Splitting the top-bar hive with a shook swarm
Today I split my top-bar hive. It is eleven months to the day since they swarmed down from the sky and took over the abandoned hive. Twice during the winter I thought I was losing them, and twice I moved them into the garden shed to keep them warm. But ever since last Sunday (when I found the mouse) I’ve been trying to decide what to do with them. They were going to swarm any minute.
Normally, I would take a hive that big and just break it in two. But I have only one top-bar hive and the top bars won’t fit into a Langstroth box–something I have regretted from day one. I finally decided to do a modified shook swarm.
I say “modified” because I had no idea where the queen was. I still don’t. The top-bar combs are huge, about 6 inches deeper than a deep frame. There are 22 of them and all 44 sides were completely coated with bees. I didn’t kid myself about finding the queen in those teeming masses; I didn’t even try.
I put a deep Langstroth box on top of a screened bottom board with a queen excluder to keep them from absconding. Inside the box I put a frame of honey, a division-board feeder, two drawn combs, and six new frames. Then I shook all the top-bar frames over the new box. Bees were everywhere.
Once that was done, I closed up the top-bar and moved the Lang about 300 feet away. I was afraid everyone would fly back, but I must have gotten a good number of nurse bees because they pretty much stayed put. That was about four hours ago. Right now, it looks like I’ve got two strong hives.
However, I know one is queenless. So I will keep checking for eggs until I figure out who needs a queen. The other problem is that there is no brood in the new hive, so even with a queen, that hive will drastically shrink in population until the first brood develops. That aspect of a shook swarm is very similar to a real swarm. I will probably steal a few frames of brood from my other Langstroths to keep it strong.
The procedure went smoothly and quickly. The thing that most amazed me was the number of drones. As others have pointed out recently, those free-form combs are drone cities. It’s hard to believe the colonies expend so much energy raising males . . . but then, I’m biased.