As a young-in-beekeeper-years beekeeper, my first learning project of 2014 is deciding when to split overwintered, strong hives such that I prevent swarming but do not weaken the original hive in terms of hitting the main June 15-July 15 nectar flow in peak numbers
It would be extra-nice if the split could also aspire to making a bit o’ honey for their doting beekeeper as well.
So while math is not my strong suit, I crunched the following numbers, based on our typical local startup, which is 1 kilo Arataki bee packages (New World Carniolans from New Zealand), which land just before mid-March, and in my experience build up very well, even on bare foundation.
1 kilo of bees = 2.2 lb. = 2.2 x 4000 bees = 8800 bees and a queen per package.
Let us assume the queen is sufficiently discombobulated and in need of comb to lay in for a few days, and at that point lays 1500 eggs per day that all hatch into little worker bees.
March 15 to June 15 is 12 weeks.
1500 eggs per day = 10,500 per week
12 weeks = 126,000 bees – 6 weeks of bees (average life span) = 63,000 bees = maximum hive population at any one time
Max forager force: if bees are old enough to be foragers at 22 days from hatching, and at best live 6 weeks = 42 days, then foragers have an optimistic work lifetime of 20 days.
20 x 1500 maturing per day = a max of 30,000 foragers at any one time per single queen hive.
Even if the hive is 63,000 bees, which I believe is a good sized colony, 16 pounds of bees alone, the 12 week buildup allows for two entire rotations of bees. But can we aspire to two entire hives full of foragers??
Max number of foragers means all bees hatched from 22 days to (22 + 20) days before June 15 are in the hive on June 15. That means laying must be at max (we will use 1500 eggs per day) from:
latest date for foragers laid: June 15 – (22 days + 21 days) = June 15 – 43 days
= May 03 = lay date of youngest foragers on June 15.
earliest date for foragers laid: June 15 – (42 days + 21 days) = June 15 – 63 days
= April 13 = lay date of eldest foragers on June 15.
This leads me to the conclusion…and please correct my math challenged mind if you see I have erred!…that a split made such that it has a laying queen by April 13 would arrive at June 15 just as strong as any decent overwintered colony.
April 13 is a bit early for creating new queens in my locale. I would be lucky I think, to get the bees to raise their own queen from a mid April walk away split. Drones are just appearing, the weather is ok but not predictably perfect…so in my case I think expecting a full honey forager force in mid June is not going to happen for my split.
BUT!!! It does mean that any split made at that time does not impair the mother hive’s ability to face the nectar flow.
So, from this little math exercise, I am thinking, and thinking locally:
1. Don’t make splits off honey hives after April 13.
2. Splits made on or before April 13 can be big splits without hurting the mother hive’s ability to meet the nectar flow.
3. Mid April splits may not raise up a queen successfully on their first try. But you do not want to give them frames of eggs and brood from your honey production hives….therefore, keep at least one strong hive intact, just as a source of frames of eggs and brood for the splits that fail to queen up (that strong hive can be completely split up in late May once it starts throwing its own main season queen cells).
4. Even honey production hives can afford to donate a frame or two of brood and eggs toward split making any time after May 24 as none of that brood will be main season foragers.
~Given that the local nectar flow is high for about 3 weeks (the blackberries bloom in flushes), all bees laid from May 03 + 3 weeks = May 24 will be main season foragers. All that brood should be left in the mother hive.
~We know that honeybees will adjust the workforce based on need as well as age-defined categories. I would expect during a big nectar flow like our local June/July blackberry bloom that workers move into forager ranks early?? Something to look into.
~Given that our numerically optimal date for splits is April 13 or earlier, and that our local weather is not optimal for raising queens at that time, if you want max honey production, you could requeen April splits with bought queens (which can be had locally when the NZ packages arrive).
Hoping to have a lively set of thoughts and reflections on my Honey Math in the comments section!!