Retard Swarming By Making A Split

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Swarming, a beekeeper’s nemesis because of the loss of honey crop, can usually be prevented by “splitting” a colony into two parts.

Bee scientists have now well proven that the two major reasons for a swarm are, in order of importance:

  1. BROOD Chamber congestion, having nothing to do with Super space, and
  2. The age of the queen, because starting from the day of her mating, ever after she daily loses a little of her ability to produce the queen pheromone which is that “glue” that welds a large group of bees into a single functioning colony. In most instances, the purpose of “splitting” a colony into two is to increase colony number rather than a technique to prevent swarming but properly done at the correct time, splitting can be a – case of “having, your cake and eating it-too.”

If you use “splitting” as a swarm retarding technique with no desire to increase your colony number, you can also replace the old queen in the original parent colony with the new queen in the split that you have made: Further, you have even gained an “extra gift!’, fresh nicely drawn comb from the foundation you placed in the split colony.

Let me explain the best way to split a colony in the Central Maryland area, because other areas like North Carolina, New York, and even Western Maryland or Southern Maryland or Eastern Shore have different temperatures and different flora and hence require different dates to split.

Of paramount importance is the colony to be split must be a strong colony which has BROOD (eggs, larva, & capped pupa) occupying about 800 square inches of comb space on one side. (A deep frame has 140 sq. in. of comb on each side )

In addition to brood, the comb also has cells filled with pollen, nectar, and honey. Mentally estimate how many sq. in. of all three types of brood there are among all the 20 frames of the brood chamber. About mid April, you should have brood in various amounts on 6 to 10 frames primarily in the middle of the two hive bodies; and you should have maybe 20% less about April 1st.

By the way, you should know that there are 55.3 cells per square inch counting BOTH sides of the comb; so when you measure 800 sq. inches on ONE SIDE of the comb, you are looking at about 27.6 cells x 800 = 22,000 future bees meaning your queen has been laying about 1000 eggs each day for the past 21 days.

If the queen breeder can supply on time (and I use dependable ,breeders that try hard), I want a new MARKED (GREEN for 1999) queen delivered to me between April 10 and April 20. About April 5, I put a queen excluder between the two brood chambers so I can find the queen more easily the following week.

When the queen arrives, I give her a drink of water, put her in a dark cool spot in my house, and gather up my equipment for the split which will require 10 frames of DRAWN COMB, a complete hive, a gallon jar of 1:1 sugar syrup, and an entrance reducer.

Whether I make the split that day or the next day (forget waiting for the weekend) depends on the weather and time of day which should be above 50 degrees, no wind, and sunny.

I first locate the old queen (she will be in which ever hive body that has eggs and real young larva) and put the frame she is on in a separate hive body I have just to isolate her so there is no question about her location.

Now, I am free to do what I desire with any of the remaining 19 frames. I want to remove about 4 frames of brood, 1 capped plus 3 with open (eggs & larvae) brood plus at least 2 frames of honey and put these 6 frames in the new split with 4 frames of drawn, comb on the outsides of the new 6.

All of these frames hopefully were moved with the clinging adult bees attached; but just to make sure, take another pair of frames and shakes the bees off of them into the the new split hive. On the first flight out of the split, the foraging age bees will return to the parent colony while the bees less than 19 days old are nurse bees and they will stay with the split.

Your old parent colony now is short 6 frames plus the one the old queen is on. In the bottom box, put the frame with the queen surrounded by 3 frames with some brood plus 6 frames of drawn comb for her to lay, and put the the other body of ten frames on top and close up.

Go to the house and get your new queen, remove the cork from the candy end and place that introduction box no-cork end up towards the rear of the hive between frames 5 & 6 (the #10 frame has to be left out for several days until the queen introduction box is removed), have the entrance reducer place, put on your inner cover with the gallon of syrup over the inner cover hole (make sure the queen cage is not right there), and close up.

Wait 5 days, and at noon to 2 PM using NO smoke, ever so carefully inspect to see if the queen is released. She should be, so carefully remove the queen cage and replace the #10 frame. Wait for 4-6 days before you inspect to see if the queen is laying and do it at noon to 3 PM without smoke if you can. After about a week from making the split, super the old colony so they have plenty of nectar storage space.

After you have harvested your honey from the parent colony, you can REQUEEN this parent colony and combine the two colonies into one strong colony to get through the coming winter. Go through the old parent colony, find the queen and “get rid of her” (kill, give away, put in an observation hive, etc.), and wait until the next day so all her bees know she is gone.

Place a single sheet of newspaper on top of the open top hive body, poke 1-2 nail holes through the paper, remove the bottom board from the split and transfer the two split hive bodies right on top of the newspaper, and close Up.

Inspect for the queen in a week by just looking for eggs or young larva. You don’t have to see the queen, and with these two strong colonies she might be hard to find anyhow.

If you find any supercedure cells, call me for advice

Use good inspection technique of mid-day (when foraging bees are away), minimal smoke (don’t distress them), and do everything quite carefully and slowly so as not to disturb the bees and make them ball (kill) the queen. I have been doing this for many years with many colonies and rarely have any trouble. I try to do it shortly after I have finished harvesting which is almost always by July 4th.

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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