Hives can be split for many reasons. A beekeeper may split a hive in order to increase the number of hives, to raise queens, to increase the number of workers, or to keep a hive from swarming. There are dozens of ways to do a split, depending on what you are trying to do and when. What follows is the method I use to make a swarm-control split. Next time I will discuss some variations on this procedure.
- Before you can think about splits, you need to think about equipment. This may seem obvious, but it’s a helpless feeling to discover your colony is ready to swarm and you don’t have a place to put a split. So first things first: make sure you go into swarm season with some extra boxes and frames.
- Once queen cells appear on the bottoms or sides of your brood combs, swarming is imminent. You can either move the swarm cells out of the hive or move the queen out of the hive to make the split.
- I prefer to move the old queen into a new box and leave the swarm cells where they are because this simulates actual swarming. So here is what I do:
o Catch the queen. You don’t have to actually confine her, but it makes things a little easier if you do. In any case, you have to know where she is.
o Divide the frames between the old hive and the new hive. For example, if you have 10 frames, put 5 in each hive. Try to equalize brood, pollen, and honey so both hives have some stores. However, make sure the old hive has at least one swarm cell and the new hive has the queen.
o Arrange the frames so that brood is in the center of the box, just outside the brood put frames containing pollen. Add at least one frame of honey.
o Fill out the rest of the box with frames of empty comb or foundation or starter strips.
- Now you have two five-frame colonies, one with a queen and one with a queen cell. Each hive now “thinks” it has swarmed.
- The nurse bees in each hive will stay with the brood, but the foraging bees will return to the old hive. So, for a few days, the old hive will appear very busy compared with the new one. The new one will get busier as young bees hatch and nurses become foragers.
o Since it will be a few days before lots of stores are brought into the new hive, make sure it has plenty of honey and pollen. One way to speed things up is to make sure the new hive has mostly capped brood—it will hatch much sooner than uncapped brood.
o To prevent this new hive from swarming it is best to cut off any remaining swarm cells. Again, this simulates a true swarm because there would be no swarm cells in a newly colonized hive.
o More than one swarm cell in the old hive is okay. Again, it simulates actual swarm conditions where several swarm cells are left in the original hive. The first virgin queen out will most likely kill the others.
- Once the queen cells are capped in the old hive it can take up to three weeks for the queen to mature, mate, and start to lay eggs. If you don’t see eggs after that time, you may have to provide a queen, a queen cell, fresh eggs, or very young larvae to keep the colony alive.