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The Classroom

The Classroom – July 2023

- July 1, 2023 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Splitting to increase hive numbers

What is your opinion on making splits for someone wanting to increase hive numbers? I currently have five hives and want to be able to grow my number of hives. I have three hives that I acquired as nucs in February and early March that are already at 8-9 frames of bees and have added a second box. How soon can I start splitting into 5-frame nucs?

Scott Harrison


I love making splits to increase hive numbers. You need to consider two things before making splits.

1)  The colonies should be strong (6+ frames of brood and 8+ frames of bees). Of course, you can make splits from colonies that are weaker than this. However, you will need to be more diligent in the process to ensure that the slightly weaker splits grow appropriately.

2)  Food resources must be available for the colony. Split colonies want to grow, yet they need resources to grow. Either you have to feed the split or there must be enough resources in the environment to support the split. You are asking me this question in April, meaning that there is a high likelihood that your major spring nectar flow is about to begin. Correspondingly, you may not need to feed your split colonies, though it is good to feed them a time or two before you turn it over to Mother Nature.

In your case, it is a fine time to split your colonies, assuming all your colonies are queenright and growing. Keep in mind, growth requires resources. Splitting your colonies this time of year will limit the amount of honey you make this first season, given the colonies will be using the incoming nectar to build their nest and raise new young. You will have to balance the desire for more colonies with the desire for honey. You really have two options: (1) Split now so that the colonies can use the impending nectar flow to grow, or (2) wait to split after the nectar flow. In option 1, you likely make no surplus honey, but you will not need to feed your bees, given the bees will get what they need from the environment. In option 2, you will make surplus honey, but you will have to feed the split colonies.

If you are new to beekeeping, you could always do both options. You have five colonies. Maybe consider splitting two now and letting the other three go through the major nectar flow. You can split them after the nectar flow and see which option you prefer. I wish you luck. Growing colonies is a good problem to have.

Splitting a colony of shallow supers

I purchased a mated queen and want to start a nuc with her. The hive that I want to start this with is (unfortunately, long story) a colony composed exclusively of shallow supers. I had to hive bees last fall and shallow supers were all I had. So needless to say, I want to convert this all-shallow hive into a two deep + medium super colony. Can I somehow take the mated queen I have and start an increase nuc with some of the shallow boxes? I have nuc boxes, but they are made just for deep frames. I have a deep box with just foundation.

I would like your opinion on what would be the best thing to do. Perhaps just find the queen in the all-shallow colony then just distribute the shallows to my other hives? I only have four hives total. Then I could start two nucs with the two queens that I would have as a result of doing this. I would appreciate your opinion about how to get from bees in shallows to bees in deeps.

Lisa Martin
May, Indiana


If I understand you correctly, you have three “regular” hives and a fourth hive that is composed of exclusively shallow supers (if so — how many supers)? You have two options here:

1)  You can shake bees from the hive composed of shallow supers into the nuc, place the queen in the nuc, and then move the nuc to a new location >2 miles (>3.2 km) from where it currently is. This is equivalent to installing a package of bees, but with the shallow super hive being the hive that provides the “package of bees.” In this scenario, you are simply shaking at least one shallow super’s worth of bees into the nuc, onto the foundation, and adding the queen. You will need to feed this nuc to get it going. Then, you can move the super from which you shook all the bees to one of your full-size hives.

2)  You could remove one shallow super full of bees and place a bottom board and lid on it. In this case, you are creating a hive composed of one shallow nuc. You can put the caged queen in that hive and move the hive to a new location (to avoid losing bees from that super back to its original hive). Once the queen is released and laying, you could add a deep box above the shallow. As the colony grows, the bees will move into the deep box and begin constructing comb. The queen will eventually spend time in the deep box laying eggs. Once you see brood in the deep box, you can move it below the shallow super, find and place the queen in the deep box, add a queen excluder above the deep box, and place the shallow super on top of the excluder. Now, you should have the queen in the deep box and a shallow super on top.

Both of these strategies will leave you with the remainder of the original hive composed of shallows. You could make a second one-shallow hive using the queen in that hive and following what I outline in point two. You can then take any remaining shallow supers from that hive and distribute them among your other hives.

Summer splits

Historically I have run single brood boxes with multiple supers. I typically harvest honey at the end of June or early July, treat for mites, super again for fall honey, harvest the honey in November, and prepare the colonies for wintering. This season, I have a couple of colonies with queens that are performing really well, and I have two brood boxes on them. My goal is to split/separate the brood boxes after the spring harvest to double my colonies. My question is, how do you recommend I do this given:

  1. Their ability to produce a new queen.
  2. The availability to buy queens for the splits.
  3. Consider before or after my summer mite treatment.
  4. Establishing them to get through the winter.

Trey Kirwin
May, Florida


The colonies you create as splits should be able to make new queens this time of year. Of course, you could also purchase queens to use in the splits. This would be a good option if you (1) want to try new stocks of queens or (2) have fewer than five colonies in your apiary and do not want to run the risk of inbreeding. You should be able to purchase queens through summer, though it does get a little more difficult given that queen breeders do not like to sell queens during the hot summer months.

For treating: You can treat either before or after splitting the colonies. Treating before splitting could save you a little money (you are treating fewer colonies). I, though, would only treat if you need to treat, meaning if your colonies have exceeded 3 mites/100 adult bees. They may not need treating at this time. If they do not need treating, then you can just split the colonies, requeen, and monitor their Varroa loads through summer, treating when you exceed the 3 mites/100 adult bee threshold.

I like for colonies to have about one medium super’s worth of honey when they are heading into winter. If you split your hives, you could add a medium super to each split and feed them until the super is full. You might also get enough incoming nectar in later summer/early fall for the bees to fill the medium super on their own.

There is a reasonable chance you can split the colonies in July, treat (if needed), and then possibly get some fall honey as well. In the very least, splitting in July, treating if necessary, etc., will give the colonies ample time to be in good shape for the coming winter. I do not think doing any of this in July will set the colonies back as they prepare for fall/winter.

Better way to find/euthanize queens

Every year, millions of man hours are spent finding the queen just to kill and replace her. If it is an Africanized hive, it can be downright dangerous to go through the hive trying to find her, especially if the hive is in a neighborhood or close to people.

I am not smart enough, but maybe you or other researchers could come up with a way to kill the queen while doing little or no harm to the rest of the bees. Already, just by chance, it sounds like formic acid can kill the queen if the temperature is too high. So there must be enough difference in workers and the queen that it might be possible to determine the right acid, chemical, etc., to kill the queen. Personally, I would be willing to live with a 10-20% worker loss, or even an 80-90% success rate in killing the queen, because sometimes the alternative is to just leave them be, or in the case of my Africanized hive, I do not know what to do with it. I might even consider tenting them and hitting them with CO2 or something like that.

What is your opinion of purposely trying to kill the queen with formic acid with my Africanized hive? Could I double the dose when it gets up to 90°F (30°C) or something like that? Any ideas? I have no experience with how lethal it is to queens vs. workers. I think a straightforward way to kill the queen might be the best thing to happen to beekeeping since movable frames, although I realize it is a longshot.



This is an interesting question that no one has asked me. I anonymized your name/location due to sensitivities associated with Africanized bees (which vary by state). I certainly sympathize with your predicament. It would be nice to have a really easy method one can use to find the queen …