Splitting and Supering Hives

I’m a bit behind in my posts. About 3 weeks ago I went through all my hives, again. The intention was to either split or super the ones that were getting crowded to keep them from swarming. It quickly became split and super many of the hives at the same time.

Over the previous four weeks they had expanded with gusto. What can I say? Our weather in April/May is usual variable from rain and snow to momentary glimpses of sun. This year, we had sun, with a little rain and a very odd morning snowstorm (between 60F degree days). Weather is like bees: Expect the Unexpected.

The Theory and Reasoning

The theory, of course, is that if you give the bees room, they will be less inclined to swarm. Equally, if one removes a box of bees and brood from the hive the reduced population will be less inclined to swarm.

During this process, the removal of swarm cells is vital. Some folks cut and kill. I say “whoopee” and put them in the split or splits. Some of the hives were very enthusiastic in their desire to produce new queens.

honeybee queen cells under construction

Partially constructed queen cells

Leave a swarm cell and the hive will swarm no matter how many bees you remove.

I use the first splits of the year to breed a few new queens from the hives I think showed good promise: good health, good honey stores, and good over wintering.

The splits from down river are distributed amount my up river bee yards, where my bee mating area is located. A portion of the down river area is agricultural.   There are lots of other bees about from beekeepers doing pollination contracts in the fields. I don’t particularly want those genetics. I don’t know who they are and I think many are Italian. Italians are nice bees, but in my view, not particularly suited for or wet, cold weather with long winters. In other down river areas, there is too little diversity in the stock and I fear inbreeding on mating flights.

Up river splits get placed in the same bee yard as their parent hives. The downside of this is I lose the foragers. They fly out of their lovely new home and say “wait, home’s over there” and fly back to the parent hive (darn their multiple eyes).

I could move them to another near-by yard, but two problems would arise: 1) The foragers might fly back anyway – move bees 2 feet or 2 miles, as the old saying goes, or they’ll go back to the parent hive, 2) The queens produced in the new bee yard could encounter a close male relative, coming from the parent hive’s bee yard, on a mating flight. That puts inbreeding back in the mix. There is less chance that a queen will mate with a drone from the same bee yard as the queens fly out low, then rise to avoid mating with their brothers.

It’s not so critical with the splits whose genetics I’m not keeping. They are simply merged with the to-make-queens splits. I put newspaper between the boxes, then a day or two later, the paper is removed and all the brood and bees are moved into the to-make-queen boxes, which now have the title of nucleus hives. Got to love terminology.

The Practical Side: Overnight Splits

Bee hive split with equipment

Splitting A Hive

I mainly do “overnight” splits. You split the hive one day and pick it up between 24 to 36 hours later. A day passes in between the split and pick up. Pick up being done in the morning or evening when bees are in the hive. Later in the year I’ll do “walk away” splits, usually when the hives get too tall to manage.

I learned to do overnight spilts using one queen excluder per hive – I now use two queen excluders per hive. I’m not too concerned about how many bees go into the super, but I want a lot of bees in split. Thus the split is closer to the main mass of bees.

The Super:

I wrote about how I prepare supers in the last blog post. I simply put the super together at the same time that I make the split box.

What’s Needed For Each Spilt:

  • 2 queen excluders
  • 1 box with foundation (or six pieces of foundation and four of drawn comb that have been drawn in the last three years, “new drawn comb”)
  • 2-3 extra tops: one for the split, other(s) to set bee boxes on as I look though the hive.
  • 1 moving board (I use a flipped bottom screen). It is easy, available, and gives a lot of air flow under the bees. If I’m going a short distance on a cool day, and leaving soon after I pull the split, I’ve used a second top (flipped) as a bottom durng transit.
  • 1 frame honey (or full nectar) – these can be pulled from the “parent” hive, but I bring some just in case, if I have it on hand.
  • A bottom screen on concrete blocks: these are already set up in the bee yard to which the split will go.

Out To The Bees:

When I’m heading out to the hives, I’m usually doing quite a number of splits so I take a box of foundation, a box of new drawn comb, and, if I have it a box or two of honey.

On arrival I traditionally groan with the the realization that I should have been doing this a week before.

At The Hive:

This whole procedure is done gently and carefully, as all bee work is done. However, the queen will probably be in the area of frames of eggs, so extra caution is needed.

Bee hive with 2 center frames removed

A bit crowded in there

  1. Set an empty box on an up-turned top.
  2. Open the “parent” hive – the hive to be split.
  3. Take out the following frames brushing or shaking all the bees off of each frame and back into the parent hive:
  • 2 or more frames of sealed brood
  • 1 frame full of honey or unsealed nectar on both sides.
  • 1 frame of pollen – both sides is best
  • If I want to have a new queen from the hive’s genetics, I take
    • 1 frame of eggs and very young larva – best if the larva has NOT achieved a “u” shape.   The bees will want to use larva that has been hatched for 18 hours, so a frame with a lot of eggs and very young brood will provide this, or will do so within a few days. Eggs are good as they will most likely hatch while the bees settle down in the new bee yard.
  • If I don’t want the genetics from the hive I’m splitting, but just the bees I will take another frame of sealed brood instead of eggs and larva. I don’t want to give those bees an option of raising a queen.

