Sunday, 12 January 2014

Splitting a back yard hive of Trigonia Hockingsii for the first time!

There are about 1500 species of native bees here in Australia. Only four of them (that I know about) swarm and build community hives. The other are all solitary and mate and lay eggs without hanging out with 10,000 of their buddies! (I've put some links at the bottom of the page to interesting bee sites if you are keen to learn more!)

With a new species native bee species recently being identified, the powers that be(e) have changed the formal name to Tetragonula (Tetra meaning four species) from Trigonia (Tri meaning three) followed by the species name but lots of backyarders are yet to change their vocabulary!

 Summer is the season to split Australian Native bee hives. We swapped a hive of Trigona Carbonarii with friends for a hive of Trigonia Hockingsii last year when we both split hives. (See Carbonarii split here). It's been a year since we got the Hockingsii and the husband has been reading up on them and busy building new hives in the background in preparation to split the original hive we got, into two hives.

We opened the honey side to see how they were doing last night - its TOTALLY full so we figure they'll be ok to split!
We split them to both keep them happy and healthy (a bit like the reason you prune trees) and also so that we can get another hive of bees.

We haven't split the Hockingsii before and so with all the tools in place, an audience, an official photographer - thank you Peter -  and a freshly painted hive to move them into - late one Saturday afternoon, we gave it a go!

Here's what we did...

New hive - painted white to reflect the sun to help keep 'em cool during the summer.
Hockingsii have a horizontal shaped hive, the Carbonarii have a vertical hive. Although, as many backyard native bee keepers design their own hives to suit their particular ideas, if you are buying a hive from a back yarder, note that the hive shape isn't always an indicator of the bee species....
New hive at the back.
Hive full of bees at the front. The left half is the new part last year and the right half is part of the original hive.
Before we split the hive, we had to take off all the masking tape (used to seal the hive on the last split to keep ants etc. out) and also to remove all the hive clamps (bits of metal used to keep the hive together)

And in we go - note the paparazzi in the background?!
We have used a large, very sharp kitchen knife to cut through the hive with. A hot wire could also be used. You are going to be cutting through wax and resin.

It's not as easy as it looks to cut through as you might think! 
It took a lot more force than we had expected.
That's the brood (bee baby beds) that you can see.
This species has their brood in the middle of the chamber. When you split any native bee hive, the idea is to split the brood and the food supply (honey and pollen) evenly and give them both a new room to build into.

So each half of the hive we just cut goes onto a brand new half - giving them each a new half to build into. The faces we are making are because we have bees in our eyes, in our ears and up our noses!
These bees bite, but do not have a sting. The bites are nips and don't leave any reaction - not like a green ant bite does. It's annoying and gets your attention rather than a painful bite. I got bitten on the eye lid and couldn't find a mark when I went to look 10 minutes later.

These are different hive layouts to the carbonari hives that we have split before and need to be held together with a piece of metal so that there is as little gap as possible for ants or other honey predators to get in. When you split a hive, invariably, honey gets spilt. This attracts all sorts of bugs to the hive. Also the clamps stop the hive from breaking in half if it falls or moves, limiting the damage the bees need to repair.

You will need to have premade all your hive clamps before you have split it. Trying to cut and fit hive clamps with 5,000 angry little bees trying to communicate their level of annoyance with you is not going to be easy!

Easy to tell which is the old and new halves!
*oops, bee up my nose face

Then we popped on a bit of masking tape to help them keep the hive secure until they patch it with wax and resin from the inside.

And then the original hive goes back up where it was and any escapee bees (including the ones hiding in my armpits) can find their way back to the hive.

The old, new half and the new, new half are then much more securely taped up for their journey to a friends place.
The entrance to this hive is shut up with a little removable door (with tiny air holes) so that we move this hive with the maximum amount of bees in it to give them a sporting chance of rebuilding and thriving.

See the escapee bees making there way back to the top hive?
The bottom one is shut up so no bees can come or go and is just resting on the chook nesting boxes and will go on its journey in the morning. The idea is to take it with the maximum bees in it. If you open it up, they will all go back to the top hive.
We did this split at about 5pm so that they are all heading back to the hive anyway and we have them shut up for the least amount of time.

The about-to-be-relocated hive in the back seat of the car!
We relocated the bees about 14 hours after we split them.
As a general rule of thumb, we have noticed that our bees don't get up until the sun hits their hive.

So this was the perfect place for them.
This is a temporary set up about 10km from our place. It's out of the way of kids and animals, off the ground in case of floods, ants or rats (who will like the honey) and hopefully secure enough if we have a decent storm.
Thank you Kim for providing a picturesque spot for them to holiday in!!
The bees will stay here for 6-8 weeks when we can bring them home again. If we left the second hive within 5km of the old one, they would all fly back to the original. As the bees have a life cycle of about 6 weeks, all the bees that remember the old hive will have died and all the new bees will want to stay in the hive they know and love in a couple of months. So then we can move the new hive back and they will stay as two separate hives.... Until we separate them again next year and need two friends to agist them for a couple of months and then the following year, eight friends and then...?...?  I can't do the math anymore!!!

Bee sites to learn more from:
Zabels bee site You can buy hives from these guys too
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for helping a native species multiply
Frugal-ness: 3/5 for hand making it (but it isn't a cheap exercise...)
Time cost: About 4 hours to actually make the hive, painting time and maybe 20 minutes to do the actual split (then add an hour to get all the bees out of your hair, armpits and undies!!!)
Skill level: Owning bees is easy, splitting bees is not so hard if you do all the research and have everything ready before you start.
Fun-ness: Sooooooo much fun - bee keeping (err, bee watching) is such a time waster!

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