In simplest terms, a split is made by dividing an existing colony into two or more parts. Many variations exist. In fact, the methods of making splits—and the reasons for making them—are as varied as the beekeepers who do them.
The most common reasons for making splits are to:
- create more colonies
- produce nucs
- raise queens
- prevent swarms
- control mites
While there are many different ways to do a split, you must follow of number of guidelines if you expect success.
- Use overwintered colonies. A brand new colony from a nuc or package does not have the resources needed for a good split.
- Use strong colonies. If you split a weak colony, you get even weaker ones—if any. The larger the colony, the better your chance of success.
- A split will need a queen provided for it or it must be able to produce a queen.
- If you expect a split to produce a queen, drones must be available. The more drones actively flying, the better.
- If you expect a split to produce a queen, it must also have fresh eggs or newly hatched larvae, plenty of nurse bees, pollen, and honey.
- The brood nest of a split must imitate normal nest structure—worker brood in the center, drone brood on the outer edges of the worker brood, pollen on both sides of the nest, honey on both sides of the pollen.
- A split needs protection from robbers in the form of a reduced entrance or robbing screen.
Even when you do everything right, a split won’t always succeed. If after a few days there is no sign of queen rearing, you will need to add more fresh eggs or newly hatched larvae. If it fails a second time, it is best to recombine the split with another hive.
The easiest type of split is made by using a populous hive where the brood nest spans two brood boxes. The beekeeper simply takes off the top box and puts it on its own bottom board, adds a lid, and walks away.
But even that simple form of split requires some attention for success, especially if you don’t know where the queen is:
- If you don’t know where the queen is, make sure both boxes have ample supplies of fresh eggs or newly hatched larvae.
- Make sure both boxes have honey, pollen, and lots of nurse bees.
- Make sure the entrances are reduced.
Finally, here are some additional considerations, regardless of the type of split you make:
- When splitting the hive and dividing resources, concentrate on the number nurse bees, not the number of foragers. If you are splitting within your own apiary (or within a two-mile radius of it) the foragers will return to their original hive or to the split that contains their queen. Try to ignore these foragers and concentrate on the number of nurse bees that will be in each split. The nurses are the key to making the split work.
- You can put splits side-by-side, no problem. Just remember that for a long time, the part without a queen will look like no one is home. Gradually, as nurses become foragers, the discrepancy will decrease. Don’t let the number of foragers in the one part freak you out. If the split is raising a queen, everything is working according to plan.
- Remember to provide adequate honey (or syrup) and pollen (or pollen supplement), especially to the part with few foragers. Since that part doesn’t have a workforce collecting materials from the field, it may need extra supplies to raise that first batch of brood.
Even though it sounds complex, don’t be afraid to try this. It works amazingly well, allowing you to both increase the number of hives and raise your own local queens. At the bottom of the page on the “Splits” tab on the main menu are links to several different types of splits you can try, and later this week I will be adding another.
“How to Make a Reader’s-Head Split”
1. Pour in information till eyes glaze
2. Wait (not long)
Don’t mistake me, Rusty, it’s all good. My little split from last spring had the thickest debris circle on the white board of all 7, last time I checked. So I will be ready when they are!
Okay, trick “I heard a speaker” questions coming up. Our speaker in fall said that 1. if you have a good nectar flow, you don’t have to wait for swarm cells to appear, just take some eggs/young brood, nurse bees, pollen and honey and arrange as you said. Agree/not?
Also. 2. You don’t need a smaller nuc, just use whatever size box you want, brood in center, pollen, then honey going outwards and then dummy boards at 1, 2, 8 and 9. That way you don’t have to move the colony from a nuc to a regular size box, just replace the dummies with regular frames, foundation etc. Sound good?
And then 3. Someone asked how to keep the bees from going back to the original hive. His answer fascinated me. He said Nurse bees don’t know “where” they are, never having been on an orientation flight. The brood comb is their “where,” so they will stay with it. I just think that’s cool.
