Sunday, April 24, 2016

First Split of the Season

We had a bit of fine weather last Thursday (4/21), lots of drones are out now, and people are starting to report swarms, so it seemed a good time to start making splits.


With that purpose in mind, a quick look at Elsa revealed that she certainly had enough bees, so I popped a few bars over to a nuc built by my friend John. Happily, although the interior size of his hive is larger than mine, his bars are the same length, so it was a really easy split to make. Unhappily, Elsa's black queen is super hard to see, so hopefully I didn't move her over as well.

So here's what I'm hoping to see by the following dates:

  • May 7 -- The new queen should have emerged
  • May 17 (+/- 5 days) -- The new queen should be mated and laying

John's nuc

I'd like to split this one to make another nuc for someone else, but the dimensions of his nuc are much smaller than mine. Because most of my bars are wedged, I can't simply trim them and move them over to his nuc. Instead, I've ended up retrofitting some bars that I'm phasing out of my hives. But I have to wait for bees to build the right kind of comb on them (i.e., worker comb in the right shape and size) before I can move them over. If that doesn't happen, I'll probably end up doing a chop and crop and attaching the combs with ribbon to his bars. Ugh. This is turning out to be a pain in the rear, and I will never agree to start a nuc in a smaller hive again.

Anyway, of the various retrofitted bars that I was hoping to transfer, she made one full of drones, one with workers, and one wasn't started. But she had plenty of stores, so I removed some of them to encourage her to make more workers. Of course, I had to give her a few more of those retrofitted bars, too.

Austeja, Buttercup, Persephone

These are the colonies that just seemed to be lagging a little, so I'd given them 1-2 bars of brood each in the past couple of weeks just to jump start them.

Buttercup and Persephone got a bar of brood only a week ago, so it's a bit early to see much of a difference. However, Austeja got 2 bars of brood 2 or 3 weeks ago, and it's made an enormous difference to her. I'm seeing lots of new eggs & larvae, capped brood, and the beginnings of some honey stores.

Austeja has quite a nice pattern, so I'm glad that she's pulled out of her funk.

Some queen spotting practice

Austeja finally has enough workers to start storing excess honey.
Not much yet, but it's a start.

Watching bees emerge never gets old

Last week, this one got about 5 empty bars in and around the brood nest. Within 6 days, they'd filled them all, so I gave them a few more bars for brood and added empty bars between all the honey combs. Right now, they brood nest occupies about 1/2 to 2/3 of the hive. The checkered bars of honey and empties extends pretty much all the way to the end of the hive. I even removed the divider board just to get a smidge more room.

Of course, the one hive that I had no plans to sell splits from (because of her temperament) is the one that's booming. Urgh. Bees!

Hippolyte with divider removed

So the bees are looking to be on track for this time of year. The dandelions, magnolias and crabapples are all blooming. I saw some white clover in Hartford a few days ago, which means that ours won't be too far behind.

One thing, though, that has been quite different from years past is the testiness of my bees this spring.  During early spring, when the weather is still cold and there aren't too many things blooming, I expect some ill-tempered behavior. But we're starting to get some lovely, sunny days. Wednesday - Friday last week were in the mid-70s F to 80 F.

When I'm out and about in the yard, not even terribly close to the hives, these women warriors buzz around my head, which isn't terribly fun for me, but they actually force my kids inside, which doesn't work at all. Most of the hives are fairly laid-back since I can inspect them without gloves. Instead, I suspect Hippolyte's furies are behind these attacks, and I'm hoping that being split will produce some calmer daughters. If not, they'll have to be requeened. As much as I try to make allowances for her, the kids have to go outside so they can't make a mess inside. Yep, that's practical beekeeping at its finest.


  1. I saw a talk by Dr. David Tarpy on queen quality, and he said research had found that emergency queens have lower quality (by their measures) than swarm-preparation queens. Do you ever have issues with letting the bees create their own queen in this way? i've been trying to get my hives to "pre-swarm" for just this reason, though it has been a little problematic with the timing. Look forward to following your experiences on this.

