making increase

How to make a vertical split

This is one of the easiest ways to split a colony and, if things go wrong, it is easy to undo. I call it a vertical split, but some call it a top split, an over/under split, or a top-and-bottom split. Like all the other splits I have described, it is just a variation on the basic principles of splitting a hive.

Here are the steps for making a vertical split:

  1. Remove two to three frames of brood from the colony you want to split and place these frames in the center of an empty brood box. As with any split, the brood frames should contain eggs, newly hatched larvae, and capped brood—all of it covered with nurse bees.
  2. Next to the brood frames, add at least one frame containing pollen and one containing honey.
  3. Fill out the rest of the box with frames of drawn comb or foundation.
  4. Also backfill the original brood box with frames of drawn comb or foundation.
  5. Place a double-screened board on top of the original brood box.
  6. Put the opening of the double-screen board on the back side of the original hive, and make sure the opening leads to the upper brood box.
  7. Place the new split on top of the double-screen board.
  8. Place the hive cover on top of the new split.

Other considerations:

  • If you are going to introduce a queen to the new split, wait a few hours or overnight before introducing the queen in her cage. Don’t introduce a queen to the split unless you are certain the original queen is not in the split.
  • If you are expecting the split to produce its own queen, look for queen cells in three or four days. If there are no queen cells, you may add another frame of eggs and newly-hatched larvae to the center of the brood nest.
  • As with any split, feeding is optional and depends on how many frames of honey the split has, the weather, the availability of forage, and the size of the split.
  • Once the new queen (either introduced or natural) begins laying, you can move the split off the parent hive to its final location.

Advantages of the vertical split:

  • The double-screen board allows heat to move from the established colony into the split. This means splits can be done earlier in the year.
  • This type of split can be done quickly with little planning. If during a hive inspection you find queen cells, you can put them in a box above the double-screen board and leave the original queen below. You will have a new queen in days.
  • If the split doesn’t take for some reason, you can smoke the hive and remove the double screen. The hive will reunite quickly with little disruption.



  • Great topic!!! I would encourage every beekeeper who wants to stay with bees to make sure and make splits every single season. This is one option to freeing oneself from the wasteful practice of relying on replacing dead colonies with highly unreliable packaged bees and queens from far away places.

    Many breeders raise queens while feeding HFCS or the like resulting in poor queens that are superseded or just plain fail due to poor nutrition during development or poor mating situations. Our packages come with ZERO guarantees as to quality or vitality…we may as well gamble at a casino.

    Another great way to ensure better vitality and longevity is to form teams of beekeepers who are able to allow others to make splits and place developing hives at other apiaries to open mate during spring and early summer. I suggest 2 times of year are the best times to make these splits, mid spring during our main nectar flows and mid summer as the main flow tapers out and most colonies are bursting with massive populations of bees and the queens are at the height of laying huge brood nests. These splits not only can help maintain an apiary longevity and colony count, but breaking the brood cycle by making splits is a fantastic way to ensure colonies enter fall/winter clustering with low mite counts.

    Bees also can tend to swarm during mid to late summer when mite counts are high when their survival instincts kick in…but as bee managers, we can use easy techniques to not only maintain our apiaries, but also have a secondary way to make a few bucks the following spring by selling any unwanted splits to local clubs.

    Remember, honey is only one aspect to being a beekeeper…but raising our own quality colonies to trade or sell can be one of the greatest accomplishments a beekeeper can do.

    Hope everyone has a successful year!!!

  • Rusty,

    Any suggestions for splitting topbars? This is my 1st year and I started with a Tanzanian hive (and a nuc with 5 medium frames.) to be able to use foundationless deep frames to which I attached the topbars.. I built a 48″ with screened bottom (which I did not close off this winter) that will support about 30 frames. Going into winter, 18 frames were pretty much filled. I did not take off any honey to allow them a better chance of survival for the winter. I have contacted Bee associations and several clubs in NW Ohio and been unable to get any information on topbars. Except they won’t work…. I do have a friend who has Langstroth hives, and he has helped with general information and several inspections but is not familiar with topbars.

    There is still room to expand, but my thoughts are sooner or later, to help prevent swarming, or start a new hive, I’m going to have to make a split. I would greatly appreciate any information or comments you could provide.


    • So Ron, I can’t tell if you want to split into another tbh or into a nuc. In any case, the easiest way is to make a shook swarm. Did you read my post on that?
      Splitting the top-bar with a shook swarm. You just shake all the frames from the old tbh over you new tbh or nuc. Don’t worry about shaking too many because the foragers will all go back into the old hive.

      When I do this I shake the queen into the new box as well. When you’re done, put the lids back on and you’re done. The old tbh will hatch a new queen and your new hive has the old queen. I don’t know why someone would say it doesn’t work. It’s easy.

  • Do you foresee any reason this wouldn’t work to do two splits off one strong hive at the same time? To better clarify my question, would it work to stack the splits (ie. original hive super -> double screen board ->split super ->double screen board ->split super ->cover). I have one hive that I would like to split twice in spring and prefer not to split it consecutively. Thanks.

