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How to start multiple hives from a swarm-control split

Last time I wrote about a simple way to split a hive to prevent swarming. It is quick and easy and results in two fairly equal hives. However, if your original hive is loaded with swarm cells you may be able to raise a few extra queens or start more than one hive.

Let’s say your soon-to-swarm hive has four frames with swarm cells on them. You can:

  • Take each frame with swarm cells on it and put it in its own nuc. These frames must also have lots of brood that is covered with nurse bees.
  • To each nuc add a frame of honey or a sugar syrup feeder and pollen patty. Remember, these nucs will have almost no foragers for the first few days and the nurse bees will need stores to feed themselves and the uncapped brood.
  • Return the queen to the original hive. Since all the foragers will come back to this hive, you probably don’t have to add supplements.
  • Start checking the nucs for eggs after about three weeks. If you find no eggs or no queen, the nuc may have failed to produce a viable queen or she may have disappeared on a mating flight. If the nuc has no queen you can combine the remaining bees with another hive.

This is a great method of raising queens if you need just a few. I have one of those Langstroth-size boxes that is divided into four two-frame sections with one entrance per side. I start four queens from swarm cells and, after they start laying, I transfer each one into a five-frame nuc.

Last summer I started with four swarm cells and three produced viable queens. By the end of the summer I had three well-populated nucs. In December after I found a dead queen on the landing board of one of my hives, I combined the queenless hive with one of the nucs. The other two nucs are doing fine and, if they make it till spring, I will set them up as new hives or use them to replace weak or failing queens.

It is comforting to keep a nuc on hand for those wintertime emergencies when there are no queens available. It is not difficult to do and you will feel really accomplished after you raise your first queen—even though the bees did all the work.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

John
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Very glad to have found your page. Your knowledge is quite helpful. I am patiently waiting to do a split on my hives this summer. I presently have 2 hives at one location and want to do a split on each hive. I inherited these hives from my father who passed last year. I still have the hives on his property and would like to split 2 hives and bring them to my property about 12 miles away.

Last summer in late May and early June, his hives swarmed 3 times. I successfully captured all three and gave one swarm to a friend and it’s still doing well, another swarm, which seemed to be doing well all summer, just plain took off on me late September, and the third one died over the winter. I am continually learning as I go along and this summer, I’m planning on waiting till I see swarm cells appear in the hives then I’m planning on following your advice on “How to start multiple hives from a swarm control split”.

I have a lot of 8 frame equipment that I have prepped, cleaned and ready to go. I would like to make my splits using two 8 frame deep boxes. My question is, would I benefit from putting my split in a 5 frame nuc box first and then transfer them to the 8 frame box once they get established or could I just start them off in an 8 frame box?

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated,

John, CT

Rusty
Reply

John,

If it were me, I would just go ahead and put them in the 8-frame deep and skip the nuc box. If it were a slow growth period, I might consider the nuc box, but at the height of the swarm season they will fill those boxes in no time. I think moving them an extra time is an unnecessary disruption to them and unnecessary work for you.

Jeffrey Rosas
Reply

I split my top bar hive twice this spring using queen cells and I have a queen in each of the splits. This is my first successful year keeping bees through the winter and my second year of having bees.

A lot of drone brood came with each split and I worry about too many drones in the new small hives consuming too much honey. I’ve read that bees like SOME drones in the hive, but after many internet searches I’ve been unable to find anyone writing on this issue. I’m considering putting some 1/4″ mesh over the entrance on sunny afternoons to prevent drones from reentering. Thank you for your site and your insights.

Jeffrey Rosas
Reply

Thank you for taking the time. That piece was helpful.

Finn
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for the great site. Why not put the queen in one of the new hives and leave a swarm cell in the original hive like you said to in the previous article?

Rusty
Reply

Finn,

You can do that. There are endless ways to make splits.

Saoirse
Reply

If there is more than one queen cell on the frame should I destroy them so there is only one queen cell in the nuc?

Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Saoirse,

I can only speak for myself, but I do not destroy queen cells. Not all queen cells are created equal, some are strong, some weak, some queens may be deformed or infected with something. How are you going to decide which is best? At the very least, keep them somewhere else for something to fall back on. If you have 100 hives, it doesn’t matter. If you have just a few hives, it matters.

Steve pollock
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Two weeks ago I found a number of queen cells in one of my hives. I also had recently built a 4 apartment mating box that would hold two frames each and decided to give it a try even though it’s late in the year. In two of the apartments I put one frame of honey, one frame of mostly capped brood with bees, and 2 queen cells in each between the frames. I was hoping it would make at least one queen but I checked today and both apartments have been robbed and the frames are empty.

Any idea where I went wrong?

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

I don’t know where you live but it is late in the year. My drones have been mostly thrown out. If the same is true in your area, there would be no one around for a virgin to mate with, even if the bees managed to raise one. Also here we are in the midst of a nectar dearth. I wouldn’t want to try a two-frame nuc in a dearth because it would get robbed for sure. Keep the queen boxes for when colonies are increasing in size in spring. The fall is just the wrong time.

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