How to combine colonies using newspaper

Beekeepers often want to combine two colonies, usually because one is weak or queenless. Because each colony has its own unique odor, combining colonies without an “introductory period” can cause fighting among the workers. Worse, the queen could be killed in the fray.

If the two colonies have a layer of newspaper between them, the bees must first tear through the paper before they interact. This process takes a while, but as soon as the paper gets holes in it, the colony odors begin to mix. By the time the bees can pass through the paper, the odors are substantially combined and fighting is avoided.

This method works surprisingly well and I have even used it in the dead of winter to save a queenless colony. Here are some simple guidelines:

  • You should have only one queen. Keep the strongest queen and destroy the other. There is no point in letting them “fight it out” because you could end up losing both.

Note: Instead of killing a queen, you can keep her in a queen cage with some candy and a dozen nurse bees. If for some reason the colony combination goes awry and the queen is killed, you can introduce the remaining queen.

  • Lay a sheet or two of newspaper over the top brood box of the bottom colony. One sheet is enough, although I frequently use two, just to slow the process a little.

Note: The bees don’t care whether you use sports, world news, op-eds, or classified. What they don’t like is columns that end with “continued on A6” when there is no A6.

  • You can let the paper hang over the edge—or not. In wet areas, the paper may wick some rainwater into the hive although it’s usually not much since newspaper disintegrates quickly.
  • Some folks make two or three slits in the newspaper with a blade or sharp knife to get the bees started. Other folks don’t bother with slits.

Note: Making slits is one of many practices that beekeepers spend hours arguing over while the bees just go about their business. Beekeepers really care about slits and bees really do not, so just do what makes you happy.

  • Place the second colony on top of the newspaper. The bees should be happily combined in a few days—the larger the colonies the quicker it happens.You can remove the remaining paper if you want, or the bees will remove it by themselves.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite.com

Comments

George
Reply

What recommendations do you have of getting all of the bees out of the hive body you put on top of the hive you’re combining into? Will they mostly leave on their own? Should I use a fume board, etc?

Rusty
Reply

George,

Once the evenings get cold and the bees start to cluster, they will all come together. Also, if there is room, move all the combs with honey and pollen into the lower box and remove any that aren’t full from the bottom box. Basically, the bees will move themselves.

Anna
Reply

To help introduce some queenless bees to a queenright hive, I used the newspaper method but I also added about two drops of lemongrass oil to make the entire hive smell the same. I have no idea as to whether it made a difference or not (versus newspaper alone), but there were no issues. The bees I added were pretty mad so I wanted to placate everyone as much as I could.

Jeff
Reply

I have a weak nuc going into winter. I am contemplating about adding a couple frames of bees to the colony using the newspaper trick and then reduce them back down to a 10 frame box using a bee escape board. Then overwinter them on top of a strong colony to provide warmth over the winter. There are 9 frames of drawn/capped comb brood available.

Do you think this might work Rusty? I am wondernig if I should cut my losses and have 6 strong colonies or should I push for that nuc to survive? If I do not overwinter the nuc then I have some capped frames of honey for the spring to get queen rearing off to a start. Personal openion is greatly appreciated.

What to do….

Rusty
Reply

Okay, Jeff, you asked for personal opinion. If it were me I would probably try to bring that nuc through the winter. Your plan is sound and you have a chance of succeeding. On the other hand, common sense tells me to go for the second, more conservative plan, and cut your losses.

At heart, I’m an experimenter and I’ve learned a lot by trying things that shouldn’t work. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. I find that these little projects take a lot of time and mental effort, but I enjoy the challenge. If I succeed I learn. If I fail I learn. So, in the long run, what appears to be a loss is just an education. And education is never free.

