Hive Split Gone Awry

I haven’t posted an update for a while because there hasn’t been much new to report.  The hive is continuing to thrive and has built a great deal of comb.  I’ve been expanding the hive by a couple of bars a week and at this rate in another month they will fill the available space in the main hive. With their population rising and the production of some queen cells I decided to go ahead and do a pre-emptive hive split to  artificially create the result of a swarm.  This seemed like a simple process, just take several bars of comb including brood, honey, the old queen, and all the worker bees on the comb and put it in the new hive.  The original hive will simply rear a new queen and if all goes well I will have two healthy colonies.

Unfortunately things went badly from the start.  The evening before I started this procedure I got stung while mowing the lawn.  The bees had not stung me before when I had been working outside, but one zipped right up under my hat and stung me on the ear which was not real comfortable.  This may have just been a fluke, but I was using a weed-eater about 20ft away from the hive and it seems that may have irritated them.

The weather had been quite hot so I decided to start the split early in the morning before it got to warm.  The comb can easily fall apart if the temperatures are too high and I didn’t want to risk that happening during the move.  So I got suited up and went out to start the process.  As soon as I opened the hive I got attacked by a lot of bees.  They were more aggressive than I had ever seen them.  I went about pulling out the four bars from the new hive which I had placed in the old and put them in a box with the right dimensions to hold them.  I started to look for the queen, but the bees were really starting to sting me now.  Most of it was not getting through my clothes but I had over a dozen stingers stuck in me now.  This of course is a vicious circle as the pheromones released by stinging bees encourage more bees to sting.

In the past, if the bees have seemed to agitated I’ve walked about 20ft away and they seem to calm down, this time however they pursued me.  I had what seemed like hundreds of bees on me, and several stings were penetrating my shirt and jeans. I walked around to the front of my place to get away from this, but they followed.  My cat who was in the yard also got attacked and was stung several times which produced some interesting acrobatics.  She was finally able to run away and get through the pet door inside.

The sugar water spray was completely ineffective at this time and I decided it was time to try some smoke.  I had been reluctant to do this since the natural beekeeping gurus I’m following recommend against it.  However I was getting desperate and had to do something to get the situation enough under control to finish what I was doing and get the hive closed back up.  I called for my wife to throw out a lighter and some paper for me.  I use a charcoal chimney to light my grill so I got this out and started a fire in it with the paper and some charcoal.  It smokes a lot when first lit so I started waving that around which had an immediate effect.  I took it back to the hive and waved it around a bit more which dispersed the cloud of stinging bees long enough for me to get the hive closed up and transfer the comb and bees I had removed to the new hive.

The bees remained in an agitated state the rest of the day, and I was unable to work outside.  Even eight hours later I was getting stung 50 or 60 feet away from the hive as soon as I would walk outside.

At this point I’m not sure if the split worked.  I do not know where the old queen is, but I think that I missed her and she is still in the original hive.  I also think that I did not get any of the queen cells from the old hive which would have been the next best thing to getting the queen.  If there are enough workers and eggs in the new hive, they still will have a chance to raise a new queen, but I’m not sure they have a large enough population to survive until a new queen is reared and mated and starts laying eggs.

The original hive is still likely to swarm at this point since the bulk of the bees remain and new queens may already be under development.  While my initial urge is to go try to find the queen and move her, I’m a bit afraid of doing more damage than good at this point.  I may just let nature take its course.  If the new split fails, the old colony will still be strong, and even if they swarm I should still have a strong hive afterwards, even if I do lose some bees and honey.

My biggest concern with the old hive swarming has to do with the fact that I started with a queen with clipped wings which I somewhat regret now.  If the hive swarms, the queen will simply fall to the ground and be lost, quite possibly with the bees that follow her.  I wouldn’t mind losing half the colony if they were going to have a good chance of making it in the wild as feral bees, but with the clipped queen that isn’t going to happen.  So part of me kind of hopes that the swarm takes place now while there is plenty of summer weather left for them to rebuild the population.  Once the clipped queen is gone I won’t be as concerned with swarming behavior.  I really only have room to keep a couple of hives, so once they have reached capacity I will either have to let them swarm, or find other beekeepers that want to adopt some bees from me.

I also have decided that I will use a smoker as needed.  I ordered one that night.  While using smoke may upset the bees and disrupt the hive for a time, opening up the hive as I did and having them go completely postal obviously disrupted them for several hours.  Additionally, scores, if not hundreds of bees died stinging me.  Fortunately only a dozen stings or so got through my clothing, but my shirt and pants were covered with stingers by the end of the process.  So, I’m beginning to see the act of disrupting the hive with a bit of smoke as the lesser of evils in this case.