Splitting a Hive

This time of year it’s common to hear reports of people seeing huge globs of bees attached to a tree branch or something else in their yard.  This happens when a hive gets crowded and they split.  They are able to do this by creating another queen, so when she hatches and leaves the hive, half of the bees will go with her to start their own colony.  During their transition, they will stop and clump together while scout bees go and find a suitable home.  This process is called swarming, and the bees are generally calm while they do this.  If left alone, they will leave on their own.

Even though swarming is a natural process, beekeepers try to prevent this from happening so they don’t loose bees.  One way to prevent swarming is expanding the hive by adding more boxes to it.  Another way is to split the hive.  We had one hive survive the winter, so we decided to split this one before they swarmed on their own.

When we inspected the big hive, I was hoping to see a queen cell (a new queen in the making), which would mean it would take less time for the new hive to recuperate from the split.  We didn’t see a queen cell, so we just transferred some frames with eggs and very small larva into the new hive along with nurse bees and pollen & honey stores.  When it’s done this way, it takes the nurse bees about 3 weeks to make a queen and for her to emerge.  A good time to inspect the hive for progress is 3-4 weeks after the split is done.

So…a few weeks passed since we split the hive, so I did an inspection.  Here is what I found:

1.  The bee population is VERY low.  There were only a couple of frames that were full of bees, and then some stragglers on the rest of the frames.

2.  There were a lot of dead bees in cells.  It was as though they died before or during their hatching.  Some were partially uncapped and others were completely uncapped.

3.  Several drones were hanging around, but I’m not sure if the proportion of drones to worker bees was appropriate.  It may be just that they were more noticeable with the total bee population being low.

4.  Ants.  As soon as I opened the outer cover, a dozen or so ants scurried away.  They look like carpenter ants and are probably stealing honey.  I’m going to try to get rid of them a natural way so as not to hurt the bees.

5.  A Queen!!!  Yes, I saw the queen and I am very happy about that!  I did not see eggs (which are difficult to see in any case), and I also didn’t see larva.  I suspect the queen has just emerged from her cell and hasn’t been laying long enough for us to see evidence of that yet.  I can only assume whether or not she’s been out on a mating flight.

So, what next?  I will keep an eye on this new hive to see how they’re doing throughout the summer.  I may add a syrup feeder if it looks like their honey is getting used up too quickly.  I’ll also be on the lookout for brood, just to be sure that the queen is doing her job.  All we can really do is wait and see….and hope and pray they can bring their numbers up before winter or they won’t make it when it gets cold.

As we go through this hive splitting process, we are learning about things that we did right and things that maybe we would do differently next time.  One thing I am certain I’ll do differently is relocate the new hive so that the foragers in the new hive don’t go back to their old home.  At a new location, they would be forced to reorient and come back to their new home with food.  This would not only help keep the hive population up, but it would also keep them fed and staying as strong as possible.

Splitting a hive is a gamble, but so is leaving your hives alone and risking them swarming on their own and losing half your bees.  If you have ever split a hive, I would like to hear your about your method and outcome.  Please leave a comment or send an email!