Splitting Honey Bee Hives for Increase

This article was originally published on Feb 20, 2014 but contains seasonally relevant information. Like every other living thing our bees have the ability to make more bees. But instead of allowing our colonies to multiply many beekeepers spend hundreds of dollars to buy bees to replace the 1/3 of our colonies which we KNOW from statistics are going to die every year.
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A few pointers for new beekeepers

If you see nectar being stored in brood comb during spring or summer you need to stop feeding or you will cause the hive to swarm. If it is natural nectar you need to take immediate action to prevent swarming.

Beekeeping isn’t rocket science, but an awful lot of beekeepers lose all or most of their bees every year.  You could read volumes about how to be a beekeeper, but if you commit to follow just a few suggestions you will increase your chances of success a great deal:

  • Do your weekly inspections – never let more than 2 weeks pass without one – make sure they stay queenright!  If this is the only thing you do it will increase your chances tremendously.
  • Keep them fed - but don’t overfeed and make them swarm.
  • Get at least one nucleus hive and split your hives  when they have at least 2 boxes full of bees and drawn comb.   I reccomend that you put robber screens on your nucs – or all hives for that matter if you have several hives of different sizes.
  • Treat them for mites (I reccomend Apiguard organic treatment for this one) sometime between July 15 – August 15.  Finishing treatments by August 15.
  • In mid-late September begin fast feeding heavy syrup until your hives have plenty of it stored for winter.
  • Treat again any time in December using a treatment which is appropriate for the temps at that time – MAQS, Apivar, Oxalic acid.
  • Don’t let them starve over winter – Properly applied Mt Camp sugar as insurance almost guarantees that your bees won’t starve to death during winter.

Do these things and you probably won’t be buying more bees next spring.  For more details check out the  Beekeeping Calendar. and the Beekeeping Schedule by Blooms.

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Bee Informed Partnership National Loss Survey

Beekeepers needed! Thank you for your interest in participating in the National Colony Loss Management Survey organized by the Bee Informed Partnership
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The Home Stretch – Don’t let them starve!

If you have checked your hives already during the recent spring like weather you may have found as I did that some of your hives are light on stores.  You may also have seen that there is some nectar and a good bit of pollen coming in  from the Maple bloom.

Don’t count on your bees being able to feed themselves on the natural forage which is available if they are light.  They may be able to provide for their needs as long as the weather stays mild, but just a few days of wet or cold weather could result in starvation and colony death because of the amount of brood they have to feed.

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TN Beekeeping Annual Calendar

Annual Schedule for beekeepers – Of course all dates are approximate, and dependant on weather…


The Bees will be clustered during cold weather, but it is common for there to be several days  when the weather is warm enough for the bees to fly and cleanse – although little if any forage is available most years.

A small amt of brood production re-starts around mid January.

If hives are  light – or if it is your regular practice – Dry sugar, sugar candy, or pollen sub can be fed on top bars in almost any decent weather.

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Beekeeping Phenology – Important blooms in mid TN


  1. Maple – Rapid increase in brood production – Begins in late Feb/early March and lasts several weeks as different varieties bloom at slightly different times.  Weather is often fair enough for inspections during the maple bloom, and hive conditions may indicate that it is time to reverse brood chambers.
  2. Dandelion – time to begin adding supers, reversing brood boxes, and other swarming counter-measures – late March/Early April.  Swarm issue begins about 3 weeks later.
  3. Apple – Start of swarms issuing – Early/Mid April
  4. Poplar, Black Locust – Main nectar flows in mid TN – May
  5. Fireworks – Time to harvest honey – July
  6. Goldenrod – Begin getting colonies ready for winter – September

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Feeding Honey Bees for Beginners

My first year of beekeeping I was surprised to discover how often I had to feed my new pets.  I shouldn’t have been surprised – like all animals honey bees have to eat.

Unfortunately I had done a lot of reading on the Internet and heard that feeding your bees is bad – unnatural, unhealthy, makes them lazy, and swarmy, can cause them to produce brood at the wrong times, etc, etc…  Anyway if you don’t take too much honey from them then they won’t need to be fed.

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Swarm Management for new Beekeepers

New Beekeepers who are successfully over wintering hives for the first time are likely to see their overwintered colonies build up strongly on the early spring nectar flows.

Unfortunately strong overwintered colonies have a natural tendency to reproduce by swarming.

A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the primeswarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen.
Swarming (honey bee) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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How to Tell if a Hive has Already Swarmed

Honey bee colony populations can increase so rapidly just before swarming that it may not be apparent that a hive has swarmed just by population or entrance activity – although usually both are reduced somewhat. Upon inspection of such a hive you will usually find queen cells along the bottoms of combs (swarm cells) – probably opened where the queen(s) have emerged. There will not usually be a lot of brood in the hive right at the time of swarming because the queen typically runs out – or nearly out – of room to lay eggs in during the run up to swarming. You may find several recently emerged brood cells – which may be filled with nectar. But the main sign of a hive which has recently swarmed are opened swarm cells.

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Really Simple Queen Introduction

Queen introduction is fraught with anxiety – A good queen honey bee is pretty expensive as bugs go and of course you don’t want to take any chances with it. I think I’ve tried most of the common tips – push in cages, making the hive queenless for some period of time, etc. But here is the thing – what really works best for me is a standard candy release. Whether you are making a split, fixing a queenless hive, replacing an old queen or drone layer, installing a package, or dealing with a laying worker hive – this simple method works the same for all. It’s almost fool proof if you follow the simple rules.

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