A Ph. D. in English, Dr. Kim teaches at Murray State College. A bug rancher, he also keeps honeybees.
Why Are Fall Splits Better Than Spring Splits for Bee Hives?
Typically, to increase the number of bee colonies they keep, beekeepers make splits (dividing one colony into two or more colonies) either in the spring or in the fall, and both work well when done correctly.
- Pro: The major advantage of making splits in the spring is you don’t have to feed the bees as the nectar flow usually begins in the spring.
- Con: However, one of the major disadvantages of spring splits is the loss of honey crop. By making splits, you reduce the total number of worker bees (field force), causing reduction in honey yield.
- Pro: The advantages of fall splits outweigh those of spring splits and include re-queening, disease control, good overwintering, quick spring buildup, and better crop.
- Con: Fall splits have the major disadvantage of having to feed the bees till the first frost.
What's the Best Time to Make Fall Splits?
The best time to make fall splits is immediately after your honey extraction, usually from early July to early August, and usually the best time to extract honey is about two weeks after the end of nectar flow in your region.
You can extract honey immediately after the nectar flow; however, it is better for you to wait about two weeks for the bees to “ripen” the nectar they have collected as it contains more than 80% of water. If you rob honey with high moisture-content, you need to dehumidify it yourself, a chore the bees could have done it had you waited about two weeks after the flow.
By making fall splits after extraction, your honey crop will not be affected especially if your region does not offer a serious nectar flow during the fall. Depending on where you live, in fact, fall splits can be made during summer—the earlier, the better.
Why You Should Make Fall Splits in Early Summer
The earlier in the summer you make splits, the more brood-rearing cycles your bees can go through before the fall nectar flow or the first frost. To help quicken the brood-rearing cycle, you may want to purchase queens or rear your own queen when making splits. However, for early July splits, you can let the bees make their own emergency queens—allowing you to save money—since you still have plenty of time before the first frost.
The Top 7 Benefits of Making Fall Splits Early in the Summer
Let's take a closer look at the numerous advantages that fall splits offer.
1. Getting a Potential Fall Honey Crop
If your region produces lots of goldenrod and aster honey in the fall, your early July splits may be able to produce additional honey crop in fall, granted you have fed your splits nonstop before the flow. Typically, as you live further north, you tend to have better goldenrod or fall aster flow than in the south.
If your region does not offer any fall crop, which is common in the south, you can negotiate with an alfalfa grower to see if he would let you bring your bees to the alfalfa fields, especially when the farmer wants to seed the crop by not baling it at 15% bloom, the typical time when the nutrient of the legume is the highest.
2. Breaking the Mite Cycle
Another benefit of making fall splits is to interrupt and control mite population, especially the more virulent varroa mites. One of the reasons that explain how Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) in the south are free of mites is their frequent absconding—the abandonment and swarming from their old habitats, seeking a new “pasture.”
Typically the mite counts peak from mid- to late-summer. By making fall splits in the heat of summer, the beekeeper is reducing the mite population by splitting the colonies, reducing the mite counts at the same time. Making fall splits in the summer, in fact, can be part of your annual Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, eliminating any chemical treatment that may be harmful to bees as well as humans in the long run.
Experienced beekeepers know that young queens produce more broods, which translate to more field force, thus more honey production. By making fall splits, you have created or introduced new queens for the next spring: these splits will not likely to swarm next year and they will produce more honey than any existing or old colonies led by aging queens.
Young queens are prodigious layers as they lay about 1,500 eggs per day during their peak egg-laying season, which means the colonies led by young queens will have more field force, gathering more nectar.
4. Accelerating the Spring Buildup
In the spring, your mail order packages are slow to build up as some of the population dies off even before the first brood emerges; typically, you will lose about a month before the bee population starts to build up. Such delay means a loss to a beekeeper when you are about to enter into nectar flow in your region. Your fall splits, however, will not experience such population dip since they contain bees at all stages of development: eggs, larvae, brood, nurse bees, guard bees, foragers, and a queen.
