Thursday, March 7, 2024

Splitting Honey Bee Colonies

Making colony divisions, also called making splits, follows the natural behavior of honey bees. It is the natural behavior of honey bee colonies to build up rapidly in the spring, outgrow their hive, and then divide the population and swarm. By swarming, bees increase their number of colonies, expand their range, and leave behind old, contaminated hives. When beekeepers make a colony division or split, they are producing an artificial swarm. Splitting hives is useful for creating new hives, for producing nucleus colonies for sale, or for replacing over-winter colony losses. Splitting colonies is an effective method of controlling swarming.

The simplest method of splitting a colony, though not necessarily the best method, is the walk-away split. Here, the beekeeper divides a hive’s frames among two hive boxes. The beekeeper puts frames of bees, brood, pollen, and honey in a new hive box and leaves the bees to rear a new queen. Once the bees have detected that they are queenless, they will produce a new queen if they have the resources. If the split is successful in rearing a new queen, she will be laying eggs in about one month. A more reliable method of making a split is to take the same frames from a strong hive and put them in a new hive along with the colony’s original queen. Then, a new queen is introduced into the original hive. Splitting a colony while adding a new queen allows  both hives to continue growing with little delay in brood production. If a queen cell is used when splitting a hive, we should expect a delay of almost a month before the new queen starts laying eggs. Timing when to start splitting a colony is important. Often, beekeepers start the process too early in the year, resulting in poorly mated queens and weak colonies. We should inspect our hives and observe the drones. Splitting hives should begin when there are plenty of drones walking on the frames.

--Richard Underhill

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A January Thaw


The bees are flying today. Even though it is the middle of the winter, the weather is warm today, a January thaw. Bees are making foraging and cleansing flights. Warm southern winds often bring a few days that allow the bees to break out of their winter cluster. During these warm periods, beekeepers get an opportunity to briefly open their hives for a quick check. This will not be a thorough hive inspection; we will only check to see that the colonies are alive and that they have enough food to survive until spring flowers bring a nectar flow. The beekeeper gently smokes the hives and opens the covers. Since bees tend to move upward in their hives through the winter, the beekeeper may find the cluster at the very top of the hive. If that is where we find the bees, it is likely that the bees have consumed much of their winter food stores and the colony needs an emergency feeding of dry sugar placed above the inner cover. If the bees are not seen, the colony may be clustered in a lower box underneath a box full of honey. In this case, we may pull a frame to peer into the box below. If we see the cluster of live bees there, all is well; we can close the hive feeling comfortable about the colony’s chance of surviving the remainder of the winter.


If a colony is found to have died, usually by starvation, its remaining honey stores can be distributed to other hives. The combs of dead-out hives need to be protected from hive scavengers. The equipment can be brought to an indoor storage facility or the frames can be protected by the bees of strong living colonies. Stacking hive bodies or honey supers on strong hives protects the combs from wax moths and small hive beetles. This equipment can be used in the spring to make colony divisions. Today’s photo: winter foraging flights.


Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Rita Peace Underhill Memorial Beekeeping Scholarship


I am pleased to announce that the Bemis Honey Bee Farm has established a Memorial Beekeeping Scholarship honoring my late wife, Rita Peace Underhill, who along with me built Peace Bee Farm. Rita loved the Bemis family, and I value their friendship and generosity. The Bemises have been quite instrumental in serving and promoting the beekeeping industry in Arkansas by supplying bees, equipment, and training. Bemis Honey Bee Farm also hosts two annual public beekeeping events at the Little Rock farm, Bee Day in the spring and the Arkansas Honey Bee Festival in the fall.

The Rita Peace Underhill Memorial Beekeeping Scholarship is designed to help establish a new beekeeper in Arkansas between the ages of 16 and 30. The scholarship will provide a Bemis Deluxe Beekeeping Kit with its woodenware, jacket, gloves, hive tool, smoker, feeder, bee brush, and beginner book. The scholarship also provides a live colony of honey bees and registration to a beginner beekeeping class at Bemis Honey Bee Farm. I am honored to be the instructor for this class.

The deadline for application for the scholarship is March 1, 2024, and the winner will be announced on March 2, 2024. Arkansas applicants may apply for the scholarship at

For a PDF file of the application, email:

I am humbled by the generosity of the Bemis family for creating the Rita Peace Underhill Memorial Beekeeping Scholarship. It will be a pleasure for me to participate in the training. It is a most fitting tribute to Rita, who loved beekeeping and the people that she encountered along the way.


