Splits 2014
Oct 08, 2014
Ku-ring-gai splits - Week One

Our new hives are a combination of newlymanufactured hardwood OATH (Original Australian Tetragonula Hive) boxes combined with recycled dead hives. For the split we use hive tools (like a chisel) to separate the two halves and place the empty half on the full bottom and a full half on an empty bottom.
1.jpg A hive tool

For best results it would make sense to place the new split on top of the old one and balance them. Balancing is when you swap the positions of the hives, if one of the hives seems to have less activity.  This occurs until both hives are functioning at the same healthy rate of activity.  Because the Ku-ring-gai  program works with hives on residents property, who may only have a marginal interest in actively managing their hives, this option is essentially not available. Balancing would also entail another visit to the property which would be a time sink, due to the large numbers of hives being split in any year.

At Ku-ring-gai we remove the hive with a full top and an empty bottom from the property leaving the full bottom and empty top hive.  We do this because the full bottom is the half with the existing entrance hole which is already properly protected with resin, the bees main defence.  It also has the benefit of keeping all the foraging field bees. This is the hive with the greatest chance of survival and as people get very attached to their bees we leave them the half that has the best chance of survival.

At Ku-ring-gai we remove the hive with a full top and an empty bottom from the property leaving the full bottom and empty top hive.  We do this because the full bottom is the half with the existing entrance hole which is already properly protected with resin, the bees main defence.  It also has the benefit of keeping all the foraging field bees. This is the hive with the greatest chance of survival and as people get very attached to their bees we leave them the half that has the best chance of survival.

Before we place the full hive on an empty bottom, a piece of fabric is placed at the bottom of the hive to  absorb any spit honey.  Additionally 2 strips of masking tape are fixed across the open bottom half to stop the newly split hive from "slumping" to the bottom of the empty half.  A slump has potentially devastating consequences as the brood is "crushed" by the pollen and honey.  The entrance is sealed with masking tape and some resin is placed on the inside of the hive next to the entrance hole to assist the bees with their resin defences.

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Once the full half is put on the empty half, the two halves are taped together and it is then removed to a storage area several kilometres away.  As about 8 hives are done in a morning session, for most of the hives several hours have passed since their split.  The hives are then opened, the fabric removed and resealed.  They are then placed in 19L foam boxes made by a company called Polyfoam.  A hole is drilled through the foam to match with the hive entrance and a piece of 2.5mm stainless steel mesh is placed across the outside of the foam hole to act as a barrier. 

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Note the 2.5mm mesh which is now replaced by 1.6mm mesh

This mesh barrier is used to exclude Small Hive Beetle (SHB), a pernicious pest that comes from South Africa, that has the ability to infiltrate newly split hives and kill them.  2.5mm allows the bees access and excludes the majority of SHB, although some SHV are small enough to get through.

The splits done in Nov 2012 are usually ready to be split again in Oct 2013. Sydney had a mild 2012/2103 summer with 44+ degree days only occurring a couple of times.  Autumn and winter were very mild and an active hive is ready to be split in 11 months, probably even earlier.

Of the 35 hives designated for splitting only 3 were not ready.  These 3 hives had not filled the empty half since their split 11 mths ago and had a small amount of brood in comparison to the 32 hives that were ready.  When a hive is determined not to be ready it is resealed. We only decide to split or not to split by opening the hive.  Weighing them is not an option as there are some many variables, some hives have 40mm thick walls, some are made of Nema Board, others from 3ply  Perhaps if we'd been really organised from the start weighing would make sense, as it is, it's easier just to open them up.

In our splitting work we visit people whose hives have died to pick them up for potential reuse.  Dead hives are examined to try and ascertain what happened.  The deaths are usually predictable and fall into the following categories

a - The hive has blackened structure and dead maggots inside it. The inside of the hive appears crumbly and there are no dead bees - these hives have succumbed to SHB.  If you find the hive while the maggots are alive it will have a hideous manky smell (hard to describe but very sour and unpleasant) with the spoilt honey having escaped from its pots, pooling at the bottom of the hive.

b - The hive has plenty of pollen and honey stores but no brood or bees. For some reason the hive has not requeened and the hive worked until there were no more bees - we call these ones the Mohicans.

c - The hive has dead bees throughout it, lots of honey and pollen and brood.  We normally ascribe this to death by exposure.  Tetragonula are not very good at surviving low temperatures, which is why in Sydney we recommend that they are placed in a hot exposed position

Most of the splits went well, the hives that presented issues were:

1 - a hive that slumped, reminding me of the importance of the masking tape as I'd been slack and hadn't used any.  The clue that there was a problem was the large amount of honey leaking from the hive.  If you do a split and it leaks excessively, reopen it and see what the problem is.  When I           discovered the problem I inverted the slump putting the brood at the top. The brood was covered in honey and looked a bit dodgy, however there were still many live bees in the hive so it will be interesting to see if it survives.

2 - a couple of hives when reopened at the storage area had their brood detach from the hive and was at the bottom of the empty hive.  With these hives we just left the brood alone and hope that it doesn't cause any problems.

3 - one hive that we didn't split because half the hive was empty had blackened structure between the wooden hive and the foam box.  I think it was attacked by SMB after its last split but that the SHB failed to penetrate the wooden hive. This attack weakened the hive to the extent that it did not       expand to fill the empty half of the hive, however this is only a theory.

4 – Another hive split had a honey super and was one of Russell’s with the 40+mm thickness walls. Interestingly enough the bees used the hive almost totally for the brood and had most of the honey and pollen stored in the super, whereas I’ve noticed that Russell’s hives that do not have a honey    super share the space with brood and honey.  This reinforces my opinion that the 40+mm walls make the internal space too small.

After having split for a week I can report that the hives we find the easiest to split are the ones not on a star picket, these are also the ones that are easiest to "balance" if that is something you want to try.
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Well that is the end of Week One - 32 hives split.

We're averaging about 8 hives per day aiming to work 4 days a week from 8.30am to around noon or a bit after.  The hives are at residents properties which requires a degree of driving around which is time consuming.  It would be a lot easier if all the hives were at one location. Unloading at the storage area and restocking supplies for the next day takes about an hour, which leaves a few hours at the end of the day to answer emails etc.  To do 8 splits we need 16 empty halves, at least 8 painted foam boxes, (as potentially we might have to replace every existing foam box), although normally that is not required, lots of masking tape and a lot of enthusiasm because although the job is fun it can be hot and tiring work.

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