How And When To Split A Hive In Spring (Fail-Safe Guide!)

splitting hives in the spring

Splitting beehives is a means to an end for a beekeeper.

And splitting hives in spring is done for specific reasons. 

Therefore understanding why beekeepers split colonies is essential, as is the reason for performing the split in the springtime!

I’ll tell you everything you need to know 🙂

Splitting Beehives In Spring

A beehive should only be split from mid-spring onwards to ensure the new colony has enough warmth, resources, and forage to make the split a success. The separation can be achieved by taking 3 brood frames and 2 frames with pollen and honey and placing them in a nuc hive with some worker bees.

Beekeeping is a pretty complex activity requiring an understanding of bees and their behavior and timing beekeeping activities to your advantage.

Splitting colonies is one of those exercises that require knowledge of bee behavior and perfect timing to ensure the success of the split.

Performing the split incorrectly or too early can backfire. For example, you could lose both colonies rather than have two thriving hives.

The first aspect of hive splits we must address is why beehives should be divided in the spring.

So Why Should You Split Beehives In The Spring?

Hive splits are conducted in spring to allow sufficient time for the split colony to build up its numbers and resources before winter.

There are several reasons why splitting a beehive in the springtime season is a good beekeeping practice. Nevertheless, it can be dangerous if it is not done right.

A split conducted at the wrong time or when a colony is not ready to be divided can result in the loss of colonies rather than multiplication.

One of the main reasons beekeepers split beehives in the spring is to expand the number of colonies they have in production.

Trapping wild swarms can be a hit-and-miss affair, while a hive split can increase a managed apiaries size if done correctly.

There is another reason beekeepers split colonies in the spring, particularly large, strong ones.

Should You Split Beehives In The Spring To Prevent Swarming?

Yes, splitting in the springtime is a helpful method for preventing swarming.

As a beekeeper, swarming is a behavior you should try to avoid. When a colony swarms, you lose a large portion of the honey bees and all the hard work you have put into them! 

Some states in the USA also require that beekeepers use beekeeping practices that minimize swarming to prevent the spread of disease.

Splitting large colonies in the spring is an excellent strategy to prevent swarming.

And as a bonus, you create a robust, new colony from the split 🙂

When Should You Split Beehives In Spring

Spring is the beginning of the busy season for bees. Still, beekeepers must be aware of local conditions to prevent splitting a hive too early and jeopardizing the success of the split.

The bees must have sufficient forage to sustain the split; otherwise, the resources in the two colonies will be insufficient to support the bees and larvae, and the colonies will decrease in number and possibly fail altogether.

If you are not introducing a new queen to the split, the new colony needs time to raise a new queen, get her mated, and lay eggs to ensure success. This success relies on two primary conditions: 

  • The outside air temperature
  • Available forage.

How Early In Spring Should You Split A Bee Colony?

Splitting a hive reduces the strength and resources available to the bees. (both the original hive and the new colony)

Timing is everything 🙂

Temperature plays a vital role in bee activity. Splitting the hives too early in spring when there is the chance of a late cold snap in the weather will prejudice the success of the split. The weakened colonies may struggle to keep the brood and the hive warm enough to survive the low temperatures.

Also, queen bees will not undertake mating flights if the temperature is below 69°F or 20°C, which makes this the temperature guideline I use before performing a hive split.

Even when the springtime temperatures are warming up, there may not be enough forage available until the weather has been consistently warm for a few weeks.

I recommend not attempting a split before mid-spring to ensure all these conditions conducive to a successful separation are in place.

How To Split A Beehive In The Spring

Planning for beehive splits is essential. 

You need to have extra equipment to house the splits. Depending on the method used, preparing the hive the previous year can also make the division easier.

Various methods can be used to split a beehive, but some, such as a walk-away split, require advance planning. This technique involves placing a second brood box on the hive in the previous spring or summer in preparation for a split in the following spring.

I have an article dedicated to walk-away splits if you want to investigate this method further.

The split we will talk about here is a standard split that can be done on a single brood chamber hive.

You can perform a 50-50 split of the colony, simulate a swarm, or simply split off a smaller part of the bees. The option you choose is up to you, but I prefer a 50-50 split to give both halves of the colony a better chance at success. 

Beekeepers that sell swarms generally split off smaller parts of the colony to get multiple splits from a single beehive each season.

The following steps can be used to split a colony in the spring: 

  1. Prepare a 5-frame nuc box for the new colony. This box will be used to house the split.
  2. Remove 3 frames of brood and place them in the nuc. These brood frames must have a mixture of capped brood, uncapped brood, and eggs that the new colony can raise into a new queen. Keep the nurse bees on the brood frames when you transfer them to the nuc.
  3. Remove 2 frames of capped honey and place them in the nuc. These food stores are necessary to feed the bees and brood in the new colony.
  4. Replace 5 frames in the original colony with fresh frames with foundation. Move the remaining brood frames to the center of the original hive, with the honey frames on the outside. Add 5 additional frames to replace the 5 frames taken for the split.
  5. Seal the split and relocate to a different apiary site. Relocate the split colony to a distance of at least 3 miles or 4.8km away from the original hive to ensure workers remain in the new hive.

How Many Times Can A Hive Be Split In One Spring Season?

The number of times a colony can be split in a spring season depends on the strength of the colonies and the size of the splits. However, if small splits are taken from a strong colony, then up to 3 or 4 can be taken in spring and early summer.

Some may label me a conservative beekeeper, but I prefer doing a single split from a hive each season and giving the bees an entire season to recover and build up numbers before splitting again in the following year.

I also recommend not splitting a new colony in their first year but only in their second year of production to ensure it is strong enough to survive.

Beekeeping is a game of patience that uses nature to our advantage. There is no point in rushing nature only to lose colonies in a failed split 🙂

Conclusion

Splitting bee colonies is a necessary beekeeping practice to increase your apiary in a managed fashion and prevent natural swarming.

The timing of the split is a crucial aspect!

But it is an exciting way to learn more about your bees and become a better beekeeper…

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