A walkaway split is made from a frame of very young brood (eggs and just-hatched larvae), a frame or two of young nurse bees, and a frame of honey and pollen. You put all these in a nuc and just walk away. If all goes well, the nurses will raise a new queen from one of the recently hatched eggs. She will mature, mate, and start laying eggs with no further intervention from the beekeeper. The process can be sped up, however, if the beekeeper adds a ripe queen cell into the mix.
A few weeks ago I set up two walkaway splits from a very crowded hive that was loaded with swarm cells. I put some cells in each nuc, added the nurse bees and honey, and then forgot about them. Last week, when things started looking busy around those nucs, I opened them up to take a look.
One nuc had failed to raise a queen. The capped brood had hatched, which made the nuc appear busy, but it was doomed. I took those bees and combined them with one of the weaker hives.
The second nuc did great. Right away I saw eggs, young larvae, and a flurry of activity. But where was the queen? I couldn’t find her, although she was obviously present. I spent a very, very long time staring at those frames—looking for something “different”—until I finally saw her backing into a cell near the top of one frame.
But calling her a “queen” seemed a stretch—she was the littlest thing I’d ever seen. She’s tiny—no bigger than a worker—although in all other ways she appears queen-like. No wonder I had such trouble spotting her.
Now most literature I’ve read indicates that bigger queens are better queens. For that reason alone I’m very interested in this one. She is so small I wonder how she managed to mate. I wonder why she survived and the other swarm cells didn’t. Did she hatch in time to kill the others? Or did she have to battle it out with (perhaps) a larger virgin queen?
I closed up the nuc and waited another week. Yesterday I found a solid brood pattern, neatly stored pollen and honey, and a vigorous, hard-working crew. In fact, I had to transfer the frames to a full-size brood box in order to accommodate her growing family.
But I still have a lot of questions: Will her offspring be small? Will the colony supersede her because of her size? Will she survive until fall? Will her crew survive the long, wet northwest winter?
This morning I tried to get a picture to go with this post but, alas, I couldn’t find her. Maybe being small has some advantages—like you can blend in with the scenery and never be found. In any case, if I find her again, I will post a portrait of the tiniest queen.