Is It Time to Split My Beehive?

May 08, 2023

Is It Time to Split My Beehive?

It’s swarm season, and we are seeing more reports in the online beekeeping groups of swarming. Every year we get asked by new beekeepers if they have to split their langstroth hive, our answer is usually, 'yes'. Many new beekeepers don’t want more bees, but people need to understand that your honey bees go under a huge population explosion unlike anywhere else in the world in July. You need to ensure that you have a strategy in place so that they don’t swarm. If you don’t do something to manage your hive, your bees will swarm, and you will lose out on your honey crop. No one wants that to happen!

In the Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia, we recommend splitting your two box hive in late May for spring management to ensure your hive doesn’t swarm. If you haven’t split your hive(s), you will need to watch it closely throughout June and July for signs of swarming.


  1. TOO MANY FRAMES OF BROOD. In late May, if you have more than 5-7 frames of brood in a two box hive, you need to do something to manage your hive. In mid-June if you have 14-15 frames of brood, you need watch your hive closely so that it doesn’t swarm.
  2. QUEEN CELLS. If your bees are making queen cells they may be preparing to swarm. Check the bottom of frames between boxes for queen cells (a favourite spot they build them).
  3. REDUCTION IN ACTIVITY OR LETHARGIC. If your bees seem to have slowed down, they may be getting ready to swarm. Reduced activity can be a sign of swarming since they are not bringing as much into the hive to expand it.
  4. NO WEIGHT GAIN IN A 5 to 7 DAY PERIOD. If you have a hive scale monitor and your hive has not gained weigh in a week, it is a sure sign of swarming. They are not building the hive up and preparing to swarm.


Why do honey bees swarm? 

As your bees prepare for the main flow they are building their population and the queen is heading toward her maximum laying capacity of approximately 1,500 eggs per day. In Alberta, we see a huge population explosion unlike anywhere else in the world. Your hive can have 80,000 bees! That's a lot, and it can happen quickly in Alberta. Honey bees need sufficient room to grow, or they will decide as a colony to swarm. Essentially, when your hive runs out of room, the queen will lay another queen in preparation for leaving with half of the hive. When they swarm, half the hive will leave and the other half will stay with the new queen. It's survival, but it will leave you with no honey this season.

What can you do?

If you didn’t do a hive split in May, you will have to monitor your hive closely every 10 days for queen cells. If you find them, knock them off and remove 2-3 frames of brood, and replace these frames with drawn foundation.

If you are worried about losing your bees to a swarm, you can also place a swarm box on your property with drawn comb so that if they do swarm, they will find it and go there. The swarm usually won't go too far from the hive at first since the queen is not great at flying and they will need to scout for a more permanent location.  A swarm box is a good option to use if you are concerned and leaving on vacation in July.

If you have questions, email us or leave comments below.

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