By Charlotte Hubbard
Until a month ago, high school cheerleading was about the last time I did splits, and high school was—well—a woman isn’t supposed to reveal her true age. When I was in high school though, dirt had just recently been invented, and the devil was still designing the Varroa mite.
But now, billions of years after high school, I find myself again doing splits—splits of several hives.
Being able to split a hive is a wonderful beekeeping milestone. It means you have a colony strong enough to likely make two colonies. This is a first for me; my only previous bee expertise was the ability to kill most of my colonies every winter. This spring found all my hives alive, and most of them thriving!
Golly, I’m a stellar beekeeper. As I throw out my shoulder patting myself on my back, I must also confess that golly, I have no idea how I managed to overwinter all my hives. I believe a lot of luck was involved—a lot of luck and not too many mites.
After reading last month’s issue of this newsletter about splits, I decided to do walk-away splits, but a Charlotte-modified version.
In a true walk-away split, you place the specified frames in a box, and walk away, checking weeks later on the progress of the new queen.
In the Charlotte-version, you place the specified frames in a box, and walk away until the next day. The next day (and the next day and the next and next and next) you hover around the split, clutching your hive tool behind your back, and repeatedly reminding yourself to walk away and just let it bee.
Ignore this temptation to open and check for as many days as you possibly can.
I held off for ten days until curiosity devoured me. I don’t recommend peeking, but boy-oh-boy was I glad I did. One of the hives had nothing but frames of drone brood. Hard for them to make a girl bee when there are only thousands of boy bee eggs.
I loved making splits—and I don’t even yet know if they’re successful. Not only does it give me a great excuse to avoid spring cleaning, but this setting the stage for bees to work their magic is addictive. In the splits where I found long, beautifully capped queen cells, well, I felt like I’d personally birthed them. Should those queens emerge, mate and successfully begin building new colonies, this “grandmother” will be posting constant updates on FaceBook.
I’ve been asked: “how do you know when to split the hives?” That’s a somewhat tricky question. If you split them too early, the queen may not successfully mate, brood may be chilled, and your cherry pies will forever overflow the crusts while baking. If you split too late, your bees will mock you from the top of a maple. Thus, the key is to split them before they swarm.
“When are they going to swarm?” is the really hard question. Bees may give you a few in-hive signs, but when you live in a place with weather extremes, like Michigan, you can’t check in the hive because it snows in the morning and hits 90 degrees in the afternoon. Before you can put on a veil, you’ll hear your bees laughing at you from the top of a newly leafed maple.
I hope doing the splits has discouraged my bees from swarming. But as a back-up measure, I’ve also posted swarming rules in the apiary. They include:
- 48 hours notice required!
- Swarm only to locations easily visible and accessible to me
- No swarming on holiday weekends
- Bees swarming to the empty hive already set up get their own FaceBook page
I post these swarming guidelines for my bees every year. Do they work? Not yet. But hey, I’d never successfully overwintered all my hives either, and this year it happened. It is the season when hope springs eternal.
Of course, it is also the season for bees to swarm, no matter what I do or hope for.
The maple in the backyard stands ready.