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Walk Away Split & Drones

I’m sure this has been covered a million times. I’ve watched dozens of videos on walk away splits so i understand as best i can the process. However - last year i started my first hive using a bee package and the hive is now looking very close to being ready for a split over the next month. My question is - do i need to wait until i see drone in the hive / landing board before attempting a split to ensure the queen is able to complete a mating flight - or is it ok to do an early split knowing there should be drone by the time the new Queen emerges?

Hiya Matt, if there’s a strong nectar flow and your colony is bustling then a split would be right on time. Lots of drone brood and drones can be a sign the colony is preparing to swarm. The queen will travel quite a ways to a drone congregation area (DCA) to mate with unrelated drones, she doesn’t mess with the ones from her own colony :wink:

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I would wait for drones flying. This is as much because it is the timing the bees chose as anything. Things go better when there are drones flying.

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thanks yes - i was concerned about the timing. My assumption was that if there are no drone on my landing board - there may not be on others in the area. Maybe that’s wrong - but I think I will wait to see some drones.

Hi Matt, have you done a brood check? Because spring is directly ahead of us (practically here), you should see lots of drone brood in every possible place the bees can make it. Sometimes you’ll find it between the QX & top bars of the brood frames.
If you think the colony is ready to split, as a means to prevent swarming, it’s better to be too soon rather than too late.
Plus it’s always better to get it done before the bees start preparing to swarm. You really don’t want to open the brood box to find lots of swarm queen cells.
Also if you split today, it’ll still be the best part of 3 weeks before any virgin queens will embark on any mating flights.
I got queens mated a few weeks ago here on the Sunshine Coast. Even if you are a month behind us, you should be right to go now.
cheers

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Thanks Jeff. About two weeks ago I did a hive inspection and got about 6 frames into it (10 frame hive) and all i was finding were full frames of honey. The hive was full of bees - but not busting at the seams so I thought i would pull two honey frames and replace with new foundation frames. I saw lots of new bees and figured all was well with the queen.

Not sure if that was the right thing to do exactly. I wanted to keep this inspection short so i finished it there and closed it up.

It’s turned cold here now - but as soon as the weather warms again i was planning on a split to a 5 frame nuc (which sounds like sooner the better). Only the 2nd season with my first hive - I have a lot to learn.

Thanks for the advice.

You’re welcome Matt, if you didn’t find any brood in the first six frames, that leaves the other 4 frames to contain brood. Going by that, your colony has some building up to do, before it decides to swarm. Plus you said it’s not busting at the seams. With that in mind, there’s probably no urgency.

We’re having a cold spell here at the moment with minimums of 7degsC. It didn’t stop one of my nucs from swarming a couple of hrs ago. With hindsight, I think I added too many nurse bees to it. Anyway the swarm is in a customer’s nuc box, 1 of 6. As soon as the queen is laying fertile eggs, he can take it away.

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Hi Jeff (and others)

I opened up the hive today for a walk away split. Feels more like a walk away hope and pray to me. Not certain how this will turn out - but this is what i did / observed.

  1. Lots of activity at the entrance. The two frames of honey that were taken 2 weeks ago and replaced with 2 empty frames were completely drawn out and 80% full of honey again
  2. I found plenty of drone in the hive, but no swarm cells
  3. I was able to locate the queen frame and put it carefully back into the hive
  4. I moved 1 full frame of honey into my 5 frame NUC

And this is where i realised I’m not entirely sure what im doing here …

I went looking for frames of eggs. Couldnt see any eggs even with a torch (i didnt have a magnifying glass which may have been a mistake).

So -

I moved one full frame of capped brood into the NUC

Still looking for frames of eggs. No cigar. I did find a frame of quite visible larvae (but probably older than 3 days) but I move them over to the NUC. So thats 3 frames in the NUC

I then found a frame with some polished cells, and what seemed to me to be cells with royal jelly (milky looking substance?) on the bottom of the cell. I couldnt see any eggs with the naked eye but I took a guess that they would contain eggs. Thats 4 frames.

I then placed an empty frame as the 5th frame in the NUC.

Advice welcome.

Is my assertion that seeing the milky substance at the bottom of a cell mean there is probably an egg there too?

If so, how long should I wait before checking for a queen cell?

Lastly. JeffH - Do you have Queens to sell right now? Can they be shipped to Sydney?

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Hi Matt, I don’t sell or ship queens. I sell them with nucs after the new queen is laying fertile eggs, in the customer’s brood box & pickup at my place.

