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.
Thank you! That sounds so easy…I bet I get all flustered when I actually try it. 🙂
Curious…does it matter how far away from the original hive the split goes? I was hoping to split my top bar (I’m fairly certain they’ll swarm again this year) and install another top bar a few feet away. Will that confuse them with the scents being so similar, or will their little mental snapshots be enough?
It really doesn’t matter how close they are. All the foragers will go back to the original hive anyway. The newly hatched bees in both hives will learn where they live when they take their first “orientation” flights. If the entrances are within inches of each other, there may be a little mixing in the beginning but not enough to worry about. A few feet apart is fine.
The top-bar procedure for splitting is basically the same as the Langstroth except–in my opinion–a little bit easier because you don’t have multiple stories to worry about. You will do just fine, I know it.
One trick I have used that I believe works is to turn your old hive 1/4 turn just after sundown after making the split.
I also block the entrance of the new hive for 24 hours to keep the bees I put in it there for a day.
I have not tried it but was told to put a couple drops of lemon grass oil in the new hive before blocking the entrance for 24 hours.
The new hive will have a odor they will remember by the time you open it and the old hive will not smell the same.
The bees from the old hive remember there hive location and direction as they leave in the morning.
The bees in the new hive remember their old hive by the last time they left. Turn it and it confuses them and they are more likely to return to the new hive if you leave it facing the same direction the old one was.
I think this is all good advice. Just lately I’ve also been closing up the hive for a day or so once nightfall comes. It seems to help the bees orient and I think they “forget” about the old hive the more time goes by.
I haven’t tried the quarter-turn, but I also think that’s a good idea. I will try it!
Thanks for sharing.
I need your opinion. Is this a good sign for a hive I am considering a split with?
This is my first winter with honeybees and the girls appear to be strong coming out of winter. Right now Crocus have been in bloom for a week and Colts Foot is just starting to flower well. I have been feeding 1:1 sugar water to encourage the queen to lay and Friday was a spring teaser with temperature at 64° – 65°F. So I decided to take a quick look in the top box to see how everything was looking.
There were three frames of capped honey/sugar syrup. I assumed that was carried over from last year. There is one frame of capped and uncapped brood. There was also two frames of eggs and you could see the queen laying. It was only a quick peak as to not chill the brood or eggs.
On days where the temperature is >10°C the bees are bringing pollen by the droves. Last year the nuc was not available until July 19th. I’m hoping by all indication that I should be able to make one or two splits with this hive the way things are progressing. I didn’t look in the bottom box as I assume there is not much happening down there yet.
Keep in mind I live up where Phillip lives (aka Mudsongs). My goal is to make a split(s) and while still having enough bees to get one shallow super of honey.
Any input would be greatly appreciated.
This is a complex question. Although it sounds like you’re doing fine, it’s kind of early to tell if you can make a successful split–especially if you also want to get some honey.
I assume you are not going to introduce a queen, but raise your own. Am I right? If so, you’ll need warmer temperatures, more bees, lots of drones, and a good honey flow in order to get a good split.
Once you have at least four frames with brood, you can take one for a split as long as it is completely covered with nurse bees. If there is no swarm cell you will need to include eggs or day-old larvae to make sure the bees can build a cell. Also be sure they have honey (or syrup), be sure drones are flying, and be sure the nighttime temperatures are not too cold.
If you take more than one split from the original hive, you lessen the chances of getting harvestable honey. But it you take a second split from the first split, you have less of a chance of either surviving the winter. You could speed the whole thing up by introducing a queen, or you could wait and see how well the original hive and the first split build up–and then decide where to take your second split.
It sounds like the weather is warming and things are starting to bloom. You’re getting lots of eggs and your queen sounds strong. Your hive should be building very quickly in the next three weeks–at which point you may be able to do your split. It would be nice to get a swarm cell before you split as that would speed things up be be more likely to produce a viable queen.
My intent is to buy a fertilized queen to get a jump start on things. Also if need be I was going to add a third brood box to reduce likelihood of swarming while I wait for a fertilized queen. My nuc wasn’t available until July 19th last year and it made it through the winter ok and off to a good start. Once again the decision to make one versus two splits will be based on the time of year on the buildup in the existing colony. Colony survival is top priority, hive increase is second. Honey production would be nice.
Thanks for your input.
It sounds like a well-reasoned plan to me . . . and you have your priorities straight. It should work out for you.
Could I recombine the swarm control split in X number of days? I don’t really want more hives and I’m not sure there are enough drones nearby to mate the virgin queen properly. thanks, eric.
Yes, definitely. Once the urge to swarm is satisfied you can recombine. You can do it immediately (the same day) or wait awhile. If you wait a few days, you should use newspaper to combine as the swarm will have forgotten the queen’s pheromone scent.
The recombined hive may swarm again if, in the future, it develops a new urge to swarm. This is similar to a hive throwing multiple swarms but is not related to the fact that you re-hived the first swarm. Once swarm season is over, the problem goes away.
Rusty, I went to my monthly beekeepers meeting last night and we had a speaker that spoke on sustainability beekeeping (no chemicals, produce your own queens, etc.) He said to make a split now, first couple weeks of August into a nuc. He had two purposes for doing this. One was to control varroa mites by removing 1/3 of the mites with the split and since the split will not have a queen to lay brood for several weeks(he leaves the queen with the old colony), and the old hive has a 33% reduction in mites. The second was to improve his chances of having at least the same number of colonies after the winter.
I have three colonies now and two are going great and one is so so. I thought about doing the split now on the two great colonies as he suggest, but originally was planning on doing it next spring. Do you have any thoughts or experience in doing fall splits?
I prefer to make splits in the spring. Fall splits are harder to get through the winter because they have so little time to get ready and I don’t enjoy feeding syrup.
But going back to what you said earlier: “One was to control varroa mites by removing 1/3 of the mites with the split and since the split will not have a queen to lay brood for several weeks (he leaves the queen with the old colony), and the old hive has a 33% reduction in mites.” It makes sense that the new split will have some mite reduction because there is a break in the brood cycle due to the absence of the queen. But the original hive with the original queen will have no reduction. Sure it has 1/3 fewer mites but it also has 1/3 fewer bees, so the the number of mites/bee is the same as it was.
My first attempt at a split (moving a good frame of sealed brood, frame of eggs, pollen & honey, to a spare deep) failed to produce a queen. When we checked, the frame that had held eggs was emptyno sign of eggs. The weather had turned cold (40° nights) and I assume the eggs got chilled and the bees discarded them.
Last week we added another frame of eggs and one of brood and nurse bees (my original hive is full of brood in all 3 boxes). THEN we were hit with another cold spell. I added a moisture quilt and some windbreak (sacks of straw) around the base. It’s been down to 40, 41.
I really hate to recombine if it fails this time, because the big hive is so full and one of my goals in splitting was to forestall swarming. I may, if it fails, combine these with one of my new packages which is in a deep.
My question is, should we be waiting for a minimum temperature forecast before splitting? This business of bees wanting to swarm + cold spells in May is maddening. They were calling for frost, which we were spared: but would a colony know better than to swarm when it’s that cold?
Shady Grove Farm
A few 40° nights won’t hurt a swarm. If it’s warm enough during the day to swarm or split, then it can be done.
When you make a split with sealed brood and eggs, the most important factor to consider is the number of nurse bees that will be attending it. If there are not enough nurses to cover the brood and the eggs, the nurses will eat the eggs to decrease the nest size. This will limit their chances of rearing a queen. If you are going to split with a frame of brood and eggs, I recommend shaking at least three or four frames of nurse bees in with it—many more than you think you will need, especially in cold weather.
