Springtime is splitting time if you want another colony
Spring is the perfect time to get started with a new colony. “Splitting” is a cost-effective way of establishing a new hive and one of the best gifts an experienced beekeeper can give someone new to the hobby. Hilary Kearney explains how to do it and how to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with this common beekeeping practice.
If you have a large, healthy hive, it is possible to create a new colony from it by making what is called a split. The basic concept of making a split is that you take a portion of an established colony and transfer it to a separate hive thereby creating two colonies. The end goal is to have two colonies, each with sufficient worker bee populations, stores and their own queen.
Before splitting your colony, make sure it is healthy and large enough to do so. It’s usually not a good idea to split a first-year colony. Splits should be made from overwintered colonies in the spring when there will be plenty of forage and time for them to recover. Most splits are what you call an “even split”, meaning you will halve the colony, dividing the number of brood combs and honey evenly between the two hives.When making a split, you have to also consider the problem of drift. Drift refers to foragers who will return to the location of the original hive. If you make a split and leave it in the same yard, you should expect all the workers who can fly to return to the original hive. This can often result in a failed split because one half will end up with too few bees. You can address the problem of drift three ways:
- Position both hives next to each other, so that the traffic is divided between the two.
- Shake in sufficient nurse bees, who will not be able to fly back to the original hive.
- Block the entrance and move the split at least three miles away.
Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her home town of San Diego, California. Her business Girl Next Door Honeyeducates hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She is the author of the Beekeeping Like A Girl blog and maintains popular Instagram, Facebookand Twitter accounts. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her 60 colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.