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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Treating Hives for Varroa Mites Naturally

Anyone who is a beekeeper here is very familiar with 2 common pests: hive beetles and varroa mites.  I’m going to focus on varroa mites for this post.

Varroa mites are very tiny external mites on bees – about 1.5 mm in size.  They suck the hemolymph (“blood”) of the bees and causes them to become weak and prone to infection and illness.

There are many chemicals available to treat them, but we prefer to keep our hives chemical free, so we resort to natural methods.  One way to do that is to use drone comb to capture the mites.  Varroa mites prefer drone brood over worker brood.  The drone cells are larger and the drone larvae live longer.  Place a frame of drone comb into the hive and allow the bees to draw out the drone comb and cap it.  Then you remove the frame and freeze it for at least 24 hours to kill off the mites.  You also kill the drone brood, but it is a small sacrifice compared to being infested with varroa mites.  After the comb is frozen, uncap the brood and place the frame back into the hive.  The bees will clean out the dead mites and dead brood and repeat the process.

Here are some close up pictures I took of larvae we pulled out of the drone comb to show you what varroa mites look like.