Beekeeping How to resource including Basic Beekeeping, how to spot a queen, splitting a hive, introducing a queen, swarm removal, beekeeping links and more.

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Hive Splitting

Nuc boxes next to main Hive being split. Splitting a Hive to make two additional Hives.

A word of Caution concerning Hive Splits:

As Package Bees get more expensive and Nucs climb in price every year, more and more Beekeepers are looking to increase their apiary by splitting their existing hives. Unfortunately many Beekeepers find out to late that splitting hives sometimes ends up in disaster. After receiving many emails concerning hive splits we felt that adding a few of the most common questions we receive would be beneficial to other Beekeepers that are considering splitting their existing hives. Please click here for answers to common questions regarding Bee hive Splits.  Click Here >  Bee Hive Splits 

Special Note:  Never split a weak or diseased colony. Only split extremely strong well populated strong colonies. When the hive is opened it should be overflowing with Bees. An inspection of the Brood pattern should be done verifying the colony has a good strong laying Queen. Failure to verify the Queens condition could result in not only the splits failing but the original colony being split to eventually fail. For early spring splits supplemental feeding with a 1 to 1 sugar water / Syrup and Pollen Patties should always be started.

Check List:


Hive Split Methods:

  • Splitting using a commercially produced Queen in Cage: (Difficulty: Easy, Basic Beekeeping Skills Slight risk of failure)

  • Splitting using a Supersedure or Swarm Cells:  (Difficulty: Not Advised for first time Beekeepers with under 2 years experience, Failure rate can be high without proper care of Nucleus Colony)

  • Splitting using a Queenless Colony (walk away hive split): (Difficulty: Recommended for Seasoned Beekeepers, Requires close observation, knowledge of  Queen Rearing and Egg Development Times)

  • Splitting using the    Method: (Difficulty: Recommended for Seasoned Beekeepers, Requires close observation, knowledge of  Queen Rearing and Egg Development Times)


Reasons for Splitting a Hive: Splitting a hive can be done for several reasons such as gaining additional Colonies to increase ones Apiary or cutting down a hive that has grown to large and become hot or unmanageable or prevent swarming. Most Splits are done however to increase colony numbers. Splits can be done at most any time from spring through mid to late summer in areas such as Texas where mild daytime temps allow Bees to forage and buildup winter stores.

Step 1.

 

Screened NUC Entrance

Prepare a NUC Box (Nucleus Hive body capable of accepting from 2 to 5 Deep Frames) and place next to the hive you plan on splitting. Be sure to turn the entrances on the two new NUC's in different directions to aid in keeping the Bees from returning to the old hive. Before placing frames from the original hive into the NUC Boxs prepare a 1:1 Syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water) mixture and place exterior Feeders in place (see picture). Block entrances of NUC Boxs with window screen or other type of screen that will allow plenty of ventilation without allowing Bees to escape.

Note:  Screen wire will be kept in place for up to two days preventing the Bees from leaving the Nuc. Make sure the Nuc has plenty of ventilation to prevent over heating or killing the colony.

Step 2.

Prepare to remove Hive Lid/ Cover.  Do not smoke Entrance or Lid when entering the Hive. Smoking will cause the Queen to be harder to find as she will most likely be scurrying about due to the smoke induced chaos. Pull at least two frames of Brood in various stages. If you are going to try and have the Bees raise their own queen you will want to pull a frame of open Brood that is no more than three to four days old to allow the Bees to build a Queen Cell and rear a new Queen. Check each frame over closely for the original Queen. Once you are sure their is no Queen on the frame place the frame with the nurse bees on it into your NUC Box. If available also place a frame or two of Honey into the NUC. Be sure to place plenty of Nurse Bees into your new NUC's in order to give them a better chance of producing a new Queen.

Locating the Queen: Locating the Queen can often times be a daunting and tiresome task. Chances are very good that you may not find the original Queen right away. If you cannot locate the Queen divide any remaining frames from your original hive between the two Nucs and original hive.  You will now have four frames left in the original hive and three frames each in the NUC's (this is assuming you have a total of ten frames in your original hive. Close up the Nucs and original hive and walk away. Wait at least a couple hours and go back into the original hive. Do not use smoke. Make note of how the Bees act. Are they aggressive?  Are they docile? Extreme aggressiveness may be a good indication the Queen may be in one of the NUC's and not in your original hive any longer. After thoroughly inspecting the four frames if you did not find the Queen place the cover back on the hive and prepare to remove the lid from one of your NUC's. Again make note of the Bees attitude. If  you cannot locate the queen in this NUC close the lid up and move on to the last NUC. Again open the NUC up and make note of the Bees attitude. Thoroughly inspect the three frames for any sign of the Queen.  By this time you should have located the Queen in either the original hive or in one of the two NUC's. If you have not located the Queen walk away and return again the following day. Keep the NUC entrances closed off. You will leave the original hive entrance open to allow any foraging Bees to enter the hive upon returning.