If your original hive is as big as you say, I’d start with several frames of brood (some ready to emerge), a lot of eggs, and as many nurse bees as you can pile in there. You have a much better chance of succeeding.
Thanks Rusty! It sounds as if my weak point was not giving them enough nurse bees. It explains the disappearing eggs, too. I’ll see how they do, now that the grown-up foragers are bringing them all that locust and lots of pollen!
Hi, I was wanting to know when I make my splits I’m putting 1 frame of pollen/honey and 1 frame of brood and 1 frame of eggs and then shaking a lot of nurse bees in it should I put them in a nuc box or a 10 frame box and what would be the different outcomes? And should I keep them locked up for a week in their box in a warm place until they can keep themselves warm. Thanks.
You can put them in a nuc or a full-size box; it is a personal preference. I usually use a full box so I don’t have to transfer them again later. If you are going to sell the nuc, then put them in a nuc box to start.
The key to a successful split is having enough nurse bees to completely cover all the brood, both capped and uncapped. With enough nurse bees, they will keep themselves warm. No need to worry. Also, the nurses have never been outside, so there is no need to lock them up for a week.
Ok thanks. I’ve never made one. This will be my fist year so I needed to know some tips for doing it. (-:
If I had them in a smaller box word it be easier for them to heat?
Bees don’t heat the box, they heat the cluster. Please read this: Physics for beekeepers: temperature in the hive.
Very interesting reading throughout the blog! One comment on leaving multiple cells in the old hive. If the hive remains stronger than average, it is likely to throw a cast in this case. Since I have that experience and I do not like to climb trees, I make sure there is only one cell left. Queens tend to mate better in a full-sized or close to full-sized colonies than in mating nucs, and leaving multiple cells in will not help that either.
Just a warning on unnecessary weakening of the colony as a result of lost cast (which can go unnoticed).
Greetings from the other side of the world (Estonia)!
I’m always afraid the one I decide to leave will be the one that doesn’t emerge.
You have point there. I always try to make the splits when the bees tell me to – the height of the swarming season. By that time the hives are strong and split in two does not weaken them enough to avoid the cast. One needs to make a choice here and the decision somewhat depends on time available. I get to check them on weekends only. My reasoning here is that if the queen does not emerge or does not mate (which can happen with multiple cells also), I fail to get a queen and lose bit of potential brood but keep the bees. If I lose a cast from a strong hive, I lose a lot of bees plus run the risk that the remaining one does not mate. This is fun, no science. 🙂
Our winters are tough and summers short, the populations explode in the spring. Plus I am keeping Slovenian Carnicas, who tend to be “good” swarmers. So, I have a very good base for losing casts.
I am a 2nd year beekeeper, and I have really enjoyed the experience so far.
I have read a lot of beekeeping material since I became involved with beekeeping, and I’d have to say this site/blog has been one of the better ones I have read, so before I ask my question I want to say thank you for all the information on this site; it has been most helpful.
I live in northern Alabama, and spring has really kicked in here. This is actually my 1st winter to winter a hive of bees. I fed them sugar syrup all winter to make extra sure they had enough stored for the really cold days and nights. A couple of weeks ago I noticed my hive was bearding, so I got my equipment to have a look see. I found 14 queen cells in the upper brood box. I really had no idea what to do. I had so many bees that it was actually a little intimidating at first. I destroyed all of the queen cells and closed it up to research the situation.
A week and a half later I finally decided to split. Both brood chambers are packed full of bees and brood. I took another 10 frame brood box (deep) and I located my queen in the bottom box and added an excluder to make sure the queen remained there. I took 5 frames out of the top brood box. I made sure I had lots of brood capped and uncapped. I had plenty of drones, and nursing bees on those frames. I a good deal of honey and pollen stores on a couple of the frames I transferred. Added 5 new frames with new foundation to both the new hive and the old hive.
I sprayed sugar water with brood supplement to hopefully entice the bees to start drawing out comb and gave both hives sugar water with hive top feeders. I also put in my entrance reducer with the smallest opening (about 1″) on the new hive. They are about 4 feet apart from one another.
Looking back I think I should have rather did the 50/50 split and added an extra 10 frame on top of each with new frames and foundation. I did have 3 queen cells that I left on one of the frames that I transferred, and left the old queen in the old hive (which I might not should have done).
What are your thoughts on this particular split? What would you have done different?
Thank you so much in advance for any tips on future splits.
I personally thank you all for what your doing for the beekeeping community.
First, let me say that finding your queen it a hive like that can be quite a trick. Congrats!
I would have done it differently, not to say that my way is any better or worse. Just different. I would have taken the top box and set it on a new bottom board. If I could find the queen, I would put her in the new box. In a real swarm, the old queen goes to the new colony. So, by simulating that, the old colony “thinks” it swarmed.
If I couldn’t find the queen, I would just make sure each half had an ample supply of brood, and especially eggs. With eggs, either colony can start a queen. So I would even up the brood, the eggs, the pollen, and honey as best as I could and then I would add a new brood box to each.
The nurse bees will stay where you put them, and the foragers will fly to the old hive. As new bees hatch and become nurses, the old nurses will become foragers, and pretty soon everything will look normal. After a few days, I would make sure the queenless colony is building cells, or if they already had cells, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
The only thing I take issue with is killing the queen cells. By killing and waiting a week and a half, you put yourself behind on getting a new queen. It will probably be fine in any case, but I consider queen cells valuable and not something I want to waste without really considering the options.
Well actually my wife found the queen, so I have to give her all of the credit. She is a great beekeeping helper.
Thank you so much for the advice for future splits. After reading several of your articles and some of the comments. I have really learned a lot.
Yes ma’am you are right. Looking back I shouldn’t have destroyed the queen cells, I just kinda panicked. Next year it will definitely be done different.
I peeked inside today just to check the level of sugar water of my split, and of course I really couldn’t see any new eggs or larvae, but I did see a few foragers flying in and out of the new hive. Hopefully that is a good sign.
Again thanks for your help my wife and I really appreciate it.
Hi, I have a large 2 deep colony that seem to be well into getting ready to swarm. I found several closed queen cells but none had hatched yet. I saw fresh eggs so I decided to find the queen and make a split. I put her, 2 frames of brood, two frames of honey and some pollen into a separate deep. I felt nervous about doing a 50/50 split and I hadn’t read this article yet so I was operating on instinct. I shook a bunch of nurse bees, closed the hive up and put some pine needles in the entrance to keep them contained for awhile. I left the original hive with their queen cells and called it a day. I went back 2 days later and checked the new split to make sure they hadn’t absconded. I found the queen in there but I also found several queen cups on the edges of the comb. It seems like my split didn’t work and they still want to swarm! Any advice? I broke the cups off.
I’m not sure, but maybe by closing them inside, the bees didn’t realize they were in a new place. Since they haven’t been outside to know the difference, they may think they are with the same queen (true) and in the same place (not true). On the other hand, the queen is often replaced after a swarm gets established, so they could be making supersedure cells and not swarm cells. This would be especially true if the only eggs the bees really liked for queen replacement were on the outer edges of comb where swarm cells normally go.
I’m sort of guessing here, but I would open up the new hive, let the old foragers go back home if they want (or reorient), and then see if the behavior stops. Normally the bees will stay with their queen so the locking up isn’t necessary. All your other steps sound perfect. It’s worth a try to see if things change once you open the hive.
When I closed it up using pine needles I kinda figured they would clear it themselves and then the idea would be that they would reorient. I did pull some of it away when I was there yesterday to give them a clearer entrance. I guess I will see. I didn’t know the queen normally gets replaced after a swarm is established. Why would they do that?
