We did a split this spring, in an attempt to prevent our hive from swarming and to double our inventory. Several weeks later, I can say officially (spoiler!) that it worked, but it was a long, uncertain wait. Before I get into it, let me start by saying that there is SO much information out there about beekeeping it’s not all consistent. We were constantly second-guessing ourselves, feeling like every little decision would be the one that doomed them all. But we learned so much! Here goes:
Week 1. It started out by finding more than a dozen queen cups with eggs. We saw this
coming, as the hive was super strong from the beginning. As soon as we saw the eggs and then royal jelly, we moved all the frames with cups from the old hive (hereafter, Hive 1) to the new hive (Hive 2), leaving the old queen in her hive (1). At least 60% of the bees moved with them. The idea was to isolate the new queens from the old queen, and the strongest queen to emerge would take over the new hive.
Week 2. A dozen of the queen cups are now capped queen cells in Hive 2 (good! New queens a-comin!), and 3-4 uncapped emergency cells in Hive 1(agghh!). I cut the uncapped emergency cells out, hoping that I could still prevent a swarm.
Week 3. Another week later and there are 4 new capped queen cells in Hive 1 (I must have missed them the week before), very few bees, and no evidence of the queen. We realized that she must have swarmed, taking most of the bees with her. Hive 2 still has more than a dozen capped queen cells that have to be getting close to emerging.
The weirdest thing happened this day. While we were checking Hive 1, the bees in Hive 2 started swarming, and to my sheer joy and amazement, moved right next door into Hive 1! To this day I have no idea whether there was a queen in that swarm, if we somehow instigated it, or why they moved. Regardless, it was amazing to see-so many bees and so calm.
Week 3 and 1 day. 7 queens emerged from the Hive 2; 3 of which we found sitting on just one frame. We took two of them off (I am told that if a new queen isn’t quick enough to kill the other emerging queens, each subsequent queen can leave in an ‘after swarm’ with a couple thousand bees). We also cut out a couple of the remaining capped queen cells and hoped that we didn’t accidentaly remove the dominant queen. Conversely, we didn’t want all of our bees to leave in a dozen after-swarms.
Week 4. No beekeeping this week while we wait for evidence of a laying queen. Feeling out of control and like we will probably end up with no bees when it’s all said and done. Just trying to remember that the bees are gonna do what they’re gonna do and they will be just fine.
Week 5. Not a single capped brood cell in either hive. So few bees. No evidence of a queen. Very little honey stored. We have been feeding them since the split because there is so little honey remaining and the nectar flow hasn’t really started yet. Hoping she didn’t get eaten by a bird on her nuptial flight, and starting to mentally prepare for the possibility of having 2 queenless hives.
Week 6. Hesitant to look in the hives yet, as it can take up to 5 weeks for a queen to emerge, mate, and begin laying. But we looked and THERE WERE LARVA in both hives!!! We have two new queens!!! Woohoo!! What a relief. Now the slow slog back up to strong colony size, just in time for blackberry bloom. I have heard that splits can take most of the summer just building back up, so we will have to be extra attentive this winter with feeding, mite checks, etc…
We have since moved the hives to a ‘pollinator patch’ next our community garden plot. They are settling in nicely. We have also realized that we missed the perfect time to treat for varroa-while there are no capped brood in the hive. This is something I need to be much more mindful of. Lesson learned.