame with eggs and open brood, if at all possible. This will serve to attract and hold bees when the split is eventually removed -- up to 6 days later.
After a yard is finished, there will be some hives with splits on top as thirds. We feed all hives syrup, filling all the frame feeders, unless we plan to move the splits immediately, in which case we leave the top one 1/3 empty to avoid spillage.
We normally leave the splits on hives for several days, until a batch of cells is ready - but they can be removed immediately to have queens or cells inserted, if available. If you wish to take the spits away on the same visit as they are made up, then leave the lids off the splits as you go -- assuming it is a warm day and the bees are actively flying. This will encourage the bees to come up. Careful repeated smoking at the bottom entrance will also help move bees up into the splits. The best way, however is to average three days or so before removing them, They have the assistance of the full hive population in getting re-organized.
These splits can be used as new colonies by removing them to new yards and placing them on a floor with an entrance reducer or they may be used as seconds on previous splits - resulting in producing colonies. This gives a lot of flexibility if you are raising your own cells. First, the splits can be left on the parent hives for as much as a week - if you had eggs in the splits. After that all the brood will be sealed, and the splits may not hold their bees well when moved away. Second, during this time they can be usedeither as splits or as boosters. This allows one to time the arrival of a batch of cells or queens without leaving a split queenless for long, and provides an alternate use if cells or queens are unavailable.
The advantages of progressive splits are that they allow ongoing swarm control all spring, place less stress on the colonies, allow for general improvement and equalizing of the colonies, spread the work out over a longer span and allow splits and cells to be available at the same time. Indeed, this method is not dependant on expensive imported queens, and can accomplish equal expansion using only locally produced cells. Swarm or supercedure cells can be utilised for those who do not raise their own cells or have a nearby source.
Some tips on Splits
We normally do not try to requeen any splits that do not take a queen on the first try. We use it as a booster under a good single box split next to it in the yard. After the first failure at requeening, the bees are older, and the split weaker. Why waste a queen or a cell on it? It's better to go out and make more splits with your resources.
'Don't put a first class resource into a second class result' - Peter Drucker
- It is easy to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of your hives which never will do well. I try always to spend my time on the good hives that show promise and shake out or combine the losers as soon as they show their colours, so I can get on with the important stuff..
If your split had eggs, even if the queen or cell you put in does not work, you may well find you have a nice looking laying queen in three weeks - courtesy the bees themselves. Sometimes we don't get back to check. Usually things work out.
A secret for successful splitting
Farrar recommended that each brood box have an auger hole below the hand hold. We have experimented with and without and find that there are any more advantages than disadvantages. We have a 1 inch auger hole in each brood box. In particular, we find that
Splits with 1 inch holes attract and hold bees better than those without, often by a factor of two.
Hives with holes have less drifting between hives, and there is less tendency for bees to drift from weaker to stronger hives.
Unused or unwanted holes can be blocked with inexpensive 'capplugs'
We can cut grass in yards later in the spring, leaving more wind shelter, and reducing labour costs.
The hole is useful as an upper entrance for wintering. We don't need special winter lids or inner covers.
Bees can fly directly from the cluster without having to walk a long way through the hive.
If this splitting goes on into June or even July, then you will have supers on. This is not a big problem if you have excluders above the second. Just strip the supers off the first hive in the yard. Work on the hive, then place an excluder on and take the supers from the next hive and place them on top - and so on. The bees will merge into the new hive, or go home. No problem - after all, we're equalizing. If you don't use excluders, then unless you know where the queen is the supers should go onto their own hive. Of course, after July 15th, losing or killing queens is not a concern, as the bees will raise a very nice one themselves and you will have requeened cheaply. Bees from eggs laid after mid-July usually do not contribute to a crop.
Using Mated Queens Vs. Cells
Another option for requeening
Another option besides the normal two that we think of (cells or queens in cages), is using queens in mating nucs. Mated, laying queens in nucs can be carried to the yard, then caught and chased into the split as soon as it is made and placed on top of the hive above an excluder or separator board. This takes advantage of the fact that in spring and summer a well fed hive of bees will ordinarily accept multiple laying queens separated by excluders -- provided only the queens are similar in condition.
Having a selection of queens laying in nucs at all times is a convenience. The queens can either come from a queen shipper, or be raised in your own outfit.
In the first case, you take advantage of the fact that queens are more readily accepted into small hives and also have an advantage in that the time required for acceptance and resuming of egg laying takes place in a tiny hive using only a few handsful of bees, rather than a full sized hive or nuc which might kill the queen or lose valuable time waiting.
Even in the case of requeening a poor hive with a failing or failed queen, you will seldom lose a mated laying queen if you introduce the queen on the centre frame of three frames of brood removed from a nuc. The three frames may safely be placed in the centre of the hive in place of three frames which are removed.