Making Increase

A queen cell being fed.

Making increase is how bee keepers refer to expanding their stocks.  Not so long ago all bee keepers made increase because they couldn’t just order some bees and let someone else do it for them.  Somewhere along the line things changed and something that all bee keepers used to know became a mystery – It’s really easy to make increase.

Splitting

Any queenless hive that has the necessary resources to do so will try to make a queen. The required things being – very young larva, food, bees, and drones for the queen to mate with.

The reason that this is possible is that the only difference between a queen and a worker bee is the way they are fed for the first 5 days of their life.

So, splitting a hive is really as simple as it sounds.  Divide 1 hive into 2 making sure that both of them have young brood/eggs, and food.  If you do this when drones are available (BTW, there are tons of drones at the date of this post)  You have a good chance that the queenless half will successfully make a queen – and there you are, 2 hives from one.  You don’t even have to find the queen to do it.  This is called a Walk away split.

Notice that I said “a good chance?”  I would estimate that there is about a 1 in 5 chance of failure.  The main reason that a walk away split might fail is that the big, fat, brightly colored, slow flying queen gets eaten by a bird on her mating flight.  If I was a bird that’s the one I would eat.  Probably tastes like honey.

Fortunately there is a way to guarantee that the queenless hive will successfully make a new  queen.  Very simple.  First of all you have to determine which hive got the queen to begin with – Inspect after a week – one hive will have young brood/eggs and the other will have queen cells.  Needless to say the one with eggs is queenright.  So here’s the trick –  once a week give the queenless hive a frame of mixed brood.  That is – a frame that has at least a few eggs/very young brood.  If you do that, eventually the hive will make a mated queen – and you will see new brood even if you don’t see the queen.

When you are making a walk away split you are producing what is commonly called an “Emergency” Queen.  That’s because the queenless hive detected the emergency situation that it was queenless and used the available resources to make a queen.  Some people will claim that emergency queens are likely to be inferior – other equally authoritative people swear that they are not.  I can tell you for sure that it would take more of an expert than I to tell the difference. If you have never made increase before, splitting is the way to start.  And I can guarantee this – when you have a queen fail (when, not if) you will be quite glad to have an emergency queen on hand ready to use.

Stacking the Deck

Want to get more bang for your buck?

Instead of a walk away split find the queen and move her – along with the frame she is on and another frame of stores, and the clinging bees on both frames to a nucleus hive – in a new location in the same bee yard.  This Queenright hive will take off pretty quickly, and the queenless hive will have all of the original foragers and the full population – so it will be more likely to make several high quality well fed queen cells.

An excellent frame of brood with queen cells on it. If you find a frame like this the bees have already done all the work for you - just put this frame along with a frame of stores in a nuc and with a little luck in 3 weeks or so you will have a complete new hive.

5 days after making the split (any type of split) the queen cells will be capped. On about day 12 the new virgin queens will emerge.  Unfortunately  the first queen to emerge will sting all of her sisters to death before they come out.  However, most likely there will be more than one frame with queen cells.  So, on day 10 after making the split do an inspection and move each frame with a queen cell to it’s own nucleus hive  along with another frame of stores, and the clinging bees on both frames.  Then you will have a good chance of ending up with several queenright colonies.  These are called “mating nucs.”

Mating nucs

Such small hives like this won’t build up before winter –  Will they?

It depends.  As previously mentioned some won’t even make a laying queen, but of the ones that do often even mediocre queens lay like mad at first – and you will easily see brood about a month after starting the split.  Building up depends more on the weather and available resources than anything, but if you feed you can help them a lot.  I have made splits as late as the middle of July which made it through the winter fine, and were booming in the spring.  But I recommend that you split in April – May so that they have time and weather conducive to growth.  Remember 2 things though 1) 2 queens can lay twice as many eggs as 1.  2) Hives that are judged to be too small or weak can be combined at any time.

Your splits will build up more if they are made during the earlier part of the Spring mating season.  But it’s going to be hard to make a honey crop with a hive if you do that.  If you make your split after the honey flow is over you will probably have to feed it to get it to draw comb and build up – which isn’t all that bad.  But that is also robbing season – and feeding weak hives is likely to set off robbing which is stressful to all hives involved.

