How To Make Splits

Beehive Splits: Ensuring Beekeeping Sustainability

Being a sustainable beekeeper means having a few extra colonies going into winter. Even the most skilled beekeepers experience colony losses during winter or other parts of the beekeeping season.

The Ideal Time for Splits

The best time to perform a split is in May or June, typically when your bee colony is thriving.

Understanding Beehive Splits

A hive split involves taking one colony and dividing it into two or more. It's a useful technique for swarm control. While I recommend a vertical in-hive split (see our guide about the Demaree method), you can also create a new colony. There are various methods to make a split, but I'll focus on some essential principles that apply to all methods.

Components of a Successful Split

Ideally, every split should consist of the following components: food (frames with nectar and pollen), bees, brood (either capped or open, as we'll discuss shortly), and a queen or something capable of becoming a queen. These components mirror those of a mature hive. Typically, a split is accommodated in a 5-frame nuc box. However, a One Queen Keeper with a follower board can also be used, allowing flexibility in managing brood nest size, which can range from 1 to 8 frames.

Selecting Brood for the Split

  1. Uncapped Brood (Eggs and Larvae): When asking a split to raise its own queen, it's crucial to provide them with young larvae. Frames with eggs and larvae offer the right-aged larvae for this purpose. Ensure that you transfer the bees from the uncapped frame as well, as these nurse bees are essential for creating queen cells. If you plan to introduce a queen cell or mated queen into the split, it's advisable to limit the amount of open brood you transfer. Rearing larvae and capping queen cells is labor-intensive for the split, so if not necessary, leave uncapped brood in the mother hive.

  2. Capped Brood: Ideally, all splits should receive a frame or two of capped brood that's about to emerge. You can identify such brood by its darker cappings compared to freshly capped brood. Look for signs of emerging brood or space in the center where brood has recently hatched to guide your selection.

Adding Bees to the Split

A shake or two of nurse bees will greatly benefit the split. Take a frame with open brood from the mother hive and gently shake the nurse bees into your new brood chamber. The open brood frame can then return to the mother hive.

Managing Splits in Different Locations

For the best results, consider relocating the split to another apiary for a few weeks. This prevents foraging bees from returning to the mother hive. If you provide sufficient nectar and pollen or plan to feed the split, relocation may not be necessary.

Utilizing The Keeper's Hive

Let's revisit the Keeper's Hive and splitting. I recommend making a split with the Datto hive in early to mid June, after most honey supers have been filled. To accomplish this, I use a double screen board. This board prevents the queen's pheromones from reaching the bees above it and includes a screen to allow warmth from the colony below to reach the split. Here's how:

  1. Place the double screen board above the medium spacer box and below the deep exchange box.

  2. In the brood chamber, remove some brood and food frames and transfer them to the exchange box.

  3. You can now add two queen cells, a new queen from your bee club's queen program, or allow the bees to make their own queen in the exchange box.

  4. Reinspect the split in 2-3 weeks to check for a new laying queen. If one is present, remove the exchange box, turning it into an independent colony. If no queen is found, remove the double screen board, allowing the bees to recombine. It's surprisingly simple!

Feeding the Split

It's advisable to provide sugar syrup to the split, particularly in July and August, known as the dearth period when little is blooming. You can use mason jar feeders in the medium spacer box or an in-frame feeder in position 1 in the brood chamber. The choice is yours.

The Bottom Line: Sustainability

Remember, splitting can be crucial for beekeeping sustainability. Bees naturally do it through swarming, so follow their lead and divide your hive if you want more colonies. It's a rewarding part of beekeeping that contributes to the health and productivity of your colonies.

Happy beekeeping, and may your hives thrive! 🐝🍯