Cannot Locate the Queen in the Original Hive or the NUC's: First of all do not panic. Take a deep breath and start going through your three hives again thoroughly.  Just because you cannot find the original Queen does not mean she is not there.  By the next morning you should have a good indication as to the three hives attitude. Two of the hives will not have a Queen and should have a distinct intense buzzing sound as well as being aggressive, two very good indications that they are Queenless. One of the methods we learned of long ago to tell if a hive is Queenless is to set a new Queen which of course is in a Queen Cage on the top of the frames as shown in the picture below. If the Bees immediately go to the new Queen in a non aggressive manor you most likely do not have a Queen in that Hive.  If the Bees rush the Queen Cage and act aggressively biting and stinging the cage most likely that hive has a Queen. Close observation is required for this method and of course this method is not 100% foolproof.

Queen being introduced into hive for observation  Queen cage sitting on top of hive frames with bees 

 

Purchasing a new Queen for splits or Re-Queening:

In areas where AHB (Africanized Honey Bees) are present it is highly recommended that Queens of known origin and breeding be used to start new Colonies or Nucleus Hives.

Queen Cage with Cork still intact.  Queen Cage with attendandts showing marked Queen (Green Dot) and Candy.

Queen Cage with Cork and Candy still intact.

Note: Introducing a caged Queen- Introduction of a caged Queen should been done immediately if possible. The sooner the New Queen is introduced to the colony better the chances are that the colony will accept her.

When placing a new Queen in a hive the the Cork shown in the picture above must not be removed for at least two to three days to allow the Bees to get used to the new Queens scent. After two to three days check on the Queen, if the Bees around her cage are docile and not stinging the cage or acting aggressively go ahead and remove the cork on the end of the Queen cage. Be sure to remove the cork on the end where the candy is located. If the candy has been eaten through which would allow the Queen to leave the cage when the cork is removed, place a marsh-mellow in the hole left where you removed the cork from.

 Note: If there is no Candy or if the Cork is removed on the wrong end of the Queen Cage and the Queen is released to soon it is possible that the colony may ball her (Balling is where the Bees form a ball around the queen attacking her and stinging her to death).

Step 3.

You should now pretty much have a good idea which hive has a Queen Cage installed into NUC between framesQueen and the two that don't. If you purchased new Queens for your splits spread two frames apart enough to insert the Queen Cage in-between frames and wire the Queen Cage so that it is secure to the top of the frame. Leave the Cork in the cage for at least two to three days before removing it to give the Bees time enough to accept the new Queens scent.

Note:  If you are not introducing caged Queens into your splits and or the original colony and are counting on the Bees rearing new Queens you do not want to kill the original Queen in the event one of your splits does not take and you have to re-combine the hive or need Queen for one of the splits if the bees didn't produce a new Queen.

Step 4. 

With your new Queens installed or open Brood for the Bees to rear a new Queen in your NUC's you can close up the new NUC's and leave them alone for one to two days before removing the screen wire from the entrances. When you remove the screens from the entrances place a leafy twig or stick in front of the NUC entrance to encourage the Bees to re-orient themselves with their new home and it's location. After two to three days you are now ready to remove the cork from the Queen cage if installed. Remove the cork and promptly replace the hive cover/lid. Wait another (5) days before going back into the Nuc to make sure the Queen has been released. Remove the Queen Cage and re-adjust the frames and replace hive cover/lid.

Note on Drifting Drifting is a common occurrence when splitting hives and not removing the splits from the bee yard. Often times Bees will return to the original hive or will enter another hive due to confusion. If one NUC or the original hive seems to be low in Bee numbers simply switch the places of the week hive or NUC with the strong hive or NUC. Foraging Bees will enter the newly placed NUC and the Bee population will increase. 

NUC's with Bees rearing new Queens:  If you chose to let the Bees rear a new Queen you will want to check every five to six days for signs of a Queen Cell being built.  Be sure to keep an eye on the Queen Cell if found to make sure the Bees cap it off. If the Bees do not cap the Queen Cell off you may need to introduce a Open Brood Frame for the Bees to use to rear a new Queen. If you find a capped Queen Cell leave the NUC alone for a couple of weeks to allow the new Queen to hatch before inspecting. You may also have to give the new Virgin Queen up to four to six weeks to mate and start laying eggs.


Splitting without Introducing a Caged Queen

Splitting a colony without using a caged Queen is slightly different than splitting with a Caged Queen. Splitting without using a caged Queen should only be preformed by experienced Beekeepers as the odds of something going wrong are greatly increased. Here we are going to cover several different methods of splitting a colony without introducing a commercially produced Queen.

