Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How to Split a TBH

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me how to split a TBH, and swarms are starting in my state already. So it seemed a good time to write a post.

The truth is that splitting a TBH is really not that different from splitting a Lang. In fact, when I first started making splits a couple of years ago, I used Michael Bush's notes to help me through the process. Peter Borst also gave some great talks on splitting at my local club last year.  Although these notes deal with splitting Langs, they are certainly applicable to TBHs, and there is a lot of great info in there, so I'd recommend reading them.

Reasons to Make a Split

There are many reasons to make a split. For instance:
  • To control or prevent swarming
  • To raise queens
  • To control mites by providing a brood break
  • To increase your colonies
  • To make nucs that can be overwintered
Some of the finer details of making splits might vary a bit depending on your goal, but the basic process will still remain the same.

Timing the Split

If you are going to give your split a queen right off the bat, you can make your split as as soon as queens become commercially available. Since the split doesn't have to raise its own queen, things like available drones and forage are not quite as critical.

It takes drones 10 days to mature and start flying after emergence.
Be sure to take that into account when timing your splits.

If you want to let your split raise its own queen,  you'll want to wait until drones start flying in the spring. Drones are a sign that a colony feels good about its available resources. Also, while queens don't mate with drones from their own hives, seeing lots of your own drones flying means that there will be drones from other colonies in the area flying too.

When letting my bees raise their own queens, I also like to make sure that the danger of freezing temps at night is over. We can get some freaky weather well into May, and I don't want my queen or any of the brood in the split to chill.

In my area, beeks who raise their own queens can usually start splitting in early to mid-May (late April if the weather has been exceptionally fine). We can continue making splits up until about July/early August (and expect them to survive winter) if the fall flow is good. These late splits, though, might need to be babied through the fall and winter with feedings. Your calendar, though, could be entirely different.

Some people say that splits should be made just before the main honey flow so that bees can build up. However, Dr. Delaney has intimated that splitting just after the main flow might provide a better balance of mite control & honey yields. From my personal experience, I think that Dr. Delaney may be right if you're using Langs. However, my bees usually fill up the hive (I use Sam Comfort's dimensions) well before the main flow is over. So if I waited that long, I'd probably lose swarms. My current practice is to just make splits as soon as I start seeing swarm cells. Maybe that will change when/if I start rearing queens, but so far, that approach has been working ok for me.

Split Basics

Again, there are some finer details depending upon your goals. Below, I'll cover three basic ways to split, but I highly recommend reading the section called "Kinds of Splits" on Michael Bush's page for a better idea of what to do depending on what you want to accomplish.

However, basically you want to make sure that one of your hives has a queen, and the other hive has eggs and all the resources it needs to raise a queen (e.g., workers, honey, pollen, brood, etc.)

Ok, so here are three easy ways to make splits (which will be covered in more detail below):

  • Split and install a purchased queen
  • Split using swarm cells
  • Split and let the bees raise their own emergency queen

Anticipating a split for the first time can nerve-wracking, but once you do it, you kind of  wonder what all the fuss was about. It's just that easy as long as you follow some general guidelines.

Method 1: Making Splits with a Purchased Queen

If you've purchased a queen and want to use her to requeen the split, give your split 2-3 bars of brood & bees in all stages as well as a bar of pollen/honey. Shake in 3 or 4 more bars of bees and let them sit overnight. After 24 hours, they will be much more likely to accept a queen.

When you install the queen, make sure you do not install her with attendants since the bees will be less likely to accept her. You can hang her in her cage just like you would when installing a package. Or, if you want to increase acceptance, you can install her with a push-in cage over a patch of comb that contains empty cells as well as capped brood. Emerging brood will accept the queen immediately. Empty cells allow her to lay eggs, which makes her much more attractive to the bees. (BeeWeaver has some better instructions for using a push-in cage.)

Whether you hang the queen in a queen cage or use a push-in cage, you can release her once the bees have accepted her (usually within about 4-5 days). YouTube has some videos of Michael Palmer  inserting a push-in cage and releasing a queen from a push-in cage. Here's another good one of him releasing a queen with some additional/different comments.

