First Honey Harvest & Hive Split
Last week was monumental for the small, but growing, Humpy Creek Apiary: in one fell swoop we executed our first honey harvest and first hive split. It should be noted at this point that we are still very much novices and this is a report of what we did, not necessarily what should be done.
Six or so weeks ago we put a deep super on our original hive (which we’ve had for about a year). We took the queen excluder out, so that the bees would have a double brood chamber. The thinking behind this was that it would give them plenty of room to expand under the favourable conditions we’re having this year, and should we decide to split the hive a double brood chamber would make it nice and easy.
We only used small starter strips on the frames in the super, wanting to let the bees draw out their own comb (in line with more apicentric management). Well, it was a nice idea but a couple of weeks ago we noticed that the comb wasn’t quite right and there appeared to be some bridging between frames. Optimistic, we thought it may just be a matter of some bridging at the top that could be rectified with a few deft swipes of a butter knife and were hoping to quickly solve this problem last week, and combine the comb fixing with a honey harvest should there be enough.
It turned out that the last third of all the combs crossed over to the next frame – it was a mess and certainly not able to be rectified with a butter knife. After some reading we think that the cross-combing could have been prevented with much longer starter strips. Rookie mistake. After seeing the extent of the cross-combing we realised that the fastest way for us to solve it would be to remove all the bees from the super and just get rid of the dodgy comb.
Using a spare super as a comb stand we started separating and removing the combs as best we could. In the process, we noticed a few swarm cells. Being novices, and not having planned for the extent of the cross-combing and now having the possibility of the bees swarming soon had our heads spinning and we had to think quickly (it’s not good to have the hive open too long because it stresses the bees and upsets their regulation of brood temperature, and the longer you’re in there the more pissed off they will get).
We knew we were going to have to shake all the bees off the dodgy comb one way or another, so we figured we may as well split the hive at the same time and just shake them into a new hive. The hive is in town, so a swarm may not be appreciated by the neighbours, and while splitting the hive may not prevent them from swarming, if a large chunk of bees and brood were removed we figured it might buy us a little time. Given the mild temperatures of late and the number of drones flying it was worth a shot.
Luckily, we had a spare hive set up as a bait hive nearby. We set it up next to the original hive, took the frames out and put in a few frames from the original hive, ensuring there was honey, pollen, eggs, brood in various stages and nurse bees. We gave the original hive some of the bait hive frames with starter strips (strips the length of the frame, we won’t make that mistake again!) and closed it up. We didn’t think Queenie was on any of the frames we put in the new hive and we were pretty sure she hadn’t been on the dodgy comb we removed from the super because there were no eggs in it so she was likely laying in the bottom box.
We shook some bees off the dodgy comb into the new hive, put in the rest of the frames and closed it up. We put a sheet in front of the new hive and started to shake the rest of the bees from the dodgy comb onto that. Thankfully, they started marching into the new hive (rather than taking off and all going back to the original hive). We smoked the last bees off the dodgy comb, and as soon as a comb was clear of bees one of us ran it inside.
We were careful to clean up any stray comb and honey as the last thing the bees needed after all the disruption was a bunch of robbers stressing them out. It became clear pretty quickly that the new hive was queen less: the old hive just went right back to business, whereas the bees on the new hive looked a bit lost and confused.
We left the last of the bees on the sheet to crawl into their new home and went inside to start harvesting the honey from the super. We cut the capped honey away from any brood (there wasn’t too much brood in the super thankfully, but there was enough to make us feel pretty bad for having killed it) and just strained it.
The hive split and harvesting the honey took a while afternoon and by the end of it we were very sticky and emotionally drained. We care deeply about our bees and the thought that we may have done the wrong thing by them did take a fair bit of the shine off the first honey harvest.
Five days later, though, the new hive (right) is actually looking pretty good, there’s a decent number of foragers going in, there’s pollen going in and there are orientation flights happening. Judging by hive entrance activity they look like they’re doing ok and hopefully this means they’re raising themselves a new queen. Only time will tell!