Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dividing a Hive & Grafting a Queen

Please remember, we are very new at this.  This is an account of what we're observing and doing, NOT a recommendation of what to do.  Only time will tell if we're on the right track.  So in the meantime, read along, look at the pictures and appreciate all the amazing skills that the BEES possess.

Dividing a Hive
To pick up where we left off, we had marked the queen in the upper hive and were planning on putting her back in her hive.  But, in process of looking for her, we noticed that the colony had continued to build like crazy. It was time to divide the hive.  Eeeeeek!

To divide a hive, you need a place to put the divide (a nucleus hive, a.k.a. "nuc", or another hive).  You also need to find the queen.  We had the queen- we had just marked her.  This new, small colony would also need honey to eat and a few bars of brood (baby bees).  They would also need extra nurse bees because of the bees that were transferred over to the new hive on the bars of food and brood, some would be foragers.  On their way home from their next foraging trip, they would return to the original hive (called drifting) leaving the new hive with even less bees.  More nurse bees means more bees ready to begin foraging for the first time- they will return to this new hive because they will make their orientation flights from it.

So.  We gave the new hive two bars of honey comb and three bars of brood (trying to choose bars with capped larva so that new bees would be emerging soon).  We positioned the bars approximately as such:

honey/pollen comb
empty bar
honey/pollen comb
empty bar

We, of course made sure the queen was placed in the new hive (above) and also brushed an additional bar of nurse bees into the hive (below).  Jamey used tall grass to brush additional nurse bees into the new hive and the bar of brood was put back into the original hive.

closing up the new hive

Once the new hive was closed up, the entrance was opened slightly (to help them protect themselves), a jar of sugar syrup was placed in the back (there wouldn't be any foragers going out to bring back food for a little while and if the weather turned nasty (it did- we had three days of rain) they might need more than the honey bars we gave them, and the legs were placed in pans of motor oil to protect the hive from thieving ants.

Now we wait and watch, hoping that this hive will grow strong over the summer.  If they don't build up the reserves they need to head into winter, we will share some honey stores with them by transferring frames of honey from the other hives to theirs.

Grafting a Queen
Now that the new hive was set up, we had to turn our attention to the original hive which was now queen-less.  Heavens, me.  Colonies need a queen.  We had three choices (as we understood things).

1) We could order a new queen and introduce her to the hive.
2) We could let the bees raise a new queen from an egg already laid in a worker-sized cell.
3) We could graft a very small larva into a queen cell and allow the bees to raise it.

While ordering a new queen has it's benefits (you can be choosy about genetics), you of course have to pay for the new queen and be careful how you introduce a foreign queen to a colony.  We liked the idea of letting the bees raise a new queen (they know what they're doing) but allowing them to raise one in a worker cell (by extending the length of the cell as the queen grows to account for her length) it means she may not be as big and as strong as if she were raised in a larger queen cell.  Since the hive already had a few empty queen cells built into it's frames, we decided to...GULP...GULP...GULP...try to graft a queen.

If the queen cells in the hive already had eggs laid in them or if one or more were capped (meaning the queen was in the pupal stage) we wouldn't have needed to do anything.  But, in our case, the queen cells were all empty so we needed to scoop a small larva from a worker cell and gently place it into a queen cell.  We re-watched Les Crowder's video (Top-Bar Beekeeping) segment on the topic.  Jamey gathered his reserve and decided he wanted to give it a try.  We headed back out to the hives the day after we divided them.

Les recommends using a green willow twig as your grafting tool.  We readied lilac twigs since we don't have any willow trees.  We really appreciate Les' use of everyday tools (like weeds instead of a bee brush) so that less equipment needs purchasing (and cleaning and storing).  We would only need one tool, but we wanted to be prepared.  Can you hear us shaking?

We then went through the hive, looking for two things- the right size larvae (eggs can't be lifted out, so very young larva are what we were looking for) and the bar with the queen cells.  Once located, Jamey brushed them free of bees and took both bars a few feet away to perform the graft.

looking for small larva and queen cells

On the edge of this comb are the two queen cells (here, covered in bees).

brushing the combs free of bees
Also, let me say something about the Gala Apples box.  Jamey uses this box to hold extra bars, the smoker, etc.  He also attached wooden bars to the sides so he can set bars of honeycomb in the box when he need a place to set one.  It suspends the combs as if they were sitting in the hive.  Unlike Langstroth frames, you can't just lean/set them down because of the fragile comb.  You can see he has a bar set in it in this picture.

He took the lilac tool, scooped out a young larva and laid it gently in the bottom of the empty queen cell.  He did this twice because there were two queen cells.  This will hopefully give them a better chance of successfully raising at least one.

lifting out a young larva

the young larva on the tip of the green twig (grafting tool)

placing the larva in the empty queen cell

The bars were placed back in the hive and the hive was closed up.  Hopefully, the nurse bees will begin feeding the larva royal jelly- the super food fed to larva to create queen bees.

Les recommends staying out of the hive for 30 days to allow the colony to raise the queen, let the queen take her mating flight(s) and return to start laying.  We don't want to interrupt or disturb any part of this process.  It takes a queen about 16 days to emerge from a queen cell and about 6-10 days after that to take her mating flight.  Once she returns, she'll begin laying eggs in a couple days.  So, by the time we head back into that hive (around July 1st) we'll hopefully see some eggs and maybe even spot the new queen.  

closing up and wishing the bees luck- it will be awhile until we look in on them again

We feel really good about how the whole process went (Jamey was awesome, if I may say so myself) but we won't know how it will all work out until sometime next month.

Goodness.  If someone told us we'd be doing all this already, we'd be dumb-founded.  But you know what?  We're loving every minute of it:-).
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  1. You guys are amazing and you sound like professionals at this. Your research on the topic must have been ongoing for sometime. We have talked about starting a few hives but felt we have so much to learn first. I have passed your blog along to my husband so that he can follow along with your process. Thanks so much for sharing all the info. We have much to learn before getting started. Seeing Jamie bare handed even is amazing. He must be so suited for raising bees and the bees know it. :) Jamie the bee whisperer. :) Blessings!

  2. This is thrilling for me! I actually found myself holding by breath as I read about what your husband was doing to graft the new queen. We live in the city and can't have bees, so I'm living vicariously through you. Keep up the good work, we're looking forward to the next instalment.

  3. I love reading about your bee adventures. Best of luck! Can't wait to read more.

  4. Just tickled to read that the bees are doing well, and you are extending yourselves out of your comfort zone in tending to their needs. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE reading your blog adventures!


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