How to make a split

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:

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:

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.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

abdul ghafoor chandio
Reply

Nice information.

Nancy
Reply

“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!

Thanks!
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, KY

Rusty
Reply

Nan,

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.

Nancy
Reply

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?)
Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nan,

No problem! And anyway, you gave me an idea for two posts.

Jigga
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

Jigga,

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.

Colleen Kennedy
Reply

Your comments on moldy comb were extremely helpful to me. Glad I found your website.

Soapy
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Gerry
Reply

Rusty,
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

Rusty
Reply

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.

Gerry
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

Gerry,

Yes, let me know what happens.

Soeren
Reply

Hey Rusty.

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…

Rusty
Reply

Soeren,

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.

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