Walk-Away Beehive Splits

It has been an absolutely busy time in the bee yards. The weather has been lovely, the bees have been out, and it did not pour rain in the middle of the Maple and Cascara flows. Looks like good weather for blackberries too. It’s a very unusual year. A good year…but it has meant I’ve been building equipment like crazy. The nucs are doing great and established beehives growing taller. Too tall.

Beehive nearly 6 feet tall

I need a ladder

 

Tall Bee Hives – my definition

I figure too tall is when I can no longer see into the top box and when I super a hive I have to reach above my head. I’m 5 foot 7 inches (1.7 meters) – these hives are nearly as tall as I am.

Tall beehives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washingotn

Hives approaching too tall

Why The Hives Got Too Tall

1) We had good weather.

2) I pull honey once a year, in the fall. This is for two reasons.

  1. a) Probably the most overwhelming is the traditional : I’ve always done it that way.
  2. b) The second reason is that normally it rains during a significant part of the honey flow, so the bees gather nectar on dry days, then hang out inside make and eat honey on wet days, then it all repeats. In this latter case, the honey stores don’t build up to these towering heights.

 Walk-Away Splits

They are called Walk-Away because you walk-away for three days at the end of the procedure.

You can make two hives, three, or four hives out of your tall hive – it depends on what you want, and what’s in the hive.

I divide each tall hive in half.

How I Do Walk-Away Splits

1) Set out a new “stand” (two concrete blocks) and bottom screen (no solid bottoms on my hives) next to the tall hive

2) Put two tops upside down on the ground – these are to set the boxes on as the hive comes apart

3) Divide the boxes between the two up-turned tops.

  1. a) One box honey for one. One box honey for the other. (this goes on for a few boxes)
  2. b) One box brood for one. One box brood for the other. (this too can carry on for a few boxes)

One of the hives might get one more box of brood or honey than the other – this isn’t a precise division

  1. c) The pollen box (usually my bottom box) I do divide this up between the two hives. I move the pollen frames to the outside positions on either side of brood.

4) Now I stack the now two hives back on to their respective boxes:

pollen/brood; brood, honey, honey (from bottom to top)

5) Collars and tops on the top.

6) Walk away.

In three, sometimes four, days I come back and go though the hives. I’m looking for eggs. The hive that has the eggs has the queen. I don’t look for the queen. A good hive should be getting their queen out of my way as fast as possible.

The queenless hive (that with no eggs) is then either given a queen, or a nuc with a queen (newspaper combine method), or a frame of eggs from a hive whose queen I like. Best is the queen option, but things don’t always work out in beekeeping.

That’s it: just break the hive into two hives. Divide up the honey, brood, and pollen. Leave them for 3 days. Then find the queenless (egg-less hive) and give it a queen or some eggs.

Four beehives from two on a walk-away split

Four hives from two hives

Reduction in Honey Harvest

This does reduce the honey harvest. But I can’t harvest honey if I can’t get the super up there or lift it down. I could pull honey twice a year, this year, but habits die hard. If this weather is going to be the new “normal” I just might do a small honey harvest in June.

That’s what’s happening at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey these days. Still making new bottom screens, tops, collars, frames, and hanging wax for the bees. Markets are going strong and the festival season’s coming up fast. We’re at the Ballard Farmers Market and Seattle’s Fremont Market every Sunday. A list of the festivals we’re doing can be found at the Brookfield Farm Markets & Events page (which needs more added – oh dear, I’m behind on the web again).

Nothing to do with splits

Molly and her kids were at the hives when I was taking the pictures.  So here’s the most recent additions to Brookfield Farm’s landscape team, and their mom.  That’s Marie Marie, The Bopper, and their mom Good Golly Miss Molly.

Goats and Beehives, Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

The new additions to the landscape crew

How are things going for you – with bees or goats or life?

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About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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8 Responses to Walk-Away Beehive Splits

  1. Emily says:

    Like the sound of this method. Where do the queens you give the queenless splits come from? Are they your own queens that you’ve reared?

    • They can be either. If I have a one of my queens in a nuc, I’ll pop that on. If the split happens to coincide with the arrival of some queens I’ve purchased, one of those might go in. If neither is around, and there’s time to rear a queen, I’ll give them some eggs (which will soon be proper aged larvae) from a queen I really like and let the hive raise their own (this manner is good in that you do get a really nice break in varroa, and not so good if the queen they raise is not a “keeper” after her mating – then back to the nucs)

  2. I hear you on the hive height Karen! I too am 5’7″ on a good day, and most of my honey hives are now as tall as I am! Which is a problem because I like to undersuper when they need another honey box. I had planned to do my splits after the blackberries finish (another week or two here). Hmmmm.

    • It makes my back hurt just to read that. Really, folks have told me undersupering is great. But I’ll keep the girls going upward. I’m impressed that you do it with tall hives. Go for the splits, I’ve done splits in July. I know other queen breeders who say it’s the best time to do splits.

  3. Pingback: Walk-Away Beehive Splits | Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  4. I had another question! I managed to keep my designated honey hives intact this year, and they are huge! I have never had such big hives before and for the first time found what you mention, which is that the lower deep is full of pollen. It seems that this year at least, if the hive has three deeps (three of them needed that much room in May), now the lowest is full of pollen, the middle one is brood nest central, the upper one is in the process of being stuffed full o honey. Assuming the upper deep (which now has three full honey supers on top of it…oy…I bought a sturdy portable stepladder yesterday!) gets capped out, that is easy peasy…it comes off and goes to the honey house. But what alterations would I need to keep in mind to get the colony set up for winter…what do you do with the pollen filled lower box??

    • A bit of a repeat from our forum (Mt. Baker Beekeeping Association for anyone who picks up this thread) – yea, clearing email before I go split more hives – I’d leave the pollen where it is until you do get set for winter. Then, if wintering in 2 deeps, do the Michael pattern: pollen in 1,2,9,10 with brood between (if brood in upper box, then pollen right out side of that). And pop those extras into the fridge (freezer even better) then you can pull them in the spring, let them warm, and pop them in the hive. I know what you mean about an odd year – hives taller than me in late May? Unheard of. Be careful on that ladder, I assume you’re not pulling boxes off intact at harvest, but pulling frames (90 lbs box on a ladder, yikes). I went to do a standard split in on bee yard and realized that I’ve got to do a walk-away – with 8 weeks until harvest, it’s too tall now… Mustn’t grumble, eh?

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