Making Increases/Splits

Making Increases/Splits

By Jeff Gabric

Here in Central Ohio, the month of July is a perfect time to harvest your honey and make increases. Why?  July for Knox County is usually when the nectar dearth sets in.  Unless your colony has an opportunistic soybean field available or alfalfa field available which skipped the farmers attention and he didn’t cut it in bloom, there are not many natural nectar flows until the asters and goldenrod start blooming in September.  So, a good strategy for late June and July is to start thinking about winter by harvesting your honey crop, cleaning up your mites and making splits(increases).  Then start getting that split ready for winter.

What Queen to use:  When I make these splits, I usually buy commercial queens but also love to find some supersedure cells or swarm cells I can use for a queen.   I am not big on doing what is called a “dirty split” where you make the split and just let them make their own queen.  Also, if I were going to do a dirty split, then it would be a different process.  The time it takes the colony to make a queen and get her laying is over 30 days and then another 21 days until brood starts to emerge.  When splitting at this time of year you have limited time to get this colony back on its feet and ready for winter.  You will gain a month by requeening with a mated queen.  Cost of a mated queen vs. time lost is a worthwhile investment. 

Terminology: When a hive is split in the same apiary there is a strong and a weak side to the split.   I refer to the hive/colony on the original stand to be the “strong side” of the split.  The original queen will remain with this colony and what you will find is that most of the field bees will return to this hive because that is where they have been oriented to their entire life.  I refer to the new box on the new stand as the “weak side” of the split.  That is because all the field bees on their first flight out will return to the strong side of the split.  You will find the next day that the weak side has a noticeably smaller number of bees.  The weak side of the split is what you want to requeen.  The queen acceptance will be better on the weak side simply because it has younger bees and will accept a new queen more readily.  The queen can be added at the time of the split or up to 24 hours later. 

Weather: Weather can play a roll in splitting colonies.  This paper is talking about making increases in July but these same techniques hold true for splitting in the early spring.  In the spring there is a much higher likely hood of chilling brood and the 10-day forecast should be taken into consideration when making a split.

Remove the Honey Supers:  The first step in splitting in July is to remove your honey supers.  If you have a monster colony with tons of bees, when you remove the honey supers you may need to add empty honey supers with drawn frames if you have them but undrawn will work.  This is done just to give them enough room when you remove the full honey supers.  I have 2 basic configurations from which I make splits.  One is a honey production hive of 2 deep 10 frames (total of 20 frames) and the other is a double 5 frame nuc with a total of 10 frames.  Let’s look at each one separately.  It’s basically the same process with a few subtle differences.

Splitting a Double 5 Frame Nuc: 

I start by making sure all 10 frames are fully drawn.  Then I add a third box with 5 frames of undrawn comb (this could be drawn if you have it).  I wait until I see them start to draw comb and working in the third box.  I may be feeding them at this point if they need it to draw comb.  By seeing them draw comb in the third box, I know that they are expanding and strong enough to handle the split.  At this point they are ready to split.  All my splits are usually done in the same apiary.  To make the split, first put an empty nuc on a new stand.  Ideally, the new stand is at least a few hives away when splitting in the same apiary. 

Find the Queen:  The first thing that must be done is to find the queen and I usually place her and the frame she is on in a separate nuc box with no entrances (close the lid and secure her).   Make sure the queen in this box is in the shade and you make your manipulations in a timely fashion. Now that I know where she is, I can work the frames and make my split without worrying about the queen.  Then I transfer frames from the original hive to the new nuc box.  I want one frame of honey, 2 frames of brood (one capped and one uncapped), an empty drawn frame so she has a place to lay eggs and the final frame can be another empty drawn frame or one with honey.  Try to make sure there is also some pollen/beebread in some of these frames.  Then shake 3 more frames of bees into this box.  The number of bees shaken can vary but when you are done there should be more bees in the new box than the original.

Requeening the Weak Side: After you have transferred the frames and shaken frames of bees into the weak side, then add the new queen in her cage or queen cells and replace the inner cover and lid.  Reduce the entrance to 2 to 3 inches.

Put the strong side back together with the original queen.  This should now be in a box that has 5 drawn frames in the bottom box and some undrawn in the top box.  When they draw out the second box, a third box of undrawn frames can be added, and the process can be repeated.  I have taken 4 splits from one colony using this system starting in the first of June, but you could easily get 2 splits starting in July.  How well they continue to expand will depend on the availability of nectar or feeding.

Feeding:  I do not like to feed the weak side of the split because it increases the likelihood of robbing.  The new hives defenses will be down due to the loss of the older field bees and the fact that it is in somewhat of a queenless state.  I don’t like to feed the strong side for a day or 2 either until it gets reestablished.  Reduce the entrances on both to fit the size of the colony.

Splitting a 2 Deep Honey Production Hive

I start by making sure all 20 frames are fully drawn.  I might go so far as to exchange frames from another hive close by to make sure all the frames are fully drawn.  This colony should be strong and have a large number of bees.  I would try and complete a mite treatment of Formic Pro before making the split.  All my splits are usually done in the same apiary.  To make the split simply put an empty box on a new stand.  You could make a small split by just taking a 5 frame nuc from the donor colony.  Ideally the new stand is at least a few hives away when splitting in the same apiary. 

The first thing that must be done is to find the queen and I usually place her and the frame she is on in a separate nuc box with no entrances (close the lid and secure her).  Make sure the queen in this box is in the shade and you make your manipulations in a timely fashion.  Now that I know where she is, I can work the frames and make my split without worrying about the queen.  Then I transfer frames from the original hive to the new box.  I want 2 frames of honey, 3 frames of brood (two capped and one uncapped), and empty drawn frames so she has a place to lay eggs.  This can vary but no more than 3 frames of brood should be added.  If you are making up a nuc, use no more than 2 frames of brood.  Try to make sure there is also some pollen in some of these frames.  Then shake 3 to 5 more frames of bees into this box.  Usually I concentrate on the brood frames with the younger nurse bees.  These bees will be less likely to return to the strong side of the split.

Requeening the Weak Side: After you have transferred the frames and shaken frames of bees in the weak side, then add the new queen in her cage or queen cells and return the lid and reduce the entrance. 

Put the strong-side back together with the original queen.  This should now be in a box that has 10 drawn frames in the bottom box and undrawn frames in the top box.  If they are not drawing comb on their own in a few days, then start feeding.  You will be feeding them to draw comb and if you have taken all their excess honey by harvesting, then you are feeding to keep them alive.

SEE THE REQUEENING PAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON REQUEENING YOUR SPLIT AFTER IT IS MADE