How to split a Beehive

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How to split a Beehive

I asked Peter Smith from the Franklin Bee Club how to split a beehive. Here is Peter’s method of creating new queens and colonies which he has great success with. Thanks Peter for sharing this information.

It’s good practice to split your beehive in spring to prevent swarming and also to disrupt the varroa mites breeding cycle. It’s spring in a few weeks in New Zealand :D, so its time to get splitting.

Peter writes:-

This is a great way to split a Beehive and get the bees to naturally breed their own queen, which is readily accepted and also a good way of preventing swarms when done in early spring. This article will show you how to split a Beehive.

How to split a Beehive – What do you need

How to split a Beehive - What you need

  • A strong colony in two full sized brood boxes, with about nine frames of brood.
  • Two full sized Boxes with either empty or drawn frames (9 or 10 frames)
  • A Bottom board, Hive Mat and roof for the new hive
  • A Queen excluder

How to split a Beehive – When to do it

During spring and summer, when the sources of nectar and pollen are abundant in your local area.

How to split a Beehive – The Process

  1. Find at least four frames of brood with mainly eggs not older than 3 days in your old colony.
  2. Move these frames to a new box (shaking all the bees off the frames); placing the frames in the middle of the box. Shake any bees back into the lower box.

* Be very careful to make sure you don’t trap the original Queen in the new box*

The frames in the new colony should consist of:-

  • A minimum of 4 frames of eggs
  • One or two frames of pollen
  • Two frames of honey
  • A spare empty frame.

You should concentrate on getting eggs that are less than three days old, these will make the best Queens.

Have the honey and pollen on the outside of the eggs, the eggs should be in the centre of the frames.

Hive Config

  1. This empty box now full of bee less frames becomes the queen rearing unit.
  2. Add empty frames into the parent hive to replace the frames you have removed in a similar configuration as the new box.
  3. The queen excluder is now put onto the parent hive, with the box of beeless frames on top of this. Leave this configuration for 24 hours.
Put Queen Excluder On Top Old Hive

Put Queen Excluder On Top Old Hive

After 24 hours

Empty Box on Parent Hive

  1. The top box will now be full of young nurse bees looking after the frames of brood with the original queen below the excluder.
  2. Take the new box above the excluder, and move it sideways. You should see plenty of nurse bees looking after the brood in the top box.

  3. Move new colony off parent hive

    Move new colony off parent hive

  4. Place the new box in the location of the old hive, with a new bottom board and roof. This step will add some flying bees to the new colony.
  5. Move the old boxes to the side at least three or four feet away.

  6. Reverse and Move Box 3 or 4 feet aside

  7. You may need to put an extra box onto the split and it is a good idea to put a box onto parent hive to house the expanding hive.

Five Weeks Later

  1. Check that new box has a new laying Queen.

If you open the hive prior to the five week period you endanger the whole operation.

If you give this a go, please comment below on how it all went…

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About Gary Fawcett

Gary enjoys designing new kiwimana products which we sell through our on-line shop. He is passionate about saving the Bees and encouraging urban beekeeping. Gary loves to write about issues that affect the Bees and our environment. He is also into tramping/walking in the beautiful New Zealand bush.

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31 Responses to How to split a Beehive

  1. John Watson says:

    Really appreciate your advice about splitting. Will give it a try.

    Can you suggest any simple, effective way to clean a Queen Excluder when they get gummed up with wax?

    • Gary says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the feedback and positive comments, it’s always great to hear from our readers.

      Well cleaning a queen excluder, if you have a wax extractor big enough you could always put it into that.

      To be honest what I do is get a kettle of hot water and pour it over the waxed up areas, this clean it up very well.

      Our wax extractor is just too small…cheers…Gary

    • Geoff Galliver (UK resident) says:

      Lots of water under the bridge since you asked this question and by now you might well have a solution, but here’s what I do:
      Firstly, use your hive tool to chip off any large lumps of wax; then prop the QE against a wall at an angle of approx 45 degrees (not critical) and just use a blowlamp and ‘flash it’ back and forth across the QE. Most of the molten wax will then just drop off.
      Don’t do this inside your garden shed – you might well succeed in burning it down!!