I wouldn’t say “normally” just often or frequently. One technique used to lessen the probability of swarms is to replace queens. Younger queens with stronger pheromones are more likely to hold the entire colony together. When a colony swarms, often the queen is a little older with a little less pheromone, so once she swarms the workers often decide to replace her. The strength of queen pheromone plays a large role in colony behavior.
I am a brand new beekeeper. I have a hive that was originally over 30 years old, and has not been worked in over 30 years.
Back at the first of June, my cousin and myself transferred this hive to a new hive box, because the old hive had ants, the wood was rotten, lots of problem with the boxes. The super and brood box was just gobbed up. It took over 3 1/2 hours to clean this super mess up. But we were successful in transferring the bees. A couple of days after we transferred them, there was a big storm that came through (the bees were out foraging on the old comb and honey that was in the box ) and I truly believe that they drown. We lost almost 1/2 of our bee population.
So for the past 2 months we have been trying to build the bees back up, getting new brood and I even changed out my old queen this past weekend with a new queen. (It took me all day, to find her, and I had to lure her out with the new queen in a cage, but I got her.)
The new queen was inserted in the brood box on Friday evening. I pulled the cork on the cage on Saturday evening and checked the hive on Monday morning.
The new queen is in the hive, out of the cage, I had no problem finding her. The mark that I got on her was gone, however. Anyway, upon inspecting the hive, I now have over 18 queen cells in my brood box that were not even started on Friday. By Monday evening, there were 5 queen cells that had already been capped off.
My question is: I live in Southwest Virginia, it is August 12, fairly late in the season. Can I transfer these queen cells into a new hive and them make it through the winter? If so, do I need to put the new queen just introduced to the hive in the new box or leave in the old box?
And also, would it be better to put them in a nuc or a regular sized box? My original brood box has 1 partial frame of honey, and 5 frames with brood, 1 partial frame of pollen and nectar. The other 3 frames have no activity on them yet.
What would be your suggestion?
I don’t know if I can answer this; it is all very confusing. To begin with it sounds like you moved your bees to a new location when you put them in the new hive. Without taking precautions, all the foragers (about half the colony) would naturally go back to the original location because they don’t know where the new location is. Then the rain came and they died. I’m guessing, of course, because I don’t know the details, but that’s what it sounds like.
Also, for future reference, when you put your bees in a new hive, top it with an inner cover, put the old boxes on top of the inner cover, and then add a lid. The bees will then transfer the honey down to the new boxes without being exposed to the weather or to robbers.
I’m suspicious about the new queen and the missing mark. Marks wear off, but not in a couple days. Also, you removed the old queen, inserted a new queen in a cage, and released her 24 hours later. I believe that is way too soon. Again I’m guessing and I could be wrong, but it sounds like your new queen was killed. I think the queen you are seeing is not the one you put in there.
Now you don’t say if these queen cells are supersedure cells or swarm cells, so it is hard to say what is happening, so I will go on to your question. “Can I transfer these queen cells into a new hive and have them make it through the winter?” Again, I’m not sure what you mean. The queen cells are going to hatch in a few days, and the first one out will probably kill the rest. Or the strongest will kill the rest. You can’t keep them together. Then those queens have to mate. Maybe you still can open mate a queen in southwest Virginia, but it is getting late in the season so it becomes more problematic. And then, even if you got one adequately mated, it will be hard to build up a colony in time for winter.
If your parent hive has only has one partial frame of honey, you are already in serious trouble. My advice would be to forget those queen cells and feed your parent hive like crazy if you want them to survive the winter. You can’t afford to split off any brood to start another colony when your parent colony has almost no stores.
Note: I invite other readers to answer, especially if you think I’m misinterpreting Karen’s situation. She needs some good advice.
Hi Rusty, it’s mid august and I just found 6 capped queen cells in my hive. I’ve got three boxes on right now and I excluded the current queen to the bottom box where most of the brood is. The brood pattern is a bit lighter where the queen cells are with a high proportion of drones. Some are saying I should split the hive and recombine later if they don’t build up enough. I’m worried that might be too much manipulation so late in the season. I’m in Utah, so we can get our first snow any time after the second week of September. Though we don’t normally get real snow til late October, early November. Should I just kill the current queen to control the swarm?
It’s really hard to answer this type of question without seeing the hive. However, my first question is simply this: are you sure they are swarm cells and not supersedure cells? It is certainly possible to have a swarm at this time of year, although it is much less likely than it is in spring. A swarm issued now has a small chance of making it without a lot of beekeeper assistance, and even then the probability is low. To have a virgin mature and successfully mate will take several weeks, and by that time winter is close and forage is scarce.
If they are swarm cells, killing the current queen may not forestall the swarm. A swarm may leave with a virgin if it can’t leave with the old queen. If you are sure it’s going to swarm, you can split the colony, let things calm down a bit, and then recombine it. At the time of recombining, just make sure you are down to one well-mated queen.
Let me know what you do and and how it works out.
Thanks for the quick reply. I went ahead and made a new hive with the box that I found the queen in on the first day. I’m not sure if the queen cells were supersedure or swarm. The hive wasn’t bearding on the front at all. The queen cells were underneath the brood cells between comb and bottom bar on a foundationless frame. All but one queen cell were capped.
When I found the queen after seeing the queen cells, she seemed a little thinner than I remember from earlier in the season. I thought maybe the bees put her on a diet for swarming. The queen is from a package I installed this year, so it’s hard to believe she’s failing already. But, I guess it’s possible.
I am still concerned about whether or not I did the right thing. I feel good about not killing the queen. But, after finding the queen in the bottom box, I put an excluder on top of the box and replaced the other 2 boxes. I left it for the night while figured out what I wanted to do.
In the morning, I removed the bottom box and set it up as its own hive. I then went through every frame to confirm I had the queen. This is where I became uncertain. I couldn’t find the queen. I looked at all the non-honey frames twice and the honey frames once. Didn’t see her. I ran out of time, so I couldn’t go through the old hive and see if she somehow squeezed through the excluder. So, my mind is in a bit of panic that I may have damaged the viability of the hive.
My thought now is to wait until the end of this week and review the new hive. If the bees converted some of the larvae into queen cells, then I can be confident the hive is queenless. Would you wait this long? Or, should I be able to see signs before the end of the week?
Thanks again for readin and replyin!
If they are queenless, they will start queen cells right away so you can check any time.
Greetings from South Africa (Cape Town). I’ve been reading your blogs, very interesting, thank you.
Decided to share my recent experience, but firstly a bit of history. I grew up with my father being a beekeeper and as kids we helped with harvesting and all the maintenance. After he passed away, I had little interest, until the fourth swarm of bees occupied the hydrant outside and I decided two years ago that I will keep a swarm instead of calling a friend (beekeeper) to take them away. Since when is one enough …
Down to business. I had three swarms on my property, one of which split on the first warm day of spring this year, I heard them and watched them leave. Unfortunately they didn’t settle close by, so I lost them. The hive they came from is now quite weak unfortunately, so they are likely to not produce any harvest for me this year.
One swarm on the other hand was clearly very strong, and three weeks ago they were clumping (bearding – I like that term) on the outside almost every day and night if it wasn’t too cool. The hive consisted of a brood chamber and two supers, no excluder.
I checked the supers and found that both had plenty of brood in them, no queen cells though, so I checked the brood chamber, and surprisingly also no queen cells even though they were so crowded. I decided I wanted to split that hive, and at the same time replace the brood chamber which was breaking (‘holy’).
