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  1. #1

    Default Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    Ok, this is a long story but I felt compelled to share so that others don't make my same mistakes. Now, I've read enough, and I think learned enough to know all that went wrong, but as is typical, did a lot of it anyway, either because I was hurried, or stubborn, or both.

    So first things first: I started off grafting queens. The first round of grafts didn't take at all, not one. Upon review I found that my screen box below the starter colony had a few leaks, and since it was right next door to the mother colony, they just abandoned the grafts. The starter box wasn't completely empty and the bees had started pulling a few emergency cells on the brood comb I had placed in there with them. So I fixed the box, and grafted again two days later. But not before I rolled my German grafting tool up in the newspaper from the first attempt and threw it away! I hammered out a copper wire to make my own grafting tool which actually worked pretty well, and this time I got about 30% take on the queen cells. I noted that there were clusters of cells that took, and then long gaps in the frame. I also noted a lot of dead bees in the bottom of the screen box. I suspect the box got too hot which killed some bees, which led to a lack of coverage so large areas of cells didn't get built.

    Now with the grafts growing, I looked to set up my queenless splits for mating nucs. I didn't have time to build enough nuc boxes, so I defaulted to a bunch of corrugated plastic nuc boxes (Jester Bee). These things aren't exactly designed for repetitive use and several of them had holes or seams that were tearing out.

    On setting up the mating nucs, I placed a frame of capped brood, a frame of honey, a frame of honey/pollen/brood, and an empty frame with foundation to keep them occupied. Lastly I put in a frame feeder and of course a caged queen cell. Then I shook in several more frames of bees to get good coverage. Now, with the mating nucs sealed up (but with good ventilation) I moved them 100' across the yard and into the shady area so they wouldn't get overheated while sealed up for 24 hours. This was two days before the queens were slated to hatch (Friday, and due on Sunday).

    The next day I went around and opened all the entrances. Right away I could tell which nucs were the strongest by how the bees either came out or didn't. I waited another 24 hours (so now Sunday) and then went back and check in on the nucs to see who had hatched and who hadn't. I had two queen already out, and all the cells that hadn't hatched yet, I went ahead and removed them from the cage so they could hatch out freely. At this point I already had a few that were low on population and starting to get slimed by SHB. I removed all slimy frames on these hives and left them with only a bare foundation frame and a frame feeder full of sugar water. These feeders BTW are not my favorite! They were almost all full of dead bees, despite the textured sides that are supposed to let bees crawl out.

    Two days later now (Tuesday) I made the rounds again. Every queen cell had hatched which is great! But 6/8 of the mating nucs I set up were slimed out, and I didn't spot the virgin queen in any of them. I also discovered another small hive that was a swarm I caught a month or so ago, that was doing great a week ago, and now it was absconded and also slimed! What's odd, is that the two mating nucs that appeared the strongest to begin, stayed the strongest, even though one of them had all sorts of holes in the box and could have easily went back to it's donor colony but didn't. They were also sitting side by side, and facing north, if anyone is superstitious. The ones that got slimed were facing east, south, and west respectively.

    So, heartbroke and a little T'd off, especially after finding the collateral damage (the swarm slimed out) I went to check and see what queens I had left. I had 5 queen cells in cages that had been left in the finisher colony. All had hatched. 4/5 were dead in the cage. The last time I grafted, which was back in June, I had about a dozen cage queen cells that I left in the starter colony to hatch out. They all survived in the cages for nearly two weeks before I took them out and offed them just because I couldn't find enough bees to make splits for them. At the time I was grafting just to learn the art, shame I wasted all those queens.

    Now I'm scrambling, wondering if I have enough time and drones to graft once more, and wondering if I even have enough bees in any of my hives to make more splits. I don't know just yet how many of the bees went back to their donor colonies and how many of them are drowned in the feeders. All in all it was a disaster, and a truly humbling experience. I hope some others can learn from this story, and hope I never, never, NEVER, have to deal with this again! I won't sleep well tonight, this sort of stuff gives me bad dreams!
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    McClure, OH
    Posts
    978

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    I am sorry for your loss!

