Yesterday I revisited the hive on my allotment to make a second attempt at splitting them using Ron Brown’s method described in his pamphlet: A Simple Two-Queen System. This time the weather was a little warmer and they had had an opportunity to do some foraging. They were much better tempered but I still received a few stings. I left one bee still attached to her sting as she turned this way and that trying to avoid tearing herself apart. Occasionally they manage to enlarge the hole or break off the barbs, letting them fly rather than die. After a couple of minutes I lost my patience and assisted her with a scrape of my hive tool, allowing her to escape in one piece.
These bees are the usual mixture of colours, but with more yellow bees than is usual in this area. They result from a swarm I took at Minterne Parva last summer so maybe there is a local beekeeper using imports. I noticed a couple of bees tugging at hairs on the back of my hand. Roger Dewhurst of the West Cornwall BKA reckons that there is a link between this behaviour and the hygienic trend that helps bees cope with Varroa. I didn’t see any mites or any bees with deformed wings. Neither did I see any drones, although there was plenty of drone brood. I recall that some of the drone brood had perforated cappings but didn’t investigate further as that wasn’t the purpose of my visit.
I examined every comb carefully without finding the queen, so went through again in the other direction. Eventually, on the last comb, I spotted her: long and very dark, contrasting with many of her daughters. Swiftly I transferred that frame to the adjacent brood box where I had a central gap already prepared. I also put in the adjacent comb which had brood, stores and laying space. Empty frames with a ‘footprint’ of comb around the edge were inserted in their place for the bees to draw.
The brood box was then covered with a clear crown board to keep the bees down and then I shifted it to the upturned roof. The new brood box with the queen was put in its place, then a queen excluder, a couple of supers and then the 2- Queen board with a mesh panel to retain some contact between the parts of the colony but not passage at this stage. The entrance, I directed at a right angle to the main one to reduce confusion. Then the heavy brood box was put on top and the roof added.
Next, I drove the couple of miles to Frogmore, an organic farm in Toller Porcorum where I have a couple of hives in a corner of a paddock, well fenced against badgers as there is a massive sett close by and they wiped me out a few years ago. Last year one of the 2 colonies was wiped out by wasps while the other was ignored. I thought that strange as they were mother and daughter colonies and behaviourally similar.
I split this hive also, using a different method. Again I didn’t find the queen until I started going through again. This time I had my marking cage handy and applied a blob of paint. The bees in this colony are very much darker than the other one, although there are a few that are a little stripey. I received only 1 sting. Instead of using a 2-queen board (I have only one of them), I simply put the bulk of the brood in its box on top of the stack above a queen excluder with an entrance in the rim. So the stack now consists of: floor, brood box with the old queen and mainly combless frames (save for the ‘footprint’ previously described), queen excluder, 3 supers, queen excluder with upper entrance, brood box, crown board, roof.
This hive has plenty of drones and, again, no sign of Varroa. I broke off a chunk of sealed drone comb that I shall check for mites when I get around to it. The worker comb is in very solid slabs and the odd missed cell has pollen or nectar in it with absolutely no room for the supposed ‘heater bees’ which, once again, shows that bees just haven’t read the books!