    • Stephen,

      There’s no reason you can’t do multiple splits at once, as long as the hive is strong enough to support it.

  • Question from a Novice: I like the idea of a Vertical Split, that makes a lot of sense to me. However, here’s my question: Why would the queen-less bees in the box above the double screen board make a new queen when they can smell the existing queen in the box below the double screen board? I thought it was the lack of the queen pheromone that kicked-in their queen-making instinct.

    • Scott,

      It is the scent, but the scent is largely spread around by the bees rubbing against the queen and then rubbing against each other. The double-screen board prevents them from touching, which is why it is a double and not asingle screen.

  • Okay, got it. That makes sense now. I didn’t realize that they spread the scent of the queen by rubbing against her and then each other. I thought it was just in the air.

    If the new hive makes a queen, and she starts laying, how soon can I pull the upper split off and set it on its own bottom board? And, can I set those hives next to each other?

    Thanks again for the help! I love everything about beekeeeping! (Except the varroa mites, of course. They appeared, and now I’m researching that problem.)

    • Scott,

      As soon as the new virgin has finished mating, you could move it over (wait until she’s mated because you wouldn’t want her to get lost on the way home). So by the time you’re seeing eggs, you’re good to go.

      • Got it. Thank you. I’ve already purchased a double-screen board. So, if my bees don’t succumb to the Varroa mites, and make it through the winter in good shape, I’m planning to do a vertical split this coming spring.

  • Hi Rusty

    Thanks for a great website, for a newbie such as myself it’s rapidly becoming one of my primary sources of info.

    I did have a question regarding the orientation of the entrance on the top split, is it strictly necessary to turn it to the back? My present 2 hives are in such a position that doing this would potentially send the bees flight path through areas I wasn’t keen on. (I didn’t know about this issue when I chose the spot in out relatively small garden.)



    • I would say it is not absolutely necessary, but you will get more crossover and more drift. Just be aware of that. You may have to equalize the populations at some point.

  • Hi Rusty,

    There are similarities with the overnight split, which I tend to understand as more easy and carefree. Instead of a double screen board here, a queen excluder there, same number of frames removed, but here you wait for the queen to lay and then move the hive, while in the overnight split you move it the next day. Am I right?

    • John,

      There are probably as many ways to split as there are beekeepers, and they have all sorts of names. But as long as you follow the general principles of splitting, the details don’t really matter. You can make it as simple or as difficult as you like.

  • So, I was in the hives today because it was such great weather in the afternoon, checking their progress and supering a few big ones (hoping for some of the elusive maple honey).

    One consisted of a deep brood box, a medium, 2″ eke with an entrance, moisture quilt, and top. About 3 weeks ago I’d checked them and found that the queen was laying in the medium, which makes sense because it’s warmer higher in the hive. But, I really didn’t want a medium brood box, having only put it on last fall as winter feed. Since I hadn’t put an excluder on then, the queen was free to move up. I thought I could just put the excluder in when I checked 3 weeks ago, making sure I had the queen below it, and all would be fine; the brood in the medium would be taken care of by the nurse bees, it would emerge, and the queen would go on with her business below the excluder, leaving the medium empty for storage. Wrong. What I got was what I’m calling an accidental vertical split. Going through that medium today, to see if all the brood had emerged, I found remnants of several queen cells and the typical anticipatory pattern in the combs; empty cells in the middle surrounded by lots of new pollen being stored and some open stores. Looking carefully among the frames, there she was: a smallish virgin queen running around. Hopefully she’ll get mated. So, there’s another way to make a vertical split – just screw up!

    • Cal,

      I had a similar screw-up last year. I had a large colony, a queen excluder, and three honey supers with upper entrances. The colony swarmed and I was able to retrieve it and set it up in a new hive. But unknown to me, the virgin queen in the original hive returned through one of the top entrances instead of the lower one. Before I knew it, I had brood all through my comb honey.

  • I am from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have a 4-H Bee Club and I am one of the leaders. We have been researching splits and feel that the vertical would work the best for our climate. It is late March and the weather is very changeable. Hopefully, by May we should be able to make splits. My question is once you are sure you have a mated and laying queen can you just move the new hive (the split) next to the bottom hive original hive without having a problem with the bees staying in the new hive? Your site has been my go-to site for learning about bees. Thanks.

    • Sandra,

      Yes. Just keep in mind that the foragers will always return to the original location. The nurse bees will orient to the new location.

      • I was planning on splitting my colonies for swarm control but only want to split to a nucleus hive. I don’t want more hives but would like to have the extra queens/bees throughout the season if necessary.

        If the original hive fails to raise a new queen or something happens to her, can I move the original queen I put in the nuc back into the original hive or would I need to go through the process of caging her to reintroduce? Reading this article about doing vertical splits made me wonder as it appears the unsuccessful split easily combines back with the original hive it came from?


  • Great information about beekeeping. I have been a hobbyist for a few years and find your information really useful. Thanks for sharing the acknowledgment. Have a great season.

  • I was inspecting a hive and saw several queen and swarm cells.

    So, I removed the queen and a couple of other frames and made a vertical split leaving the queen cells below the double screen.

