how to swarming

The great divide: a Taranov split

I recognized the cacophony coming from my top-bar hive. The insistent roar told me those bees were ready to swarm. They were milling about, climbing up the sides of the hive, flying but not foraging.

I had just returned from a week on the road and didn’t feel like messing with bees, but they were hard to ignore. I watched them for a long while, then asked them (nicely) not to swarm until tomorrow.

On Friday I got up early with the intention of taking a shook swarm from that hive. It’s my only top-bar hive, so I have nothing to split it into. But as I was getting ready, I recalled a conversation I had just had with Karessa of Nectar Bee Supply in Corvallis. She had read my post on the Taranov board and asked if I had ever tried it. Suddenly I knew I had perfect conditions for a test—a hive that was going to swarm any minute.

So I printed instructions from my own website and went through the steps one by one. By the time I was set up and ready to begin I decided there was no way this could possibly work. What on earth made me believe I could shake all the bees out of the hive and expect them to divide themselves into two camps: the swarmers and the stayers? This Russian guy was insane.

But at that point, I decided to keep going. One by one I took out every frame, inspected it for the queen (which I never found), and shook the bees onto the sheet. Like a scene from Harry Potter, all the bees marched up the ramp and divided into two groups. They behaved like a swarm, very gentle and completely non-aggressive.

Now, two days later, everyone seems well settled in. I saw no crossover between the two hives and both have good populations. All the swarming behavior ceased. I no longer think the Russian guy was nuts; I think he was a genius—and he certainly knew bee behavior. Have a look at the photos below . . . this split was too cool for words.



First I measured the width of the alighting board.


My husband doesn’t like me to use his radial-arm saw because I might delete an important appendage. He wasn’t home however, so onward and upward. I cut an old piece of plywood the width of the alighting board and another as a brace. I couldn’t find a hinge, so I used an angle bracket.


I didn’t have a piece of carpet, so I used an old terrycloth towel. This gives the bees something to hang onto.


Once the angle bracket was attached, I just bent it to the right angle.


I set up the Taranov board four inches from the alighting board.


Here is the ramp in place. By now, the whole thing seemed ridiculous. After all, what self-respecting bee wouldn’t make the four-inch journey between ramp and home? And why would bees go looking for a rag under the ramp?


I taped the sheet to the ramp. If you try this at home, staple it. The tape eventually released under the weight of all the bees.


I shook all 23 top-bar combs onto the sheet. What a mess! If this were a painting, I would call it “Seven Degrees of Randomness.”


Within a few minutes, they began walking—not flying—toward home. They marched right up the ramp. Who would have thunk it?


The great divide. Only four inches apart, two distinct groups began forming—the would-be swarmers and the regular foragers. They must have read the directions.


It took about 90 minutes for all the stragglers to come off the sheet.


At this point, I picked up the ramp with the swarm attached and dumped it into an empty Langstroth. I found 20 capped queen cells, which I divided between the two hives. I never found the queen.


The new split. The top medium contains a feeder.

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  • This is awesome!!! I wish I would have found this last season as I started out with Warre hives and found myself in the same situation. I wound up using plastic zip ties to hook the warre bars to a langstroth length bar. This year it is turning into a bit of a mess trying to frankenstein together mismatched equipment. This technique would have solved my dilemma.

    In the langstroth are you using foundation or going foundationless?

    I’m going to stay tuned to your blog and put a link on mine.

    Thank you!!

    • Frank,

      The Langstroth in the photo is made of old mediums that have drawn comb on foundation. I don’t use foundation so much anymore, but I still have some in use.

  • Geat post!! Can you please say a bit more about the “cacophony” and other indications to anticipate a swarm? I have experienced the noise of swarms but never heard of one before they left. Are there other indications?

    • Tom,

      I will try to do a post on your question; I have to think about it for a while.

  • How did you put the queen cells from the top bar into the Langstroth? Cutting out comb and tying it to Langstroth frames?

  • Also, did the swarm ever collect in an easy to grab mass on the towel as described in the other post? Or is the picture above the most clustered they got while on the board?

    • Alia,

      The directions said to wait for 2 hours and I only waited 90 minutes. Maybe if I had left them longer they would have all collected on the towel, but I didn’t wait because it was convenient for me to dump them in as they were.

  • Now that is very cool! If only I could know when my bees are about to swarm. Is it necessary to be in your hives a lot in the spring?

    I am always a day late and a dollar short on doing something before they swarm, mainly because I don’t want to be in the hives agitating my bees.

    My best and largest hive swarmed this spring – on the very day that I was walking out to do a hive inspection! They ended up in a pine tree about 50′, and I was unable to get them.

    I really like this method. What if your Langstroths are on 6-inch blocks? That’s not going to give you much length for a ramp.

    • Tom,

      That’s one down-side that I see. Your hives would have to be higher, I think.

