So I opened up the yellow hive (which was a new hive last year, created from a split off of my first hive, and which has been BUSTLING ever since it was created) last weekend…. Ho. Ly. Crap. This more than makes up for my poor blue hive (my first hive, which I recently discovered was doing poorly because it was rife with mold; I did check on it, as well, and it seems to be beginning to recover). I had kept five medium supers on the hive over the winter (yeah, I know, bad beekeeper, you’re supposed to reduce the number of supers for the winter to minimize the amount of space the bees need to keep warm – but with a young baby I didn’t find time to condense the hive in the fall, plus the hive was so bustling year-round that I assumed it would be okay). When I opened the hive, I saw that all five supers were packed full of bees! Eight of the ten frames in the top super were full of honey, and each super below had all ten frames full of honey/pollen/brood. I saw several queen cells, as well, indicating that the bees were getting ready to swarm (which makes complete sense, since there were SO MANY of them and they were running out of room!). There was burr comb connecting frames from one super to another, which contained plenty of honey as well as some drone brood (shown above right – I can tell it’s drone and not worker brood because of its relatively large size [which of course you can’t tell from this photo] and because of its huge eyes). I scraped the burr comb and was able to get about a cup or so of comb honey (yum!). I had initially opened up the yellow hive intending to do a split – pull a few frames of brood and a few frames of honey to start a new hive – and there was certainly enough there to do so! I ended up pulling an entire super’s worth of frames that included brood and honey, and put that plus an entire super of honey (which I probably could have just harvested, but wasn’t prepared to or expecting to be able to do so), plus a super of empty drawn comb, on a new hive. (We’ll call it the green hive, though at the moment it’s made up of supers from both the blue and yellow hives, since I haven’t had time yet this year to buy/assemble/paint new supers.) I put back the remaining three supers on the yellow hive, and added a super of somewhat moldy comb on top; I figure that the extremely strong yellow hive will be able to quickly and easily clean up that mold. (I’ll check on that in a week or two.)
The typical advice when creating a new hive from a split is to place the new hive at least two miles away (two miles?? yeah, right!), at least temporarily, so the bees don’t immediately go back to their hive of origin. I placed this new hive about five feet from the old hive! The trick is to let the bees know they’ve moved, which is pretty easy – simply pile some grass or brush or sticks at the hive entrance. As they leave the hive, they’ll notice something is different, and re-orient themselves to this new hive (it worked for me when I did a split last year!). It was actually really neat to watch this in action, as the bees’ orientation flights are much different than their usual beelines out of the hive. When worker bees leave a hive, they typically just zoom out in a straight line up and away from the hive, unless it’s their first time leaving the hive, or they’re in a new location. Orientation flights look a lot different, as I witnessed for the first time after doing this split: the bee flies out of the hive entrance and to a spot about six inches or so from the hive, turns around to face it, and does a few little loop-de-loop circles in front of the hive before flying off. I watched bee after bee do this as they left the green hive.
This afternoon, I checked in on the green hive to see how they were doing. Over the past week, there has been very little activity at the hive entrance, except at the time of day when the yellow hive gets hit with the sun and really goes nuts; at this time of day, I’ve noticed a lot of activity at the green hive, and I suspected robbing (the yellow hive stealing their honey back!) was going on. As I expected, when I opened up the green hive, almost all of the honey that had been in the upper super had been removed, leaving nearly-empty comb behind. Some of this comb contained fresh, uncapped nectar, though, so if I can mitigate the robbing (and if they raise a new queen), I think this hive will do okay. Interestingly enough, too, the honey that was present on frames that contained brood (all in the lower super) was untouched. So I reduced the entrance down to a small opening to allow the green hive to better defend themselves, and will leave it at that. You can only do so much. I’ll keep an eye on them over the next few weeks, and will be watching for bees coming in carrying pollen, which is evidence that they’re raising baby bees and therefore have a viable queen.