Tag Archives: queens

Splits and other Beekeeping Gymnastics

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The spring season will pass into summer before you know it and the thoughts of many beekeepers will soon turn to the collection of honey.  Yes I know, we aren’t quite there yet, but in another few weeks (mid-June) you will be able to look into your hives and see which ones are going to produce a ton of sweet golden nectar for you  (At least that’s the case here in Central Oregon where the season is so short) and which ones are slow, struggling or for some reason just not getting on with things.

Something to consider is to take the slower hives and make splits out of them.  (I have already completed my spring splits which I do around May 1st, but recently I have taken to doing splits later in the season so I have nucs to winter that are ready to go in the spring.)  The ability to make splits is an essential tool that today’s beekeeper must possess to be successful, reduce costs and most of all, keep your hives healthy.  So don’t be afraid of taking the next step in your beekeeping adventure.

There are a number of ways to make splits.  One of the oldest ways of splitting a Langstroth hive is to set a new hive next to the existing hive and remove every other frame from the original hive and put them in the new hive.  The spaces left in the original hive are filled with new frames and the five frames that were removed from it are placed together in the new hive with the outside empty space filled with new frames.  Beekeepers who are making their first splits are often more comfortable making a split this way because they are not required to find the queen.  The hive that ends up without a queen will make queen cells, raise up a new queen and replace her.

That’s the old way.  The approach I take is outlined below and it should prove to be very effective in producing strong hives and healthy queens for you.

Any hive with at least four frames of capped brood can be split.  I go to the beeyard to make my splits in the afternoon when most of the field bees are out of the hive.  So for our example, let’s imagine a hive with seven frames of capped brood.  I locate the queen and place the frame she is on in a new hive along with a frame of capped brood (two frames of brood if the queen was not on a frame of brood when you moved her) and a frame of stores.  I then add a shake or so of bees (these will be mostly nurse bees since the field bees are out of the hive) to care for the larva and brood.

The new hive containing the queen is then placed in the exact same location as the original hive was.  When the field bee return they will return to the new hive.  The original hive that is now queenless is moved a short distance away (5 to 10 feet).  There is no need to move it far away as the field bees are returning to the same place they expect to find a hive and a queen.  They will not return to the queenless hive you have just created.

It takes about 7 days for new queen cells to be raised and capped, so you will want to return to the queenless hive a week after you make the split.  Waiting a week allows the strength of your healthy hive to raise up healthy queens.  So after a week we return to our queenless hive that began with 7 frames of capped brood.  (Remember it could be four frames of brood, but that is the minimum) We removed two frames of brood when we removed the queen so now we have 5 frames of brood left.  From these five frames we will create two new hives – one with two frames of brood and one with three.

When you make this split you locate the frames containing the newly made queen cells and split them amongst the two new hives.  If there are a lot of queen cells you should reduce them down to two or three for each of the two new hives you make.

In another 10 days the queen cells will begin to hatch.  After hatching, the new queen will destroy any other queen cells she can find.  If other queens have hatched they will fight to the death.  That is the reason to reduce the number of queen cells in the new splits to two or three.  The new queen will need time to mature and after a week or so she will begin to take orientation flights near the colony before going on longer flights to mate.  All in all the entire process will approach approximately 30 days before the new queen begins to lay.  That’s 30 days without a queen – and nothing could be more healthy for your hive!!!

Mites enter cells containing larva on day eight.  The bees cap the cell on day nine and the mite and any young it produces feed on the young larva before it hatches.  What that does to the young bee is another conversation entirely and is beyond the scope of this discussion but we all know it’s not a good thing.  So what happens when there is no larva in the hive for the mites to feed on?  The mites die of course and bingo!  You have the most natural control of mites there is.

So now let’s add a couple twists to our making splits gymnastics.

A the very beginning of this process, after you remove the queen and create the queenless hive you will want to “notch” some cells containing the youngest larva you can see with the naked eye.  Use your hive tool to break down the very lowest edge of the cells containing young larva WITHOUT harming the larva.  Break it down to the foundation.  I can’t always see the tiny larva so I usually overlap between eggs and young larva.  The bees will treat these cells differently and build queen cells wherever you have notched.  I normally do this on three frames.  Notching provides space for the bees to create the large cells necessary to build a queen cell.  This process has never failed me and will virtually guarantee your own success.

The next step is for creating smaller nucleus hives you want to winter.   After the summer solstice (longest day) queens begin to reduce their egg laying in preparation for the coming winter.  A queen that emerges after the summer solstice will lay like a spring queen for many weeks after she is born.  Because of this you can make late season splits from the hives that are coming along slowly.  I’ve done them as late as July 1, but prefer to make them around mid-June because of our short season here.   The splitting process is the same and the new hive will have just enough to time to raise up its numbers and put away enough stores to make it through the winter.   When spring comes, these hives with their young queens take off with a bang!  You can then use them to replace hives you lost or use them to sell.

