Late Season Swarms & Splits

August 04, 2023

Late Season Swarms & Splits

Yes, performing hive splits is a common beekeeping technique used to prevent late-season swarms. Swarming is a natural reproductive behavior of honeybee colonies, where a portion of the colony, including the queen bee, leaves the hive to establish a new one. Late-season swarms can be particularly problematic as they reduce the colony's population and honey production during a critical time of the year.
Performing hive splits involves creating a new colony from an existing one. Here's how it generally works:
1. **Identify a Strong Colony:** Choose a strong and healthy colony as the source for your split. This colony will provide the bees, brood, and resources needed to establish the new hive. You can also take resources from more than one colony to add to your split. This way you can manage multiple colonies, and give your split a good number of bees and brood to continue to build for winter. 
2. **Create a New Hive:** Set up a new hive with frames, foundation, or drawn comb. This will be the new home for the split colony. At this time of year, the more bees and resources the better. Drawn comb is best, because they won't have to expend a lot of energy to build comb, instead they can focus on winter stores. 
3. **Transfer Frames:** Carefully inspect the frames in the source colony. Look for frames with eggs, young larvae, capped brood, and honey stores. Transfer frames with these resources to the new hive. Remember to leave the nurse bees on the frames, and you can take frames from multiple colonies as well. 
4. **Add Queen Cells or Queen:** In the split colony, you can either introduce a queen cell or a mated queen. Queen cells can be selected from the source colony's frames or obtained from queen breeders. Alternatively, you can purchase a mated queen. Keep in mind though this time of year it is risky to allow colonies to make their own queen. There isn't a lot of our season left in Ontario, so introducing a mated queen will give you the best chance at success. 
5. **Resources for the Original Colony:** Ensure that the original colony has sufficient resources. Leave them with ample brood, and food stores. Also, replacing the frames that you have taken with drawn comb instead of blank frames allows the bees to concentrate on winter stores rather than building more comb. 
6. **Location:** Place the new hive a short distance away from the original hive to prevent confusion and drifting of bees back to the old location.
7. **Feed**  Feed your new colony, and if your honey supers are off, feed the original colonies as well. Feeding the colonies sugar water this time of year will allow them to continue to build and prepare for winter. Start with 1:1 sugar syrup (1 part sugar:1 part water) until mid to late August, and then you can feed 2:1 sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water). Switching to 2:1 allows the bees to 'ripen' the mixture more quickly, as there is a lower moisture content. The queen will be slowing down her laying, she may even take a brood break before she begins to lay her winter bees. 
Performing hive splits achieves a few important goals:
- **Swarm Prevention:** By creating a new colony with a new queen, you provide the bees with the opportunity to expand without the need for swarming.
- **Population Management:** Splitting a strong colony helps manage its population. This can be particularly useful when a colony is growing rapidly and may become overcrowded, leading to swarming tendencies.
- **Increase Hive Numbers:** If you're looking to increase the number of hives you have, hive splits offer a way to do so.
- **Genetic Diversity:** Creating new colonies through splits can help maintain genetic diversity within your apiary.
Keep in mind that performing successful hive splits requires careful timing, knowledge of bee behavior, and the ability to manage multiple hives. It's a technique that can help prevent swarming and contribute to the overall success of your beekeeping operation.

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