Tips on Dividing Bee Colonies

You can make a division of an existing healthy colony in order to populate a new hive.

You should avoid making divisions during the honey season because it will reduce the amount of honey produced and to be harvested. Make divisions after the honey flow to increase colony numbers.

The best time to divide a colony is when the bees are ready to swarm and the bees are trying naturally to reproduce.

Tips on dividing bee colonies include:

  1. Prepare your new hive first – clean it and by rub it with some beeswax or propolis so it smells familiar for the bees.
  2. Put on protective gear and have the smoker lit.
  3. Always choose a big healthy colony to divide and check it has brood, eggs, pollen and honey.
  4. Put the new hive next to the overcrowded hive.
  5. From the big healthy colony, select a comb with queen cells, remove it from the hive and break all the queen cells except the biggest capped two. You need two just in case one gets damaged.
  6. Now transfer the comb with the 2 queen cells into the new hive.
  7. Also transfer one or two other combs with a lot of sealed brood and a little unsealed brood. The number will depend on how many you have in the original hive. The sealed brood is very important because more brood means adult bees will emerge very quickly in the new hive. Also sealed brood are stronger and can survive better than unsealed brood.
  8. Also transfer one or two combs of food comb with lots of sealed honey and pollen.
  9. You can make a division without queen cells as long as the new colony has female worker eggs and larvae in the combs transferred. From the very young larvae they will be able to make new queen cells within a few days and raise a new queen.
  10. Include bees on all the combs you transfer and brush or shake in bees from 2 or 3other combs as well.
    Include the bees sitting on the brood combs as these are nurse bees that will soon produce royal jelly for the new queen. These are very important to feed and warm the brood also.
  11. Check very thoroughly that you do NOT have the old queen on the combs you move or brush off. She must remain undisturbed in the old hive or mother colony. If you are in doubt then make sure you leave eggs and at least leave one big capped queen cell in the old hive in case you have taken her by accident. The bees will destroy the queen cell if the queen is present.
  12. Remember to put the brood combs in the middle and the honeycombs on either side to insulate the brood nest. The framing combs feed and help the bees to keep the brood warm.
  13. These bees will become a new colony. Most of the adult bees will remain in the old hive and continue to make honey.
  14. The bees will look after the queen cells in the new colony and a new queen will hatch out. The first queen to hatch out will destroy the other queen cells.
  15. Wait until dark then move the new hive to a site at least 2kms from the old site if possible.
  16. If you don’t have a place to put the new divided colony 2kms away then you must move both hives
    1m either side of the old location. This will ensure that some returning bees go into the old hive and some into the new.
  17. You will need to feed the bees in the new hive, as they will not know where to go and get food in their new place. A small colony can become weak very quickly.
  18. If you see the queen or brood after 3-4 weeks then this has now become an established colony.
  19. Alternatively, place one hive on top of the other but with different direction of entrances.

References

  1. A year in the life of an apiary 3rd edition
  2. Tropical and subtropical apiculture
  3. Bees together
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