Checked the weather reports for a gap of a few warm days in a row, and on a Wednesday evening, simply moved the bottom super with all the bees inside without disturbing anything else at first and positioned it about 20 meters away (on a temporary hive bottom). I proceeded to replace the brood chamber and looked for the queen in the process. I found her and left her in the old hive and closed everything up, and added a super to the top.
I then placed the old brood chamber under the super in the new position and closed them up. The sun was about to set, perfect timing luckily.
Since the bees will take 24 hours to realise they had no queen, and then a couple of days to build a queen cell, I checked them again on the Sunday evening, and found no indication that they were re-queening at all. I opened my other strong hive and found two queen cells, so I moved them with the brood over to the new swarm. (That hive wasn’t too crowded, so they can build more queen cells if needed for swarming). I waited another 5 days and checked the new swarm again. Still no sign of a queen, but both queen cells were open! What a bummer, so I decided I may have to combine those bees with the weaker swarm before they die.
I decided to do the combining with newspaper (sport section) last evening because it was warm enough, got everything ready and opened the new swarm to move it across, and found they have a beautiful big young queen.
In the process though, the ‘mother’ hive is still very full, with stacks of bees bearding the landing every night. The new super is already almost full of honey too!
My question therefore is, when would it be too soon to split that hive again, but this time I will have to take frames from the brood chamber because I put an excluder in when I did the first split, so there will be no eggs or young in the super?
This is a long question, but I think I follow. One thing, though. You say, “Still no sign of a queen, but both queen cells were open! What a bummer, so I decided I may have to combine those bees with the weaker swarm before they die.” Couldn’t it be that both of those cells hatched into virgin queens? You can tell by where the opening is. If the hole is in the side, they were killed. If the opening is at the tip, they hatched.
In any case, you can do a split any time. Some hives throw a second swarm almost immediately after the first one left, so it shouldn’t be a problem. And yes, you need frames with eggs or very young larvae, so you will have to take some from the brood chamber. Good luck with it.
Thanks for the response. Both cells were open at the tip, therefore both must have hatched at almost the same time I guess, at least they didn’t kill each other.
This time around I will be doing the split slightly differently, by transferring half the frames from one brood chamber into a new one, and placing it on top of the old one with a queen excluder between, making sure the queen is in the bottom box, then allow 24 hours for nursing bees to tend to the top brood before removing the box to a new location.
This time though they are moving many miles away, so I will brush some of the bearding bees into the hive before closing it for transporting.
Any advice will be welcomed.
I’ll keep your blog posted on the outcome, thank you for the information.
Sounds like a good plan. It should work.
What a journey this has been so far, thought I would post an update even though the saga continues.
Firstly, the first split of the hive is a huge success, they have already produced 11kg of honey for us, and I have added a second super. They are really working hard and clearly have a very strong queen.
The second split has been emotionally challenging. The person who I offered the hive to (I didn’t want more) never fetched them as promised, so the foragers would have returned to the old hive, that would have affected them, so I had to keep feeding them.
They very quickly produced three queen cells, so all was looking good, and I was checking on them twice weekly to see that they had food and the progress toward queening.
One queen cell then opened on the side, thus indicating that another queen had destroyed that un-hatched queen, but I could find no queen in the hive at all. A week later that opened queen cell had been completely broken down, but the other two queen cells were still closed, and still no queen, nor any eggs in sight.
I waited another two weeks, then found that the one remaining queen cell was opened on the tip, and the other had turned dark in colour. Still no queen nor any sign of a queen.
The numbers of bees seemed to be dwindling, so I decided to replace two of the frames with frames from a different hive, with eggs, brood and young larvae, hoping that they will use that to try and queen.
They built one queen cell from that, but at the same time I noted that I clearly had laying workers. Multiple eggs in cells and many of the eggs on the sides of cells and not on the bottom of the cells, and all over the place, not just here and there.
By this time I noticed that they had mites. My daughter and I would examine each frame carefully every time we checked the hive, and any bee that had a mite on it’s thorax, we would destroy. Sometimes we would find one or two, sometimes many more.
For me, this put an end to the option of combining this swarm with another to save the remaining bees. After some research I concluded it wouldn’t be a good idea to introduce laying workers into another swarm. I resolved myself to see this swarm die out slowly. I kept on feeding, and one last time added a frame of brood.
On Tuesday 16 December I went to observe all my swarms late in the evening, and to my horror, outside this small swarm was littered with dead bees, I thought the end had come, but it was too late to open and check them.
Wednesday evening I opened them, and they were really ‘buzzing’ with activity, whereas previously they had been very ‘lazy’ when checking them. This was clearly a good sign, and surprisingly, they had eventually queened – two months after the split. Excessive eggs had been cleared out, dead brood had been removed and handful of young larvae and eggs.
My focus now shifts to ensuring that they are strong enough to survive the winter. The last two times I have checked them, only found one mite! Good news. Their numbers are still dwindling though due to lack of reproduction for the last two months.
This is by far the biggest queen I have ever seen!
My question after all this is how many frames of brood can I now add from a different hive to boost their numbers quicker. I estimate there may be about 4 cups of bees in the hive, so I need to ensure that they have the staff to tend the brood I insert. I’m guessing maximum of two frames with as much capped brood as possible, and do this twice, about three weeks apart.
The queen cell that opened on the tip was your new queen, but new virgin queens are hard to see because they remain small and nondescript until they mate and their queenly hormones begin to flow. That’s probably why you didn’t see her. Also, it takes a good while for a new queen to start laying, weeks, especially if the weather is bad. When she first starts to lay she may lay multiple eggs as well. It takes time to get her life sorted out.
If you are seeing multiple mites on the outside of bees, you have a serious mite problem. Most of the mites are hidden in the capped brood or under the bees’ abdominal plates. What you see is just the tip of the iceberg, so consider that in your management strategy.
Anyway, when adding frames of brood, be sure to consider the donor colony and make sure you are not shorting them; that would be my primary concern. The receiving colony must have enough bees to completely cover the brood, so your idea of staggering the introduction is a good one. With only a few cups of bees, you might want to start with just one frame. Any they can’t cover will be abandoned, and it’s a shame to waste them.
Hello Rusty and Readers,
These fires on our mountain range are bad – 8 homes destroyed and much more damage. I can’t begin to imagine the loss of wildlife in the process. It’s in a fire like this many years ago where my father lost all his hives, that was a very sad day for our family, that is when he quit beekeeping.
Some feedback regarding this split is that the hive is thriving and now working on all 10 frames in the hive. I introduced one frame of capped brood from another hive, then a week later another two frames which were not full (from a different hive). I will add a super in the next few weeks and will then leave them for the winter.
Regarding the mites … I carefully examined the hive I split them from and found no sign of mites at all, which was good news. In the young hive there is no drone brood and the mite count is down. The last time I checked I didn’t see any sign of mites.
I chatted with a local specialist and his advice was to leave the mite treatment and see how the bees deal with it first, but keep monitoring it. Seems like the bees are dealing with the mites well enough for me to not intervene with chemicals at this stage.
Hi Rusty…I have been reading some of the questions asked earlier and learned a bit from reading them. My question is that I will enter my 2nd year beekeeping in 2015 after overwintering one hive with two 10-frame deeps and a honey super on top. So far I haven’t experienced a swarm. I would like to do a side-by-side split in April and limit my bee yard to two beehives but I don’t want to sacrifice losing any honey from the original hive. I was thinking about keeping the 2nd year queen in the original hive and buying a mated queen for the new split. What do you think?