What you did sounds pretty good. You’re correct in assuming that the milky substance will accompany eggs & very young larvae. Just make sure that not too many bees go back to the parent hive. Otherwise the brood will be vulnerable to chilling or hive beetle ‘strike’. My new term: “hive beetle strike”.
I would check it in no less that 4 days, even 5 to be sure. After 5 days, the queen cells are very obvious. What I’ve been doing is splitting the splits after the queen cells have developed. Then I can put a frame with queen cells in each split.

I’ve been splitting with a lot of sealed brood, which makes for a very strong split by the time the first queen emerges, which can instigate a swarm. Therefore I’m constantly trying to manage populations to minimize swarms. I had one so far at my place which I caught, plus one issued at my main bee site the other day while I was there. I didn’t see where it went. My main colonies are ok, it’s just the splits making new queens that I have to watch now. I’ll start on the main colonies again next week.

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Thanks again Jeff. Sounds like i’m kind of on the right track then. I’ll check the hive mid next week and see how it looks. Whats the best practise if there are multiple queen cells? Just let them figure it out? I’m guessing I could take one of the queen cells and graft it into another nuc frame?

Hi Matt, normally I let them figure it out as a natural selection strategy. At the moment I’m still doing that, however while limiting the populations of the splits as a means of trying to prevent swarms. That’s why I’ve been splitting the splits. It’s easy to underestimate how many bees will emerge out of full frames of sealed brood, which I’ve been guilty of lately.

I’m heading out shortly to do some more splitting before breakfast.

Yes you can take queen cells to graft into other brood frames, which I haven’t done yet. I keep the queen cells intact in their frames, then add that frame to a split, if I need to.

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I opened up the NUC (5 frame) today to check on the walk away split. Wow. I can see what you mean when you say -

The NUC had plenty of bees in it and 4 of the 5 frames were almost full. The hive looks really strong.

I got to the 3rd frame looking for queen cells and couldnt see anything obvious. There was a huddle of bees in the middle of one of the frames and when i carefully brushed them aside there appeared to be 2 queen cells side by side that were still open at the top and the bees still working on them.

Can you tell me what i can expect from here? Should I now leave the hive for 2 weeks or longer before doing another inspection?

Hi Matt, it’s great that you found those queen cells, that way you know where the queen is.

You could wait 2 more days to see if queen cells appear on other frames, then you can split the split in two without disturbing the queen cells. That would reduce the risk of the split swarming with the first queen to emerge, unless you wanted to break every queen cell down bar one. Splitting the split doubles your chances of getting a successfully mated queen.

Once you are happy with the state of the queen cells & population etc., close it up & don’t open it until about a month from when you first took the original split. If you had a successful mating you’ll see worker brood on the verge of getting capped, or actually capped. I always look where the largest concentration of bees are. If I don’t find any eggs or larvae, I’ll add a frame of fresh brood, which wont do any harm if the queen is there & just a bit slow. Then I’ll look in 5 days time to look for either brood or queen cells on the frame of brood I added.

It’s important to take that measure, otherwise if you don’t, a laying worker will commence.

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So the good news is that my split (to 5 frame NUC) created a queen. The bad news is they seem to have swarmed and now i’m not sure about the next steps.

We were out in the backyard when we watched a small swarm form on our passionfruit vine. I got them into a 10 frame box - but the next morning they were all gone.

I inspected the 5 frame NUC to find more than one open queen cell but still plenty of bees in the nuc. 4 of the 5 frames were honey or nectar - and i couldnt find any eggs or a queen. There were some drones - but nothing that would indicate laying workers.

If the hive has swarmed - does that mean that there must already be a queen in the hive? Does that mean the split may still be successful or do I need to start again by adding another frame of eggs?

Ahhh the learning curve!



Hi Matt, you may have read where I’ve been splitting my splits in order to avoid the exact same thing that happened to you. I had one swarm (which we caught) issue out of a split about 10 days ago. It was my fault for having them housed in a 4 frame nuc box. As long as the virgin queen in the swarm successfully mated, I’ll finish up with 2 queens because I spotted the new queen in the nuc box colony while transferring them to a six frame nuc box.

If the split is too large, there’s a high risk of the split swarming with the first virgin queen to emerge, leaving the remainder of the colony with the still to emerge virgin queens. That should answer your question.

You need to consider time lines, bees, drones & queen life cycles etc.
Queens emerge 16 days after the egg is laid. Then after about 5 days she goes on mating flights. Then after about 5 more days she starts laying eggs. Then it’s 9 days before any brood gets sealed. It’s important to bare that in mind. Also bare in mind that drones will be the last brood to emerge from the previous queen’s brood.