Bees for Development
Dividing a honey bee colony means taking a strong colony and making it into two smaller colonies. Dividing hives is a way of increasing the colonisation of hives without having to wait for swarms to colonise the hives naturally. This helps to avoid the uncertainty of natural colonisation, especially in areas where colonisation rates are low. Dividing bees always carries some risk of damage to the bees so should only be done is the beekeeper is willing to take this risk and who has enough hives to be able to manage this.
This is where it is valuable to use top-bar or Langstroth hives because of their standard dimensions. This standardisation makes it possible to move combs and bees from one hive to another. When dividing a colony it is important that the combs are correctly built - that is one comb on one top bar. If this is not the case then this needs to be corrected before dividing starts.
Dividing should only be done on strong hives with plenty of brood, sealed brood, young brood and eggs. You need to know the time when the bees are at their strongest and are most likely to be rearing queen cells. The basic idea is to share the brood and bees between two hives and then force the one without a queen to make a new one. Eggs are necessary for the divided part of the colony that has been left without the queen to be able to make a new queen so it is essential that eggs are present in the colony. Success is most likely when unsealed queen cells are already present in the colony as this means that they were going to divide naturally (that is, they are about to swarm). If no queen cells are present the bees will make a new queen as long as there are eggs present.
You will need two hives - the active (or parent) hive and an empty hive to receive the divided bees.
The writer has found that using a hive hanger made of lashed sticks makes this hive moving very easy especially if hives are hung using wires.
The position of the two hives should be about 2-4 metres apart. This means the combs can be quickly and easily transferred between the colonies but they are far enough apart so the two hives will not interfere with each other. If necessary, clear a path between the two hives so walking between them is easy and safe. The width of the two hives needs to be the same so that the top bars can be transferred between the hives. Two or three people are needed to carry out the procedure. Work as a team quickly, methodically & carefully. There are many methods of dividing hives. The one described below is one of the more reliable methods. Using this method means it is not necessary to find the queen.
Select a strong colony for division. 2 or 3 days before starting inspect the colony to ensure it has eggs. EGGS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR THE NEW COLONY TO BE ABLE TO MAKE A NEW QUEEN. If no eggs are present the procedure should not be carried out. Wait until eggs are present.
This is what honeybee eggs look like.
The procedure needs to be carried out in the cool of the morning.
Start time should be no later than dawn.
This is what queen cells look like.
Sometimes queen cells will already be present in the active colony. This is especially good as the active colony is already making a new queen and is ready to divide naturally. If queen cells are already present, at least one brood comb with queen cells on it should be very carefully transferred into the new hive.
Replace each brood comb that is removed with a new top bar. If possible the top bars should be primed with wax so the bees will build new comb in the correct position - one comb to one top bar.
Fill up all the empty spaces with new top bars so both hives are complete and replace the lids.
Install the active hive in its new position.
After a period of time, check the new queen has been successfully reared and is laying eggs. This can take up to four weeks.
Pam Gregory Oct 2007
List of Articles available on this topic (2):
Alternative Beekeeping: The Warre Hive
Dividing Honey Bee colonies in Ethiopia
Kebede, A.; Ejigu, K. & Tassew, A.