Splitting the Top Bar Hive


The bees, knock on wood, are doing great this year.  The last time I checked in on them was a month ago, so yesterday I cracked open the hive before it got too hot to make sure things were okay.  Specifically that they are building straight comb, not attached to the sides of the hive, and that the queens are still laying nicely.

Let’s start with the second hive, since the story sort of gets better from there.


I decided for the sake of record keeping to take a photo of the farthest point back bees were building comb.  This looks like about 13 bars of comb.  From that point forward is chock full of bees and comb.


Plenty of brood in this hive!  The bees were also doing a nice job of comb building.. there was one piece of new comb that they had attached to the previous bar instead of the next bar, and since it was so little, I just broke it off.  Sorry, bees.

Moving over to hive #1.


The first thing I noticed at this hive was that I could see bees through the little bit of screen at the way back of the hive.  There are NEVER bees at the way back, but I thought maybe they just didn’t like the screen, and were doing something with it. Um, no.  This hive is FULL UP!  By my count, there are 17 or 18 bars filled with bees and comb! There are only about five more spaces back for them to go, so as I checked this hive, I wondered if I could maybe do a split.


Tons of bees!

When I started this hive, I put the old comb from last year’s hive inside to give them a head start on building.  I didn’t split the old comb between the two hives, because I was nervous that if there was something bad in the comb, it could kill the bees, and I wasn’t thrilled about two sets of dead bees.  However, based on the numbers between both hives now (which are in basically the exact same location, give or take a few feet), that extra comb seems to have given them a great head start.

So far, these bees have proven themselves to be quite docile (as far as bees go), good comb-builders, and prolific breeders.  Just the right kind of hive that one would want to duplicate, right?

Last year, when one of my hives was struggling, I looked into taking a split, but then there was a comb-catastrophe in the strong hive, putting an end to any splitting notions.

But now, with hive #1 about to reach capacity anyway, it wouldn’t be bothered (I hope) by the removal of a few bars.

SO.  Here is how I split the hive.  (Keep in mind that while I do research and read and ask people who know, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.)


I pulled out a bar of comb filled with brood (eggs and larvae and such, soon to be bee babies) and plunked it in my starter hive, build for me by high school woodshop students last year.  The sizing is just different enough that the bars have to go in at a slight diagonal, but they’re still lined up straight compared to each other and the bee space is preserved the same way as the original hive, so I’m hoping it is fine.

Anyway, at this point I had one hive cracked wide open, and a bar full of bees just hanging out in an open box, so the camera was pushed to the side.

I added another two bars of brood (at least one of which I am hoping has eggs at the right stage of development), and two smaller bars of newly built comb with a bit of food and bees attached.  I then filled the remaining spaces with empty bars, and used some screen on the front and back where the bars wouldn’t quite close off the hive, leaving the bees with an enclosed space with ventilation.  Later, I went back an added some sugar-water to feed the bees.


Because the top is quite wonky, I threw that rubbermaid lid over the top to protect from any additional elements.  Very classy.  I also sprinkled the ground thoroughly with cinnamon to keep the ants away- a strategy that has proven to be pretty successful.

Now, I wait.

The bees in the mini-hive will recognize right away that they don’t have a queen, and if I’ve provided them with eggs that are 3 or 4 days old, they will be able to make one of them into a queen.  If all goes well, in about a month I should see new eggs from the new queen.  Like this:

From Bush Farms:

Let’s do a bit of bee math. If you accidentally kill a queen today, how long before you’ll see eggs from a replacement raised by the bees? How much open and capped brood will there be left by the time you see eggs from the new emergency queen? The answer is none. If bees lost a queen today, and started from four-day-old larvae (four days from the egg) to raise a queen, it would be another 11 days before she emerged. Another week for her to harden and orient. And another week to get mated and start to lay. That’s approximately 25 days (give or take a week). In 25 days every egg has hatched, been capped and emerged. There is now no brood left in the hive, but, in this case, there is a queen.

Best case scenario:  I put the right kind of brood in the split, everything goes well, and I end up with a third hive.

Worst case scenario: I did not get fresh enough brood, or something else goes wrong and the bees do not raise a new queen.  Before too long, the worker bees will get it in their bee-heads that since there ain’t no queen, well, then they can lay eggs too!  Then I will have laying workers, a bunch of useless drone bees, and before too long a dead hive.  But, it only cost a few bars from my strong hive, and they will go along fine without it, so even if the experiment fails, I will have still learned a lot, and I will call it a success!




2 Responses to Splitting the Top Bar Hive

  1. Jessica says:

    That’s a S&*+ ton of bees!!!!!! Alternate career #45,921: Honey Purveyor!

  2. Ligeia says:

    You sure LOOK like you know what you’re doing! We had a bad year with our bees this year. They got a virus and died. We have a new hive going and wish us luck!

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