You might feel ready to start trying more advanced practices once you get the hang of keeping happy and healthy bees. If that’s the case, hive splitting is something you should know about.
Beekeeping is always an opportunity to learn something new and feel a deeper connection to the world around you, and this will only deepen that experience.
Read on to learn about hive splitting and how it’s done.
What Is Hive Splitting?
In simple terms, it’s exactly what it sounds like, hive splitting is splitting one honey bee colony into two.
A very healthy colony with lots of brood, nectar, and pollen collected and stored is perfect for splitting. Some hives can be split more than once every year as they continue to increase in population. This is called the “mother” colony from which splits are made.
An important part of hive splitting is raising a second queen for the “new” colony so that each one is complete and self-sufficient.
The Purpose of Making Splits
Hive splitting can be an important part of hive management for many beekeepers.
When a colony is really healthy and growing fast, it can easily run out of room and available resources in the hive. This means this hive can benefit from hive splitting to turn into two hives.
While you can usually add as many honey supers as you need, it gets really tough to manage a colony if you add more and more brood boxes. Inspections become much more difficult and cumbersome. You’ll have too many heavy boxes to lift to see what’s happening lower down.
Hive splitting is also a great swarm prevention technique. As the population of a hive starts to explode, they can quickly run out of space and decide to look for a new place to live.
One major benefit of performing hive splits is that you get more colonies in your apiary for free! You can either keep splits for yourself or sell them to other local beekeepers if you don’t want more hives.
When A Hive Needs Splitting
The most common time to split is in mid-spring, with colonies that successfully overwintered and are working on population growth.
Swarm season coincides with spring, so you want to split before your hive decides to swarm. Look for signs that your bees might be about to swarm. This usually looks like tons of brood with little room for anything else.
You may also see swarm cells or queen cells built on the bottoms of frames. Seeing this specific type of queen cell is a sure sign of an impending swarm and requires immediate intervention.
What Happens if You Don’t Split Your Hive
The biggest risk is swarming if you decide not to split a hive when your bees are quickly filling their available space.
When your bees swarm, the queen in your hive leaves with around half of the hive’s population. Not only do you lose all of those bees, but it isn’t responsible to intentionally let them leave without trying to intervene.
Feral bees might find a new place to set up, but they could try to build a new colony in someone’s home. This will make for unhappy neighbors and could lead to those bees being exterminated.
Swarming can happen by accident, but if you can avoid letting it happen, your neighbors will thank you, and you won’t lose your bees.
How to Split a Hive
It might seem overwhelming or intimidating, but making a split doesn’t have to be stressful.
If you prepare well and take your time, you should have no problem because the process is actually pretty simple.
An important note: do not use a newly established hive. A colony should be at least two years old before you even consider hive splitting. Younger colonies, and especially colonies that haven’t yet survived through the winter, won’t be nearly strong enough to be split.
Where to Start and How to Prepare
First, you’ll need equipment for the new colony. Make sure you have at least one brood box with frames set up and ready to go. Ideally, you’ll have all the boxes you need for a full hive on deck.
Make sure the colony you’re splitting is strong with lots of eggs, larvae, pollen, and nectar so both hives end up with plenty of everything they need. Using a weak hive will not give you a good chance of success.
You can either let your bees make their own queen or purchase a mated queen. Keep in mind that a mated queen will be able to start laying eggs right away, while a new queen will have to fly out to mate first.
For your bees to make a queen, make sure they have plenty of worker brood available.
Now You’re Ready to Split Your Hive
First, select four or five frames with brood in various stages and move them into the new hive.
It’s especially important to have very new eggs if you plan on letting the colony make their own queen. If there are only larvae, it will be too late to turn any of them into a queen. The workers will know they’re now queenless, so as long as they have everything they need, they will immediately start to raise one.
If you’re providing a mated queen, you don’t have to worry as much but should still try to get all stages of brood into the new hive.
Next, fill the rest of the box with frames containing pollen and nectar to give them resources.
Shake bees off of another 4 or so frames into the new hive to start populating it. Be careful not to shake the original queen into the new hive. Younger bees are ideal, but as long as you get a lot of workers in, you don’t need to worry about it too much.
Give both hives entrance reducers to help them defend against robbing while they’re getting established, and replace the frames you removed from the original hive.
Close up both hives, and you’re done!
Inspecting After a Hive Split
After both colonies have had a chance to get settled, you want to make sure they are both making good progress.
Carefully check the new hive for eggs and eventually larvae and capped brood. This will tell you if they are queenright or not.
Buying a mated queen means she should be able to start laying right away as long as the workers accepted her.
If you let your bees make a queen themselves, give her some extra time to mate and start laying.
As you’re looking at the hive, try to get a sense of how many adult bees there are to ensure the population isn’t dwindling.
Turning One Hive Into Two
Hive splitting doesn’t have to be stressful, and it’s a great tool to have in your hive management repertoire.
Careful planning can make it a good experience and even give you an extra hive for free. Understanding how to split a hive is important to keeping healthy, robust honey bees. Grow your apiary from your own stock or make a little extra cash when you sell a split to another nearby beekeeper.
Learn more about honey bees and everything that goes into raising your own colonies.