Some of our water maples are out, and the bees have been in them when it’s 50, but then it gets cold again. I worry they won’t get it fanned and it will mold. Can they just eat it as nectar? February – sheesh!
Shady Grove Farm
That sounds like a complaint to me. Anyway:
1. No swarm cells are necessary, but if you have one, things can move along more quickly.
2. The bees care nothing about the size of your hive box. That’s a human concern. “Nuc” stands for nucleus colony, not the size of the box it’s in.
3. Right. It’s the foragers that return to the original hive. The nurses don’t know they’ve moved. That’s why I said in the post to ignore the foragers while you are dividing up the nurse bees. It’s the nurse bees that make splitting work.
Don’t worry about the maple nectar; the bees know what to do with it. And don’t worry about mold. They know what to do with that, too.
Rusty- I’m sorry if it sounded like a complaint. It was not – it was my mistake to read all the “Split” posts at one time. And I can never resist a play on words.
Thanks for clarifying about nucs. Everybody around here says “nuc” to mean the size of box. This is similar to saying “hive” when we mean “colony.” I’ve been trying to do better.
And thanks for reassurance about the maple.There wasn’t anything I could do about it, but that never stops a worrier. Kidding season is over, so I was running out of worries (yeah right?)
No problem! And anyway, you gave me an idea for two posts.
This is my first time splitting a hive – so I tried a split three days ago using 3 frames which included larvae, capped brood, honey/pollen and I haven’t seen any sign of any queen cells being made. However the frames are covered with nurse bees. What did I do wrong or should I put another frame of larvae and capped brood?
You don’t say where you are. Here in the north, it is pretty late to try to raise a queen. The problem is that the drones are being evicted for the winter, so even if you were able to raise a queen, there would be few, if any, drones for her to mate with.
Aside from that, make sure the larvae is young enough to raise into a queen. The best way to make sure it is young enough is to give the split a frame of eggs.
Your comments on moldy comb were extremely helpful to me. Glad I found your website.
Tried three splits from very strong hives and went back today to check. Frames included egg, larvae, capped brood, honey/pollen frames. Arranged as described above. Shook lots of bees from other brood frames. All splits in nuc boxes next to strong hive from where they came. Today all boxes had small number of bees and no queen cells after about five days. Put frames in boxes needing brood. Nuc boxes have small entrances so did not feel need to reduce.
Idea I had while thinking about this was what about taking queen from strong hive and put her into a nuc box with brood and food like you would an artificial swarm. Move that box away to other yard and the strong box would make a queen with all their resources.
Seems simplistic and am sure someone has thought of this before but I have never heard it mentioned. So I would appreciate your feedback.
Thanks in advance.
Whenever I make a split, I try to find the queen and put her in the split in order to simulate a swarm. As you say, that leaves a robust hive the chore of raising a new queen rather than the split which is small with limited resources.
Do you know whether it makes a difference if you place a deep super of new foundation below or above existing brood chambers? I know we typically add supers on top of everything else…but I have some feeble, personal hypothesis that the bees may draw comb out quicker if they have to travel up and across it to get to the existing brood/storage chambers. I think it would give them more room and comfort when high in numbers/population since they’re bearding all over the front here in the South Carolina evenings. Have you ever tried or talk to others who have tried this method of placing supers below existing brood chambers??? Sincerely, Gerry
I don’t think it makes a difference. In nature, bees begin by connecting at the top of something—a tree cavity, an eave, a branch—and working down, so they have no problem working down. On the other hand, beekeepers have been having them work up for generations, and they are okay with that too. So basically, I think the bees are indifferent—or at least adaptable—to beekeeper whims. Longer story short: do what makes you happy.
By the way, Warre beekeepers routinely put the new brood box under the old one; they call this nadiring as opposed to supering.