Can You Split AND make a Honey Crop?

Maybe.  If you were to split the queen out of a hive about a month or so before the main flow ends (in a normal year that would be around the middle of May)  it might actually make a larger honey crop (and you wouldn’t have to worry about it swarming after that) because any eggs that she lays after that point wouldn’t be mature until after the flow is over anyway, and in the mean time they would eat lots of food.  So a few days after removing the queen from your honey production hive it won’t have any open brood to feed and all of the bees can concentrate on bringing in and processing your honey.  And it should be able to make a high quality queen.  The catch is that it can be pretty hard to find the queen in a big strong production hive.

Increase Tips

  • Making increase is most likely to be successful during the Spring flow/Mating period.  NORMALLY from about mid March – Early June.   When you are seeing trees with flowers blooming.  Before robbing season starts.
  • Any time you are making a split or nucleus hive it will help it a lot if you give it an extra shake of nurse bees from a brood frame.
  • You do not have to move a split to a distant location, but all of the foragers will go to the original spot in the yard.  The split will start foraging in a few days, but make sure it has enough food to get by until it can fend for itself.
  • Reduce entrances on weak hives to prevent robbing.
  • Because foragers will always return to the original location – resulting in that hive being stronger after making a split – It is best if the hive with the queen in it is the one that moves to a new location.
  • The best queens are produced in strong hives with lots of well fed young nurse bees – it supposedly takes the attention of 300 nurse bees to make one good queen cell.
  • Any time you find a frame with a swarm cell make up a nuc with it for the easiest increase ever – and prevent the mother hive from swarming.  Maybe.
  • Strong hives have a high population density – weak hives do not.  When it comes to bee hives strong and weak do not equal large and small.  A small hive can be strong, and a large hive can be weak.  Strong hives are better at building good quality queen cells.
  • A new queen will start laying about 1 month after you make a split.
  • Queen cells will be capped about 5 days after making a split.
  • Developing queens are extremely fragile for 4 days after the cells are capped – don’t handle them during this period. Try to make up mating nucs on day 10 after splitting.
  • Virgin queens will emerge about 12 days after splitting, and will generally be mated by about a week later, and will start laying in about another week. About a month after you split you should be able to find brood.
  • You can tell if a hive has a queen or not by giving it a frame of open brood – if it is queenless the frame will have capped queen cells on it in 5 days.
  • Giving a hive a frame of open brood every week is the cure all for any queen related issue – eventually it will fix hives with old failing queens, drone laying queens, laying workers, and queenless hives.  Three frames over 3 weeks usually does it.
  • There used to be a prominent belief that a queenless hive would make an inferior queen because it would start with larva that were too old, but this idea has been somewhat discredited.
  • A split might not be able to make a superior queen if all of the brood is on tough old comb – but they usually can find a spot that they can work with.  If the comb is new this year then no problems.
  • Don’t worry too much about drones as long as you are only producing a few queens at a time, during the spring mating season.  Chances are that your queens will find plenty of drones.
  • Any time you are moving frames around either make sure that you aren’t accidentally moving the queen, or make sure that it doesn’t matter.
  • Newly emerged virgins are queen killers – if you put a frame with a cell on it into a queenright colony the laying queen will probably be killed.

Want to learn more about rearing queens?

 

 

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5 Responses to Making Increase

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  3. Tim says:

    Thank you for this very thorough and informative post. I am a new beekeeper and overwintered my first hive (from May, 2011) in Flagstaff, AZ. My wife and I are going to try a queenless split this weekend.

    • David LaFerney says:

      That’s great – but the dates I mention in this article refer to our local area, so make sure there are drones available where you are. Good luck.

  4. Matt Phillips says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I appreciate everything you do for us David. I’ve got the link to that queen rearing playlist on youtube we talked about, but I don’t know your email address. You can email me at mphillips256[at]yahoo.com, and I’ll reply w/ the link. Thanks again. :)

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