Jeff
Reply

Being a chemist and an engineer I like to experiment. Bringing a nuc through the the winter offers a lot of advantages here on the Island, especially in light of the short season. I’m looking at overwintering the nuc on top of another 20 frame standard colony with a really tight stainless steel mesh. So I think when I go home this evening I will move two frames from a really strong hive on top of the nuc and preform the newspaper trick. Then on Sunday I will remove the newspaper. The question is should I leave the nuc in a standard deep box or reduce down to 5 frame before winter. The 10 deep has most of the frames drawn out with honey and some brood so there would be ample food.

If it fails the strong colonies can clean up those frames in the spring.

Thanks Rusty

Rusty
Reply

I would leave it in the 10-frame.

Jeff
Reply

I checked today, it was 21°C. There was 4 frames covered pretty good with bees. So I placed a sheet of newspaper with two frames of bees from another colony. I know the two frames added above the 10 frames are queenless as I found the queen and placed her back in the box from the original hive on the frame next to where these frames came from. So by Sunday those bees should be acclimatized. Also there was a small amount of capped brood on one of the two frames to keep the nurse bees where they need to be.

So Sunday I will check to see if they have merged and reduce everything back to one box. Later in the fall after I feed the nuc up good I will place that on top of the 20 frame box using the duel-sided screened inner cover I made up. I’m hoping the heat from the bottom bees will support those top bees.

Also at what point will bees stop drawing comb, assuming carbohydrates are still available? is it temperature dependent or is it season dependent? I know there are still some bees to emerge yet.

My colonies did well. I had one colony from last year. Two splits plus original from last year and two nucs. Then last year’s colony swarmed and I caught it. Then the virgin left and the swarm didn’t make it. So I didn’t get a new mated queen until 10 days ago so the other colonies were supporting the queenless and nuc for a while until new queens arrived. So at the end of the season each colony has 19 frames drawn plus 10 in the nuc at present. That is why I’m asking if I feed some more is there any chance they will draw the last frame for each box.

Thanks Rusty. You are helping me a lot.

Also I pulled 11 frames of capped honey from the swarm, with another 8 frames partially drawn or open from last year’s queen that swarmed. So I still have that left on and am feeding sugar syrup so I can add that to the 10 frame box if I want. Many options. Many options.

Rusty
Reply

I’ve been told that drawing of combs is related to availability of nectar and day length. I’m sure temperature is a factor as well. Heavy syrup resembles honey more than it resembles nectar. So feeding in the spring induces comb building more than feeding in the fall because the formulations are different.

I suspect you may have some comb building in the next few weeks but not much. I doubt they will draw out a whole frame. Be sure to let me know because now I’m curious.

Jeff
Reply

Update. I pulled off the top hive feeder today to install a bee escape. In the partially drawn honey super where two frames were removed and a void space present there was drawn comb roughly 3″ by 5″ attached to the brood frames below. That was over the last 3.5 days. So as you mentioned, as along as nectar is available they will draw comb. Current daytime temperature is in the high 60′s to low 70′s cooling to high 40′s to low 50′s at night.

I plan to move the top hive feeder to a colony I removed two frames from in hope they will draw a little more comb and fill a bit of it up. I know a colony can get by the winter here with 18 frames as I discovered last year as there were only 17 frames drawn on the colony last year and not a lot of stores. The honey board was needed last year but I do not think this will be an issue this year. I only took those frames for the nuc.

Once again thanks for the feedback Rusty. It’s greatly appreciated.

Jeremy
Reply

I captured a small swarm earlier today. Should I combine it with another hive that contains a swarm capture from a few weeks ago or should I insert it into a new hive?

Rusty
Reply

Jeremy,

You can do either. But if you decide to combine them, make sure to remove one of the queens. If you put the two queens together they could possibly kill each other so you may end up with no queen. Also, combine slowly, using newspaper works well.

Jeremy
Reply

Can I keep the captured swarm in a nuc box for a few days? If so, how long?

Rusty
Reply

You can keep a captured swarm in a nuc box for weeks. But once it fills up the box, it will want to swarm again.

