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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 built comb.

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

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

25 Comments

  • I transferred one frame of brood from my strong hive to the weak hive. I also added a patty of Dadant brood builder to each last weekend, laid across the top of the frames in the second super. Where I am now: one hive is very strong and I recently added the 2nd deep super for brood stores.

  • In the cut-down split instructions, does “new location” mean somewhere else in the bee yard or a new bee yard altogether? THANKS for all the wonderful info you share on your site!

  • Rusty,

    I noticed that whenever the bees are lacking brood of different ages, I have almost no traffic at the landing board. It is as if they are in the “save energy” mode. They don’t add, they don’t spend. They are just demoralized. Should I add 2 frames of brood, or a laying queen, and 3 hours to a day later they are back to work like you won’t believe.

    Is it just my perception, or you notice that in the queenless cut down hive too? Maybe the key is a bunch of hatching brood, I don’t know. It seems I get better crop with unaltered colonies.

    I guess my question is what is the key difference that makes cutdown split actively forage compared to a normal queenless hive with reduced brood volume.

  • Can the new hive be located a good distance away as long as it is within the range of the apiary? In my situation I would like the new hive located a few hundred yards away. I imagine the foragers would still return to the original hive, correct?

  • In regards to the cutdown split, after everything is done what do you do with the extra brood box that was taken away after reducing. If they were both full of brood and eggs what do you do?

  • Making splits soon and replacing the old queens with new purchased queens, can I use the cut-down split for honey production and use new queens in the old and new hives?

  • Any reason why their two colonies could not be recombined after the flow to maintain number of colonies and be stronger for winter?

  • Ok, so I made a cut down split but could not find my queen. I’m planning on going back into both hives to look for eggs in 3 days. My question is this. If she is in the original hive, is 3 days of egg laying going to ruin the effect of the cut down?

  • Good Morning Rusty,

    In mid February I had a hive that was very crowded. They over wintered very well and I decided to do a cut down split. I wanted this hive to be my “comb honey hive”. I made a cut down split following the directions above. After a week, I had several queen cells. I removed all of the queen cells and and gave the hive a fresh frame of eggs from another hive (as instructed in the post about how to manage for comb honey). After a few days, I checked on their progress. They had not even attempted to make queen cells from the eggs that I gave them. They were very calm, which I thought was odd. I gave them a few more days, but still no queen cells on the frame that I gave them. I then went through the whole hive looking for cells, thinking that I may have missed one initially. I found nothing. The hive is still very crowded and calm. I added another 2 frames of eggs and checked after a few days. Still nothing! I looked though the hive again. No eggs, no queen and no evidence of queen cells anywhere in the hive. At this point, I am kinda panicking. I have offered 3 frames of eggs and they have not attempted to make a queen. I made sure that there were plenty of new eggs on the frames that I gave them. Why would they not try to make a queen, if they are queenless? Wouldn’t they start building queen cells as soon as they are put in the hive if they need a queen? How long should I wait until I intervene and add a queen/queen cell from another hive? The only thing I can come up with is that maybe I missed a queen cell initially and they have a queen that is new and maybe I missed her on inspection? Maybe she was out on a mating flight when I inspected? Maybe she hasn’t started laying yet? Any thoughts?

    • Jennifer,

      What did you do with the queen cells you removed? Did you give them to the queenless split? If you did, you probably already have a queen in there. If she’s still a virgin, she wouldn’t be laying eggs and she might be hard to see. It sounds to me like you already have a queen.

  • When I initially made the cut down split I moved the original queen to new hive. At that point, the original hive started making queen cells. I did not need a queen and I did not have any available nucs to put the cells in, so I just destroyed them. I replaced that frame with a frame of fresh eggs to let them begin new queen cells. My understanding is that this process makes them more eager to make a nice queen and delays the process for a little while. This gives the cut down more time to gather honey, correct? I obviously missed one of the first queen cells because a week or so after I posted on this thread, I found a small virgin queen! Boy was I relieved! We had had several days of rain, so maybe that delayed the queen a bit? The hive is doing great and they are drawing/filling beautiful white comb in my foundationless shallow super!! I was really worried, but the bees knew what they were doing, even though I was not sure what I was doing!

    Thank you for such a wonderful and informative site!

    • Jennifer,

      Well, that’s a different take on it, but I’m glad it worked out. I never destroy queen cells under any circumstances because the risk is great that you will end up queenless. You want to get a new queen in there ASAP, and not wait. Otherwise, you could get laying workers or some other mishap. Just my two cents. See https://www.honeybeesuite.com/destroy-extra-queen-cells/

  • I’m a little late to this party, but glad I finally made it. Another excellent how-to!

    One detail I don’t understand: You say leave the old hive (the queenless one) with *not a lot of honey

    But if I leave eggs/capped brood + full frames of *lots of honey instead, wouldn’t this create conditions for the foragers to pack the supers with even more honey?

    And if they need room in the brood chamber, they can move the honey up?

    Thx

    • David,

      All I can say is try it and see what happens. But you want to switch as many of the nurses to foraging as possible. If there is ample honey laying around, the nurses are more likely to remain nurses than return to foraging duty. A lot of what honey bees do is dependent on colony needs, so by adjusting the “need” you can influence the behavior.

      After years of sometimes heated discussion with other beekeepers, I’m of the opinion bees do not move honey from place to place. If they want to clear a place, they use that honey first and store new honey elsewhere so it appears to have moved.

  • Hi Rusty and everyone,

    Last week I did 4 cut-down splits in one yard, hoping to take advantage of a short Jacaranda nectar flow here in the Los Angeles area. This yard had about 14 hives total.

    As I was collecting up frames of capped brood, it occurred to me that if I leave the hive queenless, with an empty honey super on top, then the result would be: as bees hatch out, their sisters would back-fill the brood chamber with honey.

    But since there are several comments here about how this method did work well, apparently my reasoning is flawed. At any rate, here’s how I left my yard:

    2 hives are now configured exactly the way Rusty describes in this article. 9-10 frames of capped brood are in a single brood box with no queen, and a honey super on top. They are getting many extra foragers, because I moved several hives (the ones that were formerly next to the new honey makers) to the other side of the yard.

    Also, I made 2 additional hives according to this plan — that is, I added a lot of extra capped brood — but in those I left the queen in place. So we now have a small-scale experiment running. Even though it’s not exactly a question or comment, I hope it’s ok if I post the results here after my next inspection.

    • David,

      Backfilling is a thing the workers do to prepare for swarming. Backfilling uses up space in and around the brood nest to force the queen to stop laying. Remember, the workers have to slim her down to prepare for swarming, so they need to cut off the laying. Since you have no queen as described above, the workers have no reason to backfill.

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