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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Splitting Doubles on the Double

Inside Pyramid Apiaries is a monthly look into operations at the Marlborough beekeeping business of 400 production hives, and 400 mating units, owned and operated by Patrick and Laura Dawkins. This month, the nectar is flowing, but not all the hives are quite ready yet…

With only 44mm of rain having hit our gauge in Marlborough this November, and some nor-west days to get the temperature up, the clover is flowering and the nectar flowing. Unfortunately, I haven’t got all our splits made yet so we aren’t taking full advantage.

The ‘before’ photo of doubles ready to be split.
The ‘after’ photo, 24 single brood box hives in the place of 12 doubles.

That might seem like poor management (and it probably is!), but in our operation the honey production plays second fiddle to supply of queens and queen cells. Up until mid-to-late November the demand for mated queens kept rolling in from around New Zealand and so we were kept busy snapping queen cages closed every Saturday, Sunday and Monday to get them to the courier by Monday afternoon.

The upshot of that is there are few spare queens for our own splits until later in the month. Therefore, careful management of the production hives is needed to prevent swarming through November. They come out of their cherry pollination work weakened in October, so that helps slow down the swarming urge. However, by mid-November they are ready to take off, if we don’t manipulate frames/boxes a bit and get a honey super on.

It means they are well are truly ready to split by the end of the month. Up until this point in the season the hives have been run as doubles, so we whip around and put an excluder in between the brood boxes once we have some mated queens in cages for our own use. Then, at least three days later, and ideally not much more than that, I visit and find fresh laying (eggs) in one of the boxes to determine the queen’s location. Then, we move that box onto a new base on the site, and place a caged, mated queen in the queenless brood box which remains. Thus, turning one double into two singles. I usually take the existing honey super and place it with the old queen, giving her a few more bees in strength.

Splitting ‘on site’ like this is not ideal, as it can make for uneven colonies as the field bees find their way back to their original hive site. I’ll let you know how even or uneven they are looking next month!

With pollen like this coming into the hives in November, one needs to be on swarm watch.

This is our way of doubling our hive numbers for the honey flow. Everyone has their own preference as to doubles, singles, double-queeners, or otherwise. For Pyramid Apiaries, the splitting to singles works well and acts as our method of requeening as it means 50 percent of hives have new queens each year. They will be united again in late-summer – old queen hive with young.

The late splitting usually works out ok for us too as our main mānuka block is late flowering, not hitting its straps until after Christmas. Some North Island beekeepers will already be migrating hives off their first mānuka crops and onto the next for a second bite at that apple. Although there is likely less of that going on than in previous years.

For us in Marlborough, December is the key month at most apiaries, with mānuka, kanuka and clover the main floral sources. It’s all go, just so long as you have all your hives ready to go…

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