Have you ever performed a swarm split?
If not, it can actually be rather intimidating at first thought. I remember the first time my husband performed a split he was scared to death.
He thought he was going to end up killing his old hive and new one. I’m happy to report he didn’t, but we’ve learned a lot since then too.
So if you are worried about performing your first split or maybe just looking to compare notes then today’s post is just for you.
Splits are just a part of beekeeping and can be an amazing thing to experience once you get used to doing it.
Why Do You Perform A Split?
There are many reasons why you might perform a split. The first obvious bonus of splitting a hive is to increase your number of hives.
If you love honey then this means you will double your chances at getting honey and lots of it. If you are in beekeeping for the business side of it that equates to a lot more money.
If you love bees for their pollination skills, well more hives equates to more pollination. So increasing the hives clearly increases all of the benefits bees offer.
However, you can also split a hive for the purpose of raising queens; increasing the number of worker bees you have floating around your property; and also to keep a hive from swarming.
This is what I want to focus on today because there is nothing more natural (and frustrating) than your hive swarming.
Bees are not cheap to get started and if you don’t split them then they will swarm. So in order to hang on to your tiny investments (and all of their benefits) you have to pay close attention and know how to properly perform a split.
What Is A Split Swarm And When Should You Perform It?
A split swarm is just that, splitting a hive so it won’t swarm to who-knows-where and you lose your bees. That sounds kind of intimidating doesn’t it?
Well, don’t let it intimidate you too much. In reality, your hive usually gives pretty obvious signs that they are getting ready to leave and performing a split isn’t nearly as challenging as it sounds.
So you will know when to perform a split by the activity of the queen and hive. When the queen begins to get crowded and starts running out of room to lay, you will begin to see queen cells popping up.
This is because the bees are going to raise a second queen. When she hatches, she will take half of the hive and leave.
Because part of the colony will leave, the remaining bees will then become satisfied again with extra room to lay.
So, regardless, your bees are going to have to separate. The choice is do you separate them and create the ‘illusion’ that the bees have swarmed or do you just let them split naturally in which you will lose half of your hive?
I recommend splitting the hive for them and keeping all of your bees. Yes, I love honey and all of their fascinating pollination techniques that much.
How To Perform A Swarm Split?
So now that we know what a swarm split is and when you’ll need to perform one, let’s talk about how to actually complete the task.
It truly isn’t complicated and once you do it a couple of times the jitters will be over. So when you begin to see queen cells in your hive you actually have two options.
The first option is just to cut out the queen cells and add more frames. I’ve known some people to use this option. I have just found in my experience that once bees make up their mind to swarm, they are probably going to do just that.
So your second option is to perform the split. You will begin with catching the queen. If you don’t physically want to catch her (which I will admit makes the task easier) you will at least need to know where she is at all times.
You can use a queen catcher to detain her during this process. We learned the hard way that queen catchers are really an asset to any beekeeper.
During one of our first times performing splits, my husband was trying to watch the queen. She crawled out on his hand, and he accidentally dropped her.
We ended up losing the hive because we could never find her again. Being amateurs we hadn’t learned how to raise queens yet, and by the time we knew we needed to buy a new one it was too late and the hive was gone.
So moral of the story, I recommend using a queen catcher.
After you have her separated you will need to split the frames in the hive as equally as possible. If you have 8 frames, try to give 4 to each hive.
You will want to make sure that each hive is left with at least one frame of honey; plenty of pollen; and some empty frames with comb too.
So as you are actually inserting the frames, the brood with the queen cell will need to be in the middle. Then you’ll place the pollen frames on either side. Finally, you’ll place the empty frames with comb on the outside.
After this process, the nurse bees in both hives will stay with the brood. The forager bees from the split will continue to forage but will return to the original hive. That is why it is important to give your split plenty of food.
In about three weeks, you should begin to see brood from your new queen. You will notice that your new hive is jumping with activity. The brood will have hatched by then so that hive will have its own foragers at this point.
The new queen will be laying and active, and the new hive should be thriving.
If by some chance you keep checking on the new hive and it isn’t doing so well, don’t worry. You will need to locate your queen and make sure that she is there doing her job.
If you can’t locate her, then you will need to provide the hive with a new queen. You can raise your own or purchase a new one. Just be sure to get the hive a queen as quickly as possible.
Then after you know that your hive is thriving, you’ll just need to keep an eye out on each hive for the same signs of swarming. When you see those signs, you will know it is time to perform a split again.
How frequently you have to perform swarm splits depends a lot upon genetics. We have amazing genetics going on in our bees this year, and we are performing splits multiple times a week!
So just be prepared if you get some amazing ‘bee genes’ that you might be performing splits more often than you think.
What If My Split Swarms Before I Get To It And Can I Save The New Hive?
The quick answer to this is yes. You can still save the split and salvage the new hive.
A lot of times when bees swarm they will swarm some place close by. Ours have swarmed once this year and landed on a tree in our yard.
After you’ve located the swarm, just give them a quick spritz with sugar water and knock them into a nuc box. Then you’ll treat them as you would any hive from that point forward.
As I mentioned, you want to avoid having to chase them down by splitting them yourself but in a worst case scenario it really isn’t that bad.
Well, how about you? Do you have any other tips to make performing splits any easier? Or do you know of any other options to keep your bees from swarming?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.