Unlike the package bees you have ordered, you do not need to worry about queen release or queen acceptance by the worker bees as the splits have overwintered together since last summer. They have already formed a cohesive family unit.
5. Enjoying the Warm Weather
In the spring, the inclement weather affects negatively in spring build up; depending on the region where you keep bees, you can expect late or last freeze even in early summer. However, your fall splits, made in last July and August, will experience a steady summer heat, which is good for wax production and brood-rearing.
For example, it is known that bees will only draw combs at the ambient temperature higher than 90 F. In short, the constant heat of summer will not create the climactic melodrama common during spring till late in the season at the onset of winter.
6. Assuring Healthy Bees Going Into Winter
By making splits as early as July and August, you will have plenty of time to feed the bees as they will have enough time to build up their winter storage. Ideally, depending on your location and your set up, the splits should have enough time to build up their numbers and winter store into two deeps, which roughly translates to 120 to 150 lbs of honey.
Such storage will help them survive even Canadian winter as the honey works as insulator as well as winter feed for the bees. Such two-deep configuration will help you to make even more splits in the spring, if desired.
7. Insuring Against Future Winter Loss
Depending on your location, beekeepers typically experience winter loss, a naturally occurring winter mortality even under ideal circumstance. However, by making fall splits, you can insure yourself against such loss. This assurance means that your honey crop will not be adversely affected even if you suffer from winter loss, allowing you to maintain your customer base next year.
How to Make Easy Splits
One of the easiest ways to increase your colony numbers is to make what is known as “Walkaway Splits.” You do not need to buy expensive queens to do this. Before you start, set up another location in your bee yard where you will place another colony later. Here is how.
- First, identify an ideal colony (Original Colony from now on) you would like to maintain its gene stock in your yard based on a number of its positive attributes: gentleness, foraging under inclement weather conditions, large honey crop, quick spring buildup, excellent half-moon shaped packed brood patterns, disease resistance, and disinclination to robbing, among others.
- Second, find a deep brood box with drawn combs to make a Split Colony (SC)—ideally use one of the many wet-dried deeps you have just extracted honey from, the ones that are “dried” for a few days in the open air by the bees to prevent any robbing. Place this bee-empty deep right next to the queenright colony you will be making splits from. Remove five to six dry frames from the bee-empty deep (SC) and set them near so that you can access them easily later.
- Third, lightly smoke the Original Colony (OC) and wait for five minutes, open up and go through that OC, inspecting the frames along the edges first, and then find a frame of pollen, a frame of honey, and a frame of brood, along with all the attendant bees on them. Make sure you do not accidentally take the queen on these frames. Place these frames loaded with bees into the SC—the bee-empty deep you set up.
- Fourth, if you have enough surpluses of pollen, honey, and brood frames in the OC, you should provide more frames of each along with the bees on them as the more bees and resources you provide in the split, the more successful your split will be. Refill the empty space you have created in the OC with these drawn combs.
- Finally, remove the queenright colony (OC) away from its original position and move it to a different location, the site you have created before making this split. Then place the new split at the same location where the OC has been. Next reduce the entrance in both colonies to prevent robbing. When done, start feeding both colonies with thick sugar syrup (usually 1 part water and 2 parts sugar to maintain stable PH) and maintain feeding till fall nectar flow for additional crop or the first frost.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Robert L. Gifford, The Gifford Honey Farm on July 12, 2018:
It is July and I am going to do several splits on my hives. I expect it to be successful as in the past. I still think your article is as prevalent today as in the past.
Robert l. Gifford
Yoon Sik Kim (author) from Republic of Oklahoma on July 10, 2017:
Deerstalker, Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
If you happen to be located in the south, please make sure you protect your nucs/splits from Small Hive Beetles. They will wipe out unprotected nucs and splits in three days, usually in September, October, and early November. This fact I have neglected