Making Increase

A queen cell being fed.

Making increase is how bee keepers refer to expanding their stocks.  Not so long ago all bee keepers made increase because they couldn’t just order some bees and let someone else do it for them.  Somewhere along the line things changed and something that all bee keepers used to know became a mystery – It’s really easy to make increase.


Any queenless hive that has the necessary resources to do so will try to make a queen. The required things being – very young larva, food, bees, and drones for the queen to mate with.

The reason that this is possible is that the only difference between a queen and a worker bee is the way they are fed for the first 5 days of their life.

So, splitting a hive is really as simple as it sounds.  Divide 1 hive into 2 making sure that both of them have young brood/eggs, and food.  If you do this when drones are available (BTW, there are tons of drones at the date of this post)  You have a good chance that the queenless half will successfully make a queen – and there you are, 2 hives from one.  You don’t even have to find the queen to do it.  This is called a Walk away split.

Notice that I said “a good chance?”  I would estimate that there is about a 1 in 5 chance of failure.  The main reason that a walk away split might fail is that the big, fat, brightly colored, slow flying queen gets eaten by a bird on her mating flight.  If I was a bird that’s the one I would eat.  Probably tastes like honey.

Fortunately there is a way to guarantee that the queenless hive will successfully make a new  queen.  Very simple.  First of all you have to determine which hive got the queen to begin with – Inspect after a week – one hive will have young brood/eggs and the other will have queen cells.  Needless to say the one with eggs is queenright.  So here’s the trick -  once a week give the queenless hive a frame of mixed brood.  That is – a frame that has at least a few eggs/very young brood.  If you do that, eventually the hive will make a mated queen – and you will see new brood even if you don’t see the queen.

When you are making a walk away split you are producing what is commonly called an “Emergency” Queen.  That’s because the queenless hive detected the emergency situation that it was queenless and used the available resources to make a queen.  Some people will claim that emergency queens are likely to be inferior – other equally authoritative people swear that they are not.  I can tell you for sure that it would take more of an expert than I to tell the difference. If you have never made increase before, splitting is the way to start.  And I can guarantee this – when you have a queen fail (when, not if) you will be quite glad to have an emergency queen on hand ready to use.

Stacking the Deck

Want to get more bang for your buck?

Instead of a walk away split find the queen and move her – along with the frame she is on and another frame of stores, and the clinging bees on both frames to a nucleus hive – in a new location in the same bee yard.  This Queenright hive will take off pretty quickly, and the queenless hive will have all of the original foragers and the full population – so it will be more likely to make several high quality well fed queen cells.

An excellent frame of brood with queen cells on it. If you find a frame like this the bees have already done all the work for you - just put this frame along with a frame of stores in a nuc and with a little luck in 3 weeks or so you will have a complete new hive.

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