Monday, July 18, 2011

Four Splits and a Cup of Sugar

I got this e-mail last week from someone I'd never met. The title was, "Splitting Hives and Introducing New Queens Exercise" and was from Ralph "Buddy" May, a local Journeyman Beekeeper and owner of May Farms, LLC. Buddy was planning on doing some hive splits and introducing new queens and was willing to share with anyone interested. I'd just done a couple of splits of my own with mixed results and thought it would be a great idea to go observe someone with more experience, so I made plans to attend.

6 new queens from Gardner Apiaries

I made the high speed pilgrimage from work to Buddy's bee yard, making it there just in time to begin. We were going to split one colony comprised of two deep hive bodies into four 5-frame nucs. The hive in question was a poor performer with minimal honey production, so the plan was to pinch the old queen and put new queens in the 4 nucs. I'd always looked at splitting hives as a way to manage strong hives in order to increase the number of colonies I had, but I never really gave it much thought as a way to "reset" a poorly performing hive. However, this makes a lot of sense and I look forward to implementing this strategy in the near future.

Donor hive. Notice the two (empty) nucs on each side.
After a generous amount of smoke, Buddy set about distributing the frames in the donor hive into the empty nucs, making sure to position brood frames in the center and honey frames in the outer positions. He utilized screened bottom boards and screened inner covers. He also screened the entrance in order to keep the foragers from leaving and returning to the donor hive since he intended to leave the nucs in the same bee yard he split them from.

Puff, puff, puff
Honey super on top of donor hive
Brood frame from donor hive

After the frames were distributed among the nucs, a pollen patty was added to each nuc as well as a hive top feeder with a couple of quarts of 1:1 sugar syrup to reduce stress on the new colonies. Buddy decided to leave the nucs queenless for a day before adding the new queens. Further, since the queen from the donor hive, which was to be killed, was not located during the split, Buddy planned on going back through each nuc the next day to locate the queen. For requeening, Buddy uses a device called a queen ring, which fits between the nuc body and inner cover, allowing for enough space to insert the queen cage on top of the frames for the new queen's release. I've always introduced queens by suspending the cage on an empty frame, so I'd never seen a queen ring used, but I think this is a great idea.

Queen ring
After the nucs were done, Buddy showed the group how to do a "sugar roll" for detecting varroa mites. I'd heard of a similar technique called an "ether roll" whereby bees were collected in a jar and starter fluid (ether) was sprayed inside and the bees rolled around to dislodge the mites. The ether roll kills the bees while the sugar roll doesn't. To perform the sugar roll, a pint mason jar was filled about 1/4 with powdered sugar. The lid for the jar was replaced with a round piece of #8 hardware cloth and secured with the metal jar band. A sampling of bees was scooped up into the jar and the lid secured. Then the bees were rolled around in the sugar, which caused the mites to fall off of the bees in the jar.
Sugar roll
After the bees were rolled around a little, the jar was shaken out through the hardware cloth into a pan of water allowing the sugar to dissolve and the mites to be revealed. This is a great way to assess the level of varroa infestation to determine if the treatment threshold has been reached without killing a bunch of bees.
Shaking the sugar, and the mites, out.
It was quite an enjoyable evening and I really appreciated Buddy taking time to share his experiences with the group. Hopefully, he'll be doing some more hands on demonstrations in the near future.

If you'd like to be notified of updates to this blog, please email me at I promise your email address will not be shared with anyone.

 If you're interested in learning more about beekeeping, join a local beekeepers association as well as your state's beekeepers association. Explore your state's master beekeeper program if they have one. The following links can get you started:

South Carolina


North Carolina

1 comment:

  1. This is great! Does your website allow you to publish RSS feeds? I'd subscribe.