Spring Hive Split

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed drones hanging on the bricks under the hive, so I did some research on why they do that. It’s because they were waiting for a virgin queen to emerge from the hive. What?! Why would I have a virgin queen if my queen was still around? I did a quick check of the hive and found a swarm cell, which is a queen cell used to requeen the hive so some bees can take off with the old queen and start a new hive. I removed it, naively thinking I could stop, delay, postpone, or in some way influence the bees. Silly human.

I cut this queen cell from the hive, and minutes later she hatched! She was in a bucket, so it was too late to put her back.

I cut this queen cell from the hive, and minutes later she hatched! She was in a bucket, so it was too late to put her back.

newly hatched queen

I watched for a swarm, but never saw one, and with several days of rainy weather this week, I thought I had lucked out. Today was the first full inspection we’ve done since last fall. I know now I should have been checking the hive on nice days during the winter, but I didn’t want to risk chilling any brood, so I waited. Since discovering the queen cell, which is also called a swarm cell, I knew I was going to have to split the hive earlier than planned.

Some of the supers were still almost full of honey, so I removed those for extracting.

Then the fun part started: inspecting the deep hive body and brood chamber. There was no uncapped larvae anywhere, which I found odd. The first sign something was amiss. Then I found a queen cell… and several more.

An unhatched queen cell

An unhatched queen cell

On the same frame were several more queen cells

On the same frame were several more queen cells

While I was looking, one of them started to hatch, so I quickly put it back in the hive in case my queen was no longer there. After more looking, I found not one, but two young queens. I put one in the new hive and left the other in the first hive.

A new queen

A new queen: she’s the larger bee in the center. Notice she doesn’t have the dark banding the workers have.

I also put frames with unhatched queen cells in both hives. When they are all hatched, the queens will fight to the death and the survivor will become the new queen of that hive and be ready to mate with all those drones that have been hanging about.

We checked every frame and the old queen was not there. So, despite all my efforts, she took off with some of the hive to start a new hive elsewhere. Hopefully they survive and are able to make a strong hive in the wild.

While both of my hives have queens, neither are mated yet, which means no eggs and no new brood for probably a couple of weeks. I have a mated queen still on order, so if one of the queens isn’t laying by the end of April I can replace her with a mated queen and the hive should be fine.

I’ve come to realize I’m more of a bee observer than a beekeeper. They seem to take no notice of my efforts or desires and will continue to do exactly as they please. But I love watching them do that and certainly enjoy the perk of deliciously rich honey. The weather has been kind the past two summers, so hopefully my young hives will continue to grow and thrive. And I’ll continue to learn about what makes them buzz.

The new hive

The new hive


These are festooning bees: wax makers

These are festooning bees: wax makers – notice how they are stuck together in a string.


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