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.