Sorry for the miscue - I wanted to preview and pushed publish instead and had to start over.
Ten days have gone by since my first attempt at a cut-down split (done pre-emptively as an anti-swarm measure).
All Spring I have been opening the sides of my brood nest to try and avoid a swarm. My biggest hive was getting huge and throwing queen cups (5 or 6 every week) and all around me there are reports of swarms and I was determined to try and avoid one.
A week Tuesday, I unexpectedly saw Queen Buttercup, during the long slog down through 60 frames to hunt for swarm cells and decided, impulsively, to divide the hive in a "cut-down".
I hauled over enough equipment and rearranged the monster hive into two stacks (placed next to each other on the original stand) and here's where I messed up: I put the Queen in the stack with all the capped brood, or most of of it and I made sure that the other hive had all the open brood, including a perfectly-laid new slab of eggs. I divided the stores roughly in half, favoring the queen-right half, but made sure there was plenty of nectar and honey in the new hive, particularly surrounding the perfect frame of fresh eggs (itself sandwiched between other frames of of open brood) with two frames of open nectar and pollen and honey. I was worried the foragers might stick to the Queen-Right hive and wanted to make sure there was enough chow without a lot of foraging to raise the brood, and more importantly a good new queen.
I realized as I was putting the lids on that I had messed up: while the new hive needs eggs/very young larva, it should have gotten most of the capped brood and the Queen should have gotten the remaining open brood to keep her bees busy nursing them and not swarm-minded. But it was late, so I left it as it was. When I got back inside and read about the right to do a cut-down I was really worried, but good counsel here calmed me down and I resolved to Let The Bees Work It Out.
Since then I've been anxiously watching these two hives. The forager activity seemed roughly equal; neither seemed in much distress (after the first few days when things looked dicey). (My two other somewhat smaller hives are now more active than this former boomer.) Something has been nagging me about the situation, but I know you're supposed to stay out of hives after this sort manouver, so I was being a Good Girl (my life-long curse) and kept my hive tool in the bucket.
Until today. When I couldn't stand it any more. I started on the Queen Right hive and was dismayed to find capped emergency/supercedure cells right away. And really dismayed to find a total of 5 of them (over three frames) and no eggs or young larvae and only a few so-fat-they-completely-filled-the-cell larvae/pre-pupae (probably drones from the adjacent cells). Clearly the bees in this hive had decided they needed a new queen and had found a few (possibly) viable cells with which to try and cook up a new one. I didn't keep all the eggs/young larva out of this half, but I put mostly frames with capped brood and fat larva in with Queen Buttercup thinking she could lay up some more in a flash as she is an egg-laying dynamo.
But, alas, it appeared that Queen B was no more. I looked and looked for her, but she was nowhere to be found. It made me cry, because I did this to her; I impulsively performed the muddled-up cut-down and somehow either she was injured or the bees blamed her, or something. And it was all my clueless, new beekeeper, fault. I ran inside to check MB's Bee Math chart in a desperate effort convince myself that the open fat larva might be hers from after the split, but no, they are just in the their last hours of openess before capping. Sadly, I re-packed the hive. There is too much open space in it now, but it was more than I could deal with today and I didn't want to disturb the emergency cells any more than necessary as they are all I had left of my Beloved Queen B. I figured I have a day or two to decide if I should separate them into more than one hive/nuc.
One thought I had was to add a frame of capped queen cells, made from younger eggs/larvae from the other half which might produce a better quality queen. So I started in on the other hive. Surprsingly it looked well-ordered and peering down from the top I could see the "perfect frame of eggs" had, by now been smoothly and evenly capped. That seemed odd to me, so I start at the edge to get some frames out (all those fat honey frames to feed the new queen and open brood). And there smack on the center of the middle frame is:
HRH Queen Buttercup
In all her unmistakable, solid brown abdomen-ness. How she got in the queen-less hive, I'll never know. Maybe she took a stroll from one hive to another. I quickly push-in caged her on the frame (squashing a few open brood, alas) and proceeded to look around. What I saw: five or six queen cups, one with an egg (first time for that); removed them. No confirmed eggs (most of the comb here is fresh foundation-less and very hard to see eggs in) and less young brood (though there was not a dearth of it) than I would have expected for Miss B. But then she doesn't have a lot of extra room to lay as I gave that half all the open brood and it is now full frames of capped brood.
I looked everywhere in the hive and then repacked it and released her from her cage and tucked her under her quilt box.
