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Splitting and settling an educted native bee hive.

We had a spare hive last year and decided to give eduction a go after a visit from Nick Powell who came to have a look at our experimental Hockingsii hive - the FROTH.

The eduction method of creating a new hive takes a little while, in our case about nine months before we were confidant that it was full enough to split, had a few queen cells and could survive on its own. A normal split take about 10 minutes but, depending on your personal views, can be a bit hard on the bees. As an experiment, we were happy with eduction and will probably do a combination of eduction and physical splits next year. We like our bees and have trouble with wholesale destruction when we do a physical split, so our thinking at the moment is that depending on the site of the hive, we will educt those that can have another hive easily attached and split those in an "un-eductable" place!

When you split the parent hive from the educted hive, the main issue is what to do with the split hive and how to reintroduce it to your garden without all the bees promptly moving back to the parent hive or starting a fight with their new neighbours.

We have a shelf on the side of the house that we want to put a series of bee hives on. We have seen backyards with twenty or more bee hives in and they are only a metre or two apart. When we built our shelf we installed a hive and then a few weeks later another hive came back after its six week holiday and we put it up and we ended up with a fighting swarm and dead bees everywhere.

It was very traumatic for us and the bees and within a few hours we had decided to move the new hive as all our efforts to bring about peace were failing and we didn't want either hive to sustain losses that would impact on the viability of the hives future.

So we moved this one into another spot in the garden and spoke with Nick Powell at great length to figure out what we did (or didn't do) to end up with the fighting swarm instead of the peace and serenity that we had seen in other back yards.

The solution?

Here's what we did...

First we split the hive by simply taking the front hive (the educted hive) from the back hive (the parent hive). We had ours screwed on to a bracket hanging from the front of the hive and supported by a post. (The towels and Styrofoam cover are the winter coats for the hive.)

So we simply removed the screws and pulled out the connecting pipe between the back and the front of the hives. We blocked up the back hole and entrance holes with a  piece of mesh to and popped the whole hive in a cool dark place for 6 days. This is to teach the bees that this hive is home. While they are "locked up" they will sort themselves out and will have enough supplies to live on, as you would only split a hive from it parent if it were strong enough and it was in the normal October to December splitting time - the optimum time as they will have enough time and resources to get ready for winter.

If you are worried about the locked up bees - put your ear to the entrance hole and you can hear them buzzing around inside doing their bee things quite happily. I was worried. I listen to them a few times a day and assured them this was only temporary. :)

Then when you are ready to introduce them to the shelf/place that you want them to live on, block the hive entrance of the established hive/s on the shelf/close by the night before.

Our Tetragonula Carbonaria hive blocked for a day or two.

And the traditional Tetragonula Hockingsii hive also on the shelf block up - see the ones who didn't come back the day before huddling at the entrance trying to get back in?

Introduce the educted hive that has been in the cool dark garage locked up for six days onto the shelf and give them a day or two of getting used to where their hive is before you open the others.

The Carbonari on the left and the Hockingsii in the middle have both been blocked while the new Carbonarii on the right are flying about sussing out their new environment.

Nicks theory for our fighting swarm was that our introduced hive was exploring and upset the established hives and started a defensive reaction. If the introduced hive has a couple of days to sort out their flight paths and see their surroundings without harassment he reckons they will all be able to coexist quite happily on the shelf so close together.

 When we took the covers of the established hive entrances a few days later, there was a mass exodus of pent up bees as you would expect, but since all the hives had established their flight paths in and out of the hives, there was no problems at all!

The three hive are sitting quite happily on their shelf in the chook pen facing north and sheltered from the worst of the weather and the heat of the midday sun - a perfect place for bees - and all three hives seem to be happy and thriving. And the chooks don't mind finding the odd dead bee for breakfast under the hives either!

This was a far less painful way of splitting bees than the physical split with a knife but requires more dedication in the amount of time that it take. The physical split is quick and you move on after a few minutes - although you still have to take one of the hives off site and bring it back - there is no "must do it on this day" type time table as there was with a year eduction and six day garage time out split.

If you want to split your hives and have each hive full and totally operational each time, then eduction is the method for you. You need more infrastructure to do an eduction, in that you need a hive placed so that it can have another hive placed directly in front of it for an extended time. But if you planned this when you place the strong hive that you want to educt from, then you will make life easier for yourself.

We have a hive at an Aunty's place that is sitting on an unused picnic table in the backyard. Popping a milk crate or the seat in front of the hive and placing a new hive in front will be relatively easy - compared to trying to educt the one that sits in the hollow of our friend mango tree that is!

Splitting the educted hive is easy enough - you just pull the hives apart and remove the pipe. Leave the parent hive alone and either do the six day garage things as we tried this time - or do the normal take them off site for six weeks and then reintroduce them to your backyard thing for the educted hive.

My theory for the six week holiday is for physically split hives, is that they need time to repair as well as establish new flight paths and foraging areas. I think if you did the six day garage holiday with a physically split hive you will put the hive at a disadvantage as they will need to forage for repair material and food as they have sustained major damage and wont appreciate being locked up for six days. But I'm open to opinions from people who have tried it!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having native bees in the first place
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using less petrol and overall energy to split the hive!
Time cost: Eduction can take up to a year.
Skill level: faith in your bees!
Fun-ness: Bees are the best fun!!!! :)


Steve said…
We finally got around to getting a carbonaria hive from Tim Heard last weekend.

In his new book, he suggests there's no need to agist a hive when you split it. Simply move one hive to the new location in your yard and leave them to it. All the foraging bees will return to the old location they know and after a while, the bees working away in other hive will mature and become foragers. Once they start leaving the hive, they'll return to the new location. It'll seem like not much is happening for a while, but they'll be busy inside, sorting out the new home.
I'm glad I've stumbled upon your site, I really like the Hockingsii hive answer you husband arrived at. Two years ago, I split a hive, untouched for 12 years which I "knew" was Carbonaria to find a complete lack of spiral brood.
So, without any choices installed my Hockingsii into the OATH hives I'd already made.
I'm back to that stage again with OATH hives made to go, but still not convinced this was the right decision.
Now, I can reserve the OATH for my Carbonaria and get stuck into several of you style for the other teams.
My intention is to retain OATH external dimensions but create the brood chamber split vertically with some form of wire support either side of the break.Does that seem reasonable?
Thanks again
Des (
Practical Frog said…
Hi Des - yes that seems very reasonable. The only issue we have found is that you cant split and swap with other people when you invent a new hive type as the halves wont fit together. Did you see our post on the FROTH hive - its pretty much what you are describing. - Kara :)
Practical Frog said…
Hey Steve,
We helped split some beautiful Carboniaria hives on the Northside last week. The owners had previously split them and placed them next to each other - as in less than 6 inches apart and there they were, two healthy happy hives practically on top of each other! We called this the back to front bee keeping style - as in they had done everything we had been taught not to do. The bees were facing West not East, they split them and placed them next to each other and they even had some out on the hot all day sun. And they were some of the most beautiful hives we have seen!
So much for the theory. We are going to try and split a few and leave in the yard (maybe not on top of each other) and see how they go.
One big advantage of taking them off site is that it introduces new people to native bees and spreads the word! - Kara :)
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