My Favorite way to Split

This article is similar to a forum thread that I started on BeeSource

Splitting always comes up a a lot this time of year and like all things bee keeping everyone has their opinion – hopefully most of them are based on actual experience, and even trying different things. Making increase is one of my favorite parts of bee keeping, and I have tried a lot of different ways – I love to see things grow.

I have all 8 frame mediums – a single box hive is about equivalent to a 5 frame deep, and in our area will winter just fine (with sugar on top) and build up to a productive hive in the spring if all goes well. My opinion is that I would rather go into winter with two such small (but strong) hives than one big hive of any size – simply because you are twice as likely to have live bees in the spring. Also, remember that hives can (and often should)  be combined in either fall or spring if it seems like a good idea at the time.

My favorite way to split –
During the spring nectar flow (now – but ending soon) From a good strong double or a strong fully built out single (such as a package started in April, that has done well so far) find the queen, and move her along with the frame she is on to a nuc in a new location in the yard. If that frame is not a good frame of mostly capped brood then find one and give it to her, then give her a frame of food – preferably a mixture of honey, open nectar and pollen. Also give the queen a shake of bees from a brood frame. Fill both hives with comb if you have it or foundation if you don’t.  At first most of the foragers will return to the original location, but in a few days some new ones will orient to the queens nuc.

Assuming that the queenless hive in the original location has at least two frames with cells ten days later move the queen and her hive to another new location.

Put another empty nuc in the location where the queen right nuc used to be, and give it a frame with a cell, a frame of food, and a shake of bees. If the queen right hive doesn’t have plenty of food, give it another frame of stores from the hive in the original location – it will have plenty by now because it has all of the original foragers and very little brood to feed.

In a week if all goes well the virgin queens will be mated, and in another week will begin laying – by three weeks brood should be apparent to even a novice.

If at any point you lose faith that new queens are being successfully produced in one of the queenless hives give that hive a frame of open brood to it and swap a frame of comb back to the queen right hive. Shake enough bees off of each frame being swapped so that you are absolutely positive that you don’t move a queen. Shake them all off if you aren’t confident in your ability to spot a queen.

Why I like splitting this way

  • The queen right nuc will retain more bees than a queenless split and it will continue growing from the very first day.
  • Because only minimum resources were removed from the main hive – which keeps all of the foragers – it will be strong enough to build nice big queen cells.
  • After ten days those queen cells will be ripe, and the spot where the queen right nuc was sitting will have a fair workforce oriented to it to take care of the queenless nuc you place there.
  • Hives of this size – single or double 8 frame mediums in late May are too small to make much honey, so using them for making splits doesn’t interfere with honey production.
  • It is a lot easier to find the queen in smaller hives.

Once all of the hives have laying queens it is best to equalize the amount of comb and brood (nucs may have to be upgraded to full sized hives) and swap the weakest and strongest hive locations to get them all on an even footing.  You can do this over the course of a few days to avoid sudden drastic changes. This will get them all building up at the quickest rate possible, and help minimize robbing.

Just be aware that as the flow tapers off in the next few weeks you might have to feed, and robbing will eventually become more of an issue. It will still work though as long as you effectively deal with those two issues.

Some Questions and comments from the BeeSource forum thread…

People often think about making a split when they find a queen cell – Which may seems like a better idea than it really is  because a cell might contain a fully formed queen – ready to emerge – or one that is still little more than a larva and has to be incubated at 94 degrees for another week. But when you put a queenless nuc in a brand new yard location it almost always gets weak until sufficient brood emerges to build it up – maybe too weak to incubate the cell. To avoid having so many of the bees go back home  you just about have to move the new split to a remote location for a week or so.  The method I just outlined allows you to know how old the queen cells are and to keep them in locations that already have associated foragers. It’s a good way for first year bee keepers or anyone with limited resources to make increase without having to use an outyard location.

 What do you do if there are multiple queen cells on the frame in the original hive? Pinch it back to one cell or let nature take its course?  No, on a small hive – no more than 2 boxes, I probably would not remove any cells when I am making increase – unless it is really excessive like 20 or more. When a really big populous hive has many swarm cells which are physically far apart within the hive it can result in multiple swarms. So you have to exercise some judgment if you find that kind of situation.

