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The Beehive: Splitting hives and introducing new queens in Kansas

Brett holds up caged queens picked up at a UPS store in Kansas. (Contributed photo)

Welcome back to the beehive. Spring is on the way, and the Double "B"ee Honey Farm has made some major changes. Let me tell you what they are. Brenda and I have both retired from our day jobs, which means we have more time to devote to our honeybees.

Two seasons ago, I let you folks know that I had found a second location in Kansas to winter our bees. The idea behind having a second location was that it would one day give us the opportunity to split our hives in Kansas.

Well, that day has come. About two weeks ago, Brenda and I went to Kansas to split our hives. The night before, I contacted my beekeeper buddies from Texas, the Johnsons from Robson Honey, and asked that they send 100 queens overnight delivery to the UPS store in Paola, Kansas.

I contacted the UPS store in Paola and talked with the clerk, and asked if they would allow me to ship bees to their store.

The clerk said, "Honey, we have never received bees here, but we have shipped a turtle and a duck, so bees should be no problem."

So, the following morning, at 0830 hours, the UPS Store clerk called me and said the bees are in. Within 10 minutes, we had our queens in hand. The bees arrived looking great, no casualties.

Brenda and I headed to the Sunflower Apple Orchard, where some of our bees spent the winter, and we began splitting the hives. I will explain.

By splitting the hives, we make two to four hives out of one. The idea is to reduce the number of bees in each hive at the beginning of the season, and let the queen build up the numbers of bees in each hive as the season progresses. If we didn't split the hives in the spring, the hive would become overcrowded and would assuredly swarm.

Now let me tell you how we split the hives. First, we open a strong hive and locate the queen. Then we isolate the frame the queen is on.

Next, we split the brood frames. By this I mean frames that have eggs, larvae and unhatched bees. In each new hive, we like to have a frame of honey, frame of pollen and two frames of brood. Then, we relocate the new hives to a new location, at least two miles from where the mother hive was. (This is why we had to have two locations in Kansas).

Now we have a couple of things working for us. By putting brood in the new hives, it keeps the nurse bees from leaving the new hive to return to the mother hive. The second thing is, the two mile separation makes it more likely that the bees will accept their new hive location.

We leave the new hive queenless for about 24 hours. The bees in the new hive will realize the hive is in peril because they are unable to smell any queen pheromones. Then the following day, we introduce the new queen. The new queen is in a cage. The cage is inserted into the new hive between two frames.

I have said this before, but I have to say it again. It is quite an experience to watch the bees when they realize they have a new queen and that the hive is no longer in jeopardy. The bees gather round the new queen and begin fanning her pheromones throughout the hive, so all the bees can rejoice.

Honestly, it will make the hair on your neck stand up. I never get tired of watching this. Anyway, this queen cage has a candy plug in it. It takes the worker bees about three days to eat through the candy plug, so the queen can be released. In this three-day period, the bees and the new queen get used to each other and acceptance is almost guaranteed.

Brenda and I split all of our hives in two days. We re-queened all the splits the following day. We then returned home to Park Rapids, only to return to Kansas six days later to check the hives. We had to inspect each hive and make sure the bees had released the new queens.

We found that five hives had not chewed through the candy plug. So we manually released the queens. We also feed the bees some sugar water. This assures the new queen that the nectar flow is in, and it's time to lay as many eggs as possible, every day. (About 2,000 eggs per day.)

Brenda and I have had the opportunity to get our bees ready in Kansas, where the flowers are blooming and 70 degree temps typical. In about 14 days, we will return to Kansas and bring our bees north. Our bees will be ready for business when they hit the ground. All the prep work has been done. Now all we need is some nice weather, and a great honey producing season.

As always, thanks for your interest. Take care.