A colony is divided to remove the bees’ impulse to swarm. This method is also known as artificial swarming.
If your hive is in a suburban backyard it’s probably not ideal to allow your colony to swarm, as you need to consider the close proximity of your neighbors.
In a previous post, I outlined several measures that could be taken to reduce the impulse to swarm. However, measures such as minimizing congestion in the hive, and removing drones and queen cells are really temporary measures as the bee population will continue to grow and drone and queen cells will be rebuilt.
The aim of dividing your colony is to weaken the original colony by removing much of the brood and young bees from the queen and the older bees. In essence, the bees believe the colony has already swarmed.
You should divide your bee colony when you notice the first signs of swarming. The early signs of swarming include an abundance of food in the hive and little space for the bees to store more, the queen has no more room to lay brood and the bee population overflows when you remove the lid.
It’s important two regularly inspect your hive in Spring for signs of swarming, approximately every two weeks is recommended, but this depends on your area and the amount of pollen and nectar collected by the workers.
By splitting the hive you can increase the number of hives you keep. If you don’t need or want another hive, at the end of the swarming season the hives can be reunited, forming one very strong productive colony.
Each of the methods described below requires you to locate the queen. I will describe how to do this in another post.
You will need a second base, a new brood box, and a second lid. This new brood box can be a used one that is clean and free of disease.
In this first method, move the first (or parent) hive a little to one side and place another new hive and base next to it, preferably with a few frames of used brood comb inside.
From the parent hive, remove about half of the brood frames and check carefully for queen cells as they can be easily missed. If you find queen cells present, place all of those frames with queen cells into the new hive.
Examine each queen cell for its shape and form. Choose two that are well-formed and remove the rest. When placing the frames with queen cells into the new hive, do so carefully to avoid damaging them.
Make sure the frames with brood comb and queen cells are carefully placed in the central area of the new hive and place frames with foundation or drawn comb on either side of the brood comb.
Place a hive mat and lid on this new hive.
Leave the original queen in the parent hive with the rest of the brood and honey. She will think that swarming has occurred and will remain in the parent hive quite happily, while the new hive containing the queen cells will become a new colony with healthy bees.
In the parent hive also make sure the remaining frames and the frame with the queen are carefully pushed together in the center of the hive.
Frames removed from the parent colony and placed into the new hive must be replaced either with frames of foundation or drawn comb if you have them. Place these new frames of comb at the sides of the parent hive.
Allow sufficient time for the queen to hatch and start laying before you inspect the new hive to check that she has started laying healthy eggs and in a solid pattern across the frames.
After swarming season has passed, you can reunite the two hives or move one of them to a different part of your yard. How to reunite two hives will be in another post titled Uniting Two Bee Colonies.
Undertake the task of splitting a hive only when the weather is sunny and not windy. Cooler weather may chill the brood.
The Demaree Method
The Demaree method of swarm management was designed by George Demaree in 1884 and is a popular and often used method.
Once again this method requires you to locate the queen.
This is a labor-intensive method of swarm prevention but can be very effective. The major difference between this and the previous method outlined is that all the bees are in the same hive.
Step by Step
Here are the basic steps of the Demaree method.
- First of all, remove the parent (or original) brood box from its base and carefully place it on one side.
- On the base place a new brood box complete with frames of foundation or empty drawn comb if you have them.
- Remove the central two frames of comb from this new box and put them to one side.
- Then from the original brood box, find the queen and place her and two frames of sealed brood into the center of the new brood box. Include any bees that are on them.
- Place a queen excluder on top of the new brood box.
- Then, above the queen excluder place an empty honey super, with frames of foundation or frames of drawn comb if you have them.
- Place a queen excluder above the honey super.
- Now place the original brood box on top of this queen excluder. Push the brood frames together into the center and take the two empty frames you removed from the new box and place one on either side against the walls of the original hive.
- Finally, replace the hive mat and lid.
Wait a week and go through the top box to remove any queen cells that have been developed. You may have to do this because the scent of the queen, who now resides in the bottom box, will have decreased and the bees in the top box may believe the hive is queenless.
The queen will have a great deal of room to lay eggs in the bottom box and will be supported by the nursery bees who remain there to look after the two frames of brood placed there.
The two brood boxes will provide room for the queen to lay and will relieve congestion. Essentially, the colony will believe it has swarmed.
Honey will continue to be stored in the honey super by the older worker bees.
You may find this method labor intensive as it involves a lot of manipulation of the hive components and a lot of heavy lifting too.
There’s also the chance you may damage or lose your queen in the process.
However, this method is effective in swarm prevention, and if you are interested in increasing the number of hives in your apiary, you can get some queen cells in the process.
Swarming is a natural biological process in the life cycle of the European honey bee. But if you live in a suburban area your neighbors might not like to have a swarm of bees land in their yard uninvited!
It’s a good idea then to take measures to reduce the bees’ impulse to swarm if you are a hobby beekeeper who isn’t looking to increase the number of hives you already have.
If you conduct regular and thorough hive inspections during Spring you should be able to identify when your hive may swarm and take any necessary action before it occurs.
The two methods of splitting your hive that I have described will help prevent your bees from swarming.
You will learn how to find the queen and develop your knowledge of beekeeping too. Beekeepers have experimented and found other methods of splitting hives that work for them. Help can be found in online forums and your local beekeeping club.
If you are relatively new to beekeeping, then it’s a good idea to ask for help from an experienced beekeeper in your area.
Join your nearest beekeeping club to meet other beekeepers. Often the club will have guest speakers and some clubs conduct hands-on beekeeping courses for the beginner.
You will find experienced beekeepers helpful and ready and willing to give you advice based on their own experience.