Supersedure Cells

Note: (Supersedure Cells)

Supersedure Cells are normally built by workers to replace the present Queen. This can be done for any number of reasons including a malformed Queen, a Queen that is not laying eggs well, is sick or has died. Often times Bees will replace a perfectly good laying Queen that is what the Beekeeper feels is a perfectly formed Queen in size and shape and is laying an extremely good Brood pattern. Supersedure often happens shortly after installing package Bees or when a Queenless Colony has been requeened. The Queen itself may be perfectly fine but due to there being no immediate hatching Brood due to the time line of the Queen laying eggs to the workers capping Brood to the time young bees start to emerge to repopulate the hive, the Bees may feel she is not a quality Queen and needs to be replaced when in fact she may be a perfectly good. If a colony is found with a Queen that has no deformities and is laying a good brood pattern but Supersedure Cells are present, we highly recommend leaving the Supersedure Cells in the hive and removing the existing Queen along with a couple frames of capped Brood, Honey and Bees. Often times this is enough to save a good healthy quality Queen. If the Bees again build Supersedure Cells most likely something that cannot be readily detected is wrong with the Queen and Supersedure should take place.


Splitting using Capped Supersedure or Swarm Cells

Note:  This procedure requires freshly capped Queens cells for optimum results

Capped Supersedure Queen or Swarm Cells:  By far the least expensive as the Queen is free compared to $20.00 to $25.00 for a quality commercially produced Queen. However it still comes with a high degree of failure rate as any number of things can go wrong including the Queen not hatching, the Queen not properly mating or the Queen not returning to the colony during a mating flight. Supersedure or Swarm cells can mostly be found in the early spring (as early as Feb-March in Southern States and  mid to late May-June in cooler climates + or -) during rapid build up of the colony in preparation of an upcoming flow combined with the natural instincts of the hive to swarm/ reproduce or any time the colony feels the need to replace the existing Queen. These cells often times can be  anywhere from 1 to 12 in number and are known to be some of the best, highest quality queen cells that can be used for starting new colonies as the Queens are usually very well fed. Each one of these cells can be used to start a new colony or nuclei.

Supercedure Swarm Cell Nuclei Preparation: Have a clean 5 Frame Nucleus Box ready well ahead of time with an exterior feeder and small piece of wood used for an entrance block that can be easily removed. Starting out place the entrance in block and exterior feeder in place with Feeder filled and ready with a 1 to 1 sugar syrup mixture.

Supersdure or Swarm Cell Note: To prevent removing to many Bees from the colony where the Supercedure or Swarm cell/cells are located, when more than 1 Supersedure or Swarm Cell is found in the colony. The frame or frames containing the Cells (one cell per Nucleus Box) with no Bees can be placed in a Nucleus Box and Bees from another hive with a good population can be used to populate the Nucleus Colony.

Step 1.

Once a Capped Supersedure or Swarm cell has been located remove the frame with the cell from the host colony and place into the Nucleus Box bees and all.

Note: Thoroughly check frame making sure the Queen is not on the frame with the Queen Cell

Step 2. 

Remove one additional Solid Capped Brood Frame with young Bees. This step is important as one, the Capped Brood is needed to keep the colony well populated and the Bees that hatch are more likely to stay with the colony and not return to the host colony. If Brood Frames do not contain a large amount of Bees, Bees can be shaken off other frames into the Nucleus Box to increase numbers.

Beekeeper holding frame of Brood. Beekeeping information how to site for Beekeepers.

This Brood Frame even though containing a good Brood pattern Does Not contain enough Bees for this procedure and would require additional Bees to be added.

Note: Thoroughly check to make sure the Queen is not on the Brood Frames or Frames being shaken.

Step 3.

 After placing the Supersedure Cell with Bees (1) additional Brood Frame with Bees and one empty Brood Frame into the Nucleus, place one frame with capped honey on one outer side of the Nucleus Box and one drawn empty frame on the other outer side of the Nucleus Box. You will now have a total of ( 5 ) Frames, (1) Frame with Supersedure Cell, placed as close to center as possible (1) Capped Brood Frame, (1) empty uncapped Brood Frame and the capped honey frame and empty drawn frame both placed on the outer left and right side of the Nucleus Box.

Step 4.

Making sure the Nucleus Box is filled with an ample amount of Bees place the top on the Nucleus Box and secure it in a way that no Bees can escape. Your Nucleus Box should now contain the Supersedure or Swarm Cell, Bees and Frames. The Feeder should be in place with a 1 to 1 feed and the entrance should be totally blocked off to prevent Bees from escaping. Keep the entrance closed for at least two to three days. After two to three days the entrance block can be removed and replaced with an entrance reducer to prevent robbing. The entrance does should not be open any further than 1 1/2" to 2" wide. When the entrance block is remove it is recommended that something be placed in front of the entry which causes the Bees to have to re-orientate themselves with the new hive. Your newly hatched Queen will take her first mating flight usually after she is about 7 days old. The Queen will begin laying eggs 3 to 4 days after mating.

