Hive Buildup and Splitting — Lab Note 3.01

We’re starting up the full-scale test of our bee breeding project. You can read a project description here. Lab notes are just that: a record of our work and data.

The bees were installed at their Agrecol locations on April 19, 2020. We have five clusters around the periphery of the property. Each cluster got two Russian-hybrid, one Carniolan, and one Italian package. These are commonly available types of bees, meaning that we’re working with stock that anyone could get from a package breeder each spring. Each package was installed in a deep box with mostly drawn-out frames.

We began with twenty packages, which we will split to forty colonies by midsummer. At that time we’ll also be purchasing twenty nucs to bring our total number up to sixty hives.

Our equipment is ten-frame Langstroth boxes. We’re hoping to build each colony up to two deep and one medium box (or four medium boxes) for the winter. Each deep box is labelled with a Roman numeral (I, II, III, . . .). Mediums are labelled with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, . . .). Nucs, which we use to make splits, are lettered (A, B, C, . . .).

Screenshot_2020-06-15 Google Maps

On April 26, 2020, we checked to make sure the queen was laying properly. One hive — XXIII, a Russian hybrid — seemed to be queenless, and so a frame of brood was passed in from the neighboring Russian-hybrid hive (XVIII). A week later they had drawn queen cells, but a month later, at our next inspection on May 25, 2020, it was still queenless and yet another frame of brood was given from the same donor hive. A week later, when it was checked, it had not drawn a queencell. At this point, we gave up on this hive and will repopulate it from a split-out nuc.

During the inspection on May 25, we also found a hive (IX, Russian hybrid) with capped queen cells, so we split it out into Nuc A. At that time, all of the hives were given a medium box below the deep as they were beginning to fill up the space.

Planning to Split

Now that we’re in June, we plan to split each hive into two colonies. We’re working under the following protocol. This will change in future years, as we hope to isolate better-performing genetic lines, but as they are all packages from the same suppliers, they do not have established lines that need to be protected.

Last weekend we went out and set up new hive stands to facilitate the upcoming splits.


In-Yard Split Protocol

  1. Confirm colony to be split has at least six frames of brood (preferably more).
  2. Find the queen and place her and her frame in an empty nuc box.
  3. Remove four frames of brood from the hive, making sure that at least one frame has eggs and <36-hour-old larvae (these are the size and shape of a newsprint comma) and place in another nuc. If necessary, shake a few frames of nurse bees into the nuc.
  4. Remove one frame of honey and pollen and place it on an outside position in the nuc and smoke the bees down before placing the lid. Close up the nuc and remove it to a central breeding station.
  5. Record the parent hive number and nuc letter.
  6. Put the queen frame back into the donor colony, being sure that the queen is still on the frame (shake the empty nuc box back over the hive).
  7. Add five empty frames back into the donor colony. If undrawn frames are used, be sure to checkerboard them between brood frames. Drawn comb can be checkerboarded or not.

Unusual Split Protocols

If the hive is queenless:

  • If enough brood is present (i.e., six or more frames), pull out three frames of brood and one of pollen and honey to make up a nuc box, then add one frame of eggs and <36-hour-old larvae each to the colony and nuc from a donor hive in the same cluster; record all of this.
  • If not enough brood is present (i.e., less than six frames of brood), add one frame of eggs and <36-hour-old larvae to the colony from a donor hive in the same cluster; record.

If the hive has active queen cells, the colony is ready either to supercede or swarm and this inclination can be used to make a split(s):

  • If eight or more frames of brood are present, split this colony into two nuc boxes, leaving the queen in the original colony, as per above “In-Yard Split Protocols,” (i.e., each nuc gets three frames of brood, one or two of the best queen cells, and pollen and honey); refill the donor hive with empty frames, preferably with drawn comb; record.
  • If less than eight frames of brood are present, split this colony as per above “In-Yard Split Protocols,” making sure to move best one or two queen cells into the nuc; cut out rest of queen cells remaining in the donor hive; record.

If the hive looks unusual or is potentially infected with any obvious malady:

  • Do not split this hive; depending on the malady, do not remove any colony or nuc from this cluster and do in-yard splits within the group only; consult protocols to deal with specific maladies.

“Lab Notes” are a series of posts chronicling the daily progress our research projects. Research Project No. 3 is the testing of a bee-breeding protocol to develop mite-tolerant bees from commonly available stock. These notes may be useful for anyone interested in testing such a method at home. Others might prefer the more succinct guide to bee breeding, videos, and other formal publications that will result from this research project and be posted to the website as they are available.

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