How to make a vertical split

This is one of the easiest ways to split a colony and, if things go wrong, it is easy to undo. I call it a vertical split, but some call it a top split, an over/under split, or a top-and-bottom split. Like all the other splits I have described, it is just a variation on the basic principles of splitting a hive.

Here are the steps for making a vertical split:

  1. Remove two to three frames of brood from the colony you want to split and place these frames in the center of an empty brood box. As with any split, the brood frames should contain eggs, newly hatched larvae, and capped brood—all of it covered with nurse bees.
  2. Next to the brood frames, add at least one frame containing pollen and one containing honey.
  3. Fill out the rest of the box with frames of drawn comb or foundation.
  4. Also backfill the original brood box with frames of drawn comb or foundation.
  5. Place a double-screened board on top of the original brood box.
  6. Put the opening of the double-screen board on the back side of the original hive, and make sure the opening leads to the upper brood box.
  7. Place the new split on top of the double-screen board.
  8. Place the hive cover on top of the new split.

Other considerations:

lightbulbIf you are going to introduce a queen to the new split, wait a few hours or overnight before introducing the queen in her cage. Don’t introduce a queen to the split unless you are certain the original queen is not in the split.

lightbulbIf you are expecting the split to produce its own queen, look for queen cells in three or four days. If there are no queen cells, you may add another frame of eggs and newly-hatched larvae to the center of the brood nest.

lightbulbAs with any split, feeding is optional and depends on how many frames of honey the split has, the weather, the availability of forage, and the size of the split.

lightbulbOnce the new queen (either introduced or natural) begins laying, you can move the split off the parent hive to its final location.

Advantages of the vertical split:

  • The double-screen board allows heat to move from the established colony into the split. This means splits can be done earlier in the year.
  • This type of split can be done quickly with little planning. If during a hive inspection you find queen cells, you can put them in a box above the double-screen board and leave the original queen below. You will have a new queen in days.
  • If the split doesn’t take for some reason, you can smoke the hive and remove the double screen. The hive will reunite quickly with little disruption.


Honey bee forage: red deadnettle

After yesterday’s post about mint varieties, two beekeepers recommended I include red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). I agree that it is an excellent early forage plant for bees, but I did not include it because it is considered invasive to North America and is a problem plant in some areas.

Bee with red pollen.
Bee with red pollen. Kelley Bees.

Red dead nettle is often referred to as purple deadnettle or purple archangel. The “purple” comes from the flower color, whereas the “red” comes from the color of the upper leaves. “Deadnettle” refers to the fact that, unlike a true nettle, it does not sting. In other words, it is “dead.”

The plant can produce flowers almost any time of year, including the winter in mild years. Because it is one of the first plants to bloom, it can be an important food source for bees, producing both nectar and pollen. The pollen is an unmistakable bright red color.

This annual plant can reach 18 inches high, although it usually peaks at about 12 inches. It is found along roadsides, in cultivated fields, in lawns, and in other disturbed areas. The plant is edible and known to be high in antioxidants, although I’ve heard the taste is so-so.


Red deadnettle. Photo by Phil Sellens.
Red deadnettle. Photo by Phil Sellens.

Just fifteen mints of your time

The mint family of plants (Lamiaceae) is a large and diverse group that is a favorite among beekeepers. Many members of the family are extremely attractive to pollinators, and if you choose your plants carefully, you can feed your bees and harvest a crop of culinary herbs as well. Plants in the mint family include oregano, marjoram, basil, sage, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, thyme, lavender, and horehound.

Members of this family are distinguished by square stems and leaves in opposite pairs. The flowers are often small in whorled, spike-like clusters, but some species, like Monarda, have large flowers that attract hummingbirds. Many are aromatic and a number of species have colorful or variegated foliage, such as Solenostemon (coleus) and some Salvia.

In all, there are roughly 7000 species in the family divided into 236 genera. In the chart below, I’ve selected 15 genera that are readily available, easy to grow, attractive to pollinators, and widely recognized. The growth habits and flowering times are approximations and quite variable. The individual species and your local growing conditions will influence the growth habit, the flowering time, the amount of nectar produced, and whether the plants will overwinter.

Here in western Washington, I use oregano as “bait” for photographing a large variety of bees. For sheer number of bees, agastache has been the clear winner.

