to split or not to split??

I have two hTBH. Both were very strong until start of bad weather in April. I nearly lost one hive, starvation, I think though it has recovered a little and is still active but not that many bees. The other is packed out in the existing combs but doesn’t seem to have made any new combs this season. It hasn’t swarmed though looks like it could/might at any moment. Theres 18inches of solid bees in there. It’s amazing to watch.

I haven’t opened it for two months or so preferring to be hands off where possible. 

I have two empty warres waiting for swarms, which I hoped would come from these two colonies, assuming I am around and find the swarm when it leaves.

I did a split last season and afterwards felt very guilty that I had interfered with their plans and democracy. They swarmed anyway but that’s another story. 

If I miss the swarm I will be disappointed and am wondering if I should split the strong colony into the other end of the one of the hTBH. Can I do that in the same hive or should I move them a distance. Assume I need to transfer eggs or a queen cell assuming I find them. It’s a pretty messy hive, inside, partly my fault for interfering.

I can understand why the weak hive hasn’t swarmed, I don’t think it would survive, but the strong hive has had plenty of opportunities.

So should I split or should I let the bees do their thing?

As far as I know I am the only been for a mile or two and I have never seen a swarm here, except the one from my hive, so my source of bees is limited. Is it a good idea to have several colonies all related, they seem very healthy and happy, or would it be better to bring in some new genes??

Not sure what to do. Any suggestions.

EricHalfBee – Somerset

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8 Responses to to split or not to split??

  1. simplebees says:

    I would not consider making a split this late in the season. The queenless half of the split would be anything up to a month before it had a laying queen. That’s at least 13 days for a queen to emerge, a few days to mature, a day or two to mate – assuming good weather – and a further couple of days to settle before starting to lay. That takes the colony to mid August, which is too late for it to replace the adult bees that have died in the meantime and then reliably build up for the winter.

    I know colonies can swarm late in the season and, as you say, the colony may yet do this, but a swarm is very different physiologically from a split. So, my advice would be leave them alone.

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

    • erichalfbeethefirst says:

      Thanks v much. That was my thinking until this week and then I wavered and wondered if I should. Great advice, will leave them alone. They do know what they are doing after all.

  2. johnmkubwa says:

    I would not split this late in the season. If you must split, the best time is as the colony is preparing to throw a prime swarm – usually May; The whole colony will have developed queen cells containing virgin queens ready to take over the nest when the old queen departs. If there are no queen cells, it is not enough to give a split a comb of eggs. It takes a lot of bees to raise good quality queen-cells; half a colony might rear emergency queen cells but they would be of poor quality resulting in low grade bees and/or queen failure.

    I would prepare my Warré hives as good bait hives and let nature take her course.

    I know some near-natural beeks in Somerset who exchange swarms. What is your nearest town? Perhaps i can put you in touch. You might contact ‘Beelights’ on the Warré forum.

    John, Stockbridge, Hants

  3. Robin says:

    Voice No. 3 saying ‘leave ’em alone’. If you read what you wrote I think you actually answered your question yourself – “preferring to be hands off where possible” and “I did a split last season and afterwards felt very guilty that I had interfered with their plans and democracy.”

    In fact 18″ of solid bees is not very full in my opinion – I’d leave them to build up. I have one 4 foot horizontal that is wall to wall solid bees and still not swarmed yet. Don’t let your impatience for filling your Warrés tempt you away from being natural.

    I have not opened either of my 2 horizontals at all this year and one is wall to wall bees the other 3/4 full. Like Gareth I have learned that horizontal’s are far from the best hives for the bees, especially as so many beek’s open them frequently to ‘take a peek’ or straighten comb. Yes mine have cross combing but I take the opinion ‘so what?’ – that is the bees business. I may take one or two of the end bars of honey (furthest away from the brood) in August by cutting through the comb and leaving the bees to make good but I have not yet decided – I’ll probably leave them to be swarm producers.

    I am still getting swarm calls – I turned one away today and one on Tuesday as I have no boxes or folk to pass them to. If you are coming to our meeting tomorrow then bring a couple of top Warré boxes (with the hessian stuck to the top bars as I use this method) and I’ll prob be able to get you one or two.

    North Somerset

  4. erichalfbeethefirst says:

    Thanks Robin and John. I know Beelights and I am in touch with and a member of Yabeep, lucky me, just been away a lot this summer and a bit swamped with ‘stuff’. Was glad they hadn’t swarmed while I was away. I shall bring a top box to the meeting tomorrow with thanks and see whether a swarm will wend its way to me. I am relieved not to be interfering with them as I remember learning all about the hierarchy and effort that goes into swarming and realising that I had upset the balance for my needs and not theirs. It’s good to have second and third opinions esp when confidence wanes. So thanks to all.

  5. solarbeez says:

    I’d love to be in a group of Beekeepers like yourselves that respect bees and are not hell-bent on straight combs.

    • johnmkubwa says:

      Dear Solarbeez,
      There are a number of near-natural beekeeping groups across the south of England. I am involved with a Hampshire group which includes people from Wiltshire, Dorset, Surrey and West Sussex. We meet on a Saturday every 3 months, at different venues, to learn about bees and chat about our own situations. Within the wider group there are smaller local (same town/village) groups of between 4 and 17, which may meet more often to help each other.
      If you let us know roughly where you are, Gareth or myself should be able to put you in touch with someone nearby. You would be welcome to attend a Hampshire group meeting to ‘suck it and see’. Best wishes
      John, Stockbridge Hants

  6. solarbeez says:

    Thanks John, I’d love to join some natural beekeepers. I’ve seen Gareth’s and Robin’s names on forum and just stumbled on them again on and this post. I’m across the pond on the west coast of the US, so I probably won’t be visiting in person, but I’ll be following your blogs to get the latest good info from people that aren’t into treating bees or maximum honey production.
    Thanks again,
    Pat (solarbeez)

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