Beekeeping Hive Split

How To Beekeeping Hive Split

Beekeeping Hive Split:

A Beekeeping Hive Split also known as Splitting a Hive is done for several reasons. The main and probably #1 reason is to increase colony numbers. By far the easiest Beekeeping Hive Split is what’s called a “Walk Away Hive Split”. A walk away hive split is done when the beekeeper splits the hive in half and simply walks away. A walk away Hive Split can be done in a variety of ways. By far the easiest is when the colony has the equivalent of two Brood Chambers ( (2) Deeps, (4) shallows equivalent of two deeps). In the case of a colony with (2) Deeps the bottom deep remains in place while the upper deep is removed and placed on a new bottom board and with a new top.

Beekeeping Hive Split

 Note: When making any type of hive split we advise inspecting the Brood Frames to check for eggs.

In the case where (4) shallows which equal (1) Deep are being used, (2) of the shallows will remain in place while the upper (2) are placed on a new bottom board and are given a new top. I might add that if the colony being split is highly populated a second Deep if using Deeps or two more Shallows if using Shallows should be added at this time in order to provide room for the Queens to expand the brood chamber.

Beekeeping Hive Split Using (1) Deep or (2) Shallows

When doing a Beekeeping Hive Split using (1) Deep it requires a little more work on the beekeepers part. If doing a hive split using (2) Shallows one Shallow is removed and set on a new bottom board as outlined above. When using (1) Deep instead of splitting hive bodies as explained above we will now be splitting the frames from within the hive body. To split a Deep we will be removing (5) frames in (10) equipment (4) frames in (8) frame equipment. When splitting a (10) frame deep we always start by removing the outer most frame. This to prevent accidently rolling the Queen and killing or injuring her. The frame can be removed from either the left or right side. The outer most frame should be a honey frame (if the bees read any of the beekeeping books). We want to inspect the next four frames that we will be removing. During the frame inspection we need to make sure we have brood in all stages. In order for this type of split to work we have to have freshly laid eggs in order for the colony to rear a new Queen. The reason I advise looking for freshly laid eggs and brood in all stages is it insures that there will be larvae that is just the right age for rear a new Queen. When inspecting the frame for eggs they will look like small single grains of rice standing on end (We do not need to locate the Queen unless you absolutely want to know which colony she will end up in). Staying on the same side as the honey frame that was previously removed, remove the next frame being careful to pry the frame away from the remaining frames to prevent injuring the Queen if she happens to be in that frame and lift it out. Place all (5) frames or (4) in the order they were removed into the empty hive body. Position the five removed frames and the five remaining frames towards the centers of the hive bodies. Add frames in the empty spaces to either side. For this beekeeping hive split we are not going to add additional hive bodies until the bees have drawn out all the new frames we have added. Keep a close eye on both colonies. Do a hive inspection within about five days to look for Queen cells. Queen cells should only be found in one colony.

Reasons to do a Beekeeping Hive Split:

  • Over Crowding
  • To Increase the number of Colonies in an apiary
  • Hive Split done to get a new Beekeeper started in Beekeeping
  • Re-Queening an aggressive colony

A word of Caution concerning doing a Beekeeping Hive Split:

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 

Beekeeping Hive Split

A Beekeeping Hive Split can be done for several reasons such as gaining additional hives to increase ones Apiary or cutting down a hive that has grown to large and become hot or unmanageable. Most Splits are done however to increase hive numbers. A Beekeeping Hive Split 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.

Beekeeping Hive Split  Beekeeping Hive Split

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 Box.

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 Bees into your new NUC’s in order to give them a better chance of taking smoothly.

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 or 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 possibly being aggressive. These are 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

Beekeeping Hive Split  Beekeeping Hive Split, Queen cage sitting on top of hive frames with bees 

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.

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 hives or Nucleus Hives.

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

Queen Cage with Cork and Candy still intact.

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 marshmellow in the hole left where you removed the cork from.

 Note: If there were 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 might ball her (Balling is where the Bees form a ball around the queen attacking her and possibly stinging her to death).

Step 3.

You should now pretty much have a good idea which hive has a Beekeeping Hive Split, 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: From experience we have found replacing the original Queen from the hive being split (if aggressive). If you are not introducing caged Queens into your splits 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 work and you have to re-combine the hive.

Step 4. 

With your new Queens installed or open Brood for the Bees to rear a new Queen in your NUC’s you will want to close up the two new NUC’s and leave them alone for one to two days before removing the screen wire from the entrances (at least 48hrs). This reduces the chance that older worker bees will return to the original hive. When you remove the screens from the entrances place a leafy twig or sticks 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 two to three days then remove the Queen cage and adjust the frames, replace hive cover/lid.

Note on Drifting Drifting is a common occurrence when splitting hives when 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 an Open Brood Frame for the Bees to use for making a Queen Cell. 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 a few days to mate and start laying eggs. Don’t be in a hurry to replace the Queen if eggs are not found right away. Weather conditions play a very important role in Queen mating. During constant rain events it can take a couple of weeks or more before signs of eggs are present.

Our Beekeeping Hive Split page will be updated often with new information as well as pictures. Beekeeping Hive Split information found on this page is presented as an aid to help beekeepers prevent swarming, add numbers to their apiary and in general manage their hives. 

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