The reverse split

A better way to split your hives

In a reverse split, the queen moves to the new hive location along with almost all of the nurse bees.  The foragers will remain in the parent, at the original location.  Many beekeepers currently are doing 50/50 splits, which of course only stay 50/50 if you move the colony 5 miles away immediately.  Otherwise, the foragers will all return to the original location, even if the queen is moved.  They will abandon her.  If left in the same apiary, the new hive in a 50/50 will become more like a 20/80 split when the foragers return to the original location.  Many backyard beekeepers do not have the luxury or the time to move splits away.

Keeping both parts of a split strong

Splitting a hive in the traditional way inherently introduces weaknesses to both parts.  One will be weak because it does not have a queen or foragers, and thus cannot build up until a new queen emerges and mates.  The other will be weak because it has too few bees.  The reverse split keeps both sides strong by moving all of the nurses, rather than only 50% of them as in a 50/50, and allows the hive with the most bees to do the raising of the new queen.  It is called a Doolittle (after them man who invented it, though we are reversing his process) and is wonderful because you do not need to find the queen.

How do we move the queen without finding her…

And, how do we move all of the nurses?  This is the simplest split you will ever do, and the most effective.  First set up a bottom board and a hive body in the new location, it doesn’t matter how near or far away.  Open the parent hive and remove the sheet of honey nearest the wall.  Move this and the bees that are on it to the new location, right next to the wall like it was.  The next frame should contain bee bread and honey, move that one, too, and put it next to the first one.  Now go through the frames one by one.  Any that contain open brood get moved to the new hive along with the bees that are on it (nurse bees are on open brood, right?)  Just set them in place in the order they came out in. Any frames that contain capped brood get shaken off over the new colony, and then replaced in the center of the parent hive. You do not need to shake every single bee off, just enough that you can confidently know that you did not move the queen back into the parent hive. You can look for the queen before you shake as well, if you like. It might be nice not to shake her if you can help it.  When you finish going all the way through the hive, the open brood, the queen, and all of the bees will be in the new hive, and the capped brood will be in the parent hive, with a few bees that were left after a good shake or two.  Obviously, you need to leave some eggs in the parent hive so that it can make a new queen, but it would be practically impossible not to.  Many of the frames will have a mixture of open and capped brood, we are just choosing where they go based on what the majority of the brood is.  The foragers will return to the parent hive.  The capped brood will begin emerging, and the parent hive will return to a nice balance of nurses and foragers.  The new hive will contain enough nurses to support the queen, and they will begin maturing into foragers, so that this hive also returns to a balance of nurses and foragers.  The queen ends up with a good percentage of the total bees that were in the hive, vs. only 15% that would remain with her in a 50/50 split.  She can begin building the hive numbers rapidly with plenty of nurses to cover brood. In this way we have overcome the weakness of the new colony- too few bees.  We have also overcome the weakness of the colony that needs to raise a queen by leaving it with a very good population to defend it and provide nutrients for it while the new queen is emerging and mating.

Putting it all back together

The new colony needs to be very well apportioned with honey and bee bread from the parent, since they will have no foragers for a few days.  Be sure you leave some honey in both colonies, however.  As you put them both back together, remember the basic order that bees want the frames in….honey next to the walls, then bee bread, brood uninterrupted in the middle.  Frames with foundation can go between the bee bread and brood on one side, for the bees to draw out.

Make sure it worked

One week after the split, open both colonies.  The new colony should have the queen and eggs.  The parent colony should have capped queen cells.  If it does, close it up and leave it alone for 3 more weeks so the queen has time to mate without being disturbed.  If not, add eggs from another colony so that they can start a new queen.  Remember that the queen cells won’t be on the bottom like swarm cells, since they are actually emergency cells.  They will be in the middle of the frame, usually.

What if…

What if you have capped swarm cells already when you do the split?  Be sure to leave ALL of the queen cells in the parent, and to move the queen.  Brush, don’t shake, the frames that have queen cells and put them back where you found them, since shaking queen cells can cause the larval queen to fall out of the royal jelly and starve.  Sometimes the existing queen will have already left with the swarm, and you can’t tell because there are so many bees. Or, she will still leave the new colony with a swarm because you did this too late.  This is why you need to check to make sure she is still there.  The beauty of this split is that even if she still goes with a swarm, she only takes a quarter of your bees, instead of half or more.  If the new colony is queenless after a week, and it is strong enough, give it eggs to start a new queen, or re-combine it with the old colony.

