Friday, November 9, 2007

Lesson Fifteen: Making Spring Splits

Hi, Sheri and I would like to welcome all of our new subscribers and tell you just a bit about ourselves. We are David and Sheri Burns, sharing various aspects of our family beekeeping business with you, like these online beekeeping lessons. Many people just drive out to our bee farm here in central Illinois and visit, and many others call and ask questions. Many more email us. It is our passion to encourage others to become beekeepers. We're glad you could join us for today's lesson on making splits.

WARNING: There is a push to make beekeeping appear practically hands free. New beekeepers are failing to implement best management practices. I want to be your mentor. I am currently accepting positions to mentor a limited number of beekeepers. You'll have access to my personal cell phone and private email. And you can send me videos or pictures of your hive when it just doesn't seem right or you don't know what's going on. You'll also receive 4 new instructional videos from me and a weekly tip of what you should be doing. Click here to see if spots are still available.

Have you considered the importance of taking our one day Advance Beekeeping Course?  I'll be joined by my good friend and fellow certified master beekeeper Jon Zawislak. Jon and I have written a book on queen rearing and we recently authored a two part articled published in the American Bee Journal on the difference between Northern and Southern bees. Jon and I will be teaching our Advance Beekeeping course June 11, 2014 here in Fairmount, Illinois and we have around 6 seats available. You don't want to miss this opportunity to be around me and Jon and learn about bees for a whole day. Click here for more information.

Welcome to Long Lane Honey Bee Farms Online Lessons! Visit our MAIN WEBSITE AT: We have a complete line of hives that we build right here in Illinois. We offer classes, sell queens and much more. Give us a call at: 217-427-2678. Our hours are: M-Th 10am-4pm, Fri 10-Noon Central Time.

Once your hives become strong and good honey producers, and you begin to sell your honey, wax, pollen and propolis, you'll reason that if you had more hives, you could make more money. It really does work this way! If one hive makes $400 a year, then 10 hives will make $4,000 and 100 hives $40,000.00...that's in a near perfect world of course :) And, if you really want to make bees your business, there are other aspects of income from your hives such as raising and selling your own special line of queen bees or package bees, wax and wax products such as lip balm, pure beeswax candles, hand cream etc. You can also sell nucs from your hives. A nuc (short for nucleus) is when you pull out 4 or 5 frames from a strong hive and sell those frames for $100-$150. Queens sell for around $15-$25 and on up.

This sounds exciting and fun and it is and to make bees your business, you'll have to learn how to successfully split your hives. This is how you can multiply our hives without spending money on buying packages every year. Or you can do both, split some of your hives and buy a few packages too. It is the most cost effective way to add additional hives each year. Normally, a certain percentage of hives die each year. We expect a 20% loss over winter. Sometimes there is no loss, and sometimes more than 20%. I have around 40 hives going into winter, and I know that 10 are pretty small and light and will probably not make it. It's not the cold. Bees can survive cold weather just fine. It is because they never built up to be a full size hive before winter arrived; they didn't store up enough food for winter. Some of them were hives I removed from residential areas late in the year. I could replace these by purchasing new packages, and sometimes I do. However, at $50 a package, that gets expensive each year. Splitting a hive only cost time and maybe a new queen, unless you raise your own.

There are several advantages and reasons why you will want to split your hives:

To increase the number of you hives.
To prevent swarming.
To produce nucs.


It is important to realize that splits should only be made from overwintered hives, or what we refer to as second year hives. A first year hive usually will not expand enough to split.

Of course, how soon you start to split your hives will depend upon where you live. You will have to wait until the evening temperature is warm enough so that the transferred brood will not become chilled. It is a gamble for me, here in Central Illinois, to make splits prior to the month of May. A thoroughly populated hive can keep their brood warm on a cold night, but not a small split.

Although there are many variations in making splits, let me give you the simplest explanation, then I will expand upon the variations.

In its simplest form, a split is nothing more than several frames of brood, bees and food sources taken from a strong hive, and placed in an empty hive. You might think of it as a controlled swarm, although a natural swarm only consist of bees and not brood or comb. But, when making a split, we also add brood, nectar and pollen to the split. Thus, making a split can discourage swarming.

When I make splits, I simply pull our 4 or 5 frames of brood in various stages of development, along with the bees on those frames, and place them in an empty box. I also add a frame or two of nectar and pollen from the strong hive. And, I feed my new split 1:1 sugar water as well.