      • Gary Fawcett says:

        Yep great idea Geoff, I have been thinking of getting one of those little blow torches to do this.

        Boiling water also works, but seems like a waste when you are using tank water (like we do).

        Thanks for the comment…Gary

  2. joyce kennedy says:

    Good clear info will give this a try some time tx

    • Christine says:

      Thank you so much for the excellent info on hive splitting… I am a new Beekeeper living in the Far North & am very keen to try this.

      • Gary Fawcett says:

        Thanks Christine for the feedback, yes it works pretty well we have used it multiple times over this season. Thanks for reading our blog, please subscribe to our mailing list for future updates….Thanks…Gary

  3. herb says:

    Why does opening within the 5 weeks endanger the process? What would happen?

    • Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Herb,

      Thanks for the comment, I think that is do with the period that the Queen is going out to be mated.

      Sometimes a colony will turn on the virgin Queen if the hive is disturbed by too many inspections, by five weeks she should be mated and laying new eggs. So less chance of the colony turning on her.


  4. Lennox Deane says:

    I’m going to try this! I’ve seen quite a few variations but I understand this rationale. Will certainly give feedback!

  5. Lyndon Hadden says:

    Hi Gary,
    I will also give this a try in the spring, its very clear what to do thanks!!. Does the queenless hive make only one queen? And by leaving both hives close to each other do the bees get confused where to go to?

    • Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Lyndon,

      Thanks for the feedback and for reading our article.

      The hives only make the one Queen and no moving the hive at least 4 feet apart seems to be enough to stop Bee drift. You could move the hives further apart if you have any concerns.

      If you are moving hives, you could move the old colony with the Queen to new location.

      Get back to us in Spring with how you get one with your splits


  6. christel says:

    Hi Gary, Thanks for the detailed instructions and it did work really well. I have split off the hive end of Nov and I have checked them yesterday for the very first time after 5 weeks. And yes SHE is there. I am the very proud owner of a new young family. Only two frames with eggs and little larve are there but it is only the start.
    Thanks a lot might try another hive next year spring.
    Cheers Christel- South Island

  7. petra says:

    hi, is it too late in the season to try a split now?

    • Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Petra,

      Thanks for the comment and for reading our blog.

      Well in Auckland the bees have slowed down since Christmas, for around here I would say it might be cutting it fine. Unless you are prepared to feed them.

      Not sure where you are located, but it may pay to check with local beekeepers. It all depends on the honey flow in your area in the next month or two?

      Will there be enough time for the bees to build up enough stores going into the colder months.

      Hope that helps…Gary

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  9. KBee says:

    Thanks for this post! For some reason, this is the first description of how to do a split that made sense to me. :) you inspired me to give it a try with a strong hive two days ago. Yesterday I watched the hives all day and there were a FEW flying bees going into the new hive, but I sat there for five or ten minutes and there were probably about five or ten bees. Most of the foragers have found the new location of the old hive (3-4 feet away). Same story this morning. Any advice? Anything I can do to help increase those numbers, or shall I just trust in the process and let them work things out?

    • Gary Fawcett says:

      Thanks for the comment Kelli, The hive with the old Queen will be lower in number, but these will build up as brood hatches. I would reduce its entrance down during this time.

      Are most of the old field bees going into the Queenless hive at the old location? If they are going to the new one (3 to 4 feet away), you may want to move it further away.

      Have you noticed plenty of drones about in your part of the world?…Gary

      • KBee says:

        Sorry, I may have been confusing. The new queenless hive (at the old location) is the one with almost no field bees. All of them are flying into the old hive, which I moved several feet away. But yes, I have an entrance reducer on the new hive, and am hoping that as some of the capped brood hatches over the next week, they’ll have enough of a population boost to power through.

