Walk Away Split (How, What & Why?)

walk away split

Splitting beehives is a way to expand your number of colonies and prevent swarming. 

But there are many methods of splitting a hive 🙂

A walk-away split is frequently used by beekeepers to expand their apiaries. 

So what exactly is a walk-away split, and how do you implement this method?

What Is A Walk Away Split In Beekeeping?

A walk-away split in beekeeping is where part of the brood chamber is removed from the main hive and relocated to a new site to create a new colony. The queen will remain with one part of the split, and the bees in the other part will raise a new queen from the eggs or larvae in the brood box. 

The reasons for performing a hive split are numerous, and some beekeepers use different methods for different purposes.

Most hive splits are performed in the spring, which is the right time to execute a walk-away technique. The theory behind this method is that the bees will do the work and produce a new emergency queen in the part of the queenless split.

Why is it called a “walk-away split?”

With this technique, you simply separate the brood nest, organize the frames in the brood boxes, and walk away! You don’t even have to locate the queen!

This method requires less intervention, inspection, and maintenance from the beekeeper, so many apiarists see this method as a labor-saving option.

A walk-away hive split may sound like an impulsive beekeeping operation, but in fact, the opposite is true. The planning for the division must start a year before during the productive season.

Sometimes, the hive must be set up with a double brood chamber during the previous season to perform a faster walk-away split.

Walk Away Split Pros and Cons

As with any other beekeeping operation, there are pros and cons to the walk-away method.

The advantages of the walk-away split are as follows:

  • A walk-away split is easy. There’s less effort involved for the beekeeper. No searching for the queen is necessary.
  • It is a time saver. The walk-away split is the fastest method of achieving a false swarm, saving time for the beekeeper.
  • The queen is from your own colony. The queen raised will be the offspring of your own queen, so you can be sure of her genetics.
  • Cost saving. There is no need to purchase a new colony or queen for the split. The workers will raise a new queen themselves.

The disadvantages of a walk-away split are as follows:

  • The hive takes longer to recover. Due to no management of how the split is performed, the division can be uneven, with more bees in one part than the other.
  • Timing is crucial. This type of split must be executed in mid-spring to give the hives enough time to recover through the summer in preparation for the coming winter.
  • The new queen is unmated. The unmated queen must undertake a mating flight, which is riskier than buying a mated queen. Raising a new queen takes time, and getting her mated extends the timeline. This means it can take longer for the queen to start laying eggs. 
  • There may be insufficient bees in the split. There may be too few bees, and they cannot take care of all the brood and collect resources for the colony.
  • The colony must be left untouched for 30 days. Leaving the colony for so long without an inspection after the split means the beekeeper doesn’t know what is happening in the hive. Only external factors can be monitored. 
  • The separation should be done at night. All the workers will be home from foraging in the field, and the hive split has a better chance of having an even spread of worker bees.

Walk Away Split Success Rate

Beekeepers have a varying degree of success with walk-away splits. My experience tends to show beekeepers in temperate climates with long production seasons, and short, mild winters have better success with this hive-splitting method than in regions with short summers and harsh winters. 

From my personal experience and observation, you can expect a 60% to 70% success rate in a temperate climate.

The longer production seasons allow the split colony to produce more workers and gather more resources, improving the chances of the split surviving their first winter.

Beekeepers in climates with shorter seasons can improve their chances of success by beginning autumn, feeding earlier, and feeding as long as the bees accept the food

Feed with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water to encourage them to store the food and produce workers to keep the hive warm.

It isn’t easy to give an exact success rate, as each beekeeper’s experience will differ due to varying local conditions. 

Walk-away splits do not work every time, which is why my preferred method is a more controlled, managed split, where the beekeeper has a more significant role to play but can expect a better success rate.

Personally, after implementing managed splits, my success rate increased to 80-85%.

How To Do A Walk Away Hive Split

how to do a walk away split

A walk-away split is easy to achieve and can be accomplished in 3 basic steps. This is one of the reasons many beekeepers utilize the method.

Only attempt a walk-away split with a strong colony. For example, one prepared the previous season by adding a second-story brood box to the hive during the production season.

  1. Remove the top brood box. Place it on its own baseboard, and give it a lid. Place the original cover on the original brood box.
  2. Relocate the split. Some beekeepers keep the new colony in the same apiary, but this confuses returning workers. Relocate the split at least 3 miles or 4.8km from the original hive site.
  3. Leave both hives for 30 days. After 4 weeks, inspect both hives to see if they have a laying queen.

After the mandatory 30-day waiting period, the colony cannot produce a queen independently. If one part of the split still doesn’t have a queen, the only way to rescue the bees would be to buy a new queen and introduce her to the new hive. 

Another option for a failed split is to re-merge the two colonies, but this is a topic for another article.

How Big Should A Walk Away Split Be?

The beekeeper has little control over the split size in a walk-away hive. The two brood boxes are simply separated, and each colony has the number of bees that were inside each box at the time of the split.

Alternatively, if splitting a single brood box, you can do your best to balance the amount of brood nest and worker bees transferred.

This is often why the walk-away hive split method does not work as well as a managed split, where the resources and bees are more evenly distributed between both parts of the split colony.

How Far To Move A Walk Away Split

The recommended distance to move the split colony from the original apiary site is 3 miles or 4.8km. This distance prevents returning foraging bees from becoming confused and returning to the original hive.

When a hive has moved this distance, the bees realize the shift when they exit the hive. Therefore, they perform orientation flights to reset their internal direction-finding systems to their new location as home base.

This reset prevents them from trying to navigate back to the original apiary at the end of the day’s foraging.

When To Check On A Walk Away Split

A walk-away split is left undisturbed for a period of 30 days or 4 weeks.

Typically, a bee colony takes about 3 weeks to raise a new queen. Then, an additional week is given to allow the queen to become mated before the beekeeper checks the hive to see if there are any fresh eggs in the comb.

To sum up

Walk-away splits are one way to split a strong bee colony to produce a second hive, but it is by no means a sure guarantee of success. Nevertheless, beekeepers use this method because of its convenience and lower time investment.

Walk-away splits can be successful if timed right, but there is always an element of luck required 🙂

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