Dividing a Colony

Bee Health February 03, 2011|Print

Why Divide? The most common reasons for dividing a colony are swarm prevention and the need to increase colony numbers. A strong colony can be divided into two or three colonies (splits). The number of splits will depend on the amount of brood present in the parent colony. For each split, you need three to five frames of brood and a couple of food frames with pollen and honey. Be careful not to split a colony too many times or wait until it’s too late in the year, because the small colony needs time to build up for winter. Tip: Lightly misting the frames and bees in the splits with a 1:1 sugar:water solution will calm the bees, and occupy them while they get acquainted with their new home, especially if you intend to mix brood from one or more colonies to form the split.

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When Should a Colony Be Divided?

A colony can be divided when it has a large population of bees, at least 10 frames of brood and appears overcrowded. When you open a crowded colony, bees tend to “pour over” the top of the frames. In the spring, a large colony preparing to swarm is an excellent candidate to divide. Prior to swarming, a colony produces many (sometimes 10 or more) queen cells (called swarm cells) on the bottom portion of frames in the brood area. Once the queen cells are capped, swarming is imminent unless you act quickly to “convince” the bees that they have already swarmed. Dividing the colony is one method to reduce overcrowding in the brood area and in the honey storage area as well. Prior to making the splits you need to determine how many can be made and how to provide queens for the parent colony and/orsplits. To provide a queen you can use queen cells or eggs from the parent colony or purchase queens from a queen producer.

To Divide a Colony with Queen Cells:

1) Set up hive stands and organize all equipment to be used for the new colony(ies). You will need bottom, inner and top covers, supers and frames. If using foundation when there is no honey flow, you will need to feed sugar syrup (see feeding bees).

2) Open the parent colony with minimum smoke and find the queen. Place the frame with her in the new colony. This will give the parent colony the illusion that the queen has swarmed. Determine the number of frames of brood and food in the colony being divided.

3) Place the split without the old queen in the location of the parent colony. The older foraging workers will return to the parent colony.

4) Carefully remove brood frames that contain queen cells to an empty hive body. Queen cells are easily damaged. Do not leave the frame exposed to sun and do not turn the queen cells upside down.

5) Place a frame having two or three large, wellshaped queen cells into the queenless split adjacent to other brood combs and destroy the queen cells that you do not need.

6) Place three to five frames of brood near the center of the super in each new colony and provide enough bees to completely cover the brood.

7) Add at least one frame of pollen and one frame of honey, placing them outside the brood.

8) Provide at least two frames of empty drawn comb (preferred) or two frames of foundation on the outside of the brood area.

9) Place a super, containing drawn comb or foundation, above the brood chamber.

10) Add a top feeder if there is no honey flow (see feeding bees).

11) Do not disturb for 14 days. At this point, check for a laying queen in both splits.

To Divide a Colony and Produce a Queen from Eggs:

Follow the procedure above; however, rather than providing splits with queen cells, you will be giving them frames with eggs to make their own queen. Eight to 10 days later, check for queen cell formation. Be careful not to damage the queen cells. At this time, destroy all but two or three of the largest, best-shaped, capped queen cells. Do not disturb for 14 days. Then check for a laying queen.

Dividing a Colony and Requeening with Purchased Queens.

Follow the procedure for dividing as explained above with these changes/options:

1) If you plan to put new queens in both splits, order new queens in advance. Place the queen shipping cage, with the cork removed from the candy end, between two frames of capped brood in each queenless colony (see Queen Marking and Requeening). Return in three days to see if the queen has been released. If she has been released, do not disturb for 10 days, then check for a laying queen. If she is still in the cage, poke a hole through the candy to speed up her release and check again in three days.

2) If you want to save the old queen, leave her in the original location and move the split to another location. When you divide the brood, give the split more capped brood, because these newly emerged bees will accept a new queen more readily than will older workers.


Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.