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Beekeeping, Increasing your hive numbers

Well another month has flown by! I can’t believe that I only have one full month left in Australia, but I’m looking forward to coming home and getting my own bees sorted. One of the first jobs when I return will be taking them to the Oil Seed Rape, which on a side note this year is looking very poor due to the wet weather and increased flea beetle damage.

I’ve decided that I’ll talk about increasing hive numbers as this is something we are busy doing here in Australia and something that is very high on my agenda for my own bees at home.

There’s a number of ways to make an increase, the easiest of which is split a hive that’s planning to swarm, usually called the nuc method. This is one of the simplest forms of swarm control and one I would recommend you use when you find a hive with queen cells. When you see more than 1 or 2 queen cells it is likely the hive is preparing to swarm and you need to do something or you might lose the swarm! The nuc method requires you to simply move the old queen a frame of capped brood and a good few shakes of bees onto foundation. The old queen feels like she’s swarmed because she is now in a small colony with only a small amount of brood and flying bees. You then need to go through the old hive and knock down the queen cells so there is only one healthy cell left. When I do this I put a queen excluder on the bottom so the queen cannot leave and remove it a week later once the queen is laying.

If you are not able to move the nuc to a new location over 3 miles away then the best solution is to move the main hive a metre or so to one side and put the nuc in its place, all of the foraging bees will return to the nuc and make it very strong. If you are going to move the hive to one side then you can leave the frame of brood in the main hive, just be sure to remember the queen excluder because bees on just foundation may decide to try and leave.

One of our queens ready to go to make a new hive

The problem with this method is it requires you already have a hive that wants to swarm. There is also no guarantee that the queen in the Nuc won’t still want to swarm.

My personal preference and the method we use here is to make a new hive using brood from either one or a few hives, plus shaking a few frames of bees. We then have a full hive or Nuc to which we add an already mated queen. All of the colonies will have a mated queen rather than leaving queen cells which means they can expand much faster.

We start by going through strong hives that have previously been checked for disease and finding the queen, this is really important when we want to move frames around. Just checking for the queen on the frame you are moving isn’t good enough because they are so easy to miss! Have a practice with the picture below, feel free to comment with the square you think the queen is in. I will post the answer in the comments in a week so you can check if you were right!

We then select a frame of brood, most of which needs to be capped, and put that frame into a nuc box. If it’s a strong hive you can pull more than one frame of brood but remember that this will knock back the original colony. I suggest you make the nucs with 2 full frames of capped brood, 1 or 2 frames of honey and foundation for the remaining frames. The brood should be moved with the bees on it which is why it’s important to know the queen isn’t on that frame. The nuc can be made from one hive or a combination of multiple hives. While the text books say bees from different hives will fight in these circumstances its unlikely to be an issue because there pheromones from more than 2 hives. I would then close the nuc up and move it to a new location.

If you can’t move the nuc to a new location then make it with slightly less bees, for example move one or two frames without any bees on them and place the nuc in the spot of a full hive, they will then get bees from that hive. You can then either add a queen cell that is ready to hatch, or my personal preference is to introduce a mated queen in a cage plugged with candy that they will release after a couple of days.

This method sounds more complicated but it allows you to make an increase without knocking any one hive back, it can also be used to make sure no single hive gets too busy and wanting to swarm.

For both methods I would also recommend adding a feeder of 1:1 sugar syrup to help boost the nuc. The added feed will stimulate the queen to lay and the bees to draw out foundation. Once the bees have filled the nuc box it can then be moved into a full hive. Making sure the bees have good access to pollen is also important to help with their development

Can you spot the pollen the bee is carrying?

Queen rearing is an important part of the method I use and something which I will talk about next month and something I think all beekeepers should have a go at. While there is almost no end to the number of ways to split hives the methods which I have briefly mentioned are in my opinion the best. This has only been very brief and I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments below!

If you’re a member of a club and would be interested in me coming and doing a talk feel free to get in touch – Here. I am happy to talk about any aspect of beekeeping for groups with any level of beekeeping experience. So long as the group is interested in bees or beekeeping I will be happy to come and talk.

Our beekeeping experience dates have also been released so please book in as soon as possible as we are expecting quite a high demand although we have plenty of dates available at the moment. You can find the dates – Here

Thank you for reading this short blog about how I expand the number of hives I have got and please feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like in the comments below.

Matthew Ingram

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