That makes sense…the split was accomplished yesterday as a walk-away split. Entrance reducers and feed in place. I noticed today that the colony of 2-mediums placed on top of the deep super with foundation are using the top inner cover vent as the main entrance and the bottom-board reduced entrance primarily as an exit. This is my first experiment with nadiring…I’ll keep you posted if interested. I also found out from an international honey bee forum that beekeepers in Finland make this common practice for the first enlargement of a hive by placing the empty super of foundation under the brood. Thanks for your insight.
Yes, let me know what happens.
Reading all the way from Denmark:) I hope you understand my writing.
I would like to make some new bee families, and I have 3 strong families now, and as I read the easiest way is to find the queen put her in a new hive with 5-6 frames from her old home, and some new frames to build on, and then the existing family who have lots of frames build a new queen for me? Or for themselves but anyway…
Yes, that should work. Just make sure you leave eggs and very young larva in the old hive so they can build a new queen.
Rusty – I’m new to beekeeping this year and am so thankful for your site!
I have three hives and one is going gangbusters – 5 boxes high. nuts! The other two are yet to expand into the second box. Frustrating. I’ve debated replacing their queens. I think the middle hive no longer has a queen, though, and very few eggs. The big hive has two brood boxes, though. Should I just move one of these on top of this other hive’s brood box and then put the (so far) empty on top? Have been feeding them since I got them in April and don’t see any signs of Varroa in any as yet. Alternately, I can go get another queen for this hive. If I move over a whole brood box, though, does it matter which hive gets this amazing queen? If she goes with the brood box will the first, huge, healthy hive make a new queen? Thank you!
I see about a hundred questions here. First of all, I don’t know where you are writing from, but if you are in temperate North America or Canada, don’t expect to see expansion into new brood boxes at this time of year. The summer solstice has passed, and colonies are shrinking, not expanding. Equalizing colony strength is a viable strategy, but make sure you don’t end up so depleting the strong colony that neither can make it through the winter. Just plan carefully.
When you say you don’t “see any sign of Varroa” does that mean your tests (sugar roll or alcohol wash) came up negative? If so, that is great. If you are expecting to see something by just looking at the bees, you won’t see a thing, almost guaranteed. Now is a good time to do those tests so you can plan your Varroa strategy for the winter.
Does is matter which hive gets the queen? No, not really. However, do check for laying workers in the weak hive before adding a queen. If you’ve developed laying workers, they will likely kill any added queen.
Will the old hive make a new queen? They will try. Here, my colonies are actively removing all the drones. In short order there will be no drones left for a virgin to mate with. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but consider that possibility.
Thanks, Rusty. So, I moved over just two frames of brood from the big hive to the smaller one and did not move their queen with it. Will see what happens. There were a few drone cells in the frames I moved. By “no visible signs of varroa” I mean that no visibly diagnosable indicators. Until this past week there was even distribution of brood cells, all healthy-looking bees. My understanding was that we generally test for varroa later in fall, so haven’t run any tests but I will go ahead and do that. I live in the Piedmont in North Carolina, so indeed a very different climate from where you are. Though I think we’ve had as much rain as you all this summer! Many thanks for replying to my questions. – Amanda
Excellent, I’m glad you will soon be testing for Varroa. Randy Oliver at Scientific Beekeeping believes that sampling 2 to 3 times a year is probably enough for most backyard beekeepers, but if you live near to lots of other colonies, you may have to go more frequently. Sampling lets you know your current mite load, but more importantly, it allows you to see if they are increasing, and if so, how fast.
That make sense and it seems easy enough to do. Thanks again!
Rusty, my bee boxes are getting rickety and I want to replace them with new ones. I am new to beekeeping (about 3 yrs.) but my boxes are not. They were homemade and given to me , bees and all by a friend and backyard beekeeper. How do I transfer my bees to new boxes?
If the frames are standard size, just move the hive off the current stand, put the new boxes in place, and transfer the frames. If the old frames won’t fit, then you have a big mess. In that case, you would probably need to cut the combs out of the old frames and tie them into the new frames.