Open hive of bees

Spilt in Background. Crowded Box foreground

The New Split:

I place the bee-less frames taken from the parent hive are placed in the new box in this order:

Pollen

Sealed Brood

Eggs/Larva (or Sealed Brood if I don’t want the genetics)

Sealed Brood

Honey

If I think the parent hive is heading for swarm time soon, I might pull two more sealed brood from it to add to the split. It’s a judgment call.

The other three to five spaces in the split are filled with either drawn comb or foundation. It rather depends on what I have available.

Back at the Parent Hive

I use foundation to replace the frames of brood, honey, and pollen I removed. The hive is strong and has lots of bees, or I wouldn’t be doing a split. I do keep the brood nest together, but I often put a foundation piece between the edge of the brood and the pollen frames (there are usually lots of pollen frames). Again, because of all those bees in the hives I split, they seem to work around the foundation just fine – and build it up quickly.

The idea is to not only remove some of the brood, and thus bees, to keep them from swarming, but to give the bees something to work on: drawing out comb, filling it up… A friend of mine who has been working bees for decades once told me “give them something to do. A busy bee doesn’t think much about swarming.” A bit anthropomorphic, but I like the idea.

Rebuilding the Parent Hive and Putting On The Split Box

The box with the new frames is still on the ground without any bees in it.

The super is also on the ground without any bees in it.

The parent hive is restacked in the same order that the boxes were removed.

The queen excluder is put on top of the parent hive.

The new split is put on top of the queen excluder.

Queen Excluders on a Bee Hive Split

2 Queen Excluders In Place

One could stop here and just put the top on.
I used to do that, but now I:

Put the second queen excluder on top of the bee-less split.
Put the super on top of that queen excluder.
Put the top on.

Then it’s done for the day: a parent hive with an excluder on top, a split over that, another queen excluder, a super on that, and the top. It looks a bit like a tower for the moment.

Tall Hive

Tower of Bees

I use the 2nd excluder on top of the split and below the super because the bees are not removed from the frames in the super – the queen can be anywhere.

If I’ve not done so already, I head to the bee yards the splits will go to and set the blocks and bottom screens in place to receive the bees.

What’s Happening In The Hive

During the next 24 to 26 hours bees will walk up into the new split and further on into the super to tend to the larva, feed emerging bees, tidy up the place, pack a little pollen and all the other jobs that bees get on with during their day. By the time I return to pick up the split the frames will be covered with bees, both nurse bees and foragers, but no queen (oh those lovely queen excluders).

Picking Up The Split:

The evening that follows a 24 hour period, I return.

  • A moving board is placed on the ground with two straps under it to tie the split together.
    • My moving board is one of my bottom screens turned upside down.
  • The super is pulled off the parent hive and set to the side.
  • The split, now filled with bees, is pulled off the parent and set on the moving board.
  • The new top is placed on it. Bees now trapped inside. Straps are cinched down.
    • The split is ready to move
  • Both excluders are pulled off during this and set to the side – I put them on each side of the front of the hive so the bees hanging on them will go back in. Sometimes they need a gentle brush.
  • The super is put on top of the hive.   The collar put on that.   Then the top. All done

The split then travels to its new location and placed on its waiting bottom screen.

Goats browse by bee hives

Hives, Nucs, Goats (the landscape crew)

I narrow up the entrance using bits of 1/8 inch hardware cloth. This is to make the split easier for the bees to protect.

Then I put a few sticks in front of it. This slows the girls down a bit as they emerge, so they stop and take a good look at their location.

It’s pretty simple, but it does take time. All beekeeping takes time.

What’s Happening At Brookfield Farm Now

Three weeks have rolled by too quickly.   I’ve been making frames, wiring frames, and hanging wax.

Bee frame wire equipment & hives

A nice view from wire-central

And I’m still behind. I’ll be making bottom screens this week, as I need four more to accommodate some queens coming in from California later this month.

On the raw honey sales front I am pleased to say we now have another location carrying our raw honeys and raw honey infusions: Boxx Berry Farm. Another fabulous company JW Merc and the Bellingham Food Coops also needed more honey. So a lot of honey was poured and delivered

As usual Brookfield Farm and our honeys can be found on Sundays at two Seattle markets: the Fremont Sunday Market  and the Ballard Farmers Market .   This weekend we’re going to be the University District Fair in Seattle. Oh, and the second eye surgery went well – it is really interesting being far-sighted in one eye, and odd wearing glasses under a bee veil. Life remains interesting at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.

How is the spring, or fall in the southern lands, progressing for you? Are the changes in the weather affecting the manner or timing of your beekeeping?

About Bean

I am the beekeeper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, near Maple Falls, Washington. My bees fly from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives in the foothills of Mt. Baker (the second most glaciated volcano in Washington). I sell the raw honey my bees make, as well as honey produced by Washington beekeepers who are friends - the emphasis is on raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives. I also make and sell Raw Honey Infusions (Ginger, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean; Raw Honey Infused Organic Vinegars; and Beeswas Salves. You can find me or my husband at Seattle's Fremont Market and at Bellingham's Farmers Market. When not with the bees, you'll most likely meet me up some mountain trail, pinhole camera and digital camera slung over my shoulders, and my pack goats trailing behind me.
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