    You did not share what you thought the mistakes were, so I will share some of the lessons I learned with my nucs this year.

    1. Seems like SHB are attracted to feed, especially syrup with drawned bees and patties. Currently, all my nucs are fed with inverted mason jars with holes drilled on the lids. Additionally, SHBs like to exploit any and all holes they can find. The flimsier the box, the bolder they are and the more bees are needed to keep them at bay. Now, I make sure my nucs are tight and the entrance is 1-2 bee widths.

    2. I hear you on the frustrating drift. For some of the nucs I made, the population seemed to be entirely field bees that went back to the origial hive as soon as they could. For next year, I am shuffling colonies, so I have a dedicated nuc yard.

    Any insight on why 4/5 queens were dead?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    Oh yeah, I forgot to finish the story!

    I think a big factor was heat, even despite setting the mating nucs in a shaded area. I think heat is at least what killed the caged queens in the finisher colony, and what made the grafts not take as well. I think in the future I'll use a hive that is in a cooler area as the cell builder/finisher as well just to remove that risk. What was odd with the caged virgins is that the bees weren't even paying attention to them. Granted they were in a queen right hive (below the excluder), but that's how it was early in the summer when I grafted as well and the queens did fine. Who knows.

    Now as for the lose of all the mating nucs, drifting is certainly a concern. I think in the future if I don't move them several miles away, I will instead just try to keep them confined for a few extra days, at least until the new virgin hatches. Hopefully that way, even if I do shake in forager bees, they will establish ties to the mating nuc, and not want to go back to the donor colony right away. The beetle issue I think was compounded by the nucs sitting on the ground. I've certainly noticed that the hives I have sitting directly on the ground have a much higher beetle population. I guess setting them on the ground just makes it that much easier for the beetles to get in an out.

    The silver lining is that all my other bees really enjoyed robbing out the dead out nucs, and I think pulled it off faster than the beetles could slime them and spoil everything. So now I've got a good stash of empty combs that I can store and use for splits next spring, or maybe for swarm traps. Or maybe the WM will get to it before I can get around to storing it properly, and then I'll have nothing. Seems to be the trendy thing lately!

    Last night I picked up the two remaining nucs and moved them over to the bee yard to get them up off the ground. With any luck that will keep them alive. Perhaps I can actually get them moved over to a proper nuc box tonight or tomorrow and get a jar feeder put on so I don't have to worry about drowning anymore. Ugh, that makes me sick to see a bunch of sticky drowned bees.
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    McClure, OH
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    978

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    Tom Brueggen: I never had queens hatch in a cage. My question is - do you think you would have had a different outcome if you had the virgins surrounded by open brood pretty much like the situation of storing queens that Oldtimer writes about here (towards the very end of the article): Raising Queen Cells Without Grafting – Cut Cell Method ?

  5. #5

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    I do believe the lack of brood had something to with it. I didn't think of that, but now that you mention it, that was a difference. Earlier this year they were definitely beside brood, or directly above it, either way, a lot closer to it. This time around they were in the top super, so just between two frames of honey. That very well could have been the problem. I haven't read that article yet, but will look into it now. Thanks for sharing.
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  6. #6

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    Good news and bad news: bad news is the last and final caged queen is dead. After read
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  7. #7

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    After reading that it was likely because they were banked not around brood, I checked last night, and sure enough she was toast.

    The good news is, two more of the nucs appear to be making it. So that's 4/8. Not so bad I guess. I had given up in them when I first posted the story as they seemed too small and I figured they would get slimed. But checking last night they appeared fine. I spotted the virgin queen in one.

    I'm inclined to make one more run at grafting and splitting this fall, just to prove to myself I can. But I learned a lot in this last round of things I did wrong, so maybe that will be enough to hold me over till spring.
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    McClure, OH
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    978

    Default Re: Fall Splits Gone All Wrong

    I cannot offer any advice on the timing for one more round, since I am so much further north than you, and my season is pretty much over here.

    The biggest issue with my last round was robbing and next year, I am going to be installing robbing screens on the nucs from the get-go.

    If you do decide on one more round, I would love to hear how it turned out.

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