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

Splitting the Warre hive

Smoking a hive

At this time last year, the bees in our Warre hive swarmed.  Even though I have several swarm traps out this year, I know that catching a swarm is a gamble, so I decided to go against the Warre party line and preemptively split our hive.

Drone brood

The last time I split a hive, I was using Langstroth boxes and didn't realize how intrusive all of my poking around inside the colony was.  So, at that time, I went through and made sure both new hives had frames of eggs, capped brood, and honey.

I didn't want to be so disruptive this time around, especially since our Warre hive frames are technically movable but actually tend to tear comb when removed.  So this year's split is more of a gamble --- I don't know for sure that both hives have the eggs
Split hivenecessary to make a new queen.  If I'm unlucky and the queen and eggs are all in one colony, I'll either buy a queen for the other colony or will just put the two hives back together.  (As a side note, I think that's capped drone brood in the photo above, not queen cells --- what do you think?)

Even without poking through the frames, though, I can make sure that both hives have an equal chance of success.  With a split, the hive that you leave in the old location gets an automatic boost since all of the worker bees out foraging will go home to that location.  So I took the heavier box to the new spot (in the starplate pasture), figuring the lack of workers there would mean the daughter hive could use the extra honey.  I'll also start feeding both hives, even though there are lots of flowers in bloom, since a split is definitely a setback for each set of bees.

Splitting the hive means that, once again, we probably won't get honey this year.  However, the colony I split has proven its worth as a survivor colony despite not being treated with any chemicals.  Maybe, if I'm lucky, both daughter hives will survive and thrive and give us honey in 2015.

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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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That is capped drone brood. You would not have that many capped queen cells and they would be near the bottom of the frames.
Comment by Anonymous Tue May 13 07:29:04 2014

I have heard that when you move a hive, it has to be either less than two meters or more than two kilometers. The bees will navigate by their memories. If it is all new to them, (far away) they will come back to the new location, but if it is near the same regular foraging area, they will return to the old hive.

I don't know if this is true or not, just what I have heard.

Comment by Eric in Japan Wed May 14 09:29:25 2014

Anonymous --- That's what I figured. Everything seems to look different in a Warre hive, I think because I peek down between the frames rather than taking them out to look head-on.

Eric --- That's definitely true if you move a hive. However, splitting a hive is a different matter because bees won't leave brood behind. All of the workers bees who are in foraging mode will go back to the old hive location, but all of the nurse bees will stay in the new hive to tend the brood, and as new bees hatch, they'll home in on the new location. That's why I gave the bees in the new location more honey --- they won't have any foragers for a while. But they will have nurse bees and, hopefully, eventually a queen and new foragers.

Comment by anna Wed May 14 10:31:00 2014
My second-year colony swarmed this spring but in a few weeks had nearly replenished their numbers. I decided to split. So as not to be too disruptive I put one box which was half full of new comb and covered in bees, into a new hive, right next to the old one. I figured it had brood in it, as it had been the lower box before and was all new comb. I am still not sure where the queen is, but I think I saw her I. The old hive. A bit of a gamble. Will see.
Comment by Richard Klein Thu Jun 5 08:56:34 2014

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