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

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