Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tips for Combining Hives

Because I just had to combine top bar hives, I thought I'd come up with a post describing how I did it.

When combining Langs, most people will tell you to do a newspaper combine. During a newspaper combine, basically, the queen in the weak hive is removed. Newspaper is placed on top of the strong hive. Then the weak hive is placed on top of the paper. The bees from both colonies will chew through the newspaper, but the paper separates them just long enough to adjust to each other's scent.

When combining TBHs, it's a little harder to work with newspaper because it's difficult to get a tight fit. Some people, use tape to fasten the paper to the walls. Some people make a frame that is the same size as their divider board but with a paper-covered hole in the middle. The frame can be made of wood or cardboard.

Personally, I didn't do any of this.

Over the summer, I've moved bars of bees from one hive to another and always had positive results. So I asked on BeeSource whether anyone had ever tried using just powdered sugar during a combine and what their results were. Several people provided tips that did not involve messing around with newspaper. I figured Michael Bush must know what he's talking about, so I heeded his advice and put down the paper. For anyone who is interested, here are the tips I picked up.
  1. Remove the queen from the weak hive then wait 20 minutes before combining hives.
  2. When combining, do something to mask the differing scents of the two hives. Two methods that seem to work include: 1) Heavily smoking all the bees 2) Spraying the bees with sugar syrup that contains essential oils. I would recommend using anise oil or something like Honey-B-Healthy. (Note: Some people claim that this step isn't necessary -- that the idea of the bees fighting is an old wives tale. However, I figure better safe than sorry.)
  3. When adding comb from the old hive, put it at the end of the last full comb of the new hive. The last comb in your new hive might have brood or it might be a comb in the honey area. Doesn't matter which. 
  4. When adding combs from the weak hive, add them so that they are in the same order. 
A couple of other things. Once I was done moving the comb, I was left with a box of bees. Because TBHs are so bulky, I couldn't shake them into the new hive very easily, so I sprayed them all with syrup then tipped them out onto the ground as best as I could. I suppose I didn't need to spray them, but I figured that being covered in sugar might help them beg their way into the new hive. I don't know, it was just an impulse on my part.

I also moved/dismantled the old hive so that any returning foragers would have to join the surrounding hives. I'll put it back after the the bees have all re-oriented to their new homes.

I can't tell you if I did things right or wrong, but it worked out, so I figured I'd share. 

If you've ever combined TBH's, what did you do? How did things turn out for you?


  1. Thanks for posting a recipe - it's always good to have one from experience. I'm a bit confused about your comments regarding Michael Bush. When I use the Google, l see him advocating for the paper method, but it doesn't seem like you used that. I would think that it depends on how many frames you are combining as well. If just a couple (like your case), I think they will merge more easily. Another trusted source for me is the Les Crowder's book (page 86-87) where he says you can do the newspaper or the masking of the scents. Wyatt Magnum suggests smoking heavily (pg. 130) in his book. So I think if I have to do this, I'll try the masking instead of the newspaper. Hope your bees combine well and gather enough stores for the winter!

    1. Yes, I think Michael Bush's site talks about using newspaper to combine. However, he's talking about Langs. I asked my question on BeeSource's TBH forum, and he personally responded saying that I should just smoke them well. I also recently read another thread on BeeSource talking about Langs in which a lot of people said that the need to separate them (in order to prevent fighting) is a myth that's been perpetuated. I don't know. Never tried to combine Langs. However, lots of beeks talk about giving hives frames of bees and brood to boost their population (no paper involved, naturally). It seems to me that there can't be too much fighting if the colony will accept new bees.

  2. In May, I added a package of bees (minus the queen obviously) to a hive that had a queen but had experienced some setbacks. I draped 2 pieces of newspaper over an empty top bar, and sprayed the paper with water so I could shape it to the sides and bottom of the hive. I poured the package bees into the area on the unoccupied side of the hive and closed it up. I thought it was supposed to take "a few days" but when I checked the next morning through the side window, everyone was on the comb side of the hive! The newspaper looked like mice had been chewing on it. It's one big happy family now and doing well.

    1. I really like the idea of wetting the paper to make it more moldable and easier to work with. That's a great suggestion. Glad to hear that your combine worked out so well and easily! If I ever have to combine two stronger hives, I may try that. Thanks!

  3. I just did something similar by combining a split from a Nuc and a queen-less hive. I caged the queen from the split and just moved her with two bars of brood into the queen-less hive. I am going to release the queen today. Will let you know if it works.

    1. Good luck! Hope that it works out well for you! Btw, before you release the queen, make sure that she's been accepted. If the bees don't want her, they'll stick to the cage when you try to brush them away and make terrible noises. If they're happy, it's very easy to brush them away. Look on YouTube. I think Michael Palmer has a video on how to tell.

    2. Julie, I tried requeening last year with a new queen in a cage and attached to the frame in a Langs. I thought I had lost the orginal queen. Wrong. The bees propolized the new queen in the queen cage. I turned her loose the next day cause I couldn't see in the cage very well. They balled her and booted her out the front door. I only had one hive, and nowhere else to go with her. Lesson learned!

    3. Yikes! That's happened to me, too. I made a split and installed a queen in her cage. Unbeknownst to me, there was already a virgin queen in that split. The girls killed that new queen pretty quickly. :-( At least you already a queen in there, so they probably went on with business as usual.

  4. Thanks for posting this as it was helpful during my first combine of two groups and a new queen to one group. I did a combine using paper in my established top bar where I had pinched the queen two days before. The new bees were with a caged queen (even though she had been raised by the group in a queen hotel) and three bars of (lots of) brood, some nectar, honey and pollen and bees. I didn't want to chance her being rejected by the established queenless group, so I caged her even tho the three bars of bees she was with had raised her in a bee hotel .

    Unfortunately, the established bees found a way through the paper (tape on side did not stick well) and had a massive fight, with at least 50-70 of the new bees left dead. So, I don't think fighting is a myth. And was glad I had the queen in a cage. It may have been because I had to cut some off the bottom of the three combs to fit them in my top bar, and some nectar was dripping. I got the smoke going after seeing how many bees were dying and then things calmed down. I released the new queen today, and everyone seemed pretty cool. I'll check again in a week to see how its going.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!