        Hmmm… I haven’t noticed a high number of drones here (Hawaii) but I’m also pretty inexperienced and I’m learning to watch so many other factors that maybe I’ve missed that! ;)

        • Gary Fawcett says:

          Yep drones are very important for mating with the new Queens, if you don’t have many drones about you may find the Queen doesn’t mate correctly.

          Check with other local beekeepers to check if they are producing drones Kelli?

          Very strange that the field bees are going back to old hive, we have done this method hundreds of times with great success.

          If after the five week period you see no eggs, then I would merge the hives and try again later in the season.

          We mentioned your question in the podcast coming on Thursday :)


          • KBee says:

            Yeah, things have been rough for bees on our island since getting blasted by small hive beetles a few years back. It seems that feral populations are starting to grow again, but even non-breeks have commented how their flowering trees that used to attract happy buzzing clouds have been strangely silent the last few seasons. :(

            I was really worried about that hive split after a few days of almost no foragers. But a week later, and I’m starting to see a little stream of traffic. :) 3.5 weeks to go! Crossing fingers. The original hive is abuzz just fine and dandy. :)

          • KBee says:

            Yeah, things have been rough for bees on our island since getting absolutely blasted by small hive beetles a few years back. It seems that feral populations are starting to grow again, but even non-beekeepers have noticed how their flowering trees that used to attract happy buzzing clouds have been strangely silent the last few seasons. :( I recently heard that some of the commercial keepers are purposefully letting many swarms go off into the world in hopes that they’ll add to the “wild” population.

            I was really worried about that hive split after a few days of almost no foragers. But a week later, and I’m starting to see a little stream of traffic. :) 3.5 weeks to go! Crossing fingers. The original hive is abuzz just fine and dandy. :)

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  12. Andy Watson - Marlborough says:

    Hey Gary

    I followed your instructions which were great, easy to follow and understand. It was really interesting to see how it all worked particularly with isolating brood frames and how the nurse bees naturally migrated to them. You get that first one out of the way and then you are off.

    I opened the hive yesterday, 5 weeks to the day. My problem is that I only found 1 frame with capped and uncapped brood. There were other frames that showed the brood pattern but no brood or eggs. I didnt search for the Queen as I didnt want to disturb it that much but I am wondering if (thinking) I have an issue? I guess its possible the Queen has died for some reason or not mated correctly?

    When I created the split I placed a second box with foundation on it. Watching the hive over the 5 weeks the hive has been really active. It had plenty of bees when I opened it and the top box has been drawn out and about 7 frames full of honey. (Im about to put another box on).

    What would you suggest in relation to this? Im thinking I give it another week or so and check again and consider merging with the parent hive if it hasnt improved, or another option is I take further frames with eggs and brood from the parent hive and see if the split can re Queen itself?

    • Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Andy,

      Yes sounds like a good idea, the weather has been awful for queen breeding this year. So the queen may not have mated correctly.

      You said you have capped brood, that must mean she was there at some point?

      It can’t hurt to put in a frame of eggs from the old hive, if the hive does have a queen then the bees won’t raise any queen cells.

      Thanks and Merry Christmas…Gary Fawcett

      • Andy Watson - Marlborough says:

        Thanks Gary, I just thought I would update you. I waited a week checked again and this time found 4 frames of capped brood so just needed a little more time.

        One question I have, Im running two brood boxes on the parent and new hive. How much honey will / does a two brood box hive require to get through the winter?

        • Gary Fawcett says:

          Hi Andy,

          Great News Andy, she must have needed some time to get going.

          Well it all depends on your area; I would ask a local beekeeper. It all depends on the length of your winter, local food sources etc.

          In Auckland I would recommend at least six frames on honey, this is made up across all the frames. But it will most certainly be different in your local area Andy.


  13. Tama says:

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for this. It is very easy to follow. I live in the bay of plenty and am new to bee keeping. Am I ok to do a split now or should I have done it in Spring/ early summer?

    Many thanks

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