Thank you so much. That helps
We just successfully overwintered bees, and today when we checked one of the hives, it was very full with lots of brood. There were cells on the bottom of the top brood super, and we scraped them off, including lots of larva that were in them, not knowing that those were probably indications that the bees were going to swarm. I just found your website and realized that we will need to split the hive. Will it be a major problem that we scraped off the cells and threw them into the grass?
We are in Illinois near Chicago, in case you are wondering. Tons of pollen being brought into the hive today.
As long as they still have a laying queen, they will be fine. They will build new cells.
I’ve been following your blog for a while now and am loving all of the information. I’m planning to do a split on my one hive this year, but I’m having a hard time determining when I should do it. Are there particular signs I should look for within the hive and/or within the environment that will dictate the best time to perform a split? My hive consists of a double deeps and the plan is to take one box and put it on it’s own bottom board and let the queenless hive raise their own queen. In the event that they don’t succeed in raising their own, I can purchase a locally raised queen, but those won’t be available until mid to late March. BTW, I live in San Diego, CA. Thanks!
To raise their own queen they will need flying temperatures, plenty of forage, and a good supply of drones. Split when you have all those things.
I have learned so much from your site! This is our 3rd year with bees, and the first year coming through the winter with no losses. We noticed the middle of February that the bees were busy and seemed to have a large population, but thought it might be a little early to attempt any splits. We inspected the middle of March and there were queen cells in all 9 hives!! The queens were still present in all hives and none of the cells showed evidence of hatching yet. They were either recently capped or still open cells with larvae. After reading and re-reading your articles on splitting, we decided to take the queen out of the original hive with frames of brood, nurse bees, honey and pollen. We set up the new hives in the same yard. That brought our total to 18 hives! (way more that we ever dreamed we would have). Thankfully, we had just built a ton of boxes/frames and bottom boards so that we would have extra supplies on hand. We decided to wait a few days and recombine a few of them, hoping that the temporary split would satisfy the need to swarm. We recombined with newspaper and made sure they had enough space. We also made sure that there were no queen cells in the original hive before we combined them. The recombines went well, but after about a week, there were more swarm cells in two of the hives! What did we do wrong? We are not experienced enough to know if they are just trying to supersede the old queen or swarm, but the cells were on the bottom of the frames and there were several of them. The original queens are from last year, so not that old? Would it be better to just keep all of the smaller hives or risk loosing them to swarming if we recombine? Should we split them again and then recombine after a longer period of time? Any thoughts would be great!
You’re not doing anything wrong. Reproductive swarming is normal for healthy colonies and it is, after all, swarm season. Often, a colony may throw 2, 3, or 4 swarms in a season. Just wait until the worst of swarm season passes (eight weeks or so) and then recombine.
I did a walk away split yesterday, but regret it now because there wasn’t much activity in that hive today. I don’t think there’s enough bees and brood. Can I add a super of brood from another hive, or would they fight?
Well, you shouldn’t see hardly any activity in the split. All the foragers returned to the original hive, so you are left with nothing but nurse bees and brood. That’s how it works. It will be at least three or four days before you see much activity.
Thank you very much for the response. We thought that we were getting ahead of the game by having all of this extra equipment on hand. We were watching the hives and trying to add space before they needed it, but we were just a little late. It has been difficult getting the timing of all of this figured out. We will try to do better next year! Your site is a wonderful resource.
We split six hives 2 weeks ago. 1. How long do we keep feeding sugar syrup to them? 2. How long before we can safely inspect them?
I am in North west England and the weather has been hot and sunny for over a week now and is set to continue being hot and sunny for at least another week.
If the splits had honey in them, you probably don’t have to feed at all. That’s up to you. You can inspect any time. I usually inspect after the first week, just to make sure all is in order.
Thanks. Will inspect on Thursday.
Looking for help.
