About a month ago we tried a little experiment with splitting a hive in two. The exercise goes like this: We take a few panels with fresh eggs and larvae from a colony and place it into a new hive box, with the queen. The bees in the original hive (queen-less) then go about making a new queen. Each season we like to make an additional small hive with its queen to be used as a replacement (insurance). During the summer we occasionally lose swarms, the odd one leaving at the end of the season. Having a spare hive with its queen means we don’t have to hunt around at the last minute trying to buy a queen, have it delivered by mail etc. We take our extra queen and place her into the swarmed queen-less hive so that preparations can resume for winter.
Back to our experiment, which didn’t work. Our queen-less hive failed to make a new queen and became a little aggressive which is normally the case once queen-less. We decided to re-combine the hives in preparation of the coming nectar flow which is perhaps a week off. This will strengthen the hive back to its original state, calm the bees, increase honey production (maybe), make the beekeepers happy and the bees can exchange stories of their adventure.
Combining colonies should be done in a gradual manner. Two separate groups of bees can fight if they are presented to each other quickly. To solve this problem a sheet of newspaper is placed between the two so that the queens pheromones can slowly drift through the hosts brood boxes. Eventually after a day or two the colonies mix, accept each other and most importantly, the queen. Chewing through the daily news, they drag the debris out the front entrance. We try not to include too much from the political pages as this makes them vomit violently. They do however love the sports section and from time to time we have noticed the odd group pondering the daily cartoon. Its such a hoot watching their bemused expressions!
In the above photo you will notice from the bottom going up: two brood boxes (queen-less colony), paper, the one introduced brood box (queen-right), an additional sheet of paper and the honey super (white box). Because this colony has already started bringing in honey its best to leave the foraging bees to their work without disturbing them too much. Once these foragers chew through the paper they also will mix with the original hive. Pleasantries will be exchanged they will all get back to work. We hope so as the photo below shows what awaits them outside…