    Two days later I saw a tiny swarm 40 ft up in a nearby oak tree. (Usually, they don’t cluster so high, right?). Anyway, I checked the vertical split with the old queen.

    It had swarmed with about half of the bees. I looked through frames again and there were no queen cells that I had accidentally included with the queen.

    So, not sure what I did wrong. I moved 3 frames with old queen, was that too many?

    I even gave them a pollen patty to occupy themselves.

    Is it just that it was in their brain already to swarm?

    The good news is that the swarm was very few bees and I can easily recombine with the swarm cells.

    • Kevin,

      The decision to swarm is made days or even weeks before the swarm actually occurs. If you split late in the process, the bees swarm anyway. It’s best to make splits at the first signs of swarm preparation, such as backfilling the brood nest or a decrease in egg-laying.

    • Kevin,

      The decision to swarm is made days or even weeks before the swarm actually occurs. If you split late in the process, the bees swarm anyway. It’s best to make splits at the first signs of swarm preparation, such as backfilling the brood nest or a decrease in egg-laying.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Is it fine if both the entrances are facing the same side?

    Will the new queen return to the new hive after mating? Will she get confused about the hive?

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have split my hive yesterday and relocated the colony with the queen to a new location which is 2 miles away from my beekeeping area and they are perfect with the new location (they are bringing in pollen). Actually, I wanted to bring that colony back, how many days should I leave it in that place before I bring back to my beekeeping area?

  • Hi Rusty,
    I have split one of my hive yesterday and relocated the hive having queen to an area which is 2 miles away, the queenless hive is in my location and has begun queen cells.
    I wanted to bring back my hive having queen to my location, after how many days should I bring back so that they will not return to the parent hive?

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have split my hive and relocated hive having old queen two miles away the same day. The new hive has produced a queen, I wanted to bring the old hive back where it was before. If I bring it will the foragers go to their old location? If so after how many days I should bring back so that bees would not locate their old location?

    • Ajwin,

      If the bees in the hive you moved two miles away were there long enough to reorient to their new location, they will not recognize the old location when you bring them back. Instead, they will reorient once again. You don’t say how many days this took, but if they reoriented, they were gone long enough.

        • Ajwin,

          I can’t say if a colony will totally reorient after three days, or five, or a week. After all, they are bees and they do their own thing on their own schedule. So this is a case where you should look at your bees. If they are busy going to and fro and everything appears normal, they most likely are all done relocating. If so, you are free to relocate them again.

  • I just finished reading your article, “How to Make a Vertical Split,” and I’m anxious to try it out this year. My question has to do with your instructions. When you say “brood box” in the singular does that include a double deep colony as a single “brood box”? I’ve read other instructions from other web sites for different kinds of splits that also begin with an instruction that seems to imply that one is starting with a single deep brood box. For example, I recently read about a Demaree split that started out with instructions to move the brood box off the original floor. I suppose I could have asked that author the same question. Sorry. It wasn’t until I read your instructions that I was motivated to write.

    • Ted,

      Well, read it as brood boxES if you want, but it really doesn’t make any difference. You take out the frames you want to use for the split and put them in the empty box. Then in the donor box or boxES, slide the brood frames together into the center and replace the empty spaces with new frames.

  • We spoke about a ‘walk away’ split but I’m interested in the vertical in that it is potentially a good way of maintaining honey production but splitting at the same time.

    How would you go about vertically splitting a double brood, double super hive in relation to layout and entrance orientations.

    Once a new queen has been made, mated and is laying nicely I would like to then move her into another hive.

    Do I have to then move this hive 3 miles away or is there some method that I could use which would allow me to put the new hive a few feet from the original as we do not have the luxury of space.

    • Lindsay,

      I would put the split above the supers. Add the double-screen board just above the supers, put the entrance in the back, and then add the split. When the time comes, you can move it a couple of miles away, or not. If you don’t, some of the worker bees will go back to the original hive, but just as in a regular split, the newly emerging workers will take care of the new colony.

      The main benefit of this method is you get heat from the larger colony to keep the smaller one warm.

  • Hi,
    Just a follow up question in relation to walk away splits and vertical splits. Having a hive with 2 brood boxes that are full to bursting do these splits solve the problem of potential future swarming?

    As a novice beekeeper I’m thinking that because my brood boxes are full you therefore are not really giving them any more space which is what a lot of books say they need to do to prevent swarming. ?

    I appreciate that in one of the brood boxes they have to raise a new queen but what about the brood box with the existing queen in it, which is rammed, do you give them a new brood box with undrawn foundation ( I don’t have any drawn frames)?

    • Lindsay,

      You will read a lot of random stuff about preventing a swarm, but remember this: only healthy colonies swarm. Swarming is colony-wide reproduction, so unless the colony is sick or weakened, it will try to swarm. As I always say, keeping colonies from swarming is like keeping teenagers from having sex. It ain’t gonna happen.

      A good beekeeper recognizes this and tries to manage the situation by proactively splitting and such. However, if the swarm impulse strikes a colony, ten empty boxes stacked on top will not change that.

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