Are you considering making Commercial Beekeeping Splits? If YES, then here is the best time of the year to make Commercial Beekeeping Splits. Spring is the perfect time to make commercial beekeeping splits. Whether you are a hobbyist, sideliner, or a commercial beekeeper, spring is a busy time for many beekeepers.

Of all the spring tasks, splitting colonies may be the most important. Whether beekeepers split to expand their operation, to re-queen their colonies or control varroa, splitting is a very necessary, yet time consuming task. In many ways, splitting is a rite of passage for beekeepers.

Notably, the size of the split you make should be determined by your reason for making it. For instance, a beekeeper who wants to sell off some colonies will typically make much smaller splits, more accurately called nucs or starter colonies. That way, they don’t weaken their existing colonies too much and they can make a higher number of nucs.

When making a split, the new split should contain capped worker brood with some worker eggs and larvae, honey, and pollen. It takes workers consuming honey and pollen to produce worker jelly to feed worker larvae, to ensure worker brood are completely fed.

Also note that beekeepers can split whenever queens are available. Typically, commercial queens become available around April-May, so this is when beekeepers usually split. Additionally, April-May is before many major honey flows, which can help splits become established. Although beekeepers are not advised to make splits later in the season, but if you have queens readily available and a major fall honey flow, than late season splitting can be successful.

However, if a major fall honey flow does not occur, especially in northern climates, fall splitting may do more harm than good. Also remember that you can only split larger colonies and if you split weak colonies, they are less likely to succeed because weaker colonies produce weaker splits. Even if a beekeeper wants to split, they must consider their colony size, brood availability, and number of nurse bees.

Typically, you want a strong, double deep colony with at least 9 frames of brood, 6 at a minimum. Beekeepers can also split colonies so many times, but this can depend upon the strength of the colonies and the degree of the honey flow. There have been instances where beekeepers split colonies +5 times, but these colonies were strong and were in an area of a great honey flow. Also, the more times beekeepers split, the less honey they will produce.

Beekeeping Monthly Calendar for Commercial Beekeepers

First note that many local factors – particularly the weather and temperature, abundance of floral resources, and the presence of hive pests – tend to influence the exact timing of beekeeping chores. Nectar flows can vary considerably each year and in each region of the state. Beekeepers should be aware of local conditions and adjust their activities accordingly. Here is a suggested checklist for beekeepers to consider throughout the year.

January

The beekeeper will have to check the food supply of the hive periodically by gently tilting the hive forward to analyze whether the bees have sufficient honey stores. If not, they may require emergency feeding. In very cold weather, the bees may not be able to leave their cluster for long periods to feed. Avoid opening the hive in very cold weather. If there has been snow or ice, make sure hive entrances are cleared to allow for ventilation. Also remove dead bees that may be blocking the entrance.

In windy areas, consider placing a brick or rock on top of your hives to keep the lid in place. Also note that this is the time to order new equipment, build and repair hives, frames and other woodenware for the coming season. Clean your smoker and hive tools. Order package bees and queens early to ensure earliest delivery. Read a good book or two to refresh and improve your beekeeping knowledge.

February

Still check the bees’ food supply, and provide emergency feeding if needed. Continue to read up on bees. Attend your local beekeeping association meetings. Finish your workshop chores so that all your hives are ready for spring. On a mild, sunny day with little wind, it may be possible to have a look inside the hive. Remember not to remove any frames, which may risk chilling the brood, but you can estimate the size of the cluster between the frames.

Patties of pollen or artificial pollen substitute can be provided to promote earlier brood production. However, in periods of extended cold temperatures the worker population may not be large enough to incubate a large brood nest. If weather permits inspection, weak colonies (those with less than 2 full frames of bees) will probably not recover adequately and can be united with other colonies. Medicate with Fumidil-B for Nosema, if necessary. Excessive condensation on the inside of the lid may mean ventilation is inadequate.

March

You may inspect the hive on warm days to analyze food stores and see how much brood is present. Analyze the brood pattern and decide if requeening may be in order. If you plan to medicate the hive for varroa mites or nosema, treatments should be timed according to label recommendations so they are finished before the honey flow begins (usually about 4 weeks).

