Splitting a Hive

The bees at the bottom of our garden have been doing really well so far this year. They’ve been building up well and were beginning to fill their brood box so we’d been expecting to see signs of swarming. The queen in the colony is fairly old so we were planning on splitting the hive soon so as to let them start the process of raising a new queen. Usually this would be done as part of a artificial swarm once queen cells were present in the hive, but despite expecting to see queen cells on the past few inspections, there just hasn’t been any. That’s good in one respect as the colony has been getting stronger and hasn’t shown any tendencies to swarm, but as wanted ‘to make increase’ we decided to split them anyway today.

Splitting a Hive

There are lots of ways of splitting a hive but essentially they all result in two separate colonies, one with the original queen some brood and the flying bees in it (and no queen cells), and the other with queen cells, eggs, larvae and nurse bees. As we didn’t have queen cells, we would just have to make sure that the second hive (without the queen) had eggs in it so that the bees could form an emergency queen cell. We therefore following the ‘Pagden’ artificial swarm method, but didn’t have to worry too much about ending up with queen cells in with the queen or with the swarm prevention aspect. Here is the entire process up sped up somewhat so as to fit into two and a half minutes.

It all went well, there was still no sign of swarming and we found the queen with ease so she is now in a hive with a couple of frames of brood and hopefully most if not all of the flying bees. She also has the super of honey. The new hive has most of the nurse bees, most of the brood and most importantly, plenty of eggs from which they will hopefully produce an emergency queen cell and raise a new queen. We also fed the queenless hive as they won’t have huge amounts of stores and also won’t have many flying bees to collect nectar yet. We’ll check on them both in around 5-6 days to ensure that they are doing OK.

If all goes to plan, which it rarely (never?) does then the colony with the queen will be going about business as usual and will be building back up in numbers and continuing to fill their super with honey. The new colony on the other hand should have built an emergency queen cell and a new queen will be developing. Then we’ll simply have to wait whilst she emerges, goes out on a mating flight and then, finger crossed, starts laying eggs so that that colony can start the process of building up in size. Should that all go to plan then we’ll end up with two healthy colonies and new 2016 queen. Two colonies, a new queen from good, friendly strong stock and who knows, we may have even prevented the colony from swarming too.

Watch this space, as there are plenty of things that can go wrong. There may be robbing and drifting from hive to hive, the second hive might not make an emergency queen cell, if a new queen does emerge she might not mate and start laying, we might get a laying worker instead. The original colony could still decided to swarm, and I’m sure there are plenty of other things that the bees could and probably will do just to catch us out. It would be nice if it all went to plan, but then again, it’s a hobby not a business, so doing such things is part of the fun, part of the challenge and part of the learning process.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.