I suppose I could have taken the opportunity to make her into a nuc, but I'm so over doing things impulsively. However, I think I need to make some decisions because:
a) Queen B is now in a hive without a lot of extra room and the top is deliberately honey-bound to feed the all those poor little orphaned bees, that turn out not to Motherless after all. I can fix that.
b) The smaller amount of brood (relative only to her previous pace, and only modestly so at that) could be signs that she is slacking off in prep for swarming. (After all this drama to prevent just that!) Though no swarm cells seen, and only those six cups (par for the course over the last month every 10 days, or so). But then one did have an egg, for the first time. No swarm cells means I have a few days to act, I think.
c) The formerly Official Queen-Right half the hive may have been forced to use marginal eggs or larvae, but at least they are well on their way to cooking up one of their own. Should I try to divvy up those frames up into two nucs, or let the chips fall?
d) Should I pull Buttercup out and plunk her in a nuc to simulate a swarm and then let her half of the cut-down cook up their own queen, too? Or I could try to recombine it with the emergency-cell half after I've got Buttercup safely ensconced in her nuc?
e) I'm primarily interested in keeping Buttercup alive and here; making a single daughter hive and not increasing more than I absolutely must to rescue myself from this Muddle.
All advice will be gratefully received. I shouldn't be allowed to open my hives without two or three Master Beekeepers watching over my shoulders.
Stop worrying, it'll be fine, just move some honey over, and check back in a few weeks. I would squash any questionable cells, leave the best two. Give Buttercup some empty drawn comb if you can scrounge some up from the other hive, shake all the bees off and you are golden.
If they've made up their mind to swarm ( I believe they have ) then their going to swarm. When it's time they'll swarm whether there's a queen cell ready or not.
If you want to keep Buttercup ( and it sounds like you do ) then she needs to go in a nuc with 3 or 4 frames of mixed brood/ food. You can transfer one of your capped cells back to the original hive if they don't have one started.
If they've suppressed Buttercup from laying in preparation for flying they may not have a viable egg in the parent hive.
I would bet on the cells in the split being the right age.
WOW! What a read! You had me going there, and my heart was wrenched for you ...
And then ... a miracle! I'm so happy Queen Buttercup is alive!
I've avoided naming the queens in our hives specifically to guard against emotional attachment. It didn't work. I love them. I love them to bits, and i'd cry too, were i in your shoes. But now, it seems all is well in your hives! Knock wood, it will remain so.
This is my third year, and I have made a lot of mistakes. Like this spring catching my first, and second swarm just minutes apart. They were big swarms that fill a deep each. I ran to my truck, and seal the entrance to both boxes with duck tape for the night. The next morning it was raining, so I didn't move them until the next day. You guess it, they were dead. I would move her to a nuc with a frame of pollen, one of honey, one of open brood,and one of capped brood. And I would put a queen extruder across the entrance because I don't want to lose that queen. Then I would give the other two hives one, or two of the best looking queen cells. And then I would throw the remaining cells away to prevent after swarms. Then divide the open, and capped brood. If one hive doesn't make a laying queen put down a news paper, and put the nuc with the your queen in it on top. Your not taking a big chance this way. Good luck!
Thanks to all who have replied and offered suggestions.
I'm kind of inclined to move Queen B to a nuc in an attempt to create a simulated swarm. I would use one of my regular deeps with the wooden winter follower boards installed and suitably thick insulation panels to shrink its volume down to about nuc size so I can accomodate more (or less) than the typical numbers of frames in a nuc if that would be better.
Would additional open (vs capped) brood dampen or increase the urge to swarm if it has already been decided upon? This hive (and its other half) fills five deeps and three mediums so I have lots of frames to chose from.
Won't a QE trap the drones inside as well as Queen B? What about the fact that typiclly my hives have an open, unscreened upper entrance - though I suppose the nuc doesn't have to be the same.
What makes a nuc work as an anti-swarm technique? Wouldn't it be crowded and promote swarming? Or is it just too few bees to be viable as a swarm?
Just to be clear for later readers: The "parent" hive i.e. the one that I thought Queen B was in, is the one with the capped emergency cells. The split-off hive, the one where I found Queen B, had 5 or 6 queen cups and only one with an egg, and that's the hive that seemed crowded to me with less room around the brood nest than I had been leaving previously. To immediately ease the pressure, I added a couple of foundationless frames (undrawn, but that doesn't typically faze these girls - they draw it like crazy - or at least they did before the split) as I was closing up today.
I will check back again tomorrow before launching on my next step (whatever I decide), so additional suggestions and advice are still very much wanted and welcome.
Yes it does trap the drones in, but it also traps visiting drones out. It is just something I do, and I'm not sure anyone else traps their queens, and drones like this. But, there is a school of thought that drones visits other hives, and carries mites.
The reason for a nuc.