Rita Peace Underhill

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Pax Vobiscum


December 21 marks the winter solstice, the date with the year’s shortest daylight and longest night. The solstice falls among winter days in which religious and cultural holidays are celebrated around the world. The winter solstice is also recognized as the start of the honey bee colony’s year. It is on the solstice that queen bees start laying eggs after an egg laying interruption in the fall. Today, when temperatures rose above 50 degrees allowing bees to make foraging flights, I observed foragers bringing pollen into the hives. The arrival of pollen is usually associated with egg laying occurring in the hive. When brood is present, the colonies must warm their hives to 95 degrees by consuming their honey stores to generate heat. Though there are few plants in bloom during the late fall and winter, I have observed bees foraging on fall asters on the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Some honey bees and native pollinators have been foraging the citrus-scented blossoms of mullein, shown in today’s photo.


As we end the beekeeper’s year, it is a good time to reflect on the friends we have encountered. I am especially appreciative of the Bemis family, who operate Bemis Honey Bee Farm and Supplies in Little Rock. The Bemis’s business includes the production of honey as well as bee hive equipment and bees. The honey bee farm also provides beekeeping training, which I participate in, as well as hosting two annual public events, Bee Day in the spring and the Arkansas Honey Festival in the fall. I am overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of the Bemises who established the Rita Peace Underhill Memorial Beekeeping Scholarship in honor of my late wife, Rita. The scholarship provides hives, bees, equipment, and training for a starting beekeeper. Others beekeepers contributed hives and colonies of bees. It is with great appreciation that I recognize our beekeeper community. In the spirit of the season, I offer to all that peace be with you.


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Bee Day


Following two days of rain, the sun broke out on a crisp and cool April morning. My first presentation was scheduled to be conducted in the bee yard. As a videographer was connecting my microphone and focusing the cameras on the line of bee hives stretching into the distance, one hundred beekeepers gathered. Thus began Bee Day at Bemis Honey Bee Farm in Little Rock, Arkansas, a day when people came to receive hundreds of packaged colonies and nucleus colonies of honey bees. They also came for speaking presentations and bee yard demonstrations held throughout the day. I was honored to share speaking sessions with Dr. Dewey M. Caron, the person who literally wrote the book on the topic, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping. Since Bee Day coincided with Earth Day, Dr. Caron led off with a discussion of the importance of trees and their condition in a world being altered by global warming. He spoke on the biology of honey bee colony reproduction through swarming, and he explained how to read the activity inside bee hives. Alternating with Dr. Caron, I made presentations on the beekeeping year, illustrating how we manage bees that can produce queens in five months but cannot produce them in seven months. I made a presentation on potential pests of bee hives, which include people, pets, livestock, raccoons, possums, skunks, bears, wasps, hornets, ants, and parasitic mites. Dr. Caron concluded our classroom presentations by covering measures to control colony-killing varroa mites. We both emphasized the use of the resources available in the Tools for Varroa Management guide, much of which was written by Dr. Caron. The guide is available through the Honey Bee Health Coalition,


Throughout the day, beekeepers attended demonstrations conducted in the bee yard. A state apiary inspector demonstrated hive inspections, and Jody Carter discussed queen rearing and making colony divisions. Jeremy Bemis demonstrated how to install packaged bees and nucleus colonies in bee hives. Today’s photo: Dr. Dewey M. Caron.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Pax Vobiscum


The sun is setting across the snow-covered rolling hills of the PalouIse of eastern Washington State . This is the region where I am spending  the winter months with family members. Much of the country is experiencing an exceptionally strong winter storm, and beekeepers’ efforts to protect their colonies are being severely tested. Only in the spring will we find how effectively we prepared our hives for winter. The colonies relatively free of parasitic mites will survive if their hives are adequately ventilated, and the colonies have enough stored food that the bees can readily access. Healthy colonies generate heat by eating honey, the high-energy food that they make themselves, and vibrating their flight muscles. Bees can generate a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit in their flight muscles. While I visit the frigid Pacific Northwest, I am confident that my colonies in Arkansas are faring well in their stormy weather. Before leaving Arkansas, I measured their mite loads and ensured that they had plenty of stored food supplies. The bees are clustered in dry hives.


I am most grateful for the kind sentiments and words of support provided to me by beekeepers and acquaintances from around the country and even around the world following the death of Rita, one of the founders of Peace Bee Farm. As well as being a cheerful and devoted life partner, she was an integral part of the bee business. Now, other family members are learning the art and craft of beekeeping. In this cold, wintery holiday season observed by many of the world’s great religions and traditions, I offer warm wishes that peace be with you.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

An Ancient Tradition Repeated

The death of Elizabeth II, the Queen of England brings public expressions of sympathy conveyed in traditions dating back hundreds of years. It also brings about a private expression of sympathy that also dates back through the centuries. John Chapple, the queen’s royal beekeeper, quietly notified the bees of the queen’s death, John travelled to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to notify the bees that their mistress had died and that they would have a new master, Aware of the significance of the loss of a loved one, it was Queen Elizabeth who told us, “Grief is the cost of love.”


As summer ends, goldenrod comes into bloom and attracts bees and myriad native pollinators. Today, a honey bee collects pollen: protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to feed her colony’s brood. Flowers bring rebirth. Reassuring, along with Elizabeth’s words.