How to make a cut-down split

A cut-down split is a special technique often used by comb honey producers. The purpose of a cut-down split is to maximize the number of foragers that are bringing in nectar by minimizing the amount of brood a colony has to care for.

With little brood to feed, foragers concentrate on bringing home nectar rather than pollen, and nurse bees without brood responsibility soon become foragers as well. The result is lots of honey in a short period of time.

Timing of a cut-down split it important. To be effective, the cut-down should be completed just before the start of a main nectar flow. No matter how well you organize the split, it won’t produce more honey if there is no nectar to collect.

To make a cut-down split:

  • Find the queen.
  • Place the queen and nearly all the open brood, honey, and pollen in a new hive. Make sure these frames are covered with nurse bees to care for the open brood.
  • Leave the capped brood, one frame of eggs, and a small amount of honey and pollen in the old hive. At the same time reduce the number of brood boxes in this old hive by one and add empty honey supers. (So if there were three brood boxes, cut back to two. If there were two brood boxes, cut back to one. Add supers after cutting back the brood boxes.)
  • Place the new hive in a different location so all of the foragers return to the old hive.

I know this is confusing, so try this:

Old Hive in Original Location: New Hive in New Location:
No queen Old queen
Capped brood Uncapped brood
One frame of eggs Remainder of eggs
Nurse bees to cover Nurse bees to cover
Small amount of pollen Most of pollen
Small amount of honey Most of honey
All the foragers No foragers
Reduced number of brood boxes Normal number of brood boxes
Increased number of honey supers Normal number of supers

After you are set up, this is what happens:

  • The old hive won’t swarm because it doesn’t have a queen or young brood.  The colony will raise a new queen from the eggs, but by the time the colony is strong, swarm season will be mostly over.

o   This old hive has many more foragers and nurses than are needed to care for the one frame of eggs. In addition, all the capped brood will soon hatch and replace the nurse bees.

o   Because the hive is now crowded (due to the reduced number of brood boxes) many of the newly hatched nurse bees will move into the supers and start building comb—even in comb honey supers.

o   The old nurse bees will also become foragers, but since there is little brood to care for, pollen needs will be low. So the huge crop of foragers will collect nectar like crazy and make a lot of honey in a very short time—which they will store in the newly build comb.

  • The new hive won’t swarm because there are no foragers. It will take several weeks to build up a foraging force.