Splitting and Recombining Hives

If you keep bees long enough you’ll run across situations where your strong hives need to be split into smaller units, or your weak hives need recombined with a strong queenright hive to make it through the winter. Knowing when, why, and how to accomplish these manipulations is a basic part of beekeeping knowledge.

Splits are performed to prevent swarming, reduce the population of a booming hive to make it easier to work, to enforce a broodless period for mite reduction, and to add more hives and queens to your apiary.

Basic Types of Splits

  • Walkaway splits-divide your hive roughly in half. Leave the weaker or queenless half in the original location. If you don’t know which half has the queen, just pick one. It’ll be fine 🙂 Place a leafy branch across the entrance of the half you move to a new spot in the yard and leave the branch in place for a couple of days . This forces the foragers to reorient to the new location. Recheck both hives in a week for either eggs (this half has the queen) or queen cells (this half is making a new queen). In 28 days both new hives should have eggs.
  • Takeaway splits-similar to a walkaway, except you are taking the new hive to a different yard, at least 3 miles away. In this case there is no need to place the reorienting branch across the entrance.
  • Full size split vs. a nuc split-a full size split is when you have at least one brood chamber full of bees, brood, and stores in the new hive. A nuc split is when you only split off 3-5 frames of bees, brood, and stores.  A booming hive can be split into 3, 4, or more nuc sized spits for rapid expansion.
  • Progressive splits-this involves taking a little at a time from the hives throughout the season. Each time you inspect a yard, pull a frame or two from each strong hive. Once you’ve collected 3-5 frames, put them together in a new nuc box. Each nuc should have at minimum frame with eggs, a frame of emerging brood, and a frame of stores.

Requeening Splits

  • Queenless splits with eggs in the frames will make their own queen. It takes at least 28 days from the split before you will have a laying queen. Success depends on weather and the amount and quality of drones available for mating.
  • Introduce capped queen cells. The cells can be purchased from other beekeepers, grafted from your own queens, or swarm cells located on a frame of brood. If you add swarm cells, keep the largest two or three and destroy the rest.
  • Introduce a virgin queen. Virgins will need to mate, so you’ll get your best results when there are plenty of drones and the weather is 65 degrees F or higher for mating flights.
  • Introduce mated queens. Unless you are raising your own queens and mating them in small mating nucs, this is the most expensive option. Using mated queens gives your nucs the quickest jump in growth though. There is not much lag time between the split and the beginning of egg laying.

Things to Watch For

  • Robbing-splits are small and not as able to defend their stores as larger hives. Keep their entrances reduced until they are able to cover all frames in the brood box.
  • Chilling-less bees means less heat. Less heat means smaller brood patches and the risk of chilled brood. Don’t give them more space than they can cover, reduce entrances until warm weather and the brood box is full of bees, and keep screened bottom boards closed.
  • Starving-smaller nucs do not have the field force to bring in enough stores for the hive. Either feed smaller nucs until they have filled the brood box, or give them an extra frame of stores from a strong hive.
  • Small hive beetles and wax moths-these secondary pests can overrun a small nuc that has to much drawn comb to defend. If you are feeding protein patties don’t feed them more than they will eat in a few days. The small hive beetle larvae feed on it as well.
  • Queen failure-begin checking the hives that are requeening themselves at 28 days after the split to make sure the queen hatched, mated, returned, and is laying. If you don’t see eggs by the 5th week, it is time to intervene. Any queens introduced in a queen cage need to be checked for queen release, then rechecked for eggs.

Sometimes you have a hive that just isn’t performing well. Perhaps the queen mated poorly, or they just don’t have the critical mass of bees they need to grow as a colony. The bees could have attempted a supersedure and it failed. You accidentally smashed a queen during a late fall inspection. Maybe two of your hives came out of winter weak, and you would like to combine them into one large hive to increase honey production.  Whatever the reason, sometimes two hives need to be combined into one.

To recombine two hives, choose the queen you want to keep. Remove the other queen and either discard her, or place her in a small nuc for safekeeping. Place a sheet of newspaper over the top of one hive, then set the second hive on top. Over the next frew days the bees will chew through and remove the paper. As they mingle the queen pheromones spread throughout the hive and they end up one happy family. Some beekeepers cut a few small slits in the paper, others swear it is a waste of time. I have only recombined a hive once and I did not cut the paper. It worked just fine.