That would probably work just fine. But remember that a second-year queen is more likely to swarm than a first year queen. So if you move the old queen with the split and add the new queen to the original you may avoid a swarm from that hive. That’s my preference. But other people have good outcomes by doing it your way, so you just have to decide.
What are the limitations of splitting?
Limitations in terms of what? Please be more specific.
What is a split? What are the limitations of splitting?
Everything I know about splits can be found here: Splits
I have two hives. They each have two brood chambers each that are 8 framed. I live in south Alabama. Both boxes are full of honey, brood, pollen, and enough bees to cover all frames and some outside. Can I split them this late in season, and do you recommend getting a mated queen or allowing them to build one? Our first frost is not until middle or late October.
It’s not too late to make a split, but you lose a lot of time by waiting for them to raise a queen. I would order a queen to get things moving along more quickly.
My husband and I are first year beekeepers and apparently our queen was amazing because yesterday she picked up out of our 30 frame hive and swarmed to our neighbor’s tree. We were able to catch the swarm and revive them but this morning we discovered the new hive was completely empty. We opened the old hive and it was really busy, The queen cups were all being opened and the contents eaten by the other bees and we noted eggs as well. I am concerned about this hive attempting another swarm. I think I should split my hives but now the queen cups are destroyed and I am having a hard time identifying our queen. I know if I put the brood frames with the eggs on it in the new hive that the nurse bees can turn these into queen cells but what if I accidentally transfer the queen on these frames as well? Help I don’t know what to do!
I’m not sure what you are saying here. Are you saying the swarm re-united with the old hive or that it moved on to another home? I suspect it just moved on.
As you say, as long as the bees have eggs or very young larvae, they can produce another queen. Make sure both parts have eggs and larvae and then you don’t need to know where the queen is. The part without a queen will begin to rear a new one.
If the 30 frame swarm is tearing down the queen cells, it means that they don’t have the need to swarm again immediately. This in turn means that if you were to split them now, you will risk making them too weak to maintain the balance in the hive, especially if you have such a young queen that maybe isn’t laying. The eggs you see may be from the old queen because it seems like only a day or two lapsed from the natural split to you inspecting the older hive.
If you have inspected the entire hive and there are no queen cells remaining, then my suggestion would be to rather leave them for a while to stabilize their numbers, but inspect the hive weekly or every second week to see if they are building new queen cells, then do a controlled split using one of the methods described by Rusty. In this process you will also ensure that the new queen is laying and the hive is back to normal after the previous split.
If the swarm which left did maybe return (very unlikely) then it won’t be long before they build new queen cells. If they are still so full then at worst it will probably be a month and you could split them without much risk.
It’s always better to have a queen or at least a queen cell when doing a split. You can do without the stress of splitting too early and ending with laying workers and even the possibility of losing part of the swarm.
Good luck, keep us posted.
Thanks for the info Peter! Are you sure the swarm would not have vacated the new hive and returned to the original hive with the queen? On my inspection the hive seemed overflowing. 16/20 frames in the brood box covered in pollen, nectar, and capped honey, 18/20 covered in brood of all stages and bees. In addition to this the whole left side of the bottom deep was covered in bees not on a frame. This was at 2:00 pm when I’m told the foraging bees would be out and about. It just seems like an awful lot of bees to be left after a swarm unless the swarm bees rejoined them with their queen. Thoughts?
There is almost no sure way of knowing if the swarm returned, but it’s almost a given that the queen would not have returned. I can only imagine that the swarm would return if for some reason the queen which took flight with them died very shortly after leaving, it’s usually the older queen which takes flight.
Keep an eye on them, especially after dark and see if they are bearding on the outside of the hive. This would be an indication that they are too full of bees and will be preparing to split, but they don’t always beard before splitting so don’t bank on bearding before you do a controlled split.
One cannot easily judge based on the perception of how full the hive is, it can too easily be just a small portion of the swarm which split off. I have experienced both extremes, one hive split and was so weak that I had no harvest from that swarm for the year, and another swarm split twice and still delivered about 30kg of honey for the season, and the one which split off also delivered about 8kg by the end of the season.
The principle remains though, they won’t split naturally again without there being queen cells in the hive. I would recommend that you rather wait a week or two and check them thoroughly again to see if they are building more queen cells.
Ok thanks! They swarmed on the 22nd we will check again in a couple of days and see what they are up too.
Hello again… we checked our hive yesterday and could not locate a queen or eggs. there was one cell on the face of the comb in the lower deep which I believed to be an emergency queen cell. There was also a small emergency cell on the opposite side of the same frame. I left them both there fearing the hive may be without a queen and did not want to kill their only chance of producing one. This morning as my husband and I watched at 9:00 am they attempted to swarm again… I was able to use an entrance reducer to stave off the swarm but I am unsure when it will be safe to enter the hive to do a split to prevent them from leaving again. Is this still possible or should i take the reducer off and hope they go were my husband and I can retrieve them?
You can’t depend on catching a swarm once it has left the hive. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not. If you do a split, just make sure you have a queen for each half, or at least eggs and very young larvae in each half.
You say you have found no eggs, which is worrisome. I keep wondering if this colony wants to abscond rather than swarm. It just seems unusual. Swarms usually are hard to keep in once they decide to leave, so using an entrance reducer to avert a swarm seems, well, not quite right. The bulk of swarm season is over, the time of day seems wrong . . . I’m reluctant to give you advice because I don’t have a feeling for what is actually going on here. Maybe Peter can help.
I don’t know much about absconding as I am new at this but that doesn’t seem to fit either… This hive body… The lower deep was given to me by a coworker so it is about ten years old and had all 10 frames drawn out in comb. They have been there since May and nothing has changed in the circumstances around the hive other than the addition of the second hive body and the super. I’m really at a loss and don’t know what to do at this point. how long should I wait to get in there and see what is going on? Our last inspection was the 29th we were initially planning to wait until the 5th. Also when should we take the excluder off? I watched the hive last night to make sure none of our drones were locked out and it does not appear that they had left the hive yet when we put the reducer on. Any advice would be extremely helpful.
The bees attempted to swarm again yesterday at 11:00 am. The entrance reducer was still in place. Being sure that the hive has a queen at this point I went in and removed the two cells I found in our previous inspection. One cell was tiny and appeared too small, so I destroyed it. The second looked almost fully mature and ready to hatch and very large. I cut this one off intact and felt the queen inside fluttering around. On closer inspection I found that she had begun to chew through the bottom of her cell. My husband and I brought her into the house and filmed her arrival. We then called our bee association president to see if anyone needed a brand new virgin queen. She was just sent off to her new home about an hour ago. The bees did not attempt to swarm today. We will check again in a week to make sure there are no new cells.
Seems to me you could have a far more serious problem than a swarm which is trying to split for natural reasons. As Rusty says, when they swarm, there is no way of ensuring that you can catch the swarm which leaves, and using an entrance reducer is interfering with what they are trying to do naturally. Remember that they will never split and depart on a suicide mission, they will be trying to leave for a reason, and keeping them in the hive may be worse for them in the long run. Besides, as far as I know, when a swarm splits, the queen is the first to leave, then she circles and collects loyal followers before heading off to find her new home, so using the reducer probably wouldn’t save a split which already started. It doesn’t make sense that a hive without eggs will split anyway, consider the ambient temperature on the day, maybe they were just getting air and cooling, not swarming.
If you have such a powerful swarm that seemed so full only 2 weeks ago, and now you see no eggs would make me very concerned, and in no circumstances would I try to split them if it was my hive, that may well simply lead to the demise of the entire colony under unnatural conditions. As you have indicated, the emergency queen cells gives the impression that something has happened to their queen, therefore their primary objective is survival. On the other hand, eggs hatch after only a few days, so if your laying queen left two weeks ago it may well be that all those eggs have hatched and the new queen hasn’t started laying yet.
