Monday, May 02, 2011

Splitting the hives

On the weekend, we split two beehives...

...into four! (The first photo is from last summer. The second one, from Saturday,  shows that our lawn already needs mowing!!)

We had never split hives before, so our mentor William came over to give us a hand.

Here I am holding a frame of bees. I don't wear gloves anymore. They make it harder to manipulate frames, and they also make you more likely to squish a bee and then get stung by other bees offended by your intrusion!  And when a bee stings, she releases a scent that tells other bees the hive is in trouble. They come out to lend a hand, or stinger, in battle.

I also no longer get heart palpitations when I open a hive. I feel pretty calm and relaxed handling bees now, and the girls must sense that because I have yet to be stung at the hive after two years of doing this. I'm sure the day will come, but so far so good. I did get stung twice last year in my garden, and you can hardly blame a bee for stinging you when you step on her! Fortunately I'm not allergic to their venom. and I don't even get much of a reaction to stings;  just a brief period of pain which I don't find too bothersome. It's important to get the stinger out of your skin as quickly as possible after being stung, as the thing keeps pumping in venom even after it has detached from the bee's body!

Here's a hive with the pop topped off. This hive is doing great, lots of bees, brood and eggs, and a big laying queen that we finally found. Especially for a novice like me, it is NOT easy to spot a queen bee crawling amongst the masses of worker bees.

Some queens are duds who don't lay well or enough or at all. One of my two queens was small and William wants me to kill her later in the season and let the worker bees make a new queen. We'll see if I have the stomach for that!

Each of my hives had two deep boxes on it. The plan was to split each hive in half. Each original hive had one queen, but we needed four queens for four hives. So in each split, the queen went in one box, and we put a new queen in the other!

Here's William looking taking out a frame as I watch.

The first frame out of the box gets leaned up against the side of the hive. You have to be very careful not to knock it to the ground. I have not yet dropped a frame of bees, but it will not be pretty when I do. Bees do not like being dropped!

William brings over a new queen.

This little box is the queen cage. Inside it is a new queen with some worker bees to look after her. The whole at the end is plugged with candy. You can't just plop a new queen in the hive; the worker bees would immediately kill her as an intruder. They need a few days to get used to her scent. That's where the candy plug comes in. The bees eat their way through the candy, and by the time they and the queen can get out the hole, the other bees are used to the new queen's scent (they can smell and see her through the wire mesh.)

You have to poke a little hole in the candy to get them started.

The bees on the outside of the queen cage have flown over to investigate the new royalty! Bees are big on pheromones.

Now William makes a space between the frames to fit in the queen cage, wire side down:

Ta da! The queen is installed. Tomorrow I have to go make sure she has escaped. If she hasn't, I have to tear off the mesh and let her out. If you look at the picture, you can see some exposed larvae on the top of the centre frame. The bees had built "burr comb" between the upper and lower boxes, filling a bit of the gap. They laid eggs in there, which were developing into larvae. When we took the boxes apart, it broke open the burr comb.

We repeated this whole process with the other hive and voila, four hives:

In the process, I got rid of the beaten-up green boxes and replaced them with some better white boxes. As well, we had two different types of hives on the go: a Langstroth and a D. E. hive. In Europe you see all kinds of different hives, but in North America, everyone seems to use the Langstroth (with some exceptions.) We liked our D. E. hive better, but it has caused problems when working with William, who supplied our bees and has also given us frames of drawn comb (frames of wax that the bees have already draw out into hexagonal cells) and so on. Our D.E. hive isn't interchangeable with the Langstroth, which is what William uses. So for now, we are switching to all Langstroths. My ultimate goal is to use D.E. hives, which I like better. But we have enough of  a learning curve right now without worrying about hive complications!

There you go. Now you know how to split a beehive. Let's hope all four hives do well this summer and we get some lovely honey out of it all.

Be kind to honeybees! They are having a really hard time of it these days, and they are so important to our own survival.


  1. Wow! You're really getting into this bee keeping thing. Very informative post...glad you'll continue to have honey to sell to me.

  2. I could never be a bee keeper! I don't look good in any kind of hat (LOL) and I'm certainly not brave enough like you. Vain yes, but brave no.

    Glad that the hive splitting went so well.

    Good tip on removing the stinger, I didn't know that it kept releasing venom. Always learning on this blog :)

  3. Anonymous2:26 pm

    It's all very complex. I wonder how I would react if someone brought me a new queen covered in candy, or would I have any time to react before my current queen killed her? And when you said: "William brings over a new queen.", for a moment I thought we were back to the British royal wedding. I get confused easily, but I know I am a mere worker. Do you name your queens? I suggest Kate (or Catherine) for your new one brought in by William. Sorry, it's been a long day and my mind is unravelling.