If you put buttercup in a nuc with ample nurse bees and ample room then she thinks she has swarmed and will go into buildup mode. If she runs out of room she will go back into swarm mode.
If the bees in whichever hive that's wanting to swarm wont take no for an answer at least they can't take Buttercup with them.
Warning. A good queen with 3 or 4 frames of nurse bees will overrun a 5 frame nuc in 3 weeks or less. If the weather is warm you can use a full size box and you won't need the follower board.
Well, I went back in today and removed Queen B from the hive where she wasn't supposed to be and ensconced her in her very own, adjustable, 6-frame nuc box. That should settle her swarm hash for a bit. I will be adding more space and frames to it in a day or so though I doubt she kept many foragers - they're probably mostly still back in the colony where I took her from. That colony is now queenless so we'll see what gets started there. I made sure to leave them some very nice eggs, and some capped brood this time, and tons of stores.
The colony that I thought Queen B was in (actually the original over-wintered colony) had four remaining capped queen cells. Three on one frame and single one on another. I divided that colony as well, moving the single queen cell to a nuc of its own just to hedge my bets. And just in time, too, because as I was carefully packing the 3-cell colony up again I believe I heard queen-piping, though the cells were still intact. Do they pipe before hatching? I've never heard it before, so I could be wrong. Today is the 13th day since I made the original Muddle-Headed Split from which the bees would have had to very quickly start new queen cells as that portion didn't get the perfect frame of eggs (because I mistakenly believed that it had Queen B who could lay eggs in her sleep.) At any rate within a day or so any queen that they did manage to make should be out and about and slaying her rivals. The weather next weekend looks very fine for mating flights.
I am such a sap - after all this work and fuss it still made me weepy to see Queen B reduced to a single deep/nuc box. Up till now she has been the unrivaled Uber-Queen in my little apiary. I have promised her that she can have some/all(?) of her bees back if the cooked-up queens don't take.
Before next Spring I have to get some kind of system going that works to deter swarming without all this desperation and drama - and which doesn't result in creating more colonies. In the last three weeks I went from a confortable three colonies, to six (four of which are Queen B or her daughters-to-be). And I still have to do something about the other two colonies!
Many, many thanks for all the suggestions and encouragement - and especially for advice on how to keep sweet Queen Buttercup safe and sound - and here!
Yes, they can pipe while still in their cells. It's also possible that you overlooked a queen cell, or two. They don't always put them where they're easy to see (sometimes they're between an End Bar and comb edge, and strategically covered in nurse bees).
enj., I am not even going to BEGIN to recount here my split adventure over the weekend, where I split, and then reconsidered and swapped a couple extra boxes around, and then had bees in a huge ball in the front of what used to be for sure (I was pretty sure anyway) the queened hive but since I moved a super onto the other one, now I had doubts, and don't even know if I might have moved off their queen cell...
I mean, really. I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown all weekend. And still would be, except I am in denial stage now and just thinking: IF THEY'RE NOW BOTH DEAD, THEY'RE BOTH DEAD. OH WELL.
We're going to need Beekeeping Therapy after all this.
Thanks for the confirmation that the odd, repeated a few times, noises that I heard might be queen piping while still in the cell. I will keep an ear to the hive to try and hear more. I have read here that the day of a split that resulted in development of emergency queen cells can be considered the same as the "grafting day" when looking at queen rearing charts, so the timing is right. (And this would, I think, be particularly accurate given that the only eggs or young-enough larva that were left in this colony would have been at or near their "use-by" date when I did the split.)
If I missed an emergency queen cell, it's OK because they are for sure not in the nuc with Queen B as she came directly from her queen-right (though possibly thinking of swarming soon) hive. Right now in all the other splits, the more the merrier, I guess.
Beekeeping Therapy? I need some of that!
I am coming up on my one-year anniversary of the day these bees were cut-out of their barn walls delivered into my dubious care. I keep thinking that soon I'll get the hang of it and things will settle down but it seems every new day and season delivers some different crisis.
Recently I was examining a frame deep inside of one of my colonies. Several bees on it were moving around and repeatedly going into shivery "convulsions" for a few seconds and then turning around in circles and repeating this. I thought grimly, "What fresh Hell is this? Until I remembered - I was actually seeing waggle dances about forage locations (hopefully not prospective new hive locations!) I was thrilled to see this usually hidden little bit of bee behavior, but it shows my state of mind about my bees: it seems most "new" things I notice are not good omens.
Based on my own (skimpy) experience, I expect your recent split will seem to be all dead-wrong, but will work out just fine, in the end. If we are bee "keepers", then I think logically the bees must be human "endurers". Mine are apparently exceedingly skilled at that. Bet yours are, too.
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