Push-in cage made of wire to hold queen.
Image from:

Method 2: Making Splits with Swarm Cells

If you start seeing lots of swarm cells in your hive, it's time to split. (Unless you/your neighbors don't care about bees swarming.)

Note: If you are splitting because you've found swarm cells in your hive, split when the queens are still in their larval form. Swarms usually take off a day or so BEFORE queen cells get capped, so if you wait until they are capped, you may be too late.

Swarm cells on a comb.
Just plop one of these in a nuc with a few more bars of brood and bees
Swarm queens make the best queens, and making splits with swarm cells is the easiest thing in the world. Just put a bar with some swarm cells in a nuc/hive, add 2-3 more bars with brood in all stages as well as the bees that are one them. Add a bar of pollen/honey. Then shake in 3-4 more bars of nurse bees, and close up.

If you have a very robust hive, you can make 2 or 3 splits at the same time this way. Or if you don't have lots of extra hives/nucs, you can move several bars with queen cells over to the split. I've done this without any issues at all. The split will most likely be able to support just one queen, so the first one to emerge will kill all the others. No need to worry about afterswarms.

Another option is to simulate how a swarm would work in nature by making a "shook swarm." In other words, move the queen and shake about 3 lbs of bees into the split. This approach decreases the number of varroa in both groups by giving them a brood break. Remember that without brood, it's sort of like making a package, but the bees already know the queen, so there's no acceptance period. If you'd like them to build up faster, give them a few bars of brood, too. The bees will still be able to do quite a lot of housecleaning.

Note: If you move the old queen out and leave the swarm cells behind in the original hive, be careful that the hive is NOT still boiling over with bees. If it is, you may find that the bees will allow multiple queens to emerge. The first one will stay with the hive, but then they may throw some swarms with the other queens.

Method 3: Making Splits and Letting Them Raise Their Own Emergency Queen

Let's say that your hive isn't making swarm prep yet, and you don't want them to. You could split them preemptively and let them raise their own emergency queen. She won't be quite as good as a swarm queen, but I've raised some this way, and they've worked out fine. Sometimes they requeen themselves more quickly, but that's ok with me.

Basically, you'd do the same thing that you do for other splits. Move 2-3 bars of brood (eggs to capped larvae) into a hive/nuc. Add a bar of pollen/honey and shake in 3-4 bars of bees. The bees will take care of raising a queen for you.

Note: If you let the bees raise an emergency queen, the bees may use brood that is older than 0 days old, but less than 3 days old. If you want a better queen, go into the split after a couple of days and take a look at the brood in the various queen cells. If you're not too squeamish, consider cutting out the queen cells with older brood and leaving the queen cells with younger brood in the split. 

Note: Sometimes when making a split, you just can't find the queen, and that's ok. Just divvy up bars equally between your hives, making sure that each hive has at least 3 bars with brood in all stages (eggs, larvae, capped brood). In three days, check on your hives. The one with eggs has the queen.

What to do after you make your split

Prevent drifting / Even out the numbers. Ideally, if you have the space and the ability, you want to prevent bees drifting from the split back to the old hive. Lots of people will tell you to move your split 2 miles away, but seriously??? How many people can actually do that? Another common technique is to move both the split and the hive so that returning bees have to choose which hive to enter. The image below shows how this is done with Langs, but personally, I'm just not moving my full-size TBHs to do this.

One way to even out numbers after splitting

Instead, if I'm splitting to a nuc that doesn't yet have a queen, I'll sometimes set the nuc on top of the original hives bars until evening. That way returning foragers might choose to enter the nuc, but I also run a risk of bees leaving the nuc for the hive. More often, though, I just set my split wherever I want them to be, and it still works out fine. However, I do shake some extra bees in and put a branch or something over the entrance so that the foragers reorient when they leave the hive.

Another thing I do is add bars of mostly capped brood (but also some eggs and larvae) once a week to splits that are queenless. That way, their population doesn't get too diminished before the new queen's babies emerge. Also, if the queen fails to return (which has happened to me), the bees can start a new one almost right away.

