Multiplying hives and growing new colonies

Since May, the three beehives I got as nucs last year have been giving me opportunities to make new colonies. Making new colonies is a normal part of the development in a production hive, as it mimics the natural way bees reproduce. In nature, honeybees would swarm. This would mean growing their original hive to a point where there are lots of bees and foodstores, then preparing for a new queen by building queen cells. The old queen then starts to get less food from the workers, and they don’t allow her to lay as many eggs as she usually does. This causes the queen to shrink and be able to fly again. I’ve observed extraordinary differences in my own marked queens when this process was going on. It is always the old queen who swarms and leaves a colony behind with a virgin queen or queen cells. At least, this is the case with European honeybees. African honeybee subspecies produce about a dozen small swarms within a season, these would all require a queen. European honeybees aren’t known to produce more than two swarms in one season, and if they do it’s a rarity. Generally you can trust that once a European mellifera colony has swarmed, another won’t follow.

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Queen surrounded by her attendants.

The first new colony I made came from a hive that showed signs of swarming. When bees want to swarm they behave differently than they usually do, and I decided it would be best to transfer the old queen (red carniolan from 2018) into a new colony with closed brood, honey and pollen stores and plenty of bees. By removing the queen to another location, I hoped to mimic the natural way of resolving the swarming tendency. The old colony should then be allowed to keep all queen cells and plenty of eggs and bees to raise and care for a new queen. Sadly, there was a hiccup there… for some reason my bees decided to kill/remove the queens from the cells, and they are now broodless… I’ll have to help them out with a queen from another beekeeper.

My second colony was made with another method, mid-June. I used the method that most beekeepers in my area use; keeping the old queen in the original hive and letting the new colony raise a queen from eggs or queen cells – or – introducing a new queen with a queen-cage. In this method you make sure both colonies have enough bees and foodstores
Both the original and the new colony are doing well. I marked the brand-new F2 Carniolan with a pretty green marker.

The third colony was made today. I have a broodstop going on in my hives now, so I can’t provide bees with material to make a new queen. This colony will remain without a queen for 9-10 days and then I’ll introduce a queen from a breeder.

Believe me or don’t, I didn’t set out with the intention of trying three different methods of multiplying colonies. Every hive just put me in a different situation, and I felt I had to react in different ways each time. What surprised me was that my first method went wrong for the parent-colony. I thought mimicking the natural swarming-tendency would give me guaranteed results, but I was wrong. Perhaps it was just bad luck, or I did something stupid. I’ll make sure to read more this winter.

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Powerful development in spring
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3 thoughts on “Multiplying hives and growing new colonies

  1. The great thing about having multiple hives is being free to try different approaches! After 10 years of beekeeping, we are still discovering how little we really know.

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