Dividing a Colony

Why Divide?
The most common reasons for dividing a colony
are swarm prevention and the need to increase colony
numbers. A strong colony can be divided into two
or three colonies (splits). The number of splits will
depend on the amount of brood present in the parent
colony. For each split, you need three to five frames
of brood and a couple of food frames with pollen and
honey. Be careful not to split a colony too many times
or wait until it’s too late in the year, because the small
colony needs time to build up for winter.
Tip: Lightly misting the frames and bees in the
splits with a 1:1 sugar:water solution will calm the
bees, and occupy them while they get acquainted with
their new home, especially if you intend to mix brood
from one or more colonies to form the split.


When Should a Colony Be Divided?

A colony can be divided when it has a large
population of bees, at least 10 frames of brood and
appears overcrowded. When you open a crowded
colony, bees tend to “pour over” the top of the
frames. In the spring, a large colony preparing to
swarm is an excellent candidate to divide. Prior to
swarming, a colony produces many (sometimes 10 or
more) queen cells (called swarm cells) on the bottom
portion of frames in the brood area. Once the queen
cells are capped, swarming is imminent unless you
act quickly to “convince” the bees that they have
already swarmed. Dividing the colony is one method
to reduce overcrowding in the brood area and in the
honey storage area as well. Prior to making the splits
you need to determine how many can be made and
how to provide queens for the parent colony and/orsplits. To provide a queen you can use queen cells
or eggs from the parent colony or purchase queens
from a queen producer.

To Divide a Colony with Queen Cells:

1) Set up hive stands and organize all equipment
to be used for the new colony(ies). You will need
bottom, inner and top covers, supers and frames.
If using foundation when there is no honey flow,
you will need to feed sugar syrup (see feeding bees).

2) Open the parent colony with minimum smoke
and find the queen. Place the frame with her in the
new colony. This will give the parent colony the
illusion that the queen has swarmed. Determine
the number of frames of brood and food in the
colony being divided.

3) Place the split without the old queen in the
location of the parent colony. The older foraging
workers will return to the parent colony.

4) Carefully remove brood frames that contain
queen cells to an empty hive body. Queen cells are
easily damaged. Do not leave the frame exposed to
sun and do not turn the queen cells upside down.

5) Place a frame having two or three large, wellshaped
queen cells into the queenless split adjacent
to other brood combs and destroy the queen cells
that you do not need.

6) Place three to five frames of brood near the
center of the super in each new colony and provide
enough bees to completely cover the brood.

7) Add at least one frame of pollen and one frame
of honey, placing them outside the brood.

8) Provide at least two frames of empty drawn
comb (preferred) or two frames of foundation on
the outside of the brood area.

9) Place a super, containing drawn comb or
foundation, above the brood chamber.

10) Add a top feeder if there is no honey flow (see
feeding bees).

11) Do not disturb for 14 days. At this point, check
for a laying queen in both splits.

To Divide a Colony and Produce a Queen from Eggs:

Follow the procedure above; however, rather than
providing splits with queen cells, you will be giving
them frames with eggs to make their own queen. Eight
to 10 days later, check for queen cell formation. Be
careful not to damage the queen cells. At this time,
destroy all but two or three of the largest, best-shaped,
capped queen cells. Do not disturb for 14 days. Then
check for a laying queen.

Dividing a Colony and Requeening with Purchased Queens.

Follow the procedure for dividing as explained
above with these changes/options:

1) If you plan to put new queens in both splits,
order new queens in advance. Place the queen
shipping cage, with the cork removed from the
candy end, between two frames of capped brood in
each queenless colony (see Queen Marking and Requeening).
Return in three days to see if the queen has been
released. If she has been released, do not disturb
for 10 days, then check for a laying queen. If she is
still in the cage, poke a hole through the candy to
speed up her release and check again in three days.

2) If you want to save the old queen, leave her in
the original location and move the split to another
location. When you divide the brood, give the split
more capped brood, because these newly emerged
bees will accept a new queen more readily than
will older workers.

Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.