All (Queen) Right!

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Look at all the beautiful brood!

It’s been a little less than a month since I did the walkaway split with my largest hive. I had intended to check it at two weeks, but tax paperwork, weather and farm chores all got in the way. All three of my hives looked busy and healthy from the outside so I just let them “bee”.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and I decided it was time to open everyone up and see what the situation was. First I opened up the hive that I started from a nuc back in May. They were doing great, lots of bees, lots of brood, lots of honey. No problems there.

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This hive is so gentle it’s like they don’t even realize I’m there. Not to mention it’s nice working with a hive that’s all fresh new woodenware and frames. They were getting pretty full so I gave them a new honey super with half plastic foundation and half beeswax starter strips. The frames with foundation will hopefully help to keep the comb on the foundationless frames straight. I’m excited to see how the frames with the strips work out because I’d rather move away from plastic if I can. The beeswax strips are cheap, easy to install, and will allow the bees to build any kind of comb they want. If they want to fill it with drone comb, they can bee my guest. I just want it built straight!

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The starter strip is taken from a sheet of Dadant size wax foundation. I can get five 1 1/8″ strips from one sheet so two sheets will do all ten frames. The strip is secured by dripping wax from a beeswax candle into three spots and holding the strip straight until they harden. Easy. Plus this way I’ll be able to harvest some comb honey at some point which is the ultimate goal.

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Next I opened the hive that I suspected had been the queenless half of the split. Same thing, lots of bees, a beautiful brood pattern and eggs and larvae in all stages. I did also find what looked like a single opened queen cup. Didn’t see the queen, but I know she’s in there doing a fantastic job.

One thing that concerned me a little was the condensation buildingĀ  up under the lid. Just another reason I would like to build and install some top quilts before winter as well as look into some slatted racks and screened bottom boards. I think more ventilation will be a good thing.

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You can see a few empty queen cups

Hive three had been the stronger side of the split, with two full boxes of bees to start off with. I had assumed the queen was in this hive, but when I opened it up there were a good dozen or so queen cups that were long empty. This hive was the least gentle of the three, which wasn’t to say they were aggressive, just a little more upset that I was taking their house apart. It could have been partly because there were quite a few frames sticking together when I lifted the top boxes off and they shifted around a little. Also maybe because my smoker was kind of puttering out by that point. Still no stings so I’m not complaining.

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Hive three looked pretty darn good! Tons of capped brood in a good solid pattern and lots of honey, even though this was the hive I hadn’t fed.

I did a cursory inspection for varroa mites, and couldn’t see a single one clinging to any bee in any of the hives. Once I get my screened bottom boards I can do a 24 hour mite check and that will help determine if I need to treat before winter. I think I prefer the method of allowing the bees a frame to build up with drone comb, and then just freezing it once it’s filled with brood. Varroa mites prefer drone brood because their gestation is longer, so that’s a good natural method of control.

Once again I didn’t use my gloves today. When gloved fingers get covered with propolis and stick together, it can be dangerous and I almost dropped a frame the one time I did use them. I suppose my hands are now stained orangey-yellow for awhile, but maybe the propolis will help to heal the dozen or so barn owl bites I got from gearing up an uncooperative male with his transmitter yesterday!

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Spectacled Owl – First Free Flight of the Year

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This little guy is a favorite of mine and I like to think we’re friends. I enjoy sneaking up the path while the flying demo is ending to coax him out of his aviary so we can say hi to guests on their way out. In the process we usually get to soak up some premium afternoon sunshine!

In these photos we’re waiting for our turn in the demo for the first time this year and this handsome jungle owl is psyched to get flapping!

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Marabou Stork in Action

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We have recently begun flying our very handsome marabou stork again, and boy is he a crowd pleaser!

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He’s a 14 year old male with a ten foot wingspan and he loves to perform. He’s also an extremely intelligent bird, probably one of the two smartest at the Centre, along with our little rescue crow. It’s always amazing to see him showing off his natural abilities on the flying field.

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Splitting My Hive

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Today I decided to split my large, strong hive into two.

I bought this hive a month ago and it came with three full boxes of bees and a new queen. When I mentioned I wanted to split it to the owner, he asked me to give the queen a few weeks to start laying first, so I gave her a month as per his request.

The bee workshop I attended earlier this May was all about splitting hives. The master beekeeper had about six, young two-box hives going that had been made from packages about a month previous, and he simply checked each box for eggs, pollen and brood, moved the strongest box to a new bottom board, dipped his old drawn frames in sugar syrup and installed them in a medium box above a queen excluder on both hives to collect honey. He explained that the weaker box should stay in the original location because all foraging bees would return there.

You don’t need to find the queen for this method as the queenless hive will hopefully just raise a new queen themselves. That’s why it’s called a “walk away” split.

He also said that while you can split anytime, you probably wouldn’t get much of a honey harvest if you did it much beyond the first couple of weeks in May. Since I never planned on a honey harvest in the first year anyway, it’s ok with me that we’re a couple of weeks late. Who knows, right?

My main interest in splitting my hive is I want at least three colonies going into the first winter. I’m still learning, and if at least one colony survives, I can hopefully use it to make more bees. If all my bees die, I’m looking at another $200 or so unless I get lucky and catch a swarm.

I left the full bottom medium brood box of the original hive where it was, put an empty deep brood box on top, gave them their top honey super that was completely full, and a new empty honey super to get started on. The split off hive (with the striped entrance reducer) got an empty deep brood box on the bottom and the main deep brood box from the original hive totally filled with bees on top of that. On top of that is a half drawn out honey super they’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I haven’t used any queen excluders since I’ve only been giving them frames with foundation.

Not sure if I’ve given the bees too much room now or what. I tried to do an even split while giving the advantage to the split off hive. I guess I still don’t know for sure which hive the queen is in.

The original hive was still going strong after the split with bees streaming in and out, but the striped hive looks like nobody’s home. As the nurse bees inside turn to foraging bees that will slowly change. Here’s hoping they do a good job of raising themselves a new queen… They have a lot of resources to work with. I also gave them a jar of sugar syrup to get them started and I’ll top it up as needed.

I’m not sure if I’ll wait two weeks to check, or if I’ll wait a month to avoid damaging any queen cells. I’m leaning towards waiting a month. If the split hive fails, I can always recombine it with the original.