Why do you need to split your hive?

June 11, 2019

Why do you need to split your hive?

Did you split your hive? Many new beekeepers don’t understand why they need to do a hive split or they really don’t want to do a split because (so we hear) they don’t want more bees! So, what is a new beekeeper to do? The fact is, you most likely will need to do a hive split. If you have a healthy overwintered colony, or a new hive that is exploding with brood they won’t stay in one box for the season- you need to split or they will swarm!

In the spring and summer months, Alberta bees have a huge population explosion unlike anywhere else in the world (aside from Argentina). When the bees run out of room they will swarm. Remember - your objective is maximum population at or just before the main honey flow, in order to maximize your honey yield. You will need to develop a spring management practice and here are some options. Here Barry discusses why and when you need to split your hive. 


OPTION 1 Hive Split: 

In a hive split you will take five frames of mostly capped brood with covering bees from a parent hive and place these frames in a new hive with five frames of drawn comb. You will also need a newly mated queen to introduce into the new hive.

 You need:

  • Five frames of mostly capped brood- capped brood refers to frames with eggs, larvae and pupae. Capped brood are cells that are darker in colour with a rougher texture than cells containing honey.
  • Five frames of drawn honey comb- Drawn comb means the walls of the cells are extended away from the foundation so that the cells can hold brood, pollen, or honey.
  • Newly mated queen
  • New hive box
 How To Split Your Hive:

Inspect your hive to ensure your hive is healthy/strong enough to split. Locate the queen and five frames of capped brood to take to the new hive.  The queen must remain with the parent hive (original hive).

You will inspect the bottom box first and then the top (the queen will most likely be in the top of the hive). Check out our step-by-step blog on how to do the hive split here. A tip for finding the queen: she will usually be on a frame with the new larva and eggs. She will less likely be on a frame with mostly capped brood as there is nothing for her to do on these frames. When you do find the queen, we recommend placing her in a queen clip until you complete the split.

Assembling The New Hive

Once you have selected your frames, you will place five frames in a single bottom box with five frames of honey and pollen frames. Ensure you face the parent hive and new hive entrances facing away from each other. The old bees will go out to forage and will return to the parent hive (old hive) because that is the hive they are oriented to. Within a few days, most of the old bees will return to the parent hive (old hive) leaving all of the young bees and hatching bees in the new hive.

You mostly want young bees in your new hive (two weeks old or less). Why? The old bees are less likely to accept the new queen and will likely kill the new queen within 72 hours of being introduced. If you introduce the queen to a hive with bees that are less than two weeks old, they are more likely to accept the queen.  

Releasing The New Queen In The New Hive

We recommend keeping your new queen in a cage for seven days inside the hive to increase the probability of the bees accepting her. Remember when letting your queen out of the cage- she can fly! This is the only time she can fly other than her mating flight. She is not heavy and full of eggs now, compared to a few weeks later when she won’t be able to fly. 


OPTION 2: You don’t want to split- give away or sell capped brood frames

You don’t want to split or lose your bees to a swarm? Your other option is to make sure you don’t have more than five frames capped brood in your hive by the end of May or early June. Simply take out five frames of mostly capped brood and bees and give them to a friend who wants more OR we can buy them from you for $100! Contact our Edmonton store for information. After we inspect frames and purchase, we will use them for our own hives in our bee yard. 


OPTION 3: Set up a swarm box in your yard near the hives

This isn’t the best practice, but in a pinch, you can also place a swarm box in your yard in preparation for a swarm. Place about five empty frames and the bees will find it and start filling the box. You can then see if anyone wants to take these bees off your hands. Remember though, if your bees swarm, you will lose out on your honey this summer. So, the best way to manage is to split your hives.


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