I made a beginners mistake and destroyed all the swarm cells (approx. On May 20th) in one of my new hives and now it looks like it might be queenless as of June 3 (no eggs, no larva, a bare scattering of capped brood, saw one chewing out of brood cell on date of inspection). There were what appeared to be more queen cells but I’m worried there won’t be enough nurse bees by the time a new queen is ready. I have one other hive which appears to be going strong. Would it make sense to add a frame or two of eggs/larva from the strong hive (it’s a first year hive like the other but it has two full medium sized boxes full with frames of brood) to the queenless? Would I just put the frames in next to the existing frames easy as that or would it be more complicated ?
Thank you in advance. I appreciate any words of wisdom!
Yes, you could put a frames of eggs and young larva in, just to cover all contingencies. Put it next to the existing brood nest, or what’s left of the existing brood nest.
I’m in Central Oregon. I have a strong hive in two 8-frame brood boxes. Do you think I could do a walk away split into a 6 frame box if I have ample stores and pollen patties in mid June? We’re just coming into the blue sage and I’m surrounded by three nurseries and a co-op farm and a field of alfalfa. And lots of basswood.
I’m contemplating either supering or splitting but not both.
Thanks for your sage advice.
June is a great month for splits. I don’t see any problem with it. I’m planning on a couple myself.
Rustyyyy! I think I made a beginner’s mistake. I was so nervous about making a split that I prepared the nuc box ahead of time and left it in the apiary overnight. That created a huge attraction for robber bees. The next morning I managed to get the crowd of bees off the nuc box, made the split, closed off the nuke with a wire mesh and left it. But robbers are still trying to get in. What do I do?
You can leave it closed off for a few days as long as your bees have water and food. Even after you open it, it would be best to make a robber screen of some sort to at last confuse the robbers. Alternatively, you can move the nuc to another location.
First, thank you for all the information you post. Your website is my “go to.” I think this scenario falls under your “give the lady a chance” but just wanted to check.
I’m on the AL Gulf Coast. We have extremely mild weather and this winter was milder than usual. I did my first inspection end of January and the hives were booming. I inspected weekly and found numerous capped queen cells on Feb. 16 in two of the three hives (zero Q cells the week before). I had a great plan in my head to do artificial swarm splits but there were SO many bees and I was not able to find the queen in either of the hives (of course found her in the one hive that didn’t have Q cells). I finally just took all the frames with queen cells and put them in a hive body and did the same with the other hive. I made sure I didn’t have the queens on the frames that went into the splits.
I checked them Feb. 23 and queen cells were hatched. I checked Mar. 2 and there is no evidence of queen laying yet. I wasn’t able to find the queens in either split. I think I need to give them until at least Mar 16 to start laying, correct? We’ve had lots of rain.
On the positive side, the original hives are free of queen cells for the moment!
Thank you again for always being a great source.
Allow 14 to 21 days in good weather for a virgin queen to begin to lay. Longer in rainy or cold weather.
I had a hive make it through the winter in two mediums. I added a 3rd medium earlier this spring and they have filled that so I added a 4th. I am thinking I need to be brave and make a split. How should I divide the three full mediums? I will need to do it sooner than later but I am really nervous. I have a feeling they may swarm anyway…please advise!
I have five hives. One has just dealt with a robbing situation, three are healthy and the fifth is a newly caught swarm with a laying queen. Prob plan is they maybe take up three frames, it’s so small!
Should I wait for a fall nectar flow and see if the colony grows substantially? They have drawn comb and a panel of open brood from my other hives. Should I combine them and with which hive? Healthy or robbed? Thanks!
I have read through the above conversation on bee splits and am really seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I started an apiary of 16 ktbh 3 yrs ago and so far one has healthy bees. I have been wondering how to colonize the other hives. Can ktbh be split the way a Longstroth is done?
Yes. The principles are the same, just the equipment is different. You just need to make sure your new split has either a queen or eggs/young larvae to make a queen. It also needs food and enough worker bees to get started. With the basic necessities in the new split, it should be able to grow into a full colony.