It seems like this is the only hive you have, maybe I’m wrong. If you have another hive, or another beekeeper close to you, try to get one frame with eggs, larvae and brood and insert it into the centre of the lower brood chamber of your hive. Check for AFB and don’t let it get cold in transit. Do this probably 3 times leaving 2 weeks between each frame added. When you add the frame, remove one frame from the outer side of the hive, don’t remove from the centre preferably, and make sure you don’t remove the frame with the emergency queen cells.
What’s the logic with this method? You will be providing the swarm with fresh eggs and young larvae with which to breed a queen if necessary (maybe you just didn’t find the young queen in the hive). The swarm breeds in the centre of the box, with honey and pollen toward the outside. If you remove from the ‘brood’ area of the hive, you are removing potential eggs and cells prepared for eggs to be laid by the queen when she is ready. Being such a large colony, there should be plenty of food higher in the hive to justify removing one from from the sides of the lower chamber. btw, Don’t remove any of the frames you insert during this process.
Each time you insert a fresh frame from another hive, inspect the frames in the centre of the lower chambers. You are looking for queen cells and fresh eggs. As soon as you see fresh eggs, and only single eggs in a cell, not multiple eggs in cells, then you can stop inserting frames from other hives because it means you have a queen in the hive. Multiple eggs in cells, and eggs on the sides of cells indicates you have laying workers or an inexperienced queen.
If you see fresh eggs, AND the queen cells don’t get torn open, then you know that the swarm is preparing to split naturally, then you can perform a controlled split.
Remember to not weaken another hive too much by removing all their brood.
It may be helpful to post a few pictures of your hive and the emergency queen cells you saw (next time you inspect). Also let us know things like whether you have a queen excluder, where it is positioned in the hive and so on. Also let us know what the weather was on a day when something weird happens. This will make it easier for us to give guidance.
Under the circumstances, I would rather use swarm lure in your new hive and hope that either a split from your swarm moves in, or a split from someone else, but I wouldn’t risk a split of your hive at the moment, and at least until you know that they have recovered properly.
Good luck, keep us posted.
We already removed the queen cells and the reducer and the hive has not attempted to swarm again. My assumption is that the old queen left in the first swarm on July 22nd. I believe that a new queen hatched from the swarm cells and has not begun laying yet. If the primary swarm departed when the swarm cells were capped on day 8 that means I can expect a laying queen around August 11th. I believe I was dealing with a secondary swarm situation which for the time being has been contained. They have been without the entrance reducer for 2 days now with no further attempts at swarming. We thought we would go in again on the 11th and check for eggs. The hive does not show any signs of laying workers or of being queenless so at this point I thought we would wait… Isn’t it too early for a queen that hatched from a swarm cell to be laying? Is my timeline incorrect with when the queen should have been laying?
I estimate two to three weeks from hatch to lay, depending on the weather.
We now have almost a half a frame of brand new eggs ? our queen is laying a little earlier than I had anticipated. Thank you for all your information and support!
You are never going to believe this… We now have a lot of frames with new eggs and freshly capped brood, nice and compact, no drone cells that I can tell and 8 new swarm cells. This hive swarmed, we then did a split and ended up with two hives (the other is doing beautifully), they attempted to swarm a second time which we thwarted by removing the queen cells left behind from the first swarm and they are still trying to swarm! This late in the season I am worried about their survival if I do a full split…. I was wondering what your thoughts were on removing the frames with the swarm cells and a frame of honey and pollen and putting them in a nuc box.
You can try it. Just don’t spread your colonies too thin just before winter.
Really like your site. It has helped me immensely. First place I go for answers.
One of my hives is getting ready to swarm. 5-8 swarm cells with larvae in them and one capped I believe. Any how, it is late in the season but I would like to do a swarm control split. I have a reserve queen. I’m thinking of doing the split, cutting out all the swarm cells in the old hive, wait 24 hrs and put the reserve queen in. I would put the old queen and 1/2 frames brood etc just as outlined in the new hive. Whats your thoughts?
You are pretty sure they are swarm cells and not supersedure cells? If you think so, go ahead. If worse came to worse and the old queen is not viable, you can always recombine.
I am from Johannesburg South, South Africa. I am a (new) backyard beekeeper. So far I got two swarms that I caught myself from other people’s backyards. It is now six months since I got my first hive and I already harvested 1.2kg of honey from it. I learned a great deal from looking at American beekeeper’s videos. I enjoy reading about beekeeping on your site and other similar sites. I picked up a lot of tips here. Keep up the good work.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful compliment. I’m glad to hear your bees are doing well.
I’m pleased to hear there are more backyard beekeepers in SA who aren’t afraid to announce it, welcome to the awesome fun of beekeeping. Hard work at times, but always interesting, never boring.
I am a little concerned with your posting. You have harvested 1.2 kg after having the hives for 6 months, this can mean one of three things in my mind:
a) You have only taken out a little bit of honey – all you need for your personal use and left the rest in the hive.
b) You could be in an area with very little nectar for the bees.
c) You may have taken out honey too soon.
I sincerely hope you have not taken out honey too soon, this can be a nasty setback for the hive, not to mention that your honey is most likely not the correct moisture content ready for harvesting. Always try to harvest when the entire or at least the majority of a frame is capped. One single super frame will then easily render 1.2 kg of perfect honey.
If you are maybe in an area with too little nectar, then be very careful of overpopulating the area with bees. They will to a large extent manage their size according to the available resources, but you may well end up with too little to be able to harvest any meaningful amount of honey.
Glad you are enjoying the resources like Rusty’s site to research and learn. I will never forget, I bought 3 hive bodies from a person who claimed to be a beekeeper here in Cape Town. When he brought me the bodies, he said he couldn’t understand why the swarms he just carried a few hundred kilometres had all died in transit (they were in the back of his van). He had blocked off the entrance with cotton waste stuffed in, and had not used ventilated lids, so he had simply suffocated them, but he was so ignorant he didn’t realise what he had done, but claimed to be a beekeeper.
Point is, keep researching and learning, never stop learning, and you will never stop beekeeping.
Hi Rusty and readers
I had an interesting scenario play out with my bees yesterday.
It’s the beginning of spring in Cape Town, and the bees are broody and extremely active, even in the light rain today they were out in numbers.
I have just returned from a week holiday and checked on the hives. The intention was to simply observe and see how they are doing. Before leaving on holiday I had painted three brood boxes and four supers with the intention of rotating some more woodwork in order to do some routine maintenance on the hives.
I started my walkabout in the front and checked the trust fire hydrant which has already been home to about six swarms over the last few years – nothing except two bees buzzing around the one hole – continued my walk. When observing, the one swarm which I had taken from a fire hydrant at a friend’s home late last autumn, it was extremely busy in comparison to the others, and the front of the hive was almost completely covered with a thin layer of bees. This is one of the early signs of swarming, like one of the others did two weeks ago (caught them and put them in a nuc box, but they left again anyway).
I decided to do the move into a re-furbished brood box and at the same time see if they had queen cells and preparing to split naturally.
My word, was this swarm aggressive from the start of the job! Thank heavens I was suited up, I could hear and feel them hitting into me and could smell the stings from my clothing and boots.
So to cut the story shorter, I moved the old hive slightly forward, placing the new box where the old one was, and moved the frames one at a time while looking for queen cells and the queen – one gentle shake over the old box so that I could see the comb better. All in all there were 6 queen cells spread on frames 4, 6 and 7. One capped, one ready to be capped, two very advanced, and two only in their early stages. Clearly this swarm was about to split within days, so I decided to split them.
