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.

February 2013 Bee Keeping Update

Package Bee Orders – If you have not already ordered bees or paid in full for the bees that you have reserved  Please send a Check ($85/order total)  to the following address – you can still order package bees.  Make checks payable to Cookeville Bee Keepers and mail to:

  • Cookeville Bee Keepers
  • 453 E. Whitehall rd.
  • Cookeville TN
  • 38501

I will be finalizing our order soon and any orders which are not paid in full will not be placed.

From the TBA – I represented our club at  the Tennessee Bee Keepers Association Executive meeting yesterday, and I made a few notes of things that I thought you might find interesting:

I picked up our hive grant kits, and noticed that each kit contains two 8 frame medium hive bodies and accessories.  I personally use all 8 frame mediums and have not regretted starting out that way.  We are all set now to award kits to 3 lucky beginning bee keepers at our next meeting.

In a floor conversation between Mike Studer (TN state apiarist / apiary inspector) and Dr. John Skinner (TN State Apiculturist,  – UT Entomology & Plant Pathology Dept)

It was recommended that treatments for varroa mites be applied asap – during the spring build up – as soon as weather permits.  The reasoned opinion  being that hives treated in the spring are more likely to survive the following winter.  Reducing mite loads now, reduces virus build ups in the hive population for the entire season more effectively than  treating at any other time.  Keeping colonies healthy early and throughout the season is key to long term survival.

The only commercial mite treatment which Mike Skinner recommends at this time is Apiguard – here’s why:

  • Apiguard uses thymol which is a naturally occurring substance – and not particularly dangerous.
  • He prefers that we avoid “hard” chemicals such as coumaphos (check mite) – even though they can be effective if used correctly.  Coumaphos in particular is dangerous to people if mishandled and can not be used when honey supers are on the hive.
  • Formic acid treatments can be safe and effective, but the only commercially available formic acid product available at this time is mite away quick strips, and they have apparently experienced quality control problems during the past year – some shipments being too weak to be effective, while others were so concentrated that they cause very high bee mortality.
  • It was also recommended that formic acid treatments only be used during cool conditions – 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit – to limit bee mortality.

High winter losses have been reported in TN – most dead out hives which have been examined were highly infected with Nosema Cerana – the “new” variety of nosema – which is not well controlled by use of Fumagillin.  N-cerana does not cause streaking on hives like N-apis and is therefore likely to be un-diagnosed.

Mike recommends that using Honey-Bee-Healthy whenever feeding syrup results in healthier colonies that are less likely to succumb to nosema, and other pathogens.

At Our Last Meeting:

Maples are already or about to be in bloom throughout the region, and on fair days bees are foraging both pollen and nectar – queens are starting to lay, and brood will increase quickly.

All that brood has to be kept warm and fed – during bad weather the cluster will not move off of the brood – even if food is close by, but just out of reach.

David Young made the observation that more bees will Starve to death between now and April than at any other time.

Make sure that your bees have food Within Reach of the brood area.

If the cluster is already to the top of the hive it is likely that they have used up most of the food lower down – you should consider feeding.  Bees generally will not take syrup unless it’s relatively warm, so alternatively to feeding syrup during winter/spring you might want to try “Mountain Camp” feeding using dry sugar. This method can put the food in contact with the cluster no matter how the weather turns.

Inspections can be done when the temps are in the high 50s as long as it is sunny and with little or no wind – even then try to be as non invasive as possible to avoid chilling brood.

When he addressed our club last year Mr. Ed Holcomb recommended that you reverse hive bodies only when 3 or more days of fair weather are forecast.  He also had this insight:  When you reverse hive bodies you disrupt the arrangement of resources in the hive, so the bees go to work to re-arrange things back the way they want them.  Since bees move honey within the hive by eating it, reversing hive bodies forces the nurse bees to eat more than they normally might – simulating a nectar flow and stimulating brood production.  Reversing hive bodies might not be as fashionable as it once was, but it’s part of the system that Mr. Holcomb uses to produce 100 pounds of honey per hive.

During the discussion of Top Bar Hives I heard the comment that this method sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.  And it might be – depending on what you want out of bee keeping and are willing / able to put into it.

Top bar hives may require a bit more hands on involvement than Langstroth hives, but then again beginners often crave more hands on experience than is good for the bees anyway.  So that might not really be a point against them.

You probably won’t make much money top bar bee keeping – but the truth is that most hobby bee keepers don’t make much money no matter what method they use.  Although I would speculate that it might be easier to make money sooner with top bar hives and collected swarms than it would be using expensive equipment and bees.  If you don’t have much invested you don’t have to make much revenue to show a profit.

If a would-be bee keeper is  short on funds (or you just don’t WANT to spend a lot of money if you don’t have to) then top bar hives are a good way to get into the hobby with little or no outlay of cash.  You still get to practice bee keeping, and enjoy working with the bees – and you can still get a little bit of honey out of it.  You just don’t need a lot of money to get started.  So, if you really want to start keeping bees don’t use (the lack of) money as an excuse to stop you.

I’m not really recommending that anyone start top bar bee keeping unless they just want to – just saying that it does have merits.

Don’t forget the beginners short course on Sat. Feb. 23.