Sarah
Reply

Many questions . . .

I hoped my bees would raise a new queen from a frame of brood I gave them. It appears they have not but I haven’t looked closely yet. My second is doing great so I wish to combine them.

My strong hive has 2 supers on the 2 hive bodies. Must the weak hive’s hive body be set on the strong hive’s hive body? Or can I set it on top of the supers? If I cannot set it atop the supers, What do I do with the supers full of bees and honey? My ventilated inner cover provides a top entrance, should that be closed up when they are combining? Is there a certain time of day/year when they should be combined?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

You want to unite the two brood chambers, so I would not put the honey supers between them. I would remove the two supers, place a piece of newspaper over the strong hive body (with or without a slit, it doesn’t matter), then place the weak hive body on top of the newspaper.

The problem, as you pointed out, is now you have two supers filled with bees. What I would do is remove the bees from the supers before I combined. I would remove the bees by using an escape board (or any other escape device, such as a porter) or by blowing them out or fuming them out. Then I would place the bee-less supers on top of the weak hive body (which is on top of the newspaper which is on top of the strong hive body) and close the upper entrance for two or three days until the hives have combined.

After the two or three days you can re-open the upper entrance. You do not have to do anything with the newspaper; the bees will remove it. You can combine anytime. Now, with many of the bees out foraging, is a good time. By the way, don’t worry about the weak hive not being able to get out . . . the newspaper barrier won’t last very long.

Sarah
Reply

Right now the weak hive is in two supers, should I reduce them to one? Thanks for answering so soon.

Sarah
Reply

I meant to say they are in two deeps, not supers.

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

Combine them into one if it’s convenient. Otherwise, put both on. If’s it’s as weak as you say, you should be able to reduce it to one box fairly easily.

Phillip
Reply

When combining two hives, should there be only once entrance, or is it okay to have two entrances, one for each hive?

Rusty
Reply

You can do it either way, but why not get them accustomed to the main entrance right from the start?

Hersteinn
Reply

Is there no danger of suffocation with the newspaper method with one entrance?

Rusty
Reply

They will break through the newspaper in a matter of minutes.

Gus
Reply

Rusty,
Should the top hive have a entrance for it?

Gus
Reply

Sorry, after commenting I noticed you answered this question already.

doug and sandra
Reply

Hello Rusty
We have a queenless hive that is raising drones in spotty patterns in the brood areas. They have good stores, and we would like to combine it with another hive. We would like your opinion on the risks to the receiving hive. It is in a single deep, and is building up quickly at the moment. Will the laying workers cause a problem? Should we close it up after dark to catch the foragers before adding it on top of the receiving hive? We are in the coastal area of San Diego and things are picking up quickly here with this warm weather. Lots of things putting out nectar right now.
Thanks
Doug&Sandra

Rusty
Reply

I would play it safe and put a piece of screen between the two hives until the laying worker hive gets used to the queen’s pheromones. Hardware cloth or just a piece of window screen will allow the queen’s scent to pass through and yet keep them all separate. I would leave it like that for about three days before you remove the screen. By then, open brood pheromone plus queen pheromone should shut down the laying workers. After three days replace the screen with newspaper.

Laying workers will often kill an introduced queen, but I think combining the hives will work okay as long as the queen-right hive is strong.

Closing up the foragers after dark is a good idea. Just keep that whole hive locked up and above the screen for the three days. It won’t hurt the foragers to keep them in for awhile.

Rusty

Sean
Reply

We use another method with newspaper to introduce single frames of brood and bees by making a paper envelope, pop the frame and bees in the envelope, and put it in hive.

Rusty
Reply

Sean,

That is so cool! I’ve never heard of that, ever, but it makes so much sense. Are you going to send me a photo? Yes?

Rusty
Reply

Sean,

That is so cool! I’ve never heard of that, ever, but it makes so much sense. Are you going to send me a photo? Yes?

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