There are many benefits to splitting a hive, but when is it too late to split a hive?
In simple terms, it’s too late to split a hive when the bees can’t make the necessary preparations and adjustments for winter. This will vary based on your location.
However, there are some basic rules that can help you determine when you should split your hive.
What is A Split?
A split is essentially a controlled version of swarming. Instead of the bees deciding to split the colony, you split the colony before they swarm. You’ll take part of your hive to start a new colony. Instead of purchasing bees for a new hive, you’ll use your own healthy hive and split it into two or more colonies.
Each hive will have its own workers and queen, without any extra expense on your part, other than the new hive itself.
Why Split Your Hive?
One of the reasons to split your hive is to avoid swarming. If a swarm occurs, you will lose valuable bees and honey production. Bees swarm when the hive becomes overcrowded, usually in the spring or early summer.
Half the colony will remain in the hive, while the other half will leave to establish a new colony. This poses several problems beyond simply losing half your bees. Only 1 in 6 swarms survive. Swarming can increase the overall bee population, but it’s not nearly as effective as splitting a hive.
If your hives are in an urban area, swarms can also be problematic for neighbors. They may not appreciate finding a swarm in their yard. Bees who swarm will set up show in inappropriate places as well, including walls, eaves, attics, and fireplaces.
Another benefit of splitting the hive is increased honey production. Having another hive will lead to more honey, and more bees overall.
Instead of purchasing a nuc, using your own bees allows you to control the genes. If you have a hive with lots of positive characteristics, splitting the hive can pass these genes on to the new colony.
If you don’t want to start a new hive yourself, you can always sell the split to another beekeeper. This keeps your hive from swarming and helps out the bee population.
When to Split a Hive?
There are two basic times you can split a hive. These are spring and fall. The spring split typically occurs in early spring. The fall split typically occurs in late summer. Depending on your climate, you may be able to split in early fall as well.
When Is It too Late to Split a Hive?
It’s too late to split a hive if the temperatures won’t allow the smaller colony to stay warm. Bees will also need time to raise a new queen if you use queen cells. If you choose a mated queen, they will need a few days to adjust to the new queen.
They will also need to find new food sources and store honey.
It’s best to make fall splits in July-August. This gives them time to acclimate. It also provides them with time to draw comb. Bees require warm temperatures, 90 degrees or higher, to draw comb.
Understanding seasonal cycles can help you know when to split the hive. During the winter, typically from September to December, the bees are focusing on surviving the winter. Older bees will die, and drones may be starved to death.
This is a precarious time for the colony, and definitely not a good time for a split.
During the late winter, usually December through January, the bees may begin feeding the queen, which will lead her to lay eggs. If the colony is weak or doesn’t have proper winter stores, this process won’t begin until early spring, when the bees begin to collect pollen.
It’s still early to spilt the hive in most areas.
In January and February, spring is beginning. If there are sources of pollen, lots of young bees and activity within the hive, you can split during this time.
Next, you have mid-spring. This typically falls from February to April. You can split a hive at this time. However, if nectar flow is beginning or about to start, you will lose honey production.
When you split a hive, it will take both colonies time to adjust. The established hive should still produce honey, but it will produce less honey than it would if the hive wasn’t split. However, if you are concerned about swarming or have another reason for splitting the hive, it can be done during this time.
Late spring and summer come next. This occurs from April to September in northern states, and March to June in the South and Western states, which lack the late-season nectar flow of the north.
This is the common time for swarming to occur. Of course, if the hive swarms, you’ve lost your opportunity to make the split. You can make a split during this time, as long as swarming hasn’t occurred.
Spring is a natural time to perform a split. After all, the bees are beginning to be active after surviving the cold winter. When making a spring split, be sure that the hive is strong and has recovered from winter before making a split.
The biggest advantage of a spring split is preventing swarming. If you make the split early enough, the new hive should be able to produce some honey before winter. However, the original hive will produce less honey if you split when the nectar flow occurs.
Spring is often cited as the time to make splits, but there are some benefits to fall splits as well. One of the benefits of a fall split is that you’ll have a faster spring build up.
A split will have bees of different ages, so it won’t experience a strong die off over the winter, which must be replaced before the spring nectar flow begins.
Another advantage of a fall split is you will have a healthy new queen when the spring nectar flow arrives. A young queen will lay more eggs, which results in more honey production.
Lastly, if you split early, you can get a fall honey flow from the new hive. If you live in the North, you will have fall plants blooming that provide a strong fall flow. The newly established colony can produce fall honey to harvest.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to do the split by early July. You’ll also need to feed your bees well after the split until the fall flow begins.
Signs It’s Time for a Split
You’ll want to do a split when the hive is strong and thriving. Splitting a weak colony is a recipe for disaster. Look for plenty of capped brood and lots of bees on the frames.
You may also check for queen cells. Queen cells are typically an indication the hive is preparing to swarm. If you want to split, do it very quickly if you spot queen cells, assuming that the existing queen is still alive and healthy.
Queen cells aren’t a requirement for a split, however. You simply need a thriving bee population with plenty of honey and brood. If things are starting to get crowded, it’s probably time for a split.
You’ll also need to consider the weather. Splitting early in the spring is one method. It’s best to do this when temperatures are over 50 degrees, so the bees can begin their work.
Fall splits can be performed from July to August. The best time is at the end of summer nectar flow, but before the temperatures start to drop significantly.
Final Thoughts on When to Split Your Hive
Beekeeping is both a science and an art, and splitting a hive has elements of both. Knowing the season and monitoring your bees can give you an idea of when to do a split. However, instinct is also helpful. If your gut tells you to split, or not to split, take that into consideration.
It’s also a great idea to speak to other local beekeepers. Temperatures and conditions can vary greatly from region to region, so there’s no one size fits all solution. Learning when other beekeepers split their hives can save you some costly trial and error.