  • Holy cow, Beeman! That’s amazing. Is that only for top bars? And you divided up 20 queen cells into 2 hives. So the queen will hatch and hopefully kill the other potential heirs? Sooooo kewl!

  • THIS is why I keep bees, not for the honey, but because they are simply fascinating creatures. Thank you for documenting the process and I’m so glad it worked.

  • Rusty, that was so interesting! Thanks for the photos or I would never have understood what this method is all about. I am running a tbh this year just to see how they work and will split it soon. Thankyou for this timely lesson!

  • That is just genius. I have 2 TBHs that I started with last year. Both swarmed within 2 days of each other. Then, they absconded in the fall. I have a new package coming in today. I have been hoping that when that colony decides to swarm (whenever) that they will swarm into the other hive. I will use this trick to try to make it happen.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Rusty,

    I’m an Oly, WA beekeeper (well, I keep most of them) and today is my 1 year bee anniversary! I’ve been lurking here for just shy of a year absorbing all the info I can and I really appreciate your site. I wanted to let you know that I detected impending swarmification (my word) a little over a week ago in my triple deep and so used this method to split the hive.

    It was astonishing. It was also unnerving to be shaking sooo many bees out onto the sheet. The carpet of bees marched itself up the ramp and split just like clockwork. I have a few pictures if you’re interested; my board prototype is a little different than yours but performed admirably. Both the triple and the new colony seem to be doing well, though I don’t think I’ll open them to snoop for eggs for a while yet.

    Then today I got a call from my wife that a hive swarmed! I somehow made it home in time to catch the swarm and put it into a box; now I’m wondering if it is a swarm from my nuc, or maybe an afterswarm from the triple? I should be able to tell when I can inspect it because the nuc queen was marked.

    A couple weeks ago I had a triple deep hive and a nuc. Now a triple, two singles, and the nuc!

    Thanks again for your help!

  • So where did the queen end up? My guess–the towel portion of the split?

    • I don’t know where the queen ended up, but I suspect the towel portion. Having done shook swarms, I know the queen dislodges fairly easily with a good shake.

  • How do you shake bees from a top-bar hive? Ive seen videos of it done on a Langstroth but I’d worry about breaking the comb from the top bar. Thanks! I’m new to bees and have my first TBH in Seattle. I got a shaken swarm from a local beekeeper; I hope they stay with me!

    • I shake Langstroths and top-bars the same way and have never had a problem with it. As long as you hold the ends of the bars and keep the comb vertical, you won’t have a problem. The thing to remember is you can’t hold a top-bar comb sideways.

  • Hi Rusty, I have been reading and re-reading your Tarranov pieces and other sites with similar instructions too. I have a question about your last words were you write that you found 20 capped queen cells which you split between the two hives. Suppose you wanted to make increases in your apiary or nucs for your own or someone else’s future winter problems, would it be a good idea at this point to make 6 or 3 frame nucs with all those capped queen cells with some of the nurse bees to care for them? Or would this cause a general weakening of otherwise good young hive stock? I enjoyed both your Tarranov stories, you write in a way that is enjoyable as well as helpful and instructive.

    • Sure, Lindy, you can make as many nucs as you want with all the capped queen cells. As long as you have nurse bees to cover all the brood in each nuc, you should be fine. The spring is the best time to do it because the bees are building up rapidly. Brood completely covered with nurses is the key to a successful split.

  • Rusty,

    I’ve been trying to read all your posts on the Taranov split because I would like to attempt it. Perhaps I missed this in the posts and comments, but from everything I’ve seen, this procedure is done only when there are swarm cells present. I was wondering if it is possible to do a Taranov split simply to split the hive and then add a pre-mated queen to the hive left without the original queen. Or is there a more preferred method of splitting a Langstroth hive? Thanks!

    Darwin Deming
    Springville, UT

    • Darwin,

      I’ve been thinking about your question. As you know, a Taranov split is used as a last ditch effort to prevent a swarm from a hive that is ready to swarm. I think one of the other types of split would be easier on the bees and easier on you if you were doing a split proactively. Did you look under the Splits tab? There are eight or ten different methods described there. A Tananov split would probably work, but you may not need to be so disruptive.

  • Rusty,

    I too have a top-bar hive and may wish to try this Taranov system BUT how did you shake bees off the comb without busting the comb off the top bar? Mine always seem very fragile and the last thing I want to do is drop a comb onto the sheet as well. Or did you use a brush/feather?

    Gloucester UK

    • Mike,

      You can brush them off. In fact, if there are queen cells attached, you must use a brush/feather. My combs are several years old and fairly tough. I keep them vertical and just shake straight down. If you jerk the bar to a stop, all the bees will fly off. I usually kneel down near the sheet and let my wrist hit my knee on the downward shake. I’ve never damaged a comb this way.

