Split Insights

By Cleo Hogan

I would never let my hives swarm and attempt to catch swarms for a variety of reasons. First, the parent hive will very nearly split evenly, leaving as many bees behind as leaves. This gives you two even hives, but, one has an old queen most often at the end of her productive life, not a good situation, and the other hive has no queen, only queen cells waiting to hatch, not a good situation. Both bad options.

A far better hive management solution is to make a split, even if you do a bad job. This opens up the brood nest for the queen to lay more eggs, reduces the urge to swarm, (because there are fewer bees in the hive), and leaves a good strong hive to produce honey.

I like to move the old queen with the split, that way, she and the bees are already familiar (the bees are all her daughters and sons), she is already actively laying, (so there isn’t a lot of delay in the buildup of the split), and any urge to swarm is gone because the split is too small to swarm. I highly recommend placing a new, bred, queen in the parent hive, because you lose 40-50 days at the parent hive if you let them make a queen to replace the one you moved with the split. At the end of this cycle your hive has been reduced and has to build back up. Normally a new, bred, queen will start replacement in 20-25 days not 40-50.

Don’t be alarmed if you see queen cells in the parent colony after the introduction of a new queen. The bees will recognize very quickly that they are queenless after you make your split. The parent hive should still be very strong, and they will attempt to make a queen quickly, because, they have limited time to start making a queen, (they need a viable egg, normally less than five days old), and the new queen is still in a cage, (not able to lay eggs), and they need a queen to survive.

If the new queen gets out of the cage, and if the bees plan to keep her, they will destroy the queen cells, or kill any virgin queens. It is not uncommon for the bees to replace a new queen, (which costs you money) but, it is more risky to chance just letting the hive make their own new queen, and lose 40-50 days in the middle of a honey flow when they need to be making honey for you.

One additional benefit of a split is its effect on mite control. Mite control is an ongoing battle. Make your mite counts and take action as required. Making a split is one way to help with mite control; Oxalic Acid (OA), miticides, (several brand names), powdered sugar, are others. Some highly respected beekeepers tout the effectiveness of screen bottom boards, but recent data casts some doubt as to the effectiveness of screen bottom boards and mite control.

There is nothing magic about a split. Simply:

  1. Find the queen.

  2. Take her and a couple of frames of chocolate colored brood, (this brood will hatch quickly, building the split rapidly.) The brood cap darkens with age; chocolate-colored brood is closer to hatching than freshly capped brood.

  3. Insert a new queen in the parent colony, or leave new brood for the hive to make a queen.

  4. Add 2-4 frames containing bees and some honey.

  5. Feed the split until it has built back to 7-9 frames.

  6. Manage the parent colony to ensure that the new queen is laying, or they have replaced her. Most important aspect of the parent hive management is, don’t let that hive become queenless.

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