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