minimum split sizes

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Wyndham
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Hi all. I have 4 hives in Central Otago. Springvale area. It has been a very dry year and 2 of my hives were very disappointing. they missed the spring clover and barely got going before the Vipers Bugloss flow started, while 2 were full steam ahead. With the flow coming to an end, I want to split my most productive hives. Tossing up if I should just split each in two and leave the queenless half to make their own, or produce a few queen cells/purchase local virgin queens and do some more aggressive splits with only a couple of frames of brood. If I go down to quite small splits but feed them heavily, will they get up to size to last through winter? I am thinking 2 months with weekly top ups of sugar syrup should get them going. I have overwintered nucs in 5 frame plywood nucs before, in South Canterbury, but Central Otago winters are a tad chillier (as in highs of 5 in midwinter and below zero for a good part of the day, and I am not confident they would make it. So want them as big as possible going into winter. Though I am thinking about experimenting with a nuc or two in as sheltered a spot as I can find.
 

Alastair

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In your location which has pretty severe winter it is quite a risk at this time making splits and letting them raise their own queens. It would be into March before the queens were laying (assuming they mated), and then close to the end of March by the time the first brood was emerging. By that time they would be very low in bees indeed, going into April.

Buying virgins might make thing happen a bit faster, but mating is not 100%, you may get lucky or you may not.

I don't know how strong your strong hives are, but in my view the safest option would be split them into two or maybe three, and put a purchased mated queen in each one. Sure it will cost a bit more but it's the least risky option and you should have winterable hives long as you do it ASAP.

If you need even more hives, focus on getting a modest amount of hives through the winter in good condition, then split again come swarming time in spring.

In Auckland I can split hives right down to a handful of bees going into winter and provided they are healthy they will get through. But Central Otago is a different kettle of fish.
 
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maungaturoto
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i much prefer half splits. much bigger, more successful, they can still use whats left of your season. one of the most common failures is due to beeks splitting weak hives or make weak nucs without sufficient time for them to build up. weak nucs are better in spring imho, conditions and time is more favorable.
mated queen if you can get it quick enough. otherwise let them make their own.
 
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3,576
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Hawkes Bay
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I would use cells rather than virgins. Cells are more likely to work. I don't know where the trend towards using virgins has come from. They were tried and found wanting many many years ago. They can work but went out of favour because they were more likely to fail. Cells can of course fail as well and while you do very occasionally get 100% success rate you can also very occasionally get 100% failure rate. Around here 70 to 80% is probably about normal. I will happily split strong lives in half from about 15 February using cells but I always do more than I need because some will fail and the way varoa has been around here the last few years you always seem to need more than you thought to replace losses in the spring.
 
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Alastair

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I don't know where the trend towards using virgins has come from.

I think I can answer that - easy money.

Virgins go for maybe $15 apiece. So let's say you graft 3 bars being 45 cells into a cell raiser, and 40 take. You hatch them into cages and flick them off at $15 each you made a quick 600 bucks.

No need for mating nucs or any of the work that entails, or to wear the losses due to failed matings, the buyer takes those losses.

Personally I always refused to sell virgins, the prospective purchaser was almost invariably someone with little experience who thought it was just a cheap way to get a queen, not realizing that if it failed in their hive, they were then usually out of their depth knowledge wise attempting to get the hive back up and running properly again.
 
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My father once told me a supposedly true story about a beekeeper who sent off a telegram to a Queen breeder looking for a virgin. The breeder replied by telegram that they could no longer supply virgins.
This got the breeder a visit from the local Constabulary.
 
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