Thursday, April 7, 2011


I figured it was time to stir things up a bit, so I decided to split one of my hives. But it wasn't just because I couldn't leave well enough alone. In what appears to be something stripped from the annals of Bizzaro World, the weakest hive I had going into winter is now bursting at the seams, while my strongest hive is sucking wind. Ordinarily, I'd requeen the weak hive, but the only queens available in early April are in Hawaii and would cost me a bundle after shipping. So, I decided to let the bees do their thing and raise a queen for me.

For those who are unfamiliar, a split is the taking 4 or 5 frames of bees, brood (eggs, larvae & pupa), honey and pollen from a strong hive and putting them in an empty hive body or nuc box. If you don't have a new queen to introduce, whichever hive that is left "queenless" will instinctively begin raising a new queen within a few days.

I'm not going to pretend I'm some pro at splitting hives. I attempted it once and it failed because of mistakes on my part. And although I learned from those mistakes, I was understandably a little nervous about the possibility of fumbling a second time. As luck would have it, Jennifer Berry wrote the neatest little article on doing splits in this month's Bee Culture magazine, and after reading it, I was pretty pumped and ready for round two.

I planned to use a 5 frame nuc box to perform the split, but before I made the pilgrimage to the bee yard, I did a little prep; most of which was to prevent a truck cab full of angry bees from taking my eyes off the road. To begin with, I attached the bottom board to the nuc box with a couple of brackets I bought at Lowes. Next, I cut a piece of wood to block the entrance and secured it with a few thumb tacks. Then, I added a screened inner cover for ventilation. Finally, I rounded up an adjustable bungee cord to secure the inner cover so it wouldn't pop off coming down the road. With all my gear in check, I hit the road.

Bracket attaching the bottom board to the nuc for transport

Screened inner cover for ventilation

Entrance block held in place with tacks

Adjustable bungee cord. A truck cab full of angry bees wouldn't be good.
After a few puffs of smoke, I started taking the hive apart to find the frames suitable to my needs. When it comes to honey bees, I'm pretty good at two things: 1) I can usually find the queen, marked or not and 2) If I get stung, it's on the tenderest of spots. Guess which happened first?  Along about frame number three, an angry young lady decided to sting me on my index finger just behind my finger nail. So much for increased dexterity by not wearing gloves. It felt like I'd missed with the nail gun. I swear, I think she hit bone. Through gritted teeth I grunted as I scratched out the  rapidly emptying stinger, trying to shake it off. Now I know that an opposable thumb gives us an edge on the animal kingdom, but when it comes to manipulating frames in a bee hive, a pain free index finger is right up there with the thumb in my opinion. However, despite a throbbing digit, I found the queen a few frames later and whipped out my queen catcher, but in a continuance of the good luck, I ended up catching her in the jaws. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to release the grip immediately, and she dropped out. Absent a 3rd hand and quickly beginning to panic, I put the frame back in the hive and began searching for her. My luck started to turn as I found her crawling around on the ground in front of the hive without stepping on her...yes I've done that before too. Breathing a sigh of relief, I snapped her up in the queen catcher and set her aside. Three stings later (knee cap seriously?!, elbow and forearm), I released the likely traumatized queen into the nuc and loaded it up in the truck.

Queen Catcher

 Everything went pretty smooth from there. It's a good idea to move a split several miles away so that foragers won't return to the wrong hive. So I put the nuc on a couple of blocks in the flower bed of my front yard (about 10 miles away from the donor hive) and dropped on one of my hive top feeders with some syrup and pollen substitute to reduce their stress levels. By that evening, everything seemed hunky dory as they were flying in and out their new home.

Newest addition to the flower bed
I plan on keeping the nuc at my house for several weeks. In the meantime, I'll be checking on the donor hive in a couple of days to see how they're coming along raising a new queen. Hopefully, they'll have a new momma by mid month. Stay tuned...


  1. Being stung is no joke when it's happening to you...but I did enjoy the humor you gave about it. Congrats on the split, and let us know how they do in making their own queen!

    Show Me The Honey

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  3. "Just behind the fingernail", happened to me today three times on two different fingers. I have never been stung there before, but dang that hurt. I was also stung on the neck today, (see my blog for details), but the neck one didn't hurt no where near as bad as the finger ones. Geewhiz that was painful.
    Enjoyed the post, keep up the good work.