  4. Anonymous2:27 pm

    On 2nd thoughts... my current queen would probably just say "Thank goodness you're here, you are welcome to him" :(

  5. This post is absolutely fascinating! I read it twice. Also, I think the queen should wear a candy crown, maybe with some glitter on it. She is a queen after all! Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea...haha!

  6. This is all so interesting. Do you sell your honey anywhere?
    I cracked up over Andrew's comment. Hugs, Deb=^..^=x5

  7. Anonymous4:41 pm

    You're like the fun cool teacher at school. I loved this post and had no idea that the worker bees would kill the new queen until they got used to her scent. Incredible.

  8. that is so interesting! thank you

  9. Wow, what an excellent summary of the process of requeening. I've read a lot about this, but never actually did it. Four hives will definitely keep you beezy!

    Looking forward to hearing the success story.

  10. What a great post. The little cage for the queen is so cute. How did William attach it to the hive?

  11. It's so interesting, Knatolee. I wanted to know how you recognise the Queen Bee. I couldn't wait for your answer, and I googled Vikipedia. I'm astonished at the way the bees function without us telling them what to do!!! Also I wonder how anyone discovered their way of life. It probably took years of watching a bee colony. It's an incredible story...Too bad about the killing of old queen bees or usurpers. Apart from that, I marvel at the perfect arrangement in order for the hive to survive and produce.

    I'll never again eat honey and take it for granted.

    Bonne Chance! Please, don't forget, when you come to Toronto, that I have an order for a dozen of your Honey Jars. Your handmade Get Well (Bee) card is on my library shelf for me to admire everyday.

    Thanks again, dear Nathalie, extraordinary Artist and Beekeeper, Chicken Coop and Darling Pets Mother, and last (but not least) lovely wife of a brilliant Defense Lawyer.

  12. Anonymous10:30 am

    You amaze me. . . honey, maple syrup! You SWEETIE!

  13. Anonymous11:09 am

    Loved this post! I'm sure Mother Nature appreciates your efforts!

  14. Fran, I'll save lots of this year's honey harvest for you. We're thinking of maybe 10 hives over the next few years. Let's see if we go further! :)

    Paula, Gordon is less brave than me and won't go gloveless, and always wears a full-length bee suit. But he likes beekeeping. ANd yes, the main thing with stingers is (contrary to popular opinion) not HOW you get them out but HOW FAST!

  15. Andrew, you are far more observant than me; the link between William and the queen was very sharp. I do not name my queens; it's hard enough for me to find the damn things in amongst thousands of bees. However, I am thinking that perhaps I SHOULD name the queens, and I quite like "Catherine." It's also the name of my Scottish mother-in-law. I wonder what she would think if I named a queen bee after her? I did after all name a chicken after my Irish grandmother...

  16. David, I like the idea of a crown, since it would make it easier for me to find her in the hive, but if it were candy, the workers bees would just eat it! Naughty girls.

    Deb, right now I sell my honey from home, but if you would like some this year, I will save you some! I have friends who just moved to Perth and I know I will be passing through Carleton Place from time to time. We've pretty much sold out last year's crop (I think I have two jars left) but will be harvesting honey probably in late June/early July. I wish I could mail honey but it's so heavy that the postage is utterly ridiculous!

  17. CogDis. I used to volunteer-teach about bees at the Natural History Museum in Nova Scotia. THey have a working hive and I loved it! That's what solidified my desire to become a beekeeper. Oh my, there is so much to learn, but I love being with my bees. I could sit by the hives and watch them for hours. Utterly fascinating. I need to write more about what goes on in the hive; you wouldn't believe some of the happenings!!

    JOhn, don't you need some honeybees to add to your menagerie?

    Musical Gardener, read "The Queen Must Die: And Other Affairs of Bees and Men" by William Longgood. My very favourite book on bees!

    LBM, he just put it between two frames and pushed the frames together on either side of it to hold the cage it. It's very light! THere was enough wax in the frames below to stop the cage falling down the gap.

  18. Claude, I must make sure I visit you with honey when I am next in Toronto!!! You are so kind with your sweet words. :) Let me tell you, it is HARD to find a queen in amongst all those worker bees. One of my queens was on the small side so it was even harder. Really you have to look for the way she moves more than looking for a longer bee, although that helps too. She has a tendency to walk methodically around the honeycomb, often stopping to deposit an egg. And she'll often have a circle of bees around her, cleaning and feeding her. I need to write more about the amazing queen bee!

  19. Marylee and TTPT, thank you! xoxoxo


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!