If you learn to split your hives you will never need to buy bees again and the splits will maintain healthy hives throughout your beeyard.  There’s still time for you to try it this year and if using the methods described here your success is all but guaranteed.

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The Queen of Hearts, Hives and Frustration

What a terrific weekend we had at the Meadow of Lavender in Colton Oregon this weekend for the Oregon Lavender Festival. There was an excellent turnout and I’m sure everyone enjoyed themselves as they learned about the lavender products and how they are made. We also had excellent attendance at the bee classes I held and in each class people suited up in the spare bee suits that were available and had a look in the hives for themselves. My thanks to all those who attended.

In the first class the attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how a hive requeens itself in a process called supercedure. At the bottom of one of the frames we removed from the hive were two queen cells, about four inches apart. One cell was opened at the very bottom, the other was opened from the side. The first cell was the one the queen hatched from. When a new queen hatches the first thing she does is dispatch with any other queens in the hive. The other queen cell demonstrated how that is done. The new queen chews through the side of the cell and stings to death the queen that has yet to hatch.

After looking the queen cells over and discussing what happened we continued our inspection of the hive and found lots of newly laid eggs and tiny larvae. Though we did not see the queen herself, it was apparent she has been very busy since hatching and completing her mating flights.

This brings me to the point of this post. There has been a lot of trouble with queen failure this year. This is an issue that has been building for the past number of season and appears to have finally landed with a crash this year. In reading the various forums it appears to be a fairly widespread occurrence. My own experience with this has even been greater than most are reporting. In April I purchased 9 new packages of bees. Six of nine packages, have lost queens, some more than once, as in the hive we inspected in class. The queens that came with the packages are soon replaced and then the new queen fails and is replaced again. This leads to weak hives and I am about to lose one of my new hives because they have grown weak and failed to raise a new queen.

Of course there are a number of different view points, but one that makes a lot of sense has to do the problems queen producers have had with insect growth regulators that have been put on during the bloom with fungicides, mostly in California. All of my packages came from California so I don’t believe its a coincidence my new packages are failing. There can also be a lack of genetics and diverse drone sources in the large commercial producers that contribute to the problem.

With nearly $100 dollars invested in each package I have reached the conclusion it is no longer feasible to purchase commercially available packages. If you are considering acquiring bees next season I would recommend against using a commercial outlet to get your bees. There is simply too much at risk and if your just starting out who wants the trouble and disappointment of losing hives. Many newbees would be left thinking it was something they did. As I stated in my classes this last weekend, I am interested in new beeks (beekeepers) having success, therefore, after having lost nearly 70 percent of the queens that came in the new packages I purchased this year I can only suggest that you avoid the commercial outlets. I mean really – who wants to spend all the money it takes to set up new hives and acquire the equipment you need, just to get inferior bees that don’t have a good chance of making it.

So what’s the alternative? Go with locally produced nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus hive. Normally you get four frames of bees and a frame of stores, but the fours nucs that a friend and I purchased this year came stuffed with five full frames of bees. All four are doing well and have not experience the requeening/supercedure issues that the packages have experienced. The advantage of a nuc is that you have a queen who has been laying and producing for weeks, if not months, before you purchase it. This miniature hive is established and well on its way with a queen that has proven she is healthy. Yes, nucs often cost a bit more, but the premium you pay is well worth it if you are getting a healthy queen instead of a poor commercially produced queen that will be replaced nearly as soon as you put her in the hive.

So if you are looking at beginning beekeeping next season or if you want to add to the hive or hives you already have, now is the time to begin to locate local beeks that will have nucs to sell next season. Find out about their practices and the success rate of their nucs. Get to know them and their products. Ultimately you should come out far ahead with a nuc over a package of bees.

And for you beeks with a season or two under your belts, learn to split your own hives and make your own increase. Splitting a hive is not difficult and far less expensive. If you have yet to do it, then consider it your next step along the path of beekeeping.

Until next time my best to all of you and may you only know the queen of hearts when it comes to your own hives.

Meadow of Lavender link – http://meadowoflavender.com/

Time for a Mid-Season Evaluation (and how to stay chemical free)

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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. 

Cheers!