What I realised is that inadvertently, in the process of moving the frames in the way I did, I had done a sort of Taranov split. I eventually found the queen in the old box and moved her into a nuc box with a frame of brood without queen cells and a frame of honey and pollen. The bees got her scent from the nuc box and moved across. Tidied up everything around that hive and moved the nuc to it’s final position.
From this position, I could see the fire hydrant I checked first, and unbelievably, it was a hive of activity (pun intended). While I was busy with the controlled split, another swarm had moved into the hydrant about 20 meters from where I was working.
This was the second easiest swarm I had ever ‘hived’. I had no spare brood frames, and my small nuc was too small for this swarm, so I grabbed two frames from another hive, one with a bit of brood and another with honey and pollen, then simply spread out the remaining 8 frames in that brood box and closed up the donor hive.
I put the two frames in the centre of a brood chamber, lifted the hydrant lid and shook the swarm into the box and put the lid on. They have made themselves at home.
All in all then, two more swarms which I will give to the person who helped me get re-started with beekeeping a few years back. Interestingly he has lost most of his swarms due to vandalism, so he could use the help to recover.
Thanks again Rusty for your site, I really enjoy your articles and hope this little story will also help someone somehow.
That is a great story. I love it in the spring when the bees are all unpredictable. Those two bees you saw checking out the hydrant were definitely scouts. So interesting.
It’s was an insanely busy end to 2015, so I didn’t get to post a continuation of this situation.
Not long after my previous post above (Sunday afternoon), I went to check on the new swarms. Fist checked the swarm at the fire hydrant, they were fine, so I looked over the boundary wall at the split swarm. The old brood box which was leaning against the new hive was completely empty, so I leaned over the wall to lift it away, and CRUNCH, I broke 3 ribs.
My friend came to fetch the two swarms the next evening (Monday), and I had to hire contractors to finish tiling in a bathroom while I let my ribs heal.
By the Thursday I had another two swarms move in, so I’m back to having too many swarms for my property/area and my friend doesn’t have capacity for more right now, but I found someone who will take them. These two swarms are growing very slowly, I can only assume it is due to the drought we are experiencing, and temperatures hovering around 35 deg C in my area.
Since then however, I have harvested 47kg honey, from 4 hives. This batch of honey was very crystallised within 2 weeks and solid after 3 weeks. Absolutely unbelievable! Do you have any explanation for this? It was the first harvest after winter.
Ouch! That sounds terrible. Expensive too, to hire the tiler.
But about the honey. Crystallization is highly dependent on the source of the nectar. It’s the ratio of glucose to fructose in the nectar the makes all the difference. Nectar high in glucose crystallizes quickly, and nectar high in fructose crystallizes slowly. See Why did my honey granulate?
Do you have any idea what they were collecting?
No idea what they collected this year. The farmers in my area usually plant canola, but due to the drought they planted different crops which need less water. Whatever it was, the honey was stunning!
Regarding when a split fails the first time and adding more eggs and/or young larvae. As I play that situation through in my mind, that means I have to grab a frame of open brood from another hive, correct? Given that it has already been 3 or more weeks to determine that the new queen failed, there likely aren’t many (or any) nurse bees. Given that nurse bees are the key to the split, do you brush off the nurse bees from the ‘foreign hive’ supplying the new frame – inserting the new frame into the split ‘naked’ (so to speak)? Or, do you leave the nurse bees on? I would think that the bees in the split would not accept the nurse bees from the new frame. Thoughts?
In the situation you describe, I would move the brood and all the nurse bees that cover it. Acceptance won’t be a problem.
Update on our super swarmy hive from 2015:
So both of our hives appear to have survived the winter! Both the swarmy mother hive and the split hive, although there was definitely less activity outside of hive number 2. We had a 56 degree weather day here in southern Wisconsin two days ago and the ladies were sunning on the sides of the hives and cleansing! Thank you again for all of your help last year!
I am going into my second year of beekeeping in the foothills of Northern California. We have had a wet and unpredictable winter here so far, and I was told by my local beekeeping club not to worry about swarming until the weather gets a little warmer. I opened what I thought was my weakest hive this afternoon for a quick peek and found 5 or 6 capped queen cells and many open queen cells. It was very late in the day and the weather was turning cold rapidly. I would have liked to find the old queen and put her into a new hive body but there wasn’t time. All I could think to do was take the swarm cells from the top box and place them into a new hive with 3 frames of capped brood and 2 frames of honey and pollen. My concern is that the old hive with the old queen will swarm anyway. Unfortunately the weather is supposed to be rainy for the next four or five days, so I won’t be able to monitor either hive until next week. Is there anything else I can do to prevent them from swarming?
Splitting the colony usually stops swarming. I find it preferable to put the old queen in the split and let the queen cells remain in the old hive. That’s the way it works in nature and it seems to reduce the urge to swarm. However, you can often avoid a swarm by doing it your way too. Just make sure there are enough nurse bees in each colony to keep all the brood warm. Erratic temperatures could damage both the brood and the queen cells.
We’ve been enjoying your website and the blog. The information has been so beneficial. We live in northwest Florida so we enjoy a longer bee/honey season. We did our first splits Sunday from 3 hives we started last spring. We split because all 3 had brood in the first honey super and plenty of bees. The hives had plenty of food resources too.
We purchased mated queens for the splits. We took between 3 and 5 frames to start the splits. The queens were released between Tuesday and Wednesday. One hive has eggs present. I didn’t see any in the other two though. This could be because of he number of bees covering the frames. I did see all the queens.
I have swarm cells on the bottom of 2 frames (2 closed and 2 open) four days after the splits in one of the hives that I didn’t see eggs.
We want to use the cells. I believe the frames have plastic foundation. I know 1 does. What do you recommend we do to utilize the cells? We have enough to manipulate some sort of split to use the cells.
Thanks for your valuable input.
You can put the cells in a small two-frame nuc, if you want. Just be sure that the queen is laying in the colony with the queen cells before you take them.
Thanks Rusty! I’ll try that Monday morning.
I did the split yesterday. I found 5 capped swarm cells on 3 frames instead of 4 on two frames and a couple more in the making. I also went through the hive the split came from. It had at least 7 swarm cells. I didn’t see the queen or any eggs. All but 1 swarm cell was in the middle of the frames. I left them all intact.
This original hive was very strong last year. We started it in May. We got several gallons of honey from it. This hive out-performed a hive started earlier in the year.
I checked the split from the split (funny phrase) today. The bees had already made burr comb on top of the center frame. I added 2 frames that had drawn comb on 1 side of the frames. I’m hoping the queens will emerge and all will be well once one of them becomes the victor so to speak.
Thanks for the great information and photos!
Hi Rusty, So I have a question. We split our hive yesterday. Hive number 1 was the original hive and had swarm cells. We left the swarm cells in that box with 5 filled frames and 5 empty frames. We think or rather, we hope we moved the old queen and 5 other frames to hive number 2 and added 5 more empty frames. We checkerboarded both boxes. This morning the box with the old queen is super quiet. There are bees in there, but they are not coming in and out. Is this normal or might we have accidently killed our queen? The other box with the swarm cells are crazy busy. Just a bit worried. New beekeepers here. Thank you! Becky
By definition checkerboarding is something that is not done in the brood box, but is done in the honey supers directly above the brood box. What you did is called spreading the brood nest and it can be risky early in the year, especially in a split, because it is hard for the bees to cover all the brood and keep it warm.