  • Hi Rusty. 5 days ago we found many queen cells in our bee hive which has come very strongly through the winter. The frames had layers of bees on them and we couldn’t find the queen. We moved some frames including queen cells, nurse bees and stores into our spare hive and removed all other queen cells. Today we were just preparing to inspect the main colony when they swarmed. Luckily we caught the swarm. However, having already used up our spare hive we returned it to the original hive. There did not seem to be any evidence of further queen cells. We added another super to give them more space and moved the queen excluder to the bottom to stop another swarm. We ordered a new hive 5 days ago & hope that it will arrive tomorrow. We now have a brood and two supers and a queen (we hope) somewhere within them. We are considering using the Taranov method to split the colony, but since the swarm has already flown once will the Taranov board still work? We are new beekeepers who this time last week felt well prepared with a spare hive, now we feel we have let our bees down and want to make it right for them as soon as possible. We love your web site. Jane & Chris

    • Jane,

      Since I overlooked this question, I wonder how it worked out for you. For future reference, the Taranov split should work just about any time because it divides the bees by age.

  • Hi Rusty

    Thanks for your question. To tell the truth the Jury is still out as regarding whether it was successful or not! We certainly separated out a big ball of bees which clustered under the Taranov board. We struggled to get them in the new hive as some dropped off the sheet when we were trying to put them in; lots of bees were fanning their nasanov gland to help the others get in so we were hopeful that the queen was inside. By the next day all of the bees were in the new hive. However, just over a week later there is no sign of eggs in the new hive which we would have expected if there was an old queen. We are trying to be patient and not look again for a while as we feel we have already put the bees through so much stress.

    We were also worried about the original hive as they had been preparing the queen for swarming for some time so she had stopped laying. Moreover, we had removed all of the queen cells when we originally tried to stop the swarm. When I checked last week though I found that they had managed to make a couple of what I assume were emergency queen cells as they were quite small. However, I guess it is possible they are still preparing to swarm – the hive is still extremely full. At the weekend we took off a super full of bees and added it to the colony that we made on the day we first found queen cells and tried to stop the swarm and added an empty super above the brood box to give the old bees plenty of space.

    Two weeks ago we had one bee hive and not much experience. Now we have three hives and a ton of experience …… we are keeping our fingers crossed that with time all of the hives will manage to make queens as we have no eggs to transfer to help out a queenless colony. I will let you know as soon as we know about the long term success of the Taranov board and whether the old queen is where we think she is!

    Best wishes


  • I just wanted to add that I have just remembered a definition of experience – something that you get when it is too late to do anything with it! So no doubt we will make just as many mistakes next time a situation arises!

  • Rusty
    I tried to make a taranov split about Apr 1 of this year, but it didn’t work. All the bees walked up the ramp and flew across back into the hive. That was over about a three hour period. Do you think the problem was I waited too long?

    • John,

      Could be. I assume the inside bees will eventually fan enough to get the all the bees back inside.

  • Hi Rusty

    I wanted to update you about our Taranov split which I wrote to you about earlier this month. The good news is that the new colony is now looking very healthy with plenty of brood and eggs. They have a new queen rather than the old one which we were expecting which perhaps accounts for the delay starting to lay! Thank you again for a brilliant informative site.

    Best wishes


  • Hi Rusty-

    If you are taking all the nurse bees from the old hive, who will take care of the brood? Should you be careful about doing this if nighttime temps are still a little chilly?

    • Paula,

      Whenever you don’t have enough nurse bees to cover the brood, you need to be careful about nighttime temperatures. A split like this is usually done during the height of swarm season, so large numbers of bees are emerging constantly. In a matter of hours you can have nearly enough to cover the remaining brood. In addition, the foragers come home at night when it’s cold, and they help to keep the brood nest warm in the evening.

  • Why not just shake all the bees directly into the new hive? All the foragers should eventually fly away and would fly to their old home I would think. Maybe all the brood left behind would have too long of a time without all the foragers getting back to take care of them? Would be a lot easier than building a ramp. Just use an empty box on top of the new hive to shake them into. Any comments?

    • Bob,

      Sure, you can do that. A lot of methods are easier than a Taranov split, but I don’t think any are quite so instructive or awesome to watch. I’ve learned a lot about bee behavior from doing them.

  • I can’t remember what I was searching for when I came across your other blog on this split. My bee club is having our monthly Zoom Q&A tonight and I’ve asked if anyone in the club has tried this.

    Other than pointing out, in the photo, that one of your Langstroth boxes had a feeder, you didn’t mention feeding. I would assume that’s critical for a new hive, since most of the foragers remain in the old hive, and, if possible, one should include as much honey and pollen as possible, plus feed syrup (2:1 or 1:1?) until the hive has sufficient stores to keep them from starving. Will you tell us how you managed this issue, please?