    Interesting that adding brood seemed to encourage a more active hive - I'll have to remember that. I suppose it makes sense as the queen can only lay as many eggs as the hive can support. Glad to see your bees expanding now that spring is finally here to stay.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Most of the queens I've raised come from splits I've made from swarm cells, and they've all been excellent, but the few emergency queens I've raised have been just as good (at least from my perspective. Don't know what the bees think.)

      There's no doubt that swarm queens are the best because they've been raised to be queens from day 1. If you read Better Queens by Jay Smith, he goes into the mathematics of why they're better in terms of how much they get fed.

      I haven't read up on Tarpy's research yet, so I can't speak to that. However, there are things one can do to get better queens, including:

      1) Don't make splits until it's swarm season and there are lots of drones available.
      2) Use comb with new, soft wax and lots of eggs around the edges of the comb where there is more room to reshape the cells. Old brood comb cannot be reshaped easily, so the queens are more stunted.

      One of the comments that I continually hear is that swarm cells are on the bottoms of the comb and emergency cells are along top edges or on the face of the comb. I've never found that true. In both cases, I've always found my cells all along the edges of the comb, but that makes sense in a TBH where the entire edge is the "bottom" and where there is more room.

      Also, bees are known to eliminate subpar queens themselves, so they'll pick the best eggs/larvae from whatever available choices they have right from the beginning.

      Good luck!

    2. Thanks, that makes sense. Tarpy's research, if I recall, found that in an emergence the bees will use 1-4 day old larva for queens. The 3-4 day old larva tends to hatch first, and have poorer characteristics by traditional measures than the 1-2 day larva. As you say, who knows what the bees think.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

    3. I just picked up Jay Smith's book. I'm glad it's a small book, which makes me look forward to it even more. I like people who cut to the chase.


      Your photo for "Some queen spotting practice" is excellent, by the way. I clicked it to enlarge it and the queen didn't jump out at me during my first scan. Then I found her. It's funny when I finally spot a queen in a photo, my first thought is, "How did I not spot THAT immediately?" Practice, I guess. I didn't spot a queen in any of my hives until my second summer.


      In my Langstroth hives, swarm cells are usually on the bottom edge and supersedure cells are usually in the middle. That does seem to hold true in my experience most of the time, though I've seen both cells all over the frames.

      If I have the time to build a hive and enough bees to fill it, I hope to start up my first TBH this year. I've always wanted to do it.


      I've dealt with my fair share of mean bees that chased after people in my old backyard. Only one colony was always that way no matter what I did and I had to be requeened. But the rest calmed down after a couple of weeks of good weather. I still have some meanish bees in my beeyard and I plan to requeen them. There's nothing worse than not being able to relax around your bees.

  2. I agree that different sized bars between hives are a pain. This year, I built a nuc hive (that I just put the swarm in) that is a cross between the two styles I use, so hopefully I won't have to do any trimming from bars made here. However, now I realize that if I want to move any bees to my Langstroth hive, I'm totally unprepared because my bars are all 17" or less. If it comes to that, I'll have to rubber band comb into the lang frames.

    Good for you on making splits for some return on your beekeeping. I hope that the angry hives do better with new queens mated with calmer drones from your area!

    1. I hear you about the different sizes of bars. I've been playing around with bar lengths over the past few years, but I've decided to switch from a 20" bar to 19" because it will fit my hives, but it can also bee inserted into a Lang.

      Thanks for the encouragement, but when I tally up all the hours I've spent trying to figure out the best approach to the nucs and all the sleep I've lost due to nightmares about swarms that got away, I'm not sure how much ROI I'm actually getting. Ha! Next year, I'm taking a friend's advice to offer just one size -- mine -- and let the buyer sort it out. LOL! Actually, I've also decided to just sell overwintered nucs, too. That way I don't have to fret about springtime weather constantly, too.

      Fingers crossed for the new queens. I talk tough, but the idea of having to commit a regicide breaks my heart.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!