Comb Honey Corner

April 2014

by Ray Nabors

Honey bees naturally clone the colony by swarming in the spring. The colony will divide as soon as the population increases and the brood nest becomes crowded. An uncontrolled swarm is usually detrimental to honey production. It is in the best interest of the beekeeper to split the stronger colonies as a part of apiary management.

Weak colonies make weak splits. Feeding pollen or pollen substitute in spring will stimulate brood building and prepare colonies for division. It is best to overwinter colonies in two story situations in two hive bodies. Two medium depth boxes would be fine in the southern two-thirds of the United States, but you cannot confine the splits to one medium for a brood chamber. Therefore, only full depth hive bodies should be employed.

To use single-story colonies for honey production after overwintering in two standard hive bodies will require two tops and two bottoms for every colony overwintered. After the colonies are combined in the fall, the extra top and bottom can be stored on the extra hive stand for easy use the following spring.

You try to double your colonies each spring. One reason to divide colonies is to get more hives. In our case we will mitigate the increase in fall if all colonies are combined in the fall for overwintering. We must put a queen in one of the splits. Order queens in the fall. If you let a split raise its own queen, it will take 60 days for the colony to begin production. It is better to order mated queens.

Single story colonies produce more comb honey. The crowding into a single standard hive body helps encourage comb building. Usually, a split will prevent a strong colony from swarming. It is preferable to get queens supplied as early as possible in the spring before hives get ready to swarm. This is also the best time to re-queen the old colony. I recommend ordering two queens for each overwintered colony.
Communicate with your supplier of queens. They will contact you when queens are shipped. That is when to split each colony into a single story, while your queens are in transit. Hopefully, you will have a nice day with sunny weather. It is never good to make splits when weather is windy or rainy and the bees are not flying. Make sure you have brood and food in each of the splits. It is most convenient to have each overwintered colony on a stand for two colonies. 

Do not remove the overwintered queen until the new queens arrive. You will know which split has the queen within three days. She will be where the eggs are. It is best to feed both splits a gallon of syrup after the process is complete. Arrange the splits so that brood frames are together in the center. Each split should have a minimum of 3 frames of brood (4 or 5 is better). Put frames of honey and pollen in each split on either side of the brood frames.  This is an excellent time to recycle old combs. If damaged or aged combs were placed on the outside of the wintered colony frame arrangement, those can now be removed and replaced with frames containing new foundation.

Most beekeepers make an even split for each box. Consider an uneven split for a comb honey operation. Most of the field bees will return to the overwintered colony site. The goal is to have two equally strong single story colonies when the honey flow begins. Remove most of the capped brood and place it in the hive body on the new location. Leave the frames with eggs and some open brood in the overwintered location. The honey and pollen from the overwintered colony must be distributed evenly. The queen will most likely remain in the colony with the eggs and uncapped brood.

What does this accomplish? The new location colony will have mostly house bees that will stay with the brood. Most of the field bees stay with the overwintered location colony. The new location with house bees will accept a queen much more easily than the split with field bees. The hatching brood in the new location split will provide ample space for a new queen to lay eggs. This helps reduce swarm tendency in that single story box. Since the capped brood is most of the brood, it will quickly populate the new colony as well.

If new foundation frames are used to replace old worn out frames (not brood frames), it is good to put one or two of these where the eggs and hopefully old queen is located and reduce swarming there. The apiary is now prepared to receive new queens. The best location for the new split may be on the other end of a double hive stand.

Marked queens are easier to find next season. The cost is little when compared to the time used locating unmarked queens. Requeening is expensive and it takes time. Annual requeening increases honey production. Do not be apprehensive, you can do this. Use smoke in the entrance, but open the top of the hive with little or no smoke very gently. Go for the middle of the brood chamber and take out each frame. Look each frame over carefully until the queen is found. Grab the queen into your hand and quickly close the colony.
Leave each colony location ...