Friday, 7 November 2014

Tetragonula Hockingsii native bee hive split..!

We have several native bee hives and this year needed to split our Hockingsii hive. It was a mismatched hive made from two halves that didn't actually fit together as each half was made by other people. We decided to do a normal split with the "good half" that was made to a standard size and to "destroy" the odd half and transfer the bees to another type of hive completely. If you are interested in a normal Hockingsii split, this is the post for you. If you are interested in a transfer, I'll post that next as they are two different techniques and if it's your first split, the two lots of instructions could get confusing...

I did the normal Hockingsii split all by myself with the husband photographing (and jumping in with the drill when he realised we hadn't taken off a brace or the feet - giving me a chance to shake off a few bees!)

I'd recommend you to have a spare set of hands available as its a lot harder than it looks to do when you have so many annoyed little bees telling you what they think of your renovations!

*Please note: Another super long post full of technical mumbo jumbo especially for those seeking lots of information! But lots of interesting pictures for those not in need of so much detail!

Here's what I did...

This are the three hives involved in this split. In the front is the Hockingsii hive that was split last year and has the mismatched halves. See how one side is smaller than the other? At the back is the right half that will attach to the left half of the hive giving us a traditional Felhaber hive (named after the inventor, Les Felhaber). The hive on the right is a design of my husband based on a Carbonari OATH  (Original Aussie Trigona Hive) with the features of the Felhaber. We call it the FROTH: Froggys 'Riginal 'Other Type Hive!

I'll go into more detail about it later in the post.

Having everything ready, take off any tape that is still on the hive helping to seal the hive after the last split. We locked the bees up to minimise flying bees before we were ready - that's the block of wood and the green bungy on the left half. Once you are ready, using the biggest sharpest knife, start cutting through the centre of the hive.

It's actually much harder than you might think. I had to put a huge amount of effort in. Once you have done a few splits, its will become easier as you know how much pressure you need. Imagine cutting through a cold Mars bar about 10cm thick and you'll have an idea. I had to take the knife out several times and cut it from both sides to get all the way through. The bees start swarming out as soon as the gap is big enough (that is, almost instantly).

Ta Dah! Made it through, finally! This half is going straight onto the new hive. I'm not an expert but I think the white cells are the new queens. The brood (baby bees) is layers rather than a spiral that the carbonaria make. The involucrum is the layer of structure around the brood - protection and air-conditioning if my understanding is correct. They tend to leave a "ring road" around the edges of the hive for getting around a lot quicker.

This is the original half - dated 2008 - and all of this is going to go into another hive entirely. Note the thicker deposits of resin. The bees don't build a solid structure all the way to the edge of the hive, although I think I have squashed it at the bottom, there should be a "ring road" all the way around the nest.

So here we have 10,000 bees objecting to the decision for a new development! As you can see, the two halves will just slot together. My husband thinks that these hives have a weakness at the middle join and so uses aluminium to hold it all together. He is not convinced that the bees are capable of cementing it in such a way that if we moved it or it fell in a storm that it would stay in one solid piece, so he gives them a helping hand.

Note the second hole in the new half - That's so that you can encourage them to use the new half sooner as to get in and out they have to use that door. We still have the original door blocked up to keep as many as possible in there as this hive is going to Aunty Anni's for a holiday! If you leave the two hives in the same area, the will migrate back to the old hive or the one closest to the old spot. These bees have a life cycle of about six weeks. So after a holiday of eight weeks, none of these bees will remember or be imprinted with the old hive and the new generation will be reluctant to move out of this hive, no matter where you move it.

Just before the final join and I'm trying to blow as many bees out of the way as possible. But Its almost impossible to do a split without any casualties... Some keepers don't split at all so that they don't kill any bees ever.

Some just get on with it and don't bother their conscience too much with final tallies of the dead. We try to go the middle ground and save as many as possible while accepting that if we split a hive, some bees aren't going to make it. We still don't feel good about it though. RIP little bees...

So as quickly as possible, we strengthen the hive with the aluminium bits and then we used masking tape to seal the cracks. The bees will seal it from the inside themselves by the time the masking tape falls off.

We like to give them every advantage that we can to get them back to doing bee things. Sealing the cracks stops ants and other honey robbers (except us!) taking advantage of the chaos and destruction to get in.

Don't forget to date your hive so you know when it came into service. We have started a system where we track each hive half. For Carbonaria hives the tops usually stay in place and the bottoms move. For Hockingsii we move the older half and leave the newer half in place. Our thinking is that the older half is probably the stronger half of the hive and will have more food stores and is more likely have the queen to make life easier in a strange place.

The newer half will probably have to raise a new queen and probably have less food on hand but at least they know where to find it and don't have to cope with a strange location, just a new addition and half the family disappearing!

Then we put this half in the car (seat belted of course) and took it to Aunty Anni's to be agisted there until they produce a generation of bees who have never known any other home! Anni was very intrigued with her new lodgers!

 If this was a normal split, we would repeat the process by joining an empty half with the other full half and one hive would stay in its usual spot and one would go to another site more than five kilometres away. So if you are doing a straight split - that's it. Just remember to join both full halves to two empty halves!


When we got this hive to Anni's we unlocked the usual door and let them sort out where the local flowers are. Then we put the permanent lock over the new half's entrance hole. At this stage we want them to be able to defend themselves easily and so gave them the entrance that is already set up. It might have been too much for them to get the other hole ready to defend before dark... If this half had been left at the house in their usual spot, then we might have opened the new half in a few days and encouraged them to use the new half sooner as they have more advantages.

 And sure enough - they figured it out. Moments after opening the door, they started popping out to see what was happening. We will pop around and have a look in a few weeks and if they seem strong enough, we may open the new entrance and close the old one to get them to build in the new half sooner.

So a basic split for native Hockinsii and Carbonari is two hives. One full and one empty. The full one is split in the middle and each full half  is joined to an empty half. One remains on the usual site. The other goes on holiday for at least two months before coming back or goes to another site permanently.

As a general rule of thumb, Carbonari are split across the middle cutting the top off the bottom. Hockingsii are split by cutting the left from the right. The hives are totally different (in most cases) so you should know what bees you have in the hive you have by the shape. When you do the split you will know for certain by looking the brood construction. Carbonari have a rising spiral. Hockingsii seem to be flat layers.

And a tip for new hive splitters - wearing a tea towel on your head keep the bees out of your ears and hair and more or less away from your face if it overhangs enough!

Some bee sites that are worth checking out!

Good luck with your split! Let me know how you go!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for encouraging the proliferation of native bees! 
Frugal-ness: 3/5 Native bee hives aren't very cheap - even if you make them yourself...
Time cost: about 10 minutes to complete the split but about 20 minutes to get every bee oout of my hair and clothes! 
Skill level: Confidence and the willingness to give it a go and get bitten a couple of times!
Fun -ness: Once its over its not so bad but a bit scary while its all happening!

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