Beehive split before they split

As mentioned in my previous post, we weren’t planning on inspecting the beehives again for a couple of weeks, but were concerned that the yellow hive were thinking about swarming. We hoped that adding the Flow super would give them enough room so they wouldn’t.

Well, on Monday they showed definite signs of preparing to do just that, with a massive cloud of bees flying around outside:

Cloud of bees

A little hard to see in that photo. Look closely; all of those little dots are bees. Here’s a GIF edition, that makes them more visible:

GIF of bees

As you might imagine, that was rather dismaying to see. If the bees swarm, that means we lose half the hive, setting it back quite a bit. Bees swarm when they feel population pressure. The queen takes half of the bees and goes find somewhere else to live, leaving behind unhatched queen(s) to take over.

About 15 minutes later, the bees started landing on the outside of the hive:

Bees on outside of hive

A GIF of the bees on the outside of hive, with lots still flying around:

GIF of bees on outside of hive

That could mean that they had selected a place to swarm to, and were gathering around the queen, preparing to depart. More bees on the outside:

Bees on outside of hive

Yet more, with fewer flying:

Bees on outside of hive

A side view:

Bees on outside of hive

But then we noticed the number diminishing, without taking off, so they seemed to be going back inside, rather than swarming:

Bees on outside of hive

Bees on outside of hive

Bees on outside of hive

Phew! As I joked, maybe someone made a really smelly fart, and they all had to get outside for a bit.

Bees evacuating the hive and accumulating outside is called “bearding”, and is common in hot weather, to cool it down, but in spring is usually a sign of impending swarming, hence our concern.

A brief intermission: remember the three frames of drone brood we removed from the purple hive, and gave to the chickens? Here’s what they looked like a few hours later:

Drone frames

The yellow hive has a scale on it to measure the weight of the hive. When we checked it the following day, it hadn’t gone down, which indicated that the bees had not swarmed. But we were concerned that they still might, so yesterday decided to do a “walk-away split” of the hive, where we basically divide the hive in two, moving half of the frames to a new hive. It’s called a “walk-away split” as there’s no need to even find the queen, we just ensure there are queen cells in each hive, and they make their own queen. Doing this split relieves the population pressure, without losing half of the bees. It does set them back, but they’ll recover in time, and we get another hive in the deal.

As mentioned last time, we didn’t find the queen… and we saw signs that maybe they don’t have a queen, or at least one they’re happy with.

To do the split, we brought out deep and medium boxes, and the other hive components, each box with eight frames.  We then removed the central four frames from each box, and moved four frames from each box of the yellow hive into the new boxes:

Moving frames to a new box

So the two boxes of each of the two hives each have four active frames, plus four new frames. (Not actually new; many of the frames have existing comb and even honey, previously stored in the freezer).

Here are the two medium boxes; one for the yellow hive, one for the new hive:

Moving frames to a new box

As you may have noticed above, I moved the mobile camera from the pond to watch the bees; here’s a shot of us working on the hives from that camera (with the old camera name overlay still):

Moving frames to a new box

We noticed several swarm cells on the frames, supporting the signs that they were planning to swarm. We also saw this capped supersedure cell, a sign that the hive either doesn’t have a queen, or the bees want to replace an unproductive queen:

Queen cell

Another cam shot, of me adding the second box to the hive:

Adding the box

The new hive is the cedar (aka Flow) hive on the left. To give them more room, we added Flow honey supers to both hives, though they probably won’t use them for a while, since they need to rebuild from the split. But having plenty of room will further reduce the chances of swarming:



So now we have the cedar and yellow hives from that split, each with Flow supers, plus the purple hive that’ll probably be ready for a honey super soon, a weak orange hive, and defunct hot pink hive:


We’ll be getting a couple of nucs in just over a week to replace the hot pink hive, and have ordered new hive components for a sixth hive, which will go between the purple and yellow ones.

Later in the day, the yellow hive has normal activity, about the same level as the purple hive:


The cedar hive was relatively quiet, which is expected, since they need to get used to their new home; hopefully they’ll settle in and resume normal activities soon:


Finally, a cam shot of sunrise behind the hives this morning:

Sunrise behind hives

All going well, we’ll inspect again in about 10 days, probably as part of adding the two new nucs.

2 thoughts on “Beehive split before they split

  1. Pingback: David Sinclair
  2. There is a lot to learn about bees – they do act as an intelligent being, rather than lots of little not-so-intelligent beings. And make their feelings pretty clear. I suppose that’s where your learning comes in handy.
    Well done!

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