This is the first of two blogs on why, how and when to split your overwintered hive. We’re also finishing up an instructional video that will help illustrate the method.
The last couple of weeks in May, when dandelions are in full bloom, mark the ideal time, the Magic Moment, to split (divide) your overwintered hive. The bee population is growing rapidly, and if you fail to do the split, you will be blessing your neighbours with a swarm. It is a very necessary practice that beekeepers should learn to incorporate into their spring management routine.
Late May in 2018 was warm and much of northern Alberta had generally seen good flying weather for over a month. The bees had been busy gathering water, pollen and nectar. The hive is now in its upward swing of the bee population explosion, with the queen laying eggs for nearly two months. You should have brood at all stages and the bees should be finished using last year's honey in outside-edge frames.
At least three generations of bees have hatched already to begin replacing the bees that overwintered with the queen. With the dandelion flow in full swing, now is the perfect time to split your hive to give you two summer production colonies. In fact, if you have a good strong hive today and the bees are in two deep boxes, splitting the hive is essential or the bees will swarm. You will lose your population and honey crop this year and be left with only enough bees to repair the colony and prep for winter.
To split a hive means to make two hives from the one that was overwintered. The original hive will keep its queen, so you will need to source a new queen before undertaking the split. Splitting means you will take four or five frames of (mostly) capped brood out of the parent hive, and place them in the new hive whose entry faces in the opposite direction to the parent hive.
You will shake the bees from three parent frames into the new split. Old bees will fly out and return to the parent hive within 24 hours. Then you will add a pail feeder and a pollen supplement to the new hive. The old queen stays behind with the field bees and (very important) with frames that have open larva cells and eggs.
The new queen is introduced to the new hive 24 hours later, in a cage. She must be introduced to the youngest bees possible to reduce the chances of the bees rejecting her. After 48 hours she can be released to the hive. All this gives bees in the new hive five to eight weeks to get the top box filled with brood and honey stores, and also to grow their population to the max, ready for the main summer flow.
Remember - your objective is maximum population at or just before the main honey flow, in order to maximize your honey yield.
Next month we will talk about how to "super" your hive for he main honey flow - how to make two nucs from each of your hives without reducing your honey crop plus a simple trick to help your hive pep for winter.
If you need support or supplies for successful beekeeping in Western Canada, check HiveWorld.ca. And we welcome your questions and comments on this blog. We’re Alberta-based. We know the country, and we know bees.