In this posting, I cover how and why to combine two bee hives.
This week end, I opened my bee hives to check on them. One hive was doing fine. I could find plenty of capped brood cells, indicating that the queen was alive and laying eggs. Sadly, there was no evidence of this in my second hive and it was clear that the colony was limping to its death.
To replace this second hive, I've ordered a new "package of bees" from a local supplier. The package contains a new queen and 3,000 bees to attend to her. When installed in the hive, the bees will forage for nectar and pollen to feed themselves and the queen. With any luck, the colony will grow rapidly in the Spring.
If left on it's own, the current queenless hive would just fade away as the bees age and die with no younger bees to replace them. In every sense, this would be a waste, so I decided to combine the bees from my weak hive with those in my strong hive. The idea is to boost the population of the strong hive with an influx of several thousand new bees.
In the wild, colonies don't mix and a sudden influx of bees from one colony to another would create a war between the two. In order to combine two colonies successfully, one needs to accustom the bees to each other and to the scent of the queen in the strong hive.
Amazingly, this is fairly easy to do and can be accomplished in just a few days. Essentially, you place the weak colony on top of the strong colony and separate them with a barrier that they will chew through in a few days. Those few days are sufficient to allow the bees to become accustomed to each other.
To accomplish this, open the strong hive and place a sheet of newspaper over the top hive box. Then make a few slits in the newspaper to allow air to flow through it and provide a site for the bees to easily chew through. Now place the brood box from the weak colony on top of this newspaper and cover with an inner and outer cover.
A few days later, I opened the hive and removed the remaining newspaper. Voila! The hives were combined.