Mark key dates on your calendar

Keep a timeline. I highly recommend making note of key dates like:

  • When was the split made?
  • When did the queen emerge?
  • When should I expect eggs?
Knowing these dates helps you know approximately when you should expect to see eggs. Usually, once the queen emerges, it takes an average of 3 - 15 days before you see eggs. 

When I make my splits, I actually mark approximate dates for all of these events on my calendar so that I don't forget and have to keep recalculating.

This seems like a very long write-up, but it's actually quite an easy process. 

If you have some tricks and tips for splits, please, share them! Would love to hear what you do!


  1. Good information. Clear and concise.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I see you've been busy making your own splits. Excellent!

  2. Thanks for sharing these notes. I'd add one more caveat the method #3. Only allow 4 or so queen cells. If you have too many queens emerging, they may swarm. That's what happened to me this year!

    1. Good point. I can see how that would happen if you move the queen out and leave too many bees behind. They were probably collecting nectar and filling up all available space. Then when the new queen emerges it's like, "Hey, there's no room & lots of stores & bees. Let's go!" Some empty bars might have given them some work to do.

      I think that this is where experience starts coming into play. It's only after lots of time and observation that you start getting a feel for when and where to add empty bars. I frequently feel like I still need more finesse in that department.

    2. There was plenty of room (and empty bars), but maybe just too many bees left behind. Another thing I would do is get rid of some of the excessive drone comb because those boys are eating the girls out of house and home now. I'm hoping they die off soon!

      In the end, I caught the swarm, so effectively ended up with 2 splits. (Yay!) And the two raised queens seem to be doing pretty well. So, my first split (with your guidance and encouragement) worked out! But I'm sure the next one will be a completely different experience - like all things in beekeeping!

    3. Another good point about the drone comb. That would get rid of some varroa at the same time, too. I may have to update this post soon -- or you should write a post on splits on your blog (hint, hint! ;-) )

      You're so lucky to have caught your swarm! Can't wait to hear how it's doing! (more hints)

      I've noticed the same thing about splits eating all the honey. In years past, most of the honey has ended up leaving with a swarm or going into drone bellies. I'm ok with the bees eating most of the spring honey since I like fall honey better, but my oldest son feels otherwise.

      This year, a few of my splits are loaded with honey, and I don't know what I did differently. The only thing I can think of is that I split them a little earlier this time around -- before they had time to make a bunch of queen cells. As soon as I saw them making lots of cups and found at least 2 cups with eggs, I split them before they could make more swarm cells.

      Bush writes about cut-down splits to maximize honey. That's probably info worth re-reading.

  3. Cool post! I was just talking with some beekeepers on Tuesday about swarm control in TBH, and we discussed splits. We looked up the Taranov split, which looks totally wild. I don't think I'm brave enough to do that yet. I did a simple split this year, but I didn't move the queen and the hive swarmed anyways. The good news is that I caught it so I ended up with three hives out of the one.

    It seems that moving the queen into the new split / new location is an important part of this. That's what I didn't do with my split, and I think that's probably why it still swarmed.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. The Taranov split looks really cool, but it seems cumbersome to do with a TBH because of the entrances being so high off the ground. Also, I'm not sure of the reason behind forcing them to "swarm" and walk into the new hive on their own vs. just moving the queen and shaking some bees in like a package. It could be a cool experiment.

      There is a video on YouTube that was produced by the BBC. It shows a beek putting the queen in a queen cage and setting that on a fence post. After a cluster of bees had gathered around her, the whole cluster was placed in a new hive. I guess its the same idea as a Taranov split.

      I've split hives before and left the queen in her old location, but I opened the brood nest with lots of empty bars. I didn't have any issues with swarming, but I think it had to do with the fact that the bees suddenly had a lot of empty space to fill.


    2. BTW, here's the video. They make the artificial swarm around 16:30.

      I do something similar, but I put my old queen in a cage and put the cage directly in the new hive while I shake the bees. Then I release her before closing up.


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