Splitting a hive

Two new splits.

Two new splits.

This weekend we split two of our strongest hives and created two new hives.  We did this to increase the number of hives we have, but to also prevent swarming.  Spring is prime swarming season, so we do what we can to reduce the chances of that happening.

There are several ways to make a split, and every beekeeper will have different methods and advice.  I will explain the method we used, but before making a split of your own always make sure the hive is strong enough to split, that you have the necessary equipment (including ordering queens ahead of time if you go that route), and that the weather is warm enough.

Here was our method:

  1. Make sure the strong hive has at least 8 frames of brood.
  2. Move 4 frames of brood and 1 frame of honey into a new hive.
  3. Locate the queen and move her to the new hive.
  4. Make sure the old hive has at least 4 frames of brood, including a frame with eggs/uncapped brood, and 1 frame of honey.
  5. Fill in the rest of the old and new hives with empty built or new unbuilt frames.
  6. Put entrance reducers on the hives.

The eggs/uncapped brood in the old hive will give the worker bees what they need to produce a new queen.  We’ll give them 2-3 weeks to produce a queen. If they are unsuccessful, then we will introduce a mated queen from a local queen supplier.  Alternative method: After the split you can wait 24 hours and then introduce a new mated queen instead of waiting for the hive to produce their own queen.

If you are using new unbuilt frames, then you should also feed.  Feeding stimulates wax production so the worker bees will build out those new frames faster.

Entrance reducers help the smaller population guard the entrance of the hive from pest and other intruders.

I’ve put together a Q&A list of some common questions.

Why to split a hive?
There are a few reasons to split a hive.

  • To discourage swarming
  • To increase your number of hives for honey production
  • To control mites

How does splitting discourage swarming?
When a hive becomes strong, it is a natural behavior for part of a bee colony along with the queen to leave the hive and create a new hive. This is the way bees reproduce in nature.  When you split a hive you are removing half of the bee colony.  This makes the bees “think” they have swarmed.

How does splitting control mites?
When you leave a hive without a queen for 2-3 weeks that breaks the brood cycle.  Mites reproduce by laying eggs on bee brood, so if the bees are not producing brood, mite populations decrease.

Do I need to feed?
If you have introduced new unbuilt frames into the hive then, yes, you should feed.  This will help the bees draw out comb faster. Just use a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. If you are using empty built frames and have enough honey in the hive, then you should be okay not feeding. Bees consume about six pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

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Hive Combination & a New Queen

Just wanted to give a quick update of our weekend inspection.  A few weeks ago I posted about a queenless hive and a round queen cell.  Well, we have a new queen!  We didn’t see her, but we did find new eggs and very young brood, positive signs that there is a queen. 🙂 We’ll try to find her and mark her during our next inspection.

Then we had a hive that was not doing so great these past weeks.  It happens.  The population was dwindling and the queen was not laying,  so we had to make a decision.  We killed the old queen and combined the weak hive with one of our strong hives.  We decided not to requeen because the population was small and could not support a new queen at this time.  Soon we’ll split the strong hive, thus creating a new hive and give the bees a chance to produce a new queen.

Well fed bees

Two weeks ago we added a second floor to our strong hives and they are doing very well. Here is a frame we pulled from the top chamber.  You can tell right away that these are well fed bees.  The brood (baby bees) are clustered together and capped in the center. Very nice laying pattern, meaning the queen is good.  Lots of capped and uncapped honey surrounding the brood, meaning they have plenty of food for the adults and to feed the larvae.

well-fed-bees

Round queen cell

In the 2 years we have been keeping bees, I have never seen a round queen cell.  Most queen cells are elongated, but this one is a round ball.  A week ago this hive was doing fine and had a queen, then while inspecting them we noticed they were a little aggressive.  My poor husband got stung 4 times and finally put on his gloves. We looked and did not see any new eggs and searched for the queen, but did not find her.  There were 3 other queen cells in the hive too.  Maybe the queen died from natural causes? Maybe she was rejected from the hive for some reason?  Who knows for sure.  The queen cells look like emergency cells, so we left them as is and will check this hive in 2 weeks.

A round queen cell.

A round queen cell.

Close up of round queen cell.

Close up of round queen cell.