bee stories

The “tear ’em off” split

On Saturday, the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association held their annual Field Day at the Washington Park Arboretum. The event was well-attended, expertly organized, and truly fun. The featured speaker, Dr. Zachary Huang of Michigan State University, is a wealth of information and a great photographer. During the long day he displayed a pleasing combination of intellectual, charming, and funny.

After a morning of lectures about pheromones, Nosema, and Varroa mites, the participants were divided into groups. While one group inspected hives with Zachary in the apiary, the others rotated among several learning stations, which included queen rearing, mason bees, honey tasting, and building apiary tools. My own station was for general beekeeping Q&A.

At one point—I think it was the third group to enter my station—someone asked how to split a top-bar hive into a Langstroth. I immediately began explaining the Taranov split, one of my favorites. The people to my right were listening attentively, while the people on my left were nearly rolling in the grass with laughter.

I kept explaining and they kept laughing. Distracted, I tried to figure out what was so funny. After another minute, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I felt like a first grader with her skirt caught in her underwear—that ghastly feeling that you’ve done something unforgettably gauche.

So I finally demanded, “What is it that I don’t get? Please tell me!”

They all said, “Taranov split!” Or so I thought, so I still didn’t get it.

Then someone used her hands to demonstrate ripping something in two. At last it occurred to me: they thought I was saying “tear ’em off” split. At that point, I giggled too.

“No, no, not tear-em-off!” I said. “Taranov. He was some crazy Russian guy!”

Meanwhile, rumor from the apiary was that Zachary had opened one hive and found 12 or 15 capped swarm cells. People began arriving at my station displaying their newly acquired cells and asking how best to handle them. It occurred to me that Zachary was over there just tearing ’em off. (In all fairness, he was gently excising, but that’s a minor detail.)

At the end of the day I was given two of the cells to take home. I had them in my fist, and as I stood near the hives talking to someone my hand began to vibrate. I took a peek, only to see a virgin half way out of her cell. “Oh no!”

I didn’t know what to do with her, but I was soon rescued by Maureen Sullivan who was running the “how to make useful stuff” station. She grabbed a plastic bait cup for my loose queen and quickly fashioned a cage from a piece of hardware cloth and a broomstick for the other. I was good to go for the long drive home.

The next morning I split a hive in order to prepare a mating nuc. Now comes the hard part, because introducing a virgin is trickier than introducing a ripe cell, so we’ll see how it goes.

Thanks to the PSBA, Zachary Huang, and a handful of giggly beekeepers, we now have an “official” name for a split made from a torn off swarm cell. So beekeepers, remember where you heard it first!



My station at the PSBA Field Day. Home of the “Tear ’em off” split.

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  • Har, Rusty you were awesome on Saturday!

    And here I was watching the general public pass by and how they were wondering what possible relationship there could be between brood, virgins, and “nukes”! LOL 🙂

  • I’d introduce a virgin any day over a laying queen, especially the one that just hatched. Two drops of honey on her back evenly spread and you can nearly drop her unaided into a mating nuc that was queenright 4 hours ago. Do that with a laying queen and you have 4 older workers tear her apart by 4 legs and the 5th one sting her in the head. Yes, that happend 2 days ago to me. Just hatched virgin does not seem to aggravate worker bees the same way as a foreign queen.

  • Wish I could have been there. Sounds like great fun. That queen was a go getter! I’ve only seen workers hatch and they take their sweet time getting out. What an experience that must have been!

  • Nice! It was great to meet you in person, Rusty. Your discussions were very informative to say the least. All in all, it was a great event!

  • Rusty,

    What is your technique to introduce a virgin queen. How does it differ from introducing a laying queen?

    • David,

      I introduce a virgin in the same way as a laying queen. My caution comes because I’ve read several journal articles saying that virgins are often harder to introduce, and honestly, I’m not sure I understand why. It may have something to do with her pheromone glands not being fully developed, and perhaps the bees wondering whether she is a queen or not. But as I said, I don’t understand. Several sources say to watch her immediately after release and, if you see signs of aggression, cage her again. I haven’t had to re-cage, but I do keep that in mind.

      • I’m just guessing, mind you… But with a queen cell, the workers won’t see it as an intruder. And by time the virgin emerges, she’ll smell like the hive. Just one more bee emerging from one more cell, in the hive.

        And you can’t keep the virgin sequestered for too long or you’ll risk her missing the window for her mating flight.

        With a mated queen, you can use a push in cage for introduction, so she’ll be more acceptable, when she starts laying.

        That’s been my understanding, when people speak of virgin queens being the hardest to introduce.

  • I need some advice. I went to do a split yesterday here in Maine. This is a thriving hive with 2 deep bodies, a medium body and a small honey super. I removed the small super but when I went to remove the medium I realized that the bees had connected the bottom of the frames to the top of the frames in the large body beneath it. As i tried to pull off the medium body (aside from it being impossible to lift) I could see through the crack that I was pulling up the lower frames with it. I ended up doing a walk away split by keeping those two bodies together and moving them as one to another bottom board. The remaining large body was not fused so I placed the small super on top of that and walked away. Each box had plenty of bees. My question is what should i do if anything about the fused frames? I haven’t encountered this in the 6 years or so I have been beekeeping. Even though I have split the hive I really haven’t addressed the crowding problem because I was caught off guard by not being able to pull those frames (I intended to checker board the large body). I’m thinking I should just add another empty medium body to that one (I’m certain the queen was moved with those boxes). The other half of the split I am hopeful will make a new queen but that one shouldn’t be a problem adding a box once it is established. What is your advice? Has this happened to you?

    • Sheri,

      Can you try twisting the boxes on a hot day? Get some one to keep the bottom box from moving while you twist the top one.

  • Rusty, I am planning on placing 2 packages of 3 pound bees with only 1 queen in a double deep 10 frame hive with drawn comb to see the results at end of flow. Location will have plenty of clover and giant tulip popular trees for forage. Have you ever tried this? Should I separate the 2 packages with a sheet of newspaper?

    • Gene,

      No, I haven’t tried it. As for newspaper, I would use newspaper if the bees were recently in the box with a queen. If they haven’t been near a queen for a day or two, I wouldn’t bother with the newspaper. It will be pretty chaotic in the hive when you dump two together, so I think it will too confusing for anyone to gang up on the queen.