Splitting your own beehives is a skill that every beekeeper should learn. It can feel overwhelming and confusing when you’ve never done this before but I assure you, by following the few simple steps that I hopefully outline well, you can look forward to splitting your own beehives before you know it!
The 2 top benefits
#1– You’ll gain the confidence knowing that you have more control over maintaining the number of beehives you want.
#2– No more buying package bees! Saving money is always a good thing.
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The 4 Steps to Splitting bees
Step #1- The right conditions
Step #2- Prepare the equipment
Step #3- The Proper Split
Step #4- Feeding
Step #1- The right conditions
You only need one beehive to start your own neighborhood Apiary Empire!! Since you and I live in completely different climates (probably), I am going to convey correct timing by Temperature, Forage Availability & Hive population.
Honey bee colonies begin to cluster for warmth somewhere around the mid-50’s, sooner if the wind chill is colder. Even though you may see bees flying on a sunny day in the 40’s doesn’t mean it’s time to open the hive; this risks chilling the brood.
For making splits you want the average daytime high to be in the 60’s, the warmer the better. Try and make sure that the wind is 5 mph or less too. If it’s a sunny day AND in the 60’s, go for it!
Springtime is when the pollen starts coming in. In most areas, Maple and Willow are among the first significant sources of pollen. Alder is another early source.
Your bees will gather as much of this as possible when the temperatures allow. Pollen is essential for colony growth. At this time, your little bees will be packing this fresh pollen around the brood nest. It is when these large amounts of pollen are coming in that you can start thinking about splitting.
It is up to you to make the call, so to speak, about judging the temperature and forage availability. But don’t worry because you can do this. Beekeeping is all about learning. You’re already doing well because you are educating yourself. Way to bee!
One of my favorite books to promote is American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett. This book will teach you SO much about the forage available in your area and when it blooms! Try it out.
The ‘mother hive’ that you will be splitting from needs to be strong enough and have a high enough population to make a proper split. Make sure they also have Drones! The queen needs drones to mate.
What does this mean? It means that ideally your hive should have at least 8 frames of bees. When you open the lid on your hive, the top bars should be brown with bees. The more, the better.
But to set you up to make a successful split and without harming the condition of the original hive, I recommend having 8 frames of bees. And among those frames you will want to have at least 4 frame of brood.
Step #2- Prepare the Equipment
Whether you run Warré, Langstroth, Top bar or other beehive styles that I haven’t learned about yet, you gotta prep the proper equipment before you get started. And with this means setting up the new spot for your split.
The equipment you need will either be a full size hive body or something called a nuc. And just in case you do not know what that is: a nuc box houses a smaller nucleus of bees than a larger full-size beehive does.
For example, this spring I am going to make 9 splits using 3-frame nuc boxes. When each of those 3-frame nucs get big enough in population, I am going to ‘upgrade’ them to my full size Langstroth deep hive bodies.
So get whatever boxes you need and make sure you also have enough frames for your new splits and frames to replace in the original colony. It’s okay if these replacement frames are bare or empty.
Step #3- The proper split
It’s now time to actually make the split. If you have determined that conditions are ideal from step #1 then let’s get to it!
If you are going to keep your new split in the same apiary as the hive you are splitting from then follow these directions exactly. I will explain why as we go along.
First- Locate the queen. Ideally she will be on a frame of brood covered in bees. Take her and the frame of brood and place her in your new split hive body.
Why? Because you are keeping both hives in the same apiary, many of the field force will want to leave your split and return to the original location. Having the queen in the split encourages more bees to remain with your split and give them a better chance at survival.
Second- Make sure that both the original hive and the new split have capped brood AND open brood. Divide this as evenly as possible between the two by placing brood frames in the center of the hive bodies.
Why? Open brood has younger bees on it; nurse bees. These bees have never flown except for cleansing flights and will therefore remain with each of their hives. Also, your original hive now has no queen. The open brood will give them the ability to make their own queen.
Third- Take the remaining frames of food and divide it evenly between the two hives. Place the food on the outside of each brood nest of both hives. That is, you want to sandwich the brood nests with honey frames.
Why? Their food should be close to the brood nest without any empty frames. There may still be cold nights ahead and they will need their food close by. If there is any pollen on these honey frames then position it inward to face towards the brood.
Fourth- If there are any empty frames that have been emptied of honey from consumption through winter then place them on the very outside of the hive bodies, sandwiching the honey and brood.
Why? The bees do not need these right now, but they will soon. Always give your hive room to grow during this time of the year, even if it’s only a little.
Step #4- Feeding
Just because it’s spring and there’s lots of pollen coming in does not mean you shouldn’t feed. Whatever you have for a feeder, use it. Splits have a much higher survival rate when you give them a 1:1 sugar syrup in spring or summer.
How much should you feed? With spring here, the bees are going to consume that feed as quickly as they can because right now because they’re growing.
I recommend putting at least 2 gallons of 1:1 sugar syrup on them. If you have to do this 1 pint at a time then that’s totally okay. I use pint jars and I also use 5 lb. jars for my in-hive feeders.
When the days are warm enough you can open feed without worry of robbing during the spring time. Learn how in my post, Emergency Spring Feeding: Best way to feed bees quickly.
You’re new split should be okay since they have an actively laying queen. Your original hive that is now queenless will start drawing queen cells within two days. Their new queen should hatch in about 12 days and begin laying within two weeks after that.
Note: You now theoretically have at least two beehives that are relatively small in population. They need time to build and time to grow. It is important to recognize this. You will most likely NOT be harvesting any honey from them this year. So focus on their success first and they will pay you back next year.
When you have never made a split before, the hardest part is actually starting. It will be okay and you are going to learn a lot. After reading through this, read it again if you need to. I will link a good video here. I recommend watching it.
Until next time remember,
~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~
Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire