Walk Away Splits in a Bee Busy Week

Bee hives at Brookfield Farm, spring 2012
The Farm Bee Yard

It’s been a crazed 2 weeks.  As things often do, everything bee-wise happened at once:

Created 7 Nucs:
4 of these were straightforward overnight splits.
1 was an emergency “Who cares where the queen is.  They’ve got to move”
4 were part of the above “now or never move” – these were two boxes tall.

Combined 5 hives:
Good queens with too little brood got to meet some of those strong nucs.

Bee equipment ready to create new hives and supers at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA
Bee Gear Prep Area at Brookfield Farm

20 Packages Made And Installed:
A friend and I shook and placed queens in the package boxes.  Then I moved them north and installed them in 5 of my bee yards: passing the joy around.

Created a Starter/Finisher:
This is for this year’s queen rearing – what was supposed to be simple turned out to be a pain.  Aint’ it so often the way?

Colorful bee hives below dark and stormy skies, northwest Washington
A dry bee yard at The Carrot And Stick

Rain, Rain, Rain:
Yep, it rained though the majority of the process.

All the above is all a bit much for one blog, so I’ll tell the  most crazed story, and thus the better tale, is the “honey, that’s rain, we’ve got to move those bees NOW.”

The Background:

I had a bee yard that at first glance seemed fabulous.  Nice farmer.  Great bee build up.  Very good honey stores even in a bad year.  So why move?

Bee hives sit beyond a flooded field and farm track in a Brookfield Farm bee yard near Bellingham, WA
Wade In the Waters…

The farmer had said the field could get wet.  Farmers can be the masters of understatement.  From February to Mid-April the field was flooded.  Happily, the hives were perched on a raised area. Happy for me because the hives were safe.  Annoying for me because it meant that I had to super by slogging though ankle to calf-deep water to reach the hives.  Worse, it made the bees very grumpy.

Image you’re coming home carrying all your groceries.  You’ve been working.  The load’s heavy.  You’re almost there. You’ve got to get the food back to the family and all those kids. But if you stop to rest, you’re going to drown. That would make me pretty grumpy – can’t blame the bees.

To get out of this field properly would take 2 days:  One day to make overnight splits.  This would let me know which box the queen had chosen to live.  Day two would be pull the splits and install them in new yards. Then prep the hives with the queens for transport.  That evening I would return that night to move those boxes.

For this to happen there had to be 5 days of no rain: 3 to dry out the field enough to get the truck in and 2 for the process. (I have mentioned this in northwest Washington State in another rainy year, yes?).

Finally there was a long enough break in the weather for the ground to dry enough to get my small pick-up truck into the field.  Only one problem:  there was another storm predicted to hit in 2 days.  By this time the three hives were four and five boxes high.

Walk-Away Split:

2 bee hives become 4, and are ready to move out of a Brookfield Farm bee yard (WA)
Nearly ready to move

The nice overnight split quickly became a walk-away split for each hive.  If I have to do a walk-away, this is how I do it:

1) Do not check for queen.

2) Remove top box on any hive with five boxes and move it out as a single box nuc.  I can lift one box; I cannot lift a two-box hive.

3) Remove top two boxes and set to side.

4) Wrap moving straps under the remaining two boxes. Making sure I know which ends belong to which hive (that will make sense in a moment)

Brookfield Farm honey bees look at a moving strap in front of their entrance
Checking out the moving strap

5) Place a board on top of these 2 lower boxes.

6) Place two more moving straps in a cross on top of that board.

7) Place a Bottom Screen (I don’t use bottom boards, I use screens) on top of those straps

8) Replace the two boxes that have been set to one side.

9) Replace top.

10) Tighten the straps for what is now the top hive.

With screens to close the entrance and spare top placed near-by, that hive is now ready to be quickly moved.

Repeat with each hive.

Grand Ideas Defeated By Rain

That was a Monday.  To move those two-story hives I needed my husband’s help, and there was no way he could help me move them that night.  (We always move at night so all the bees are home.)  I could wait until Tuesday night, I thought, the rain was not supposed to come until Wednesday.    The weather didn’t hear the prediction.

I awoke on Tuesday morning to the sound of rain.  “Honey,” I said to my somewhat groggy husband (two long markets and a long work day preceded this morning). “That’s rain.  We’ve got to move those bees NOW.”

No breakfast, and more importantly no tea (!) – my husband is British – the lack of tea was probably grounds for divorce.  Off we went to move the hives.

We shoved the moving screens in place (1/8th inch hardware cloth folded into a “v” which points into the hive), put the tops on, and tightened the straps.  Then, after a soggy load-in we were ready to go, having left one empty box, top and bottom in place to pick up any bees flying.  Yes, even in the rain these New World Carniolans will fly.

Happy Hives In New Locations

Spring Frog Farm: Happy home for some Brookfield Farm bee hives
Checking out their new home at Spring Frog Farm

The hives headed to their new homes : Brookfield FarmSpring Frog Farm, The Carrot And Stick, and a friend’s yard.  Each location was  previously prepared.  Blocks were in place.  Top collars, feeders, and for the single nucs, tops and bottoms

Bees from Brookfield Farm (Maple Falls, WA) examine their new mouse guard and sticks.
Slowing Down, Taking In The New Land

were standing by. And, of course sticks (or long, thick, dry stems) stacked by each new hive site.  The sticks are to slow down the bees as they exit their hive.  They, like us, can rush out into a new location and get totally confused.  A little hesitation makes them take in their new surroundings.

Back At The First Flooded Field

I returned later that afternoon to pick up the box for the flying fools.  By that time the field was again inaccessible, so I walked out with moving straps and carried the small hive back.  I probably saved about two cups worth of bees, but they’re good girls and deserved to be saved

I’ve not been back to the field since, but I figure with the rain we’ve been having, it remains water-logged.

Who’s Got the Queens?

New bee hives in place with apples blossoms waiting to be pollinated
Two of these had queens. One got a new queen

I had to wait three days to discover which of those nucs, the two-stories and one one-story, had queens.

The three days was to be able to easily check to see which hives had eggs.  If there were eggs after a three-day wait, that’s where the queen would be.

Conceptually, the queens would have been in the lower boxes.  Not these girls.  It turned out two were in the upper boxes.  It was alright.  The ones without queens were given some very nice over-wintered New World Carniolan and Caucasian X Feral Bees Queens.  Early next week I’ll be checking on them, and the other nucs I created, weather permitting.

They say it’s going to stop raining Sunday.  I do hope the weather heard that broadcast.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, here in Maple Falls, Washington.

How is your spring going?  Any crazed surprises for you?

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