Who Said The Splits Hurt?

So much splitting going on here. I’m not talking about firewood and definitely not referring to my fantastic relationship with Sara. Nor, am I attempting crotch-ripping cheerleader moves out in the yard. What I AM talking about is- my beeloved bees.

They say you shouldn’t split a first-year hive. When you split a hive, you are basically creating an artificial swarm. You take the queen, and some of the bees and frames in a separate box(called a “nuc”) and move them to a different location. This prevents you from having to capture your bees off of a tree branch like I did a couple weeks ago. The bees that remain will raise a new queen, and one colony becomes two.  (In case you were wondering, the swarm bees are still in the 6-frame nuc box I put them in a couple Sundays ago. I plan to inspect them in the next few days and will keep you posted.)

So, while I was inspecting my ladies on Monday I noticed signs that they were thinking of swarming. Some signs include- excessive drone comb along the bottoms of the frames (especially the corners) and queen cells being drawn. I have tried to accommodate them by making sure they have room to grow and good ventilation. However, I learned a long time ago that some ladies you just can’t please no matter what you do. This also holds true with bees apparently.

Monday afternoon I split two of my colonies. I was not prepared to do this, so there was some scrambling to do. Luckily, I made 2 nuc boxes last year that were available for use. There was a third colony ready to be split, but I had nothing to put them in. I managed to build, prime, paint, and dry a nuc box by 3:00pm on Tuesday and did the split. At dusk, they arrived at their new home 20 miles away.

They say first-year colonies don’t swarm and don’t split them. My experiences this year say otherwise. Time to drive home this point to any beekeeper who may be reading- always know what’s going on in the brood box. Always make sure you are queenright. Even if you can’t find the queen in the thousands of workers, find signs she is there- eggs and young larvae.

queen pic labeled    Very easy to spot the queen in this picture. This is a new queen. One of my colonies decided the old queen wasn’t doing her job and a supercedure occurred. Notice how tiny the eggs are. Sunny days are best for spotting them. They can be difficult to see.

Once again, I am racing to build hive components and prepare for the possibility of 10+ full strength colonies. Only fooling myself when I said I was going to take it easier this summer. I’ll be up to my eyeballs in vegetable canning and dehydrating soon enough. Wish it was possible to teach Olive (our dog) how to pull weeds and split firewood.

I am not a member of the Judean Popular People’s Front(wink. wink. Monty Python fans) but you could call me a “splitter.”




My Swarm-Catching Cherry Has Been Popped…

…It happened while watering the “back 40” crops on Sunday afternoon.

I always look at the different bee colonies to check their behavior and noticed nothing out of the ordinary that day- just bees coming, going, and doing their thing. My back had been turned on the hives closest to the main garden no more than 10 minutes, when I heard the roar. A dark cloud of bees appeared before my very eyes. They clustered on a pine tree branch just a few yards from the entrance of their hive. This all happened 15 feet from my mosquito-bitten, sweaty face.

DSCF6162   This was my view for the swarm show. Colony on the right swarmed.

“Holy crap, they just swarmed.” I actually said this out loud to myself. Excitement and panic came over me and I ran up to the house, grabbed an empty storage tub and a sheet, threw on by bee suit, and headed back out.

This was the best-case scenario for a swarm. 1- I witnessed it. 2- they gathered in my yard on a branch that was only 5 ft. high and I could easily reach them. So, I placed the storage tub under the cluster of bees and gave the branch a good whack. They fell into the tub. I quickly covered it with the sheet and put it in the shade.

Being totally unprepared for this, I had to assemble some wax foundation frames and put together a hive for these agitated ladies. After racing around for about 45 minutes, I was finally ready to put them in a new hive. I misted them with a little sugar water hoping that they would be more concerned with cleaning each other than stinging me. With a good tap to the side of the tub, they fell to the bottom and I was able to shake them out into their new home with minimal retaliation.

DSCF6165     Will they stay or will they go?!?  Swarm colony in 6-frame nuc box.

It’s been two days now and they are still there. I am watching them closely, but will basically leave them alone for a couple weeks. Hopefully they will decide to stay and call it home. Even if they don’t, it has been an incredible learning experience that I couldn’t find in a classroom. This is only my 3rd year as a beekeeper and I finally got to catch a swarm. Oh-so-glad the first one was easy. The next one they’ll probably be thirty feet up in the maple trees. Wait…I shouldn’t have said that.

So, if anyone ever tells you that first-year colonies don’t swarm…bet them a bunch of money and refer them to this blog.

DSCF6177          Olive loves her summer haircut.  4-legged love of my life.

DSCF6164  This Elvira grape vine was left for dead on a clearance rack at the end of the growing season 2015. It had one little wilting leaf left on it. I bought it for 2 bucks.

The farm is alive and well on all fronts. Plants, ducks, and bee colonies are all growing. The ducks are enjoying their new outside home a bit early thanks to the warm weather. They are about 5 1/2 weeks old now and getting bigger every day. 2 are females. 1 male.

Make sure to add raccoon trapper to my resume. We had one making a nice home for himself under the shed. I don’t like to kill unnecessarily, so I took him for a drive instead. I wonder what he thought of the whole experience. He definitely didn’t stick around to thank me when I opened the trap door. Guh-bye!

That’s what I love about this life- the change, the surprises, the humbling lessons, and the connection to the earth. I am the richest man in the world with the smallest bank account.


DSCF6171         The ladies hard at work while the mullein plant looks on.