Never having seen a the results of a split before, I have always been hesitant, but fascinated to try one. When my last hive, Sandy, didn’t make it though the winter, I needed to secure bees late in the buying cycle. Luckily, a fellow Cape Cod beekeeper came to my aid, saying he’d split one of his hives and get me going. I jumped at the opportunity, both to have native bees, and to see a split done first hand.
For those still getting up to speed, a split, in its simplest terms, is taking a healthy hive and dividing it in two; the other half going into a new hive. One half gets the existing queen, and the other half, sensing it’s queen-less, makes a new queen.
This all sounds very logical and easy, but there’s much more involved, and much of it revolves around making a new queen. Consider that the queen-less part of the split needs to have young eggs that are just the right age for the workers to pick a few to turn into queens (they often make 7 or 8 at once to ensure at least one lives). If the eggs are too old, they can’t be made into queens, so timing the split when there it enough young brood is essential. Then you have to make sure there is enough capped brood for a new generation of workers to raise the queen. Oh, and better make sure there are honey stores there too, as the workers will be concentrating on making a new queen and not on making honey. Clearly, making a split is part art and part science. It is not, as many books will tell you, just pulling half the frames out of a colony and moving them to a new hive.
That being said, splits are traditional way of creating bees for an additional hive, as well as swarm prevention. When done correctly they work well, as pictured above. Of the three colonies, the left two are packages from Georgia. The right is a split that is growing so fast I needed to add another super of frames for them to grow into.
It seems that I’m now a split believer.