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How to split beehives

IT’S BEE SEASON! Can you hear my excitement? I absolutely love making splits and building bees! It’s so easy! Oh, wait. I hear some of you grumbling at that statement. OK, OK … I’ll admit—it wasn’t easy the first few years. If you’ve yet to experience your “aha” moment in beekeeping, making splits can certainly be intimidating. But do you want to know a secret? Doing splits taught us how to identify all of the different aspects of the frames that make up a colony. In doing so, we learned the actual workings of a hive!

I say this often: “As you become a better beekeeper, you won’t be able to keep from making bees.” Yes, this is true! Bees can be like rabbits given half the chance. Healthy, thriving colonies will produce more bees than you can manage in one colony and will require splitting. This is a very good thing! Call yourself successful if you have colonies primed and ready for splits!

It’s easy for me to say—just move this and that. But in reality, when you get into your hive, odds are that you’re going to question what you are seeing and what goes where. My goal here is to make it abundantly clear what you need to see and do when making a split.

First, determine if you are going to be purchasing a mated queen for the split (traditional split and most recommended) or generate your own queen (typically called a walkaway split).

Although your new queen will not be mating with her brothers, this population gives you a good indication of the drones elsewhere.

Only split healthy hives. Attempts at splitting a hive that has a high mite load or is inundated with disease and viruses will only double the problem.

We often make simple splits into a mathematical equation: 1 + 2 + 2 = 5. This seems to simplify the steps for most of us.


Traditional split:

  1. Locate the queen. If you are going to replace her, kill her and discard her away from the hive.
  2. You need:
    • One frame of open/uncapped brood containing one-day-old larvae
    • Two frames of brood (capped and emerging brood—this is the darker capped brood)
    • Two frames of food resources (honey and pollen)
  3. If using a nuc box, fill the balance of the box with new undrawn frames or simply divide the remaining resources from the parent colony between the boxes.
  4. Wait 2–24 hours to install a caged mated queen.
  5. Check back in five to seven days to verify that she has emerged and is laying.


Walkaway split:

  1. Use the same formula as a traditional split but disregard where the queen is unless, of course, you happen to see her. In that case, mark the box she is in.
  2. Check back in three to four days to check for queen cells. This is where you’ll be able to determine where the queen ended up. No cells will be found in the split where the old queen is. This is your opportunity to requeen that smaller hive if you wish. Otherwise, let her be and care for the hive just as you would a new hive.
  3. If you see queen cells, close the split back up and leave it be for three to four weeks. This allows enough time for the queen to emerge (16 days), mate (5–7 days), and start laying (5 days after mating).
  4. If you do not see a queen cell being formed in the queenless split, you have three choices:
    1. Reinstall a fresh open larvae frame, giving them another chance at making a queen.
    2. Purchase and install a mated queen.
    3. Combine the split with another hive and try again another day.

Always center your splits to the box, pushing frames tightly together.

Important note: Build splits by placing frames in the same order as you would see in a typical brood nest.

  • Brood (open and capped) in the center.
  • Resources (honey/nectar/pollen) left and right of the brood frames.
  • Empty, undrawn, or resource frames to the outside of the nest (both sides equal-ish). I say equal-ish because odds are you won’t have the same on both sides.

Moving Your Splits

As a small-scale beekeeper, I know firsthand that most of you won’t have the option to move your splits miles apart. We’ve all heard that, right? Move bees no more than two feet or at least two miles—well, that’s not always possible. Ideally, moving your split away from its parent colony keeps drifting from occurring. Plus reducing the foragers in splits can lessen the chance of them killing your new queen. But the reality is that you probably have a backyard or less than 20 acres, requiring you to break the two-and-two rule. No worries. Simply reorient the entrances of the splits, making them different from the parent hive they came from. Even if you leave the split right next to its parent, change the direction of its entrance at least 45 degrees to stop most drifting, if it were to occur.

Now what? Feed, feed, feed!

It is imperative that you feed a split colony. Also, remember that you have weakened the colony by doing this split. Watch for small hive beetles and keep them under control! A split colony is a stressed colony and will succumb to SHB if allowed.

Aftercare of Your Split

So often, once a split is made, we tend to pat ourselves on the back and leave it there. No, no, no—we have just started! Within just a few weeks, you will find that a successful split will have taken off like gangbusters, and you need to add a second deep. See “Proactively Managing Hive Expansion.” Treat this “new hive” as just that—a new hive. Feed to draw comb, manage space requirements, and control Varroa. Caution: Treating for Varroa on a new split will stress the new hive even more than the split itself did. Hold off until the hive is established.

My Split Is Failing to Grow

There are several reasons that this could be happening:

  • Verify you have a laying queen.
  • You could have a nonproductive queen and need to requeen.
  • Varroa mites? Test and take appropriate action.
  • The bee population could be imbalanced:
    • Switch locations with another colony if it’s short on foragers.
    • Shake nurse bees in or insert a frame from a neighboring colony.
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