The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Easiest way to split a hive

Double deepNow that you've slogged through two days of bee doom and gloom, it's time for a new hope --- splitting your hive in two!  I've been daunted by the notion of hive splitting in the past, since the techniques for optimal efficiency are complicated and often require special equipment.  But there are also quick and dirty techniques that work quite well using standard hive boxes if you only want to create one new hive from each of your hives rather than turning one hive into as many colonies as possible.

The simplest way to split a hive is to begin with double deeps and wait until both deep boxes are full of brood, honey, and pollen.  You should have a mixture of fresh eggs, uncapped brood, and capped brood in each box --- if not, swap some around so the two boxes are evenly filled with brood.  Then set up a bottom board in a new location and carry one of the deep brood boxes over to place on it.  Shake some extra nurse bees into the box, put on the inner and outer cover, add an entrance reducer, and you're done.

bee eggOne of the split hives will have the queen in it --- this is the mother colony --- while the other will realize they are queenless and will quickly turn one of the eggs into a queen.  Within a few days, you should be able to tell the difference in the hives.  Treat the mother colony the way you would any other hive, but leave the nucleus (aka "nuc" --- the hive with no queen) alone for 30 days to let them raise a queen and give her time to start laying.

Inevitably, most of the foraging bees will drift back to the hive in the old location, which is why you put some extra bees in the hive you carted to a new spot.  This is also why you want to make sure both hives have at least a few frames of pollen and honey to get them started while they regroup and get back on track.

As long as you carry out your split early in the year --- I figure April or May in our area --- you shouldn't have to give either hive supplemental feed.  You won't get as much honey that year as you would have without performing the split, but you will probably be able to harvest at least a bit of honey from the mother hive (and maybe from the nuc as well.)  I've decided to try this out with both of our hives, if they seem strong enough, and hope that we'll end 2011 with four hives instead of two.

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This post is part of our Natural Beekeeping lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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On March 15th of this year we got into our "Uber hive", the only hive we had at the time as I had noticed some changes in behavior, not as much activity as in the past several weeks. When we opened it up we were shocked to find it extremely over-crowded and with over 20 queen cells! We split it out (it was a double deep) to make a second hive which is currently full, although we did not obtain any honey this year from it, the girls made all their own comb and have a completely full double deep to go into the winter. The mother "uber" hive filled the empty second deep with their own foundationless comb as well then filled two supers for a total of of 60 pounds of honey! We have been VERY happy with Uber hive. :) With luck we are hoping to split all three of our hives in the spring (we also obtained a swarm this year, it gave us 14 pounds of honey) so that we finish the year with 6 hives (or 8 if we can also collect a couple of swarms). Our goal is 10 and then begin selling our splits to new beekeepers. We try to promote responsible beekeeping whenever possible as well as healthy, year-round plantings for the bees. Thank you for the information regarding varroa mites ... we just found we had some (we are bad and haven't been checking!) and will try the black walnut smoke as that seems the least invasive and we have plenty of leaves here with several trees on our farm. Looking forward to reading more on your blog!
Comment by Catherine Fri Oct 19 13:55:11 2012

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