Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Native Bee Hive Duplication (or Hive Eduction) - How its done...

We generally split our hives from October until Christmas in order to create more hives and collect the honey. One of our hives died during the winter this year. It seemed to have had some predator get in and destroy the hive from the inside. We cleaned it out and then popped it in the freezer for three weeks to kill any eggs or bugs that might be still living in corners. It was the wrong time for splitting a hive and with a spare hive we got to thinking about duplicating a hive. The top half of our original hive of native bees has been on our patio for about four years now and its the parent of many a strong hive. We have seen hive duplication in our bee books and on the net but had never tried it. And so, one sunny afternoon - we decided to try it...

Here's what we did...

The original hive has sat on a north facing shelf under the eaves of the patio for around the four year mark. We have split it every year using the traditional method of cutting it in half and replacing the top and bottom halves with fresh empty hives. We move the bottom half with its new top to an off site location and leave the new bottom with the original top in place. Full hive bottoms with new tops travel better than the full top which may collapse into the empty bottom during transit. The bees then spend the next year building into the empty half and then we do it to them again.

With Duplication the idea is that you join two hive together - one fully functioning healthy hive and one brand new empty hive. The new hive is attached to the entrance of the old hive forcing the bees to enter the new hive, make their way through the empty hive to their old hive. Once they have got the idea of going through the new into the old, they see the possibilities of this new space and eventually build into it.
The original hive (right) has had a tube put into the entrance. The new hive (left) has been placed so that the bees have to traverse the whole new hive to get to their original entrance.

In this case we put a shelf bracket on under the old hive and attached the new hive to it. We ended up placing a post underneath it as well as we often have possums in the pergola and were worried that the weight of a possum on the new hive might bring both hives crashing to the ground.
It took the bees a day or two to find the new entrance reliably and for a while we had a group of bees in the gap between the two hives trying to get in the original entrance. I did spend a bit of time picking bees up and placing them at the new entrance but not all of them were keen on using it.
We use old polystyrene boxes and towels as insulation in winter for the hives to make sure they stay warm. Not elegant - but it was effective!

This is a much slower way of creating new hives. We don't think we will have full two hives in under a year. When you split full hives you have the basic infrastructure in place. They have honey and pollen stored. They have babies in the cells growing and they have paths, roads and plenty of building material. It seems easy enough for them to rebuild the damage and to build straight into the empty part of the hive.

With the duplication method they are starting a new hive from scratch and they have bring all the resources that they need into the new hive from outside and/or their old hives reserves. Just like building a new house for yourself from scratch - there's a lot to do.

So why would you duplicate instead of split? For us it was a case of having a spare hive and wanting to try this. For those who are not keen on massacring bees when ever you split a hive this is the peaceful alternative!  It is also something you can start at anytime of the year. If there isn't enough resources for the bees to build into the new hive, they will do it slowly and as the weather heats up, expand into that space.

We did this duplication near the end of winter and will leave them alone this summer (2015) but will open the tops in the summer of 2016 and see how they are going. We can separate them then into two single hives or we can do a traditional split then if we want to.

When we separate them, we will move one hive out the area - more than 5km away- for over six to eight weeks and then we can bring them home and find a new spot for them. Native bees have a life span of about six weeks and so after this time the new generation will only know this hive as home. In the meantime, the old hive will use the original entrance and get on with running a single hive again.

Once they are in the same yard again, they will not know the other hive was once part of their home and will get on with building their own hive and generally leave each other alone.

Hive duplication (also called hive eduction) is slower but a surer way of splitting hives. Sometimes a split doesn't go well or the weather isn't good and the hive cant repair the damage, grow a new queen or replenish the workers quickly enough and can die.

To see the way a traditional split is done have a look at this link to one of my posts about hive splitting.

There are some great native bee websites around to have a look at:
Cruise around and see what they have on their websites.

Native bees are a lot of fun to have as well as essential for pollination of native plants that have flowers that are too small for the Italian honey bee to get into. If you have tried eduction or a hive duplication - post a link to your efforts in the comments section and show us how you do it.

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having native bees and for splitting them harmlessly
Frugal-ness: There is no difference in cost between a split and eduction - just one is quicker than the other.
Time cost: About half an hour to set the hive up. A year to see any results.
Skill level: Standard bee keepers and the skills to prop up a second hive in a way it can stay secure for a year or so.
Fun-ness: Great fun to have in the back yard!
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