SPLITTING A HIVE
Traditionally hive splitting was done by growing a hive into a double box colony, then taking one of the boxes away and putting it in another yard. A really good beekeeper might even check which box the queen was in and put a queen cell in the other one…
There’s a bit more to this. There are many reasons to split a hive - increasing hive numbers, reducing swarm risks, producing colonies or queens for sale or just enjoying the experience of making more. When you split a hive and why you split a hive can influence how you split a hive.
Early in the spring you may want to make up for any winter losses. As soon as your overwintered colony fills a box you get the urge to make it into two. But … spring weather is fickle and queens on mating flights can get blown off course.
Even if they do return to the hive, have they encountered enough drones in their travels to make it worthwhile, so to speak? Early spring splits have relatively low rates of success and can weaken your primary hive in the process.
Growing the hive until late spring is a safer bet. In this part of the world, getting queens mated from October onwards tends to have better results. More drones, better days, milder nights, stronger colonies … enough said.
Do you want the colony you make to be a honey producing unit in it’s first year, or are you happy for it to grow out and establish itself to over winter well (with any surplus honey being a bonus). Splitting a hive in half allows you to take one good hive and make it into two small hives that may do well depending on the season. A smaller split can serve the purpose of providing you with another colony without compromising the strength of your primary hive, you may even be able to take other small splits off later in the season. A strong nuc colony at the point of purchase may be two frames of food and three frames of brood, but at the point of making the nuc, a single brood frame with a couple of food frames can be enough to get you going.
If you have a colony that you consider to be a high swarm risk, you may want to take the existing queen away in the split. This is in effect an artificial swarm, where you can control the portion of bees that leave the hive with the queen. The benefit of doing this is not having to wrestle bees out of a bush! Also, the small split you take away will grow faster as they are not waiting for a new queen to get going.
Beehives grow exponentially in the spring and can have a natural urge to divide (swarm) Whether you are splitting hives or catching swarms, they all need to be housed and maintained. This can be a burden on the pocket if you have to purchase the hiveware, it can be a burden on the neighbourhood if you are keeping your bees domestically, and it can be a burden on your time if you end up with more bees than you had intended. This shows itself every year. Early swarms are highly prized and beekeepers advertise their swarm-collection services via posters, social media and councils. By early summer, the swarms are less likely to be productive and any hiveware sitting around has been populated. We call this point ‘peak bee’, when everybody has had enough of swarm chasing and nobody wants to climb that tree!