 

A Book, The Bees, And a Mystery

Rarely have I spoken about my book on this blog.  Advertising my book is a weakness of mine, yet, the reviews are always outstanding.  The lesson – writing is one thing, selling is another.  I smile at that, as some things come so natural to a person while others are as foreign as another language.  I’m sure you understand what I mean.  I mention it today because a person who picked up a copy of my book last year – after a conversation we had at the greenhouse I worked at – loved it!  When you write something and put it out there for the public to critique, well, you feel kind of naked.  The woman I spoke with last season at the greenhouse bought the book, her husband read it and then told her she might not be ready for it.  It’s “a national conversation” is one of the comments I received.  I cannot explain how rewarding it is to get feedback like I received today.  Spurs me on in writing the sequel.  The book is “Truths’Blood” by Tyler Roberts.  I hope you’ll check it out.  Are you ready for it?

For the last couple weeks the apple trees have been in full bloom and today is no exception.  I took a walk around the property today to have a look at things after last nights frost and found the trees full of bees.  (Smile)  Living in the high desert of central Oregon we are susceptible to late season frosts that take the blossoms away.  The last few nights have been coming in the range of 28 and 29 but the flowers all seem in good shape.  Its not the absolute temperature as much as it is the duration of the cold.  I cheat a little when it comes to the peach and the plum trees.  They are done blooming and you can see the smallest of fruits now set.  They bloom earlier than apples and I get them through the Jack Frost nights by stringing some of the old outdoor Christmas lights through the lower branches.  Those lights emit enough heat to protect the blossoms from the frost.  Ha ha, beats the old smudge pots now don’t it!

We have a lot of projects going this spring, one of which includes a new well.  There’s a lot of clean up after a well goes in and after continuing the work on that project I decided to put off beginning the job of filling in the 80 foot trench that was dug to connect the water and power to the new well head for another day and dug a hole at a new site so the peach plum we dug up and moved to allow the drill equipment  in, would have a new home.  So much for working on the root cellar I’m digging by hand.  I still need to mow and get the potatoes planted.  But I feel good about the progress.  So far I have wheel borrowed 6 yards of material from the back of the pickup to repair and dress things up about the place.  Ah, but there is always tomorrow.  I love days like this.  Is it physical labor for an aged man of nearly 62 years – of course, but I still enjoy it and at the end of each day I thank the Lord and say, “lets do it again tomorrow Lord.”

I also took a little time out to pull some of our organic rhubarb and sell it to a sweet old gal who can barely move about.  She’s has been buying rhubarb from us for the last few years.  It set me to reflecting on how I was once a youngster catching a ride in an old freight trains box car without a care in the world, no aches in my bones and happiest when I needed the least .  Is life a mystery or what?

Ok, so I also took a little time to brush up on some rusting drumming skills while playing along with little John Hiatt on the stereo.  (Stereo – you youngsters can look that up.)  🙂  Can’t go wrong with Hiatt.  Alright so on to the bees.  I have 16 hives going this year and the first two inspections started out a little disappointing.  The last of my four hives that wintered is struggling.  Upon opening the hive I found a very scattered brood pattern.  By that I mean the frames were not full of capped brood but capped brood that was scattered all across the frame.  I found this throughout both boxes that make up the hive and realized I have a queen that is not at the top of her game.  When a queen begins to decline they lay spotty brood.  I was saddened to have to dispatch with her.  She had seen this hive through the winter and got them off to a good beginning this year, but this hive should have been overflowing with bees and in fact I was concerned that I had waited to long to inspect it and that they might be on the verge of swarming.  Not to bee.  After dispatching with the old queen I “notched” some young larva cells in the hope that the hive will proceed to raise up a new queen.  I will report back on this in the coming weeks.

On the up side of things the hive I created an artificial swarm in (took the queen and four frames of brood and bees) about 10 days ago is really looking good.  (The old queen is in another hive and progressing well.)  The idea was to have this strong hive raise up a new queen.  In so doing there will be a brood break which helps to control mites naturally, without chemicals, and the hive would have a new queen to continue on.  Wow is this hive doing well.  Full of bees AND honey.  Even though there is no queen this hive is storing honey like crazy – a result of not having to feed new larva, which without a queen there is none.  

The upper box had some swarm cells (the hive is too full) and I dispatched with them in hopes the new queen that will hatch in another week or so will take control of things.  In the lower box I found the queen cell I located a few days ago and it is now capped.  Positive progress.   A new queen is on the way.  She must still hatch and go on her breeding flights without a bird getting her or some other misfortune happening for this experiment to be successful but we are now one step closer with the queen cell capped and the hive awaiting her arrival.   

On the mystery front are two of the new hives I began a few weeks ago.  I couldn’t find the queen in either of them.  In the first of them I couldn’t even find any larva.  This is of concern because you don’t have to find the queen to know she is around – all you need to do is find larva to know she has been there in the last few days and I found none.  In the second of these new hives I found a small amount of larva and no queen.  Both hives have a lot of stored pollen and honey.  After looking at the second hive I concluded that there may not be enough drawn comb for the queen to lay.  These are new hives and they are not full of drawn comb.  Without empty comb the queen has no place to lay.  Lets give these hives another week or so and see if we don’t find some new eggs or larva.

