• Rachel Lokken

Splitting Our Bee Hives

Being 2nd-year beekeepers, it was a bit nerve-wracking to think about taking on a task such as splitting our hives. I read as much as I could from our beekeeping books, read online articles, took in advice from other beekeepers, and watched many YouTube videos to prepare us for this journey. But I have realized that no matter how many things I may read, listen or watch on YouTube, the best way to learn about our bees is to be out there with them.

First off, I will go over a couple of questions you may be asking yourself;

• Why do beekeepers even split their hives?

Honeybee colonies are ever-growing! In the summer, there are bees constantly hatching within a hive. Because of this, they can become overcrowded. Other reasons why beekeepers may choose to do splits are:

  • the Queen is old and weak

  • prevent swarming

  • more / less production

  • grow more colonies

  • raise queens.

Because of these different circumstances, it is beneficial and sustainable for beekeepers to split their stronger colonies.

• How and when do you split a hive?

It is usually best to split hives in the Spring so the new colonies have enough time to build up their resources for winter. We originally did our first splits at the beginning of May and made another split on June 28th.. Now when it comes to the methods of splitting hives, there are a handful to chose from. We tried 2 different methods this year.

Our Hive Splitting Experience:

1. Mated Queen Split

Our first splits at the beginning of May consisted of using our two, strong, overwintered colonies, and splitting their resources to make 2 new colonies with Mated Queens we purchased.

Resources include;

  • capped brood

  • bee bread (pollen)

  • nectar

  • a lot of nurse bees.

Nurse bees are the ones who take care of the hive while all of the older bees (the foragers) are out gathering resources. To make sure there would be enough nurse bees, I shook off bees from a few frames into the new colonies. The presence of these nurse bees will ensure that the brood is tended too.

The Mated Queens

When you purchase queens through the mail, they come in a little cage. At the bottom of the Queen cage is a hole that holds sugar candy. When she is placed in the new hive, the bees will eat away at this candy until it is gone and the Queen will make her way out of the cage and into her new home. The purpose of this cage is to protect the queen from being killed. Sometimes the new colony may not accept her if they do not like her. The cage will give the worker bees enough time to accept her and her pheromones. (Mated Queens have a very high chance of being accepted compared to virgin queens)

In the picture below you will see one of the new Queens in her cage. When I was splitting the hives, I put her on top of the new colony to see how they would react to their new queen. They seemed to really like her :)

and aren‘t these little bees just so cute?! :)

2. Queenless Hive Split;

During our recent inspections we had noticed that our overwintered hives were still booming with bees and resources. So we decided we wanted to try letting a split hive make their own queen.

When researching how to make a queenless split, there was so information. Almost too much information! But the one thing that stuck out to us was that when making a queenless hive split, you want to make sure there is plenty of eggs and larvae. Once the colony realizes there is no Queen present, they will choose one or more of these cells of eggs and make a Queen by feeding these cells Royal Jelly. Royal Jelly is something the bees make specifically for Queen cells. Regular brood cells are usually fed Bee Bread, which is for a worker bee or a drone (male).

Side note; make sure you find your established colonies Queen before you begin the splitting process. I ended up finding our original queen on a frame that was intended for one of our new colonies! It can be really hard to find her when you have thousands of bustling bees, but to ensure a quality split, you have to find her!

The picture above shows the location of our new hive near the house in our chicken pen.

And that my friends is how we split our hives this year! I know it may have been a lot to read.. but I sure do hope you found this post informative, and interesting. Honeybees are truly amazing insects and I am fascinated by them everyday. There is always something new to learn and the honey is really just an added bonus to this beekeeping experience.

I will keep you all updated on our new Queenless hive and any other news regarding our bees.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and for supporting our homesteading journey.

Take care folks!