There are many ways to split a hive but in any case, the expected result remains the same: a new colony that will raise or adopt a new queen. This requeening process cannot always be guaranteed and may sometimes fail. Precision beekeeping makes it possible to monitor this process as from the colony creation. You can therefore identify, without any intrusion, the colonies that are successful and those that are struggling or even failing.

When to split a hive?

You can make a split without endangering the hive when the brood level is high enough to take 2 or 3 frames. In practice, this stage of "maturity" depends on two major parameters:

1/ The overall dynamics of the apiary, initially characterized by its situation. We can clearly see that the development of the four apiaries below in Paris, Marseille, Pau and Bayonne (France) is very different. The impact of climatic zones is obvious, but the location of the apiary also determines its development. Let’s take as an example the apiaries of Pau and Bayonne which are not very far from each other (114km / 70 miles), but which are displayed very differently.

This year, the French South-West cities (Pau & Bayonne) made a good start. With a mild winter, the egg-laying process started early in January. Marseille had a 15-day time lag, but also showed a very strong growth in just a few weeks. As for Paris, the cooler temperatures explained a smoother start, but once this period is over, we can see a very good start!

Average brood of four apiaries in France, on different climatic zones

2/ The hive dynamics are also a key factor. Indeed, in the same apiary the colonies may not develop in the same way. This is the case for example in Pau (see graph below) where the first hive started to develop about one month before the last one.

Given these two factors, each apiary and each hive will reach a suitable stage for splitting at a particular time. Whereas in classical beekeeping, the decision is made " roughly ", in precision beekeeping, it is possible to have a finer indication of the development stage.

I generally plan to split a hive when it has reached a 65% brood level.
This simple rule helps me to organize the operations in my apiary.

Making splits in practice

Let's take the apiary in Pau as an example. I decided to split the R3 & R7 hives on March 15. These two hives were the strongest in the apiary and had rocketed the previous days, reaching a brood level of 70%.

Colony development since January 1st. The R3 & R7 hives are ready to be split on 15 March. The other hives are slightly less mature so they will be split later.

To split this hive, I took 2 frames (see the several splitting techniques at the bottom of this article) which resulted in two new hives: RA & RC. No queen was taken or introduced. It is therefore from the fresh brood that the bees will have to raise their new queen. Under these conditions, the theoretical schedule is as follows:

March 15 D Hive split with 2 brood frames
March 31 D+16 Queen's birth (at the latest)
April 5 D+21 Last-born worker bee
April 7 D+23 Queen's maturity / fecundation
April 8 D+24 Last-born bee
April 10 D+26 Egg-laying starts again 3 days after fecundation
theoretical calendar of expected events following division

The queen's birth is due at D+16, followed by the period of fertilization. So, this brings us to D+26 approximately for the resumption of egg-laying (from April 10🤞).

Monitoring without intrusion the colonies’ requeening process after making splits

Each of the two new colonies were equipped with a temperature sensor in order to monitor their development. We could clearly see their progress. A few days after the hives were established, we noticed a progressive brood reduction until about April 8. However, from April 10, the two hives showed very different behaviors.

Actual paths of the RA and RC hives stacked with the theoretical calendar. The egg-laying process is effective for RA on the scheduled date, while RC is still buzzing.

The RA hive has developed very smoothly. We can clearly notice the reduction of brood volume during the first phase. From April 10, with the new queen, the egg-laying process starts again. A perfect journey!

For RC, however, things have been more complicated. The first period was identical to RA’s one (both colonies started with 2 brood frames). But RC didn’t manage to restart. His brood level stayed around 20%. There was no new queen laying, because it was a male brood. The splitting process failed.

Avoiding brood overheating

When looking more closely at the reasons why the second division (RC) may have failed, I noticed a few overheating alerts.

The measurements below seem to show that overheating (>38°C) affects small colonies. While in the same apiary, larger hives did not suffer from it.

Four episodes of overheating in the RC hive impacted brood development.

The RC hive clearly experienced four overheating episodes in April, while RA did not. These heat stresses must have affected its brood to some extent. The lesson learned is that we must be careful of hive overheatings to ensure that splits have the best chance to succeed.

A possible reason for this is that the RC hive is of a more basic construction: thinner walls, no feeder and a basic sheet metal roof, directly placed on the frame cover. As I noticed the overheatings, I decided to add a feeder and a 4 cm insulation under the roof, on April 19. But maybe it was already too late...

The RC hive (on the left) is of a more basic construction compared to the RA (on the right). This makes it more sensitive to overheatings.

The RA hive also experienced overheatings during May. But it was already able to overcome the difficulty. However, its brood development may have been affected. At that time, it still had a frame to build on, although the hive had started on a very good basis.

Did I take the queen when making splits? 😅

Before ending this article, here are two new splits. This time, in a Parisian apiary. They are the result of a 4-frame sampling from 4 different hives, installed in two Dadant hives of 10 frames. The RF and RI hives splitting did not start on March 15 as in Pau, but on April 15.

In this case, we can see that the brood volume drops for the RF hive but not for the RI hive. What’s the reason for this? A mother-hive queen may have been taken away with the frame. The RI colony developed but the mother-hive had to restart. No big deal, but you better know about it!

Two splits that don't have the same chance of success. One with an incorporated queen (RI) starts quickly while the other (RF) has to raise a queen. Sometime later, in June, they are neck and neck again!

Wrap up: Improve your practice to best help your bees

We know how precious a bee swarm is today. These examples showed that it is possible to support the development of a new colony without disturbing it. We learned some simple lessons that will help to improve our practice for future hive splits.

The goal is simple: maximizing the amount of successful splits!

References on making splits

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