A reverse split helps us do what we always should do…help the bees do what they want to do rather than making them do something else.  In the spring, the bees want to send the old queen away with some of the bees to start a new colony, exactly what we have just helped them do.  Happy Beekeeping!  T


Several people in my club have asked this question recently…”shouldn’t I wait to use the oxalic acid vaporizer until it is colder?” I wanted to vaporize while it was warmer, and this is a good chance to learn to think about bees.  Here are the facts we know, and some questions:

The bees started making brood after the solstice,  ( I can tell you this is true because I see them in my observation hive.

The more brood there is, the more mites will be protected from the vapor.

The phoretic mites will be on the bees nearest the brood, in the center of the cluster.  Will the vapor really get in well if the cluster is tight?

Bees are paralyzed by cold, will the vapor be so disturbing that the bees will uncluster and be unable to get back?

My instinct tells me that I need to vaporize while the bees are in the hive, but not clustered tightly, and it is warm enough that they can move around a little to groom and still get back in the cluster, and before there is any more capped brood where mites can hide.  It took a while to find someone with an answer, but David Baker from To Bee or Not To Bee had one.  He says what he has read is the OA vaporization should be done between 30 and 50 degrees.  40 was the number I had in mind, since that is the temp at which bees can move inside the hive to access honey stores.  Adding together the facts we know about bee behavior is a good way to come to a conclusion about how we should react to what we see in our hives.   What do you think, did I miss anything?  T

Winter is the perfect time to learn about our bees, and the perfect time to set goals for ourselves and our beekeeping. The CSBA Master Beekeeper Certification Program is gearing up for a busy and educational summer. I am meeting this week with our web guy (have you seen our new web page?) about getting the MB program back up there.  First to appear will be our new Apprentice Level written exam which is based on “The Beekeepers Handbook” by Diana Sammataro.  It would be so fun to form a study group in your bee club and prepare for not only the exam, but also to be a better beekeeper. Topics include winter cluster behavior, indications of swarm preparation, robbing, flower fidelity, bee biology, and all those things about our bees that fascinate us. If you have been a beekeeper for two years, you qualify to take the exam, and after also passing the field exam, you graduate to the Journeyperson level. I have to admit, I thought it was pretty interesting just to see if I could pass the exams.

Beekeeping Merit Badges

For those of you who have already qualified to move on to the Journey Level, we’ll have Guided Studies on all kinds of topics like Feeding, Development of the Honey Bee, Pesticide Poisoning, Mites (of course!), Over-wintering, Queen Rearing. These studies are for you to work through on your own.  They will help you learn to research effectively, and help prepare you for the written and lab exams.   CSBA will sponsor and schedule classes this spring on these and other topics such as swarm prevention and increased honey production. We are still working on the budget, and we are looking for funding to help keep your involvement in the Master Beekeeper Certification Program much more affordable. Imagine if you really knew how to keep your bees healthy and happy, and the beekeepers around you all did, too.

Let’s get started!   Get your copy of “The Beekeepers Handbook”, start studying, and keep your eye on for more info coming soon.

One of the neat things about horizontal beekeeping versus (vertical) Langstroth beekeeping is that you can be a lot more active in the winter without disturbing the cluster. I just got in a couple of my top bar hives yesterday. Working from the back of the hive I removed full honey combs and set them aside until I reached empty combs and started seeing a few bees. The goal here is to place the full honey combs in the hive, up against the back of the cluster, and push the empty comb to the back of the hive out of the way. But, here is where the temptation comes in. I really thought I should be seeing more bees than what I was,and the temptation to peek at the cluster proved too strong.  I kept going until I saw the tiny cluster with the queen. Since the temps were above 50′, they will be fine,(probably) and now I know. The queen and cluster were in the middle of 5 empty frames, and of course since it is after the winter solstice, that is where she wants to begin laying. Now they have room to lay, but honey is easily accessible, in case of a cold snap. Long hives can have this treatment as well, as long as there is a covering over the cluster so that you don’t let the heat and scent out.  Happy Beekeeping!  T