The summer solstice has come and gone and I bet you didn’t know that your bees have taken note of it. Well, at least your queen has. Just as the passing of the winter solstice causes the queen to increase her egg laying, the summer solstice will cause the queen to begin to reduce her egg laying. Of course In a healthy hive you wont notice. With numerous frames heavy with brood yet to hatch it might seem crazy to think numbers are going to fall and in reality they wont for a while. But that doesn’t mean the queen is not reducing her egg laying in preparation for fall/winter. Hang on for a moment and you will see how this relates to managing your hives.
The other day I went out to the beeyard and did an evaluation each hive and its chances to produce honey this year. Keep in mind we have a very short growing season here in the high desert and in two months time, around the first of Sept., Frosty Jack is going to be making the first of many visits. Some hives are already working on honey supers, others are filling the second box with stores for winter and will get their honey super in a few weeks. Still others are behind, having fought against a variety of issues. Its interesting to note that most the hives producing honey are first year hives and most the hives that have struggled with different issues are second and third year hives. There are exceptions of course.
After completing my evaluation of each hive I made note of those that will produce honey for me to collect and those that most likely wont. Those that are not going to produce honey are being used to produce more bees by splitting them. I used a couple different methods to split the hives. Some hives were simply split into two hives and a couple were split three ways. You do not need to locate the queen when making this kind of split. What is needed are eggs, brood, nurse bees and most importantly, young larvae less than 36 hours old. Basically its the smallest larvae you can see. Begin by setting a new hive box next to the existing hive. Find frames as described above and make sure each hive gets one or two of them. Then split the frames of brood and also the frames of pollen and honey stores evenly between the two hives. In ten frame boxes you will place the frames in the middle of the box and then add five new frames on the outside of them to complete the hive box. If one hive obviously has more bees than the other, take one frame from the hive with more bees and shake the bees into the new hive.
Place the new hive in the new location you have already decided on. You should not have to worry about more than just a few of the bees drifting back to the old hive if you made the split in the afternoon when most of the field bees are away from the hive. They will of course return to the original hive but the frames of brood, larvae and eggs you placed in the new hive will have been covered with nurse bees soon to mature and become field going bees. This is why you make sure at least one frame of stores is put into each hive so the bees have feed until the hive has its own field bees.
By the time you are done making the split you will likely know which of the two hives does not have a queen as it will produce quite the roar while the hive with the queen will be comparatively calm. The hive without a queen will begin raising up new queens out of the young larvae and in about 30 days the hive will have a newly mated queen fast at work. Now remember that summer solstice thing we were talking about? The new queen has not experienced the summer solstice and she will go to work laying eggs like a queen coming out of winter – just like a spring queen preparing for summer. She will be so productive that she will lay eggs faster than the mites can keep up with, thereby staying ahead of the mites.
There are two other benefits to making a split around July 1. In the 30 days the hive is queenless, the mite population will plummet because they have no young larvae to feed on. This “brood break” is key to controlling mites in the hive naturally. The other benefit is that the bees will have no new young to raise. New bees require large amounts of feed and during the 30 days the hive is queenless the feed normally used to raise up young bees will be stored as honey. Ultimately you will have a strong hive with lots of stores and a powerful young queen to lead the hive into the winter months.
There are probably hundreds of ways to split a hive and I have covered only one of them here. A swarm I caught this spring is not going to produce honey but they have filled the first box and looking strong and healthy. I split that hive three ways. The obvious question that comes up is how do you control mites in the hive that contained the original queen? With fewer bees in the hive after the split it will be easier to find the queen. If you dispatch this queen the hive will achieve the same “brood break”, thus destroying the mite population in the hive and replacing the old queen with a vibrant new young one. Obviously there will be times you want to keep a queen because she is productive, produces calm bees and has shown some resistance to mites. I have one hive like this and have been making splits from this queen since May. The first split in May is now about halfway through filling the honey super that will be honey for me. While the hive was queenless they produced a huge amount of honey and filled most of the second box. Then the new queen began laying huge amounts of brood just like a young queen does. So here we are in the early days of July and I already have a honey super that is about one-third full!
Key points to remember-
1. The queen responds to the summer and winter solstices.
2. A brood break is the natural way to controlling mites in your hives.
3. A queen produced after the summer solstice will lay like a spring queen and rear a strong hive for winter.
I hope your bees are doing well and that you are enjoying the summer. Not sure when I will be able to post next as it is summer afterall. There are lots of summer projects, vacations to take and in about 10 days I will be holding three classes over the course of two days on a lavender farm during Oregon States Lavender festival.