Bees: The Risky Hive Split

Let’s see if I regret this.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

Last week, I blogged about a hive inspection and included a photo of a queen cell. Because of its position in the frame, I thought it was a supersedure cell — the kind of queen cell the bees produce if their queen is ill, dead, or missing. But when I showed it to my beekeeper friends at last week’s bee chat, they universally agreed that it was a swarm cell. That meant my bees were planning to swarm.

I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to increase the number of bees and especially beehives that I had — not decrease the number of bees.

Queen Cell
The elongated cell is definitely a queen cell, but is it a swarm or supersedure cell? People more knowledgeable than me say swarm.

I thought of everything I knew so far about beekeeping — which is pretty much based on what I’d read and observed for the past few months. (In other words, a lot but not much.) I reasoned that if the brood frames that included the swarm cells were removed from the hive without the queen and they were put in another hive, the bees would raise a new queen and I’d have a new hive.

This is a hive split.

I did this on Friday. I took two brood frames plus one honey frame from my first hive and placed them in a nuc box with two empty frames. All three frames were covered with bees that would become the new hive’s starting population. I’d rely on those bees to complete the rearing of the queens in the queen cells on those brood frames.

I then replaced the brood and honey frames I’d removed from the hive with empty frames, giving the bees plenty of space for new brood and honey in the existing colony.

The only problem: I never saw the queen.

Although I’m pretty sure she was left behind in the original hive, I can’t be sure since I didn’t see her. After all, the hive had to have at least 20,000 bees in it — finding one among all that is not easy.

And that’s where the risk lies.

You see, if I took the queen along with the brood frames containing the swarm cells, not only would I leave the original hive queenless, but I run the risk of losing a viable queen to the new queens that hatch. Or having bees swarm from the nuc anyway. (Admittedly, this second scenario is not likely, given the limited number of bees in the nuc box.) Finally, as my beekeeping friend in Vermont, Tom, pointed out, if a hive suddenly becomes queenless, the workers might start laying eggs. Those will all be worthless drones.

Of course, I did leave behind brood frames that included queen cells just in case. That hive runs the same risks.

Do I know what will happen? No. But time will tell. I’ll check the nuc box later today — it’s right here at my RV parking space — and try to figure out what’s going on. I’ll also check the original hive (which is down in Wenatchee) later in the week to see what those bees are up to.

Worst case scenario: I screw up my original hive and don’t have a viable colony in the nuc box. Best case scenario: my risky hive split works.

Will report back when I know something.

2 thoughts on “Bees: The Risky Hive Split

  1. Timing is so amazing! We did a hive split on Sunday. I will be posting about the hive tour and all the excitement. My little ladies are cooking along, lots of drawn out comb and I finally got to add my second hive body! Yippee!

    • Already? Great! My first hive is also cooking! So much, in fact, that I think I’m going to pull the 10 full honey frames and extract. I’m just trying to work out the logistics of that with a friend since I don’t have an extractor.

What do you think?