How to Split a Hive (Or Raise a Queen in a Queenless Colony)

This spring I made 10 splits. As of July, all 10 are queenright, each with a mated queen the workers raised themselves. I'm always surprised at how strong the market is for new queens, and while there's definitely a legitimate need for queen suppliers, I suspect most requeening could be done by individual beekeepers without relying on outside help. I've never bought a queen. Each of my colonies has a queen that can be traced back to an original Carniolan mother bee from my first nuc. I prefer it this way because I don't get wild swings in the genetic disposition between colonies--I always know the source of the maternal genetics, and odds are my virgins mate with drones from my colonies too (not that I'm averse to some outside genetics being introduced too). If I only had access to overly-defensive genetics, I'd definitely be in the market to buy a queen; but as long as I like my stock of bees, I'll stick with raising my own. Below is the guide I made to help make timing decisions when I'm splitting each spring. If you're nervous about splitting or dealing with a queenless colony, follow these steps and most of the time you'll be successful. And once you're comfortable raising your own queens, you'll be a much more independent beekeeper.

Mowing around new splits with a scythe.

Mowing around new splits with a scythe.

To split a hive, start with #1. For a queenless hive, start with #6-2.

1. Do the split in early April after the bees have a chance to build up their population, but before the main nectar flow. Ideally there are queen cells in the hive.

2. From the parent hive, transfer one frame of brood with attending bees, two frames of stores with attached bees, and two empty frames into a nuc.

3. Include the queen on the transferred frames*, plus shake a frame of bees into the nuc. So in total the nuc gets three built-out frames, four frames worth of bees, and the queen. *You must find and transfer the queen for effective swarm control.

4. The parent hive is left with five frames of brood and stores, but no queen.

5. The queen should begin to grow the nuc colony, and the parent colony is left with a majority of the resources to raise a new queen.

6-1. The parent colony will still likely produce a honey crop, and the nuc can be moved into a full hive after you have a laying queen. Now for the split, skip to step 7.

6-2. (Queenless hive only) Take a frame of eggs and/or very young larvae from a queenright colony and transfer it into the queenless hive.

7. Seven days after the split (or frame transfer) there should be capped queen cells in the parent hive.

8. Fourteen days after the split, if there are still no queen cells in the parent hive, consider moving a frame of eggs from the nuc to the parent so the queenless colony has queen-making material.

9. Wait a total of 28 days after the split to see if you’ve got a laying queen.

10. If not, check again 7 days later.

11-1. SPLITS: If the parent hive can’t successfully raise a queen, combine the nuc back into the hive.

11-2. RE-QUEENING: If the queenless hive can’t raise a queen, consider buying a queen or combining it with another colony.