Consider reversing brood chambers to offer the queen adequate space to lay eggs. If hives were overwintered in a single hive body, consider adding another brood chamber to accommodate the spring population. Remove entrance reducers. Replace any old or damaged combs before the workers turn them all into drone comb.

Remember to keep an eye out for queen cells, which you can use to divide a rapidly increasing colony. Pollen patties can help boost the population in advance of the nectar flow. You can equalize hives by moving frames of capped brood from strong colonies into weaker ones before the major nectar flow begins. This may also delay swarming by strong colonies. Once adult drones are seen in colonies, it is safe to begin rearing queens.

April

For strong, well established colonies, feeding should stop as the main spring honey flow begins. Remember to look at the hive every 8-10 days for queen cells and swarming activities. If weather is poor for flying, some feeding may still be required to sustain the bees. If weather is good, and flowers are available, you may have to begin adding supers for honey. Remove all medications as directed before honey supers are added. Mail-order package bees and queens will begin to arrive, and should be promptly installed. Splits can be made from strong colonies.

May

Some beekeepers will add a queen excluder to avoid brood in the honey supers. However, ensure that the queen has adequate comb for egg-laying. Super all hives as needed. In general, if a honey super is ¾ full of nectar, you may want to add another. Supers full of capped honey can be left on the hive.

Also note that many beekeepers will add new supers below those that are capped, so that bees don’t have to travel through to add honey to empty combs. Top-supering is more convenient for the beekeeper, however. While opinions differ, there is no evidence that either method impacts the amount of honey stored.

June

Hives should be checked weekly to make sure the colonies are healthy and the queen is laying. Provide adequate room for both brood and honey. Monitor pest populations but avoid chemical treatments before the honey is harvested

July

Continue to check the hive regularly for colony health and activity, monitor for pests, and ensure adequate room for honey stores. Also, make sure that bees have access to fresh water during dry periods. Honey may be harvested as soon as it is capped. Nonetheless, be sure to leave bees enough for the bees’ own needs during the summer dearth.  Ensure that hives have sufficient ventilation.

August

Make sure the bees have access to clean water. Watch out for robbing activities, which may indicate a weak colony. In some locations, honey should be harvested before bitter weeds bloom and ruin the flavor of the entire crop. Bees tend to be cranky and more prone to stinging during times of dearth, so be careful opening hives. Varroa mite levels will be reaching peak numbers.

September

At this point, any remaining honey is harvested. Each colony will require about 50-60 pounds of honey for winter. After the honey is removed, medications for colony pests can be applied. Some beekeepers will requeen colonies now, temporarily breaking the brood cycle and encouraging good egg-laying by young queens in the early spring. Clean and safely store all empty supers away from rodents and wax moths.

October

Note that Colonies may require some feeding to ready them for winter. Fall feeding is done with 2:1 (sugar: water) syrup. Mite treatments should be removed at the appropriate time (consult product label). Mouse-guards can be installed. Watch for robbing activities. When finished readying hives for winter, don’t open them again unless necessary, because each time a hive is opened, the bees must re-seal the cracks with propolis to keep out winter drafts.

November

This is the time to install entrance reducers. Finish winter feeding. Don’t open hives in cold weather. In windy areas, secure hive lids with a brick or rock. Now enjoy some honey. Review your records and evaluate colony performance. Also, consider what you might do differently next year. Attend your local beekeeper meetings and compare notes. Evaluate equipment and consider repairs or replacements. Render and clean any leftover wax.

December

This is the time to leave your bees alone. Periodically test winter stores by gently tilting the hive, but do not open the lid. Order new tools and supplies for spring and get all of your equipment in order. You should also consider expanding your apiary. Enjoy a few books and drink some tea with honey in it. Turn your excess wax into candles and give away a few jars of your finest honey as holiday gifts. Plan to place your orders for spring package bees and queens early to ensure you are at the top of the list.

Conclusion

The basic concept of making a split is that you take a portion of an established colony and transfer it to a separate hive thereby creating two colonies. The end goal is to have two colonies, each with sufficient worker bee populations, stores, and their own queen. Splits should be made from overwintered colonies in the spring when there will be plenty of forage and time for them to recover.

Joy Nwokoro