If you know that your transferred brood has eggs that are less than three days old, you do not have to add a queen as the split hive will realize they are queenless and begin to raise their own from the fertilized eggs in the brood. This is preferred when I wish to retain the qualities of the queen from the strong hive.

This is convenient for me, because it doesn't matter to me where the queen is, either in the old hive, or perhaps I moved her over to the new split. As long as both hives have 1-3 day old eggs, the queenless hive will raise their own queen.


Since I have lots of hives in small areas, I have found that my stronger hives have a tendency to rob my small splits of their honey. Therefore, if you find this to be a challenge, simply move the split at least 2 miles a way, keeping it there until it can become large enough to defend itself. Then you can bring it back and place it where you want.

Also, sometimes I fail to supply enough bees, especially nurse bees, to care for the amount of brood I have transferred into the new split. Therefore, it is helpful to shake frames of young bees into your split hive. It is best to shake them from the hive the split was made from to prevent fighting.

Another challenge may be that one of the hives may not raise their own queen. In this case, it is important to check within a few days to see if a queen cell is being formed. If not, you will need to call us up and order a queen.

Another slight variation is to add the variation of a screen. In this case, the split is on top of the established hive. The split is placed on top of the hive they were removed from, with only a screen to separate the old hive from the split on top. The heat from the old hive keeps the split warm above. This is successful but the entrance of the split on top should face the opposite direction than that of the hive below. Eventually, the split can be taken off the hive and moved to it's autonomous location.

Some beekeepers claim to make 16 splits from one hive each year. Generally you can always make one split but sometimes 2, 3 even 4!

Make you splits as early as you can, as the split will need time to prepare for winter. There are many who are practicing splits in the fall. This is possible, however, if you live in a region with hard winters, you will have to place the split on top of an established hive, divided by a screen, and the split must be fed or have plenty of nectar and pollen.

I have also made splits with just two frames of brood and bees. So, you'll have to experiment and see what number works for you.

Making splits is really pretty easy! And think of the savings of not having to buy a package or a new queen.

I have fun doing the math with splits, like this. Say you have 2 hives and in 2008 you make a conservative single split from each hive. Now you have 4 hives. In 2009 you get brave and split your 4 hives, but this time you make 2 splits from each hive. Now you have 12 hives.

12 split twice = 36 hives by 2010
36 split twice = 108 hives in 2011
108 split twice = 324 hives in 2012
324 split twice = 972 hives in 2013

In 5 years 2 hives could increase to nearly 1000!

In our next lesson, I'll be sharing how to get the most honey from you hives. Then, I'll share how to market your honey, such as bottling and labeling and were to go to sell your honey.

Remember, it is never too late to order your equipment for the 2008 bee season! You can place your hive order by giving us a call at 217-427-2678. This way, you can get all of your hives ready for Spring! Our prices will increase after the first of the year, so take advantage of this year's pricing!

Also, check out our website at:

See you next time and remember to BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the split info. You've got a great site here. I'm off to pick up my Chilean Queen today. Fingers crossed.

Bob in Burnaby, B.C.

Markus said...

What do egges that are 1 -3 days old look like?

Jarod said...

The look like a little white dot in the bottom of the cell. About the size of a comma on the page of a book.

kcohmb said...

Just had a split fail and was quite disappointed. I think it got overwhelmed by ants, so I will try again. Do you believe in moving the hive a significant distance from the original?

Unknown said...

I live in South Carolina. I'm a newbie beekeeper and I'm going to pick up 5 packages (roughly 10k bees and a queen) Thursday. I'm excited and a friend of mine who is an experienced keeper helped me build my hives. This is the last time I expect to buy packages. My buddy has never split a hive and we are researching together. My question is this. He had 3 nice hives a few weeks ago and 2 of them swarmed out. He now has 5 hive boxes and only 1 hive. If I'm hearing you right, he should be able to take 2 to 3 frames of brood frames and 2 to 3 frames of honey frames and put them in one of the old hives and have it take off. The thing with his hives is, there is room to move between the hives, but they are pretty close together. I read what you said about the other bees stealing honey but, if we use an entrance reducer and feed them well, they should produce their own queen. If the hives are that close, will the bees in the old hive not "sense" the old queen and move back into the old hive leaving the brood you moved? Just curious how that works. You can contact me at or

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the well written article. I'm going to make my first split this afternoon.

Erbo said...

Splitting a hive only cost time and maybe a new queen, unless you raise ...

Conrad said...

Jon and I have written a book on queen rearing and we recently ...

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