Bee Report — Splitting Hives

Warning: this post is a little detailed and may be boring if you don’t keep bees. You may want to watch the video for visual aids and an oral explanation.

Informal Video – No. 002 – Splitting a Hive from Low Technology Institute. Or see it on YouTube.

We started the season with one strong hive.

The bees have been in residence at the institute for a few weeks now. We did an inspection on the 22nd and split the hive because it was really strong: three deeps with 10 frames of brood and the rest was honey. If we didn’t divide the hive, we might have seen swarms in a few weeks. Swarms are when the hive raises a new queen and half of the workers leave with her. This means you lose half your bees!

I split the hive by taking half the frames with brood and putting it in a new hive and leaving the other half in the original one. I didn’t find the queen, but usually one can tell which hive has the queen when one checks the hives three days later to see which one has emergency queen cells; the one without the queen will try to raise a new one from some young larvae.

Unfortunately our weather didn’t cooperate and I didn’t get back in until Wednesday, when I found that one hive had six queen cells and the other had young larvae. This told me which hive had the queen. Unfortunately, the queen cells in the one hive were clustered on two frames instead of three, meaning I would have to do some fancy cutting and pasting — honey comb style — to make more splits.

In short, my goal was to divide the hive into as many colonies as possible. I built two Frankenstein nucs (this is short for “nucleus” of bees, which is basically a tiny hive) out of whatever scrap I had on hand. They’re not pretty, but they’ll keep the bees warm, happy, and dry while their colony grows.

Thursday I went in and pulled two frames of honey for each of the three nucs. I then pulled the frames with queen cells. One frame only had a single queen cell and that went right in the nuc. The other frame had four queen cells, so I had to cut out a 2-×-2-in square of comb and graft it into another frame of brood. Then these two frames, now both with queen cells, were placed in the two remaining nucs.

By the end: three nucs (three frames of brood, two frames of honey, and 1-2 queen cells each), one hive with a queen and plenty of space to lay, and one hive with fresh brood for rearing a queen and most of the field bees for gathering honey.

I then went into the hive with the queen. I was unusually lucky and found her on a frame of brood right away. I put her in the now-empty hive body and packed it full of frames with empty combs for her to lay in and honey. I took a few frames of brood out of the big hive and filled up the rest of the nucs so each one had three frames of brood. I left enough brood in the big hive so that it could raise a new queen. I also filled it full of whatever frames were left: mostly honey. I then added super boxes, which are used to collect honey that I’ll be able to harvest. Here’s the logic: all the field bees (the ones that gather nectar) will fly out of whatever nuc or hive I put them in and back to this original hive (plenty of bees will be left in the other colonies and more will hatch in the next few days). All those field bees will have less and less brood to take care of while they raise a new queen, thus they can concentrate on filling up the supers with honey for me. Once the queen emerges and starts laying, I’ll take the supers and let them build their colony back up to strength for winter. We did this last year and got 60 lb of honey and two strong hives going into the winter from a single nuc we started with in April.

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