Genus Example Growth Habit Flowering
Agastache Korean mint erect & bushy mid-summer to autumn
Ajuga bugleweed clump-forming to spreading spring to early summer
Lavandula lavender shrub-like summer
Marrubium horehound spreading summer
Melissa lemon balm upright to bushy summer
Mentha peppermint low spreading to erect summer
Monarda bee balm clump-forming & tall mid-summer to autumn
Nepeta catmint erect & branched summer to autumn
Ocimum basil erect & bushy late summer
Origanum oregano spreading to upright summer
Perovskia Russian sage upright to sub-shrub late summer to early autumn
Rosemarinus rosemary shrub mid-spring to early summer
Salvia sage various (900 species) late summer
Satureja savory creeping to upright summer
Thymus thyme mounding to spreading summer


English for beekeepers

With that title, I can hear my ratings tumble like rocks from a precipice. Certain words invoke sheer boredom in beekeepers; “English” is one, “physics” is another. Although my “Physics for beekeepers” series is my personal favorite, it certainly is not yours. I don’t expect “English for beekeepers” to fare much better.

My complaint is that many beekeepers—by no means all—use words that mean different things to different people. That in itself is fine, except it is impossible to communicate when there is no agreement on meaning. As a writer, it is my job to communicate. Readers expect writers to convey information or stories in a way they can understand.

Flexible definitions lead to mushy, unclear thinking, and unclear thinking leads to miscommunication. For example, the terms median and mean have very specific definitions to scientists and mathematicians. If I say “mean” when I meant “median,” the information I’ve communicated is wrong, even if the two values are identical. Huh?

Never mind, here’s an example closer to home. I once met a beekeeper who had just put her two honey supers under her two brood boxes. When I asked her why, she said her mentor told her to reverse her supers. Now in a world where all bee boxes are inexplicably called supers, I suppose this made sense. She understood the word “super” incorrectly because her mentor used it incorrectly—and that lead to miscommunication and the wrong outcome. Poor bees.

Similarly, about three years later a beekeeper I knew “reversed” his brood boxes by turning them 180 degrees. Can you blame him? The word “reverse” all by itself doesn’t mean much unless someone explains, and we beekeepers are notoriously bad at explaining.

A few months ago I wrote about the words “colony” and “hive.” You can compare them to “family” and “house.” A colony lives in a hive just as a family lives in a house. Hives do not abscond. Hives do not swarm. Hives do not starve or die. Instead, hives are inanimate objects that don’t do much of anything except rot. We accept this sloppy wording after a while because we know what we mean. But for someone who is just learning, this type of language is incomprehensible.

Lots of confusing terms come to mind:

    • People say nuc, when they mean a small brood box, but a nuc is a small colony (a nucleus colony). It is a nuc regardless of the size of the box it’s in. Conversely, if a small brood box is empty, it’s not a nuc, it’s just a small box. Such an empty box can be called a “nuc box,” but not a “nuc.”
    • A cluster is not a swarm. “During the winter, the swarm moved to the top of the hive.” Wrong. That bunch of bees is a cluster or colony.
    • Caste does not mean sex. Honey bees have two sexes, male and female, and the female sex is divided into two castes, workers and queens. This yields three types of bees (three adult phenotypes) but not three castes.
    • Ill-tempered does not mean Africanized. Ill-tempered bees could be Africanized, but most are not.
    • Swarm cells and supersedure cells are built in different places for different purposes; they are not equivalent. When someone says “queen cell,” which one do they mean?
    • People talk about the honey flow, but the thing that’s flowing from flowers is nectar. The term “honey flow” gives the impression that honey is flowing, fully formed, from the blossoms when, in fact, it doesn’t become honey until it’s been processed by honey bees. “Nectar flow” is a more accurate term.
    • Queen is not capitalized in the middle of a sentence. Queen is a relationship like mother, father, sister, and brother. Or you can think of it as a job description: lawyer, mayor, painter, worker, queen. It is not a title, unless you happen to name her. Then, I suppose, you could call her Queen Melissa or some such. But if you name her, you have different problems.

Of course, the all-time most irritating word in all of beedom is super. Super is short for superstructure. You can’t have a superstructure (which means “above the structure”) unless you first have a structure. All boxes cannot go above something that’s not there. You have brood boxes and supers. Brood boxes are the basic structure of the hive and contain the brood; supers go above the brood boxes and hold the honey. Simple and drop-dead logical. Why is that so confusing?

If anyone is still awake, I have one more complaint. Recently I saw the abbreviation SBB used to mean “screened bottom board.” Two months later in the same publication SBB was used to mean “solid bottom board.” Just think about it; to help control Varroa mites you should use an SBB instead of an SBB. But everyone knows that, right?