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.