But, in this method where you are triggering cell building by removing the queen from a moderately sized hive which does not already contain swarm cells – I would not intentionally destroy any cells.

Something that bears mentioning – removing the queen from a hive which is already full of swarm cells won’t necessarily keep it from swarming. If it’s strong enough and swarmy enough it probably will. If you put the queen in a weak cell free nuc It WILL keep the queen from flying away – which is worthwhile in itself.  The hive you start with in this method of splitting needs to be free of cells when you start.

 This isn’t really a tried and true mainstream method of splitting. Most bee keepers are going to say that you should only split much larger hives than this – or that you should use purchased queens instead of making queenless splits. Some people would even say that this kind of split is inferior because it produces emergency queens. It is however tried and proven to the extent that I have tried it and it has proven to work quite well.

Anyway the queens produced like this have a couple of great advantages over purchased ones – 1) They’re never banked, caged, shipped, or re-introduced to a strange hive 2) They’re free.

However the people who “only split a booming double deep…” And maybe even use an introduced queen… They’re not wrong – because they do end up with big strong hives quicker.

But beginners don’t usually have big strong double deep hives, and store bought queens are expensive and introducing them is risky.  And I just think that making increase is a good way to stay interested and involved – and to not end up beeless.   Plus  it’s just plain fun – if your idea of fun is playing with bugs.

Any changes in the method for splits in the fall?

They need to have enough time to build up population for winter, and there has to be enough comb for them to winter on. I’ve started small hives like this in the form of mating nucs in early July and they built up and wintered just fine, but being a new beekeeper with precious little comb I had to distribute all the comb (good, bad, and ugly) that I could scrape together to make it work. Most years here in middle TN not much comb building happens after the middle of June even if you feed. Once in a while there is enough goldenrod for them to build a little in September, but you can’t count on itAlso, if there are other strong hives near by robbing can be brutal later in the season.And the later you start the less chance there is to get a failed queen going by giving the hive brood…

On the other hand a brand new queen that starts laying by the end of August can really do wonders for fall build up.

I know I’m beating around the bush here, but there are a lot of “ifs” and “it depends” involved. But I’ll try to sum it up. It will vary with location, but In middle TN…

  • Around the first of May is probably the very best time to split if you have enough bees.
  • After that – The sooner the better.
  • Conditions usually go downhill rapidly after the middle of June because the flow stops when it gets hot and dry – and SHB, wax moths, and robbing get steadily worse. You have to watch out for them more the later it gets.
  • You have to feed once the flow stops, and if you aren’t careful you can set off robbing when you do. Hives that already have a mated queen are much less likely to be robbed to death, but you still have to watch out and deal with it.
  • Sometimes a fall flow triggers a bit of comb building in September. But don’t count on having much more comb in the fall than you have on June 15 – however much that is will have to be enough for all of the hives you go into winter with – but it can be moved around and equaled up.
  • August first is really the very latest that you should try splitting in order to get a queen laying well on time for fall build up.  July 21 would be better.
  • If I don’t find brood one month after I make a late split I shake out the hive and distribute the comb to other hives. If you don’t do something similar the hive is likely to develop laying worker, SHB, or wax moth problems within days. And then your comb could be ruined.

The short version is that the longer you wait the harder it gets.


Now – go forth and multiply.

Grafting / Queen Rearing field day next Wednesday

Queen rearing is a method(s) to efficiently produce multiple honey bee queen cells and grow them into mated, laying queen bees.

We are hastily organizing a field day for the purpose of grafting / queen rearing to be held at the TTU apiary – 4:00 PM Wednesday May 29  – we will be meeting at the picnic shelter at the HyderBurks Ag PavilionGainesboro Grade, Cookeville 38501.  Everyone is welcome – everyone must wear at least a veil.  Please be prompt, because we will move across the street into the apiary at 4:00.

In the case of very bad weather we will do it on Thursday instead – watch this space.

Ten days later on Saturday June 8 we will meet again at the same place to place our queen cells into mating nucs, and again about 3 weeks after that we should have a crop of nice new queens to assess.

Where can you have more fun just for showing up?