Moral of the story – There are ten hives in my local beeyard and each tells a different story.  If your starting out, if at all possible have more than one hive.  It will speed your learning curve immensely. 

A week from this weekend I will be traveling to Colton where we established four new hives earlier this spring.  They will be about five weeks old when I hold the next class and we do the inspection.  If they are progressing well it could be time to add a second box.  Keep your fingers crossed and I will report back after the hives are inspected. 

Until next time, my best to each of you.  Enjoy your day for all its worth.  Today is all we have.

  

 

 

 

Checking the Split

By friday it will have been three weeks since taking the split from Phyllis hive. Remember that we left the old queen in Phyllis hive and the new bees will have to raise a queen of their own from the eggs we moved to the new hive. It takes at least 16 days for the bees to produce a queen from an egg. During that time they are queenless and if disturbed, they may abscond. (Leave) So we have been patiently waiting the necessary three weeks and on friday or saturday, depending on the weather, I will make an inspection of the hive to hopefully find a new queen. If I do, then the split has been successful and I have added another hive to the beeyard. At the same time I will also be checking on the hive where I replaced the queen to see how she is doing. So bee sure to check back this weekend for an updated report. In the mean time you can watch the Fat Bee Man video to see how a split (like the one we did with Phyllis hive) is made.

Success!

100_4022ALL HAIL THE QUEEN. (Or in this case queens) It wasnt the warmest of days, but it was time to check in on the new hives. Sometime between three and five days you need to see that the queen has been released from her cage. For those of you who read the earlier post, the bees were installed in their hives on friday. It has been very cold ever since then, last night down to 21, but the bees are hanging in there.

I inspected all four hives. The queen has been released from her cage in all four and I found the queen in all four hives. (A picture of the queen cage is shown above.) Thats a good feeling to know she is busy laying eggs and getting about the business of cranking up numbers. The bees were curious, but overall pretty well behaved throughout each inspection. The new hives are all off to a good start and warmer weather is on the way.

It’s good to have friends.

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. There was the week long blog tour and I think the book is selling, well, ok. I’m getting very positive and encouraging feedback from reviewers, but it can be very frustrating trying to get the word out. Still, it’s always good to get positive reviews.

It’s that time of year when the fruit trees begin to bloom. You would think they would know better than to come out while we still have frosty nights. 21 degrees last night and some more to come before warming in mid-week. So we help out the best way we know how. I’ve been stringing Christmas lights – yes I do know its April – on the apricot, nectarine, peach and plum. At night we light up the neighborhood like the fourth of July. We use the lights to warm the air around the trees, preventing the frost from killing the flowers. These are the older large bulb lights, not the little twinkle lights so common today. It really does work as we’ve had peaches even after nights in the single digits.

Yes, if you were to drive by you would see we look quite festive.

Last friday we made the trip over the mountains to Eugene. Beautiful day and wonderful drive. At the Glory Bee company site we picked up five packages of bees. Four for us and one for a friend. You can order two and three pound packages of bees. These were all two pounds packages. You can’t help but be amazed at these tough little critters. They are shaken from a hive in a commercial bee yard, into a funnel that directs them into a box. The box is wire mesh and contains a can of feed for the bees to use. A queen (not the queen from the hive they were taken from) is caged in a box a little bigger than your thumb. The bees in the package cannot get to her as they would likely kill her. They need a few days to get used to her pheromone and accept her. Worker bees attend her through the screened cage she is in, and she is be fed that way.

We got home with them about noon and I began installing them in new hives. In the middle of each package is a can of feed and when you remove it you can also remove the queen cage. At the same time about 9,000 to 10,000 bees are looking to escape the cage. (So when I say its good to have friends, I mean we just had about 40,000 new friends arrive this weekend.) I cover the opening while placing the queen cage in the new hive. Then you literally pour the bees from the package into their new home. They will immediately look to free the queen from her cage because by now they realize they are queenless.

Before placing the queen in the hive I remove a cork from one end of her little cage and replace it with a piece of candy. (a gummy bear) The bees will chew through the candy to release the queen. In the time it takes them to chew throught he candy (usually a couple of days) they have had enough time to get used to her scent and accept her as their queen.

So I am in the waiting period. You need to leave them alone for at least three days and not disturb them. Tomorrow will be the third day and it will be cold outside. I will wait until Tuesday before opening up the hives to see if the queen has been released. If she has not been released by then I will release her into the hive myself. Check back on Tuesday for an update.