It normally takes a Virgin Queen 15 to 16 days to emerge after the egg was laid, 7 days after emerging to take the first of several mating flights and 3 to 4 days to start laying eggs after successfully mating. Keeping in mind that it takes approximately 10 to 14 days from the time the Queen emerges from the cell to the time she begins laying eggs, close attention should be given to the Nucleus Colony to make sure an ample amount of Bees are present and that the Queen has started laying eggs.


Splitting Using a Queenless Colony (Walk Away Hive Split)

 

This is commonly referred to as a " Walk away Hive Split". Unfortunately it's not as easy as just splitting the colony in half and walking away although that's exactly what some Beekeepers do. First the Colony to be split must be extremely strong and boiling over with Bees. Colonies with Queens having survived over at least two winters and with Queens that have exceptional Brood Patterns should be chosen for this type of split. For best results, colonies just on the verge of swarming are prime candidates for this type of split.

Note: We highly recommend that this type of split be done with only strong healthy hives that have at least two Brood Chambers with Brood in all stages of development. Frames with capped Brood should be split evenly between the two hives.

Step 1.

Locate a healthy colony with preferably two brood chambers. If using just one Brood Chamber make sure to have an additional Deep or Super depending on what equipment is being used in the colony being split. If using 10 frame equipment make sure to have 10 additional frames of either foundation or frames with comb available to replace the frames being removed.

Step 2.

Prepare a hive stand or place to set the hive to be split. This will require a stand to set the hive on, a Bottom Board, Inner Cover (optional) and Top Cover. Also make sure to have two feeders preferably bottom board type so that the sugar syrup intake and level can be watched closely without having to keep opening the hive every time it needs to be refilled.

Step 3.

Split the colony. If splitting a two brood chamber colony, remove and place one brood chamber on the bottom board next to the hive being split. If the colony being split has honey supers in place these will need to be split also so that both colonies will be equal. Remember we are splitting the colony and both colonies will need equal resources in order to keep healthy. Any frames with honey and pollen will need to be split evenly. Additional frames with either foundation or drawn comb will need to be placed in both hives.

Step 4.

Feeding:  We highly recommend feeding with a 1:1sugar syrup and brood patties to get both colonies back to full strength and to get the queen-less colony resources while they rear a new queen.

Optional:   Locate the Queen

When doing an split even though it is highly recommended, you do not have to know which hive has the colonies original Queen. We do however highly recommend doing a full inspection to locate which hive has the queen and which doesn't so special attention can be given to the queen-less colony.

What can go wrong with this type of split:

As stated above we highly recommend locating the original Queen and making note of which hive she is located in. Special attention needs to paid to the Queen less colony for several reasons which are listed below.

  • To many Queen Cells being produced If the Queen-less colony produces too many Queen cells which they usually do any number of things can go wrong. As the Queen-less colony builds Queen cells they are in a race against time to produce a new Queen from the original Queens eggs which must be from 12 to 24 hours old. The colony knows they must produce a new Queen in order for the colony to survive so they go into Queen Cell building mode and may end up with several Queen Cells. Upon inspection the Beekeeper may think all is well as the colony is building Queen Cells and the colony will soon have a new Queen. The problem starts when the new Queens start emerging which will be from a few minutes to days depending on where the eggs were taken from and when the original queen laid them. The first Queen to emerge may destroy the other queen cells which would be ideal for the Beekeeper and the colony. However, if more than one Queen emerges at the same time or the first queen does not destroy the remaining Queen Cells, a fight to the death may occur as each Queen emerges. The problem here is that both Queens may die and the colony again will become Queen-less. If the first Queen to emerge does not destroy the remaining Queen cells and allows them to hatch, the first Queen and any Queens emerging after may cause several mini swarms to take place therefore depleting the colony to a point it cannot possibly survive due to low numbers.

  • No eggs to produce Queen Cells: This is a common problem when splitting. Often times eggs of the proper age are not available in the Queen less colony which many times is not caught by the Beekeeper until its too late and the colony dwindles down to nothing. An inspection has to be made to make sure the colony has capped Queen Cells. The presence of Queen Cells alone is not a guarantee that a new Queen will be produced. The colony knows it must produce a new Queen in order for it to survive and Queen Cells will be built regardless of having eggs of the proper age. If no capped Queen Cells are found a frame with Nurse Bees and Brood in all stages from eggs to capped cells must be supplied to the Queen less colony. The reason we add a frame with Nurse Bees, Eggs as well as capped Brood is that by this time many of the original bees from the split are naturally dying off and new Bees must be added to keep the colonies numbers up and tend to the Queen cells.

 

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