In any case, when you make a split all the foragers go back to their original hive and the split has only nurse bees left that do not leave the hive. So naturally, the old hive will appear busy and the new hive will appear quiet. It will take a couple of weeks for the nurse bees in the new hive to transition to foragers.
I am a first year beekeeper and I started with two packages of bees. I put one in a langstroth and one in a TBH. After my TBH queen was released, the colony swarmed. Sad day. Anyway, yesterday I discovered swarm cells in my lang hive and decided to try a split. They haven’t even drawn out all 10 frames yet, only 7 or so have drawn comb and 5 have brood and pollen/nectar. So, since the pickings were slim, I just took the frame with the queen cells and one other frame with some brood and nurse bees and just set them perpendicular, leaning at an angle against the side in my TBH. I have a divider which has an escape hole in it, and I have the entrances on the opposite side open. I also put a feeder with 1:1 sugar syrup on the bees’ side. My question at this point has more to do with the physics of this set up. How will I get the langstroth frames out eventually? Will the bees begin to draw comb from the top bars while the lang frames are still in it? Will the bees want to just keep reusing the two frames because the new arrangement is somewhat confusing? Should I wait until the queen hatches, and most of the capped brood have hatched and then remove the frames, even if there’s no drawn comb yet? I’ve seen lots of youtube videos on how to cut your langstroth frames to fit in the TBH, but I feel like that might disturb the brood too much? Any thoughts you might have for me would be appreciated. Thanks so much for this website and for sharing your experience with others!
I have no where near the experience and knowledge of Rusty, but would like to chip in with my viewpoint and suggestions.
Firstly, welcome to the world of beekeeping, it is a fascinating world and you will never stop learning.
Many things which happen in a hive are somewhat logical, so keep these few things in mind as you grow and learn. The bees always have a specific order in the hive. Briefly, honey and pollen on the outside, and brood in the middle for the warmth.
The cells also have an angle designed specifically to account for gravity. By changing the angle of a frame in a hive, you end up changing the effect of gravity on the contents of a cell, be it honey or brood. This can disrupt the hive and could have honey running out the cells depending on how warm it is and how full the cells are. I have no idea what the effect of gravity and change of angle is on brood, but I can imagine that this is also disruptive. In my opinion I would rather suspend the lang frame from the TBH if possible depending on the dimensions of the TBH.
Keep in mind that the bees may well begin to build comb on the lid above the lang frames. If they do this, it almost feels heartbreaking to keep cutting it off and destroying their hard work. This is probably the main reason why I would want to get the comb up to the top as quickly as possible.
I would not disrupt the hive too much until the queen has hatched, and then for a while thereafter. This will permit her to mate and take control of the swarm and hopefully begin laying.
Personally, if it was my swarm, a week after the queen has hatched I would cut the comb from the lang frames and suspend them from the top bars using 1″ cotton medical tape, leave that for a week so that the bees can attach the comb to the top bar, then carefully remove the tape. The majority of the brood should be in the center of the comb so cutting it out should not be too damaging to the brood area.
As the swarm expands, you can then slowly and systematically move those two frames to the sides, and eventually remove them to get rid of the wire if there is.
Good luck, keep us posted with the progress please.
Thanks for a thoughtful reply to Andrea.
Thank you, Rusty. What you say makes sense. Our mentor actually came out and did the split for us, but we wanted to get another opinion. I would not want to go through this again. The box with the queen in it now has really bad hive beetles and few bees to protect it. So far as we know the queen in the box with the swarm cells now has supercede cells also and the queen has not hatched. The nurse bees seem to still be taking care of the swarm cells though. We are hoping that is a good thing? I am really worried because of the cool weather we have been having. We put beetle traps in the corners yesterday and continue to feed them with honey bee healthy and sugar syrup. We also took the one frame that was infested with beetle larvae out and exchanged it for another empty one. We put the infested one in a freezer. Our original queen does not seem to be laying any eggs that we can see although we did see her yesterday. Not quite sure what else to do except leave them alone.
First year at this. very interesting reading. Have learnt a lot last hour. Southern England.
So what if you get swarm cells in September??
My hive is trying to swarm but I haven’t seen drones for weeks and I’m feeding the hive to build up stores for winter.
Surely a split is likely to fail at this time in the season?
I agree that a split is likely to fail at this time of year unless you supply a mated queen.
What other types of splits could prevent swarms? A walkaway split wouldn’t necessarily work, would it?
Any type of split can prevent a swarm. I use walkaway splits.
Thanks for this great site, It’s one of my main go-to sites for beekeeping info!
I’m a new beekeeper, second full summer.
I have to admit there’s so much info about swarm prevention and control it can be overwhelming!
My question is:
I’d like to not actually kill or destroy any queen cells.
Am I right in thinking that if I find swarm cells in the hive and I can still find the queen that I can:
1) Move the original hive to one side
2) Place a new hive in the old hive position.
3) place the queen, and frames of brood and stores in the new hive that is now in the original hive’s position.
4) In the original hive that has now been moved to one side, it contains brood, stores, and queen cells, and leave it there for 7 days, then move it to the other side after 7 days, so all the foragers go to the new hive with the old queen.
I know there is a risk if I leave all the swarm cells in the queenless hive that it might swarm etc.
But best-case scenario, if the queenless hive with all the queen cells doesn’t swarm and one virgin queen mates,
Will honey production in the new hive with the old queen be good and if the weather permits etc the crop will be fine
and in the hive that has a new queen, can I expect a honey crop from that in the same season the virgin mates, if the weather, etc is perfect?
I hope I haven’t confused you!!
Some clarity on this would be really really really appreciated!
One more question.
If I split the hive *before* any signs of swarm cells, can this prevent swarming? If so how do I judge if the hive is strong enough to split!
I think intuitively, I’d like to only split it when they’ve begun to make swarm cells, to try and stay as close to natural process as possible.
I have just seen that you like to place the old queen into the split (i.e. not keep her in a hive on the original hive location).
When you do it this way and leave swarm cells in the original hive in the original location, will the honey crop still be good? If there is no swarm?
I have been anxious figuring out what to do. I am a first year beekeeper and started everything from nuc and new foundation in spring. It is now mid August and 4 days ago one of my hives looked like it swarmed but then returned to the hive 15 minutes later. When this happened I had 2 fully drawn brood boxes and a single super added 2 weeks previously. My mentor suggested I immediately add a new super and remove a couple of frames of capped honey from the upper brood box. Now I am on pins and needles 4 days later waiting to see if a swarm happens or if I have possibly prevented it. We did discuss that I could do a split but it quite late in the season.
I overwintered three hives [colonies] and found that all were making swarm cells. Yesterday I created a “swarm split” with each one by moving the queens out with the frames containing the swarm cells, as well as brood and resources, and plan to requeen the original colonies with purchased queens arriving next week. One of these splits was given to a friend, to start a new hive. One of the remaining queens is three years old and I will leave her in the new split. (She has been a great queen, and I’d like her to “retire” on her own terms. I know, too sentimental.) The third queen is a Caucasian which was new last summer and is worth keeping.
I now have three hives that are queenless, and two queens on order. Do you think I could move the Caucasian queen into one of the queenless hives (not her original) successfully? If so, would you also recommend taking out any queen cells that the hive has made? Thanks for your help!
I cannot predict whether you can successfully introduce your queen into a new colony or not. It might work and it might not, which is why I’m opposed to removing all swarm cells from a colony that’s trying to requeen itself. If you don’t want the cells in with the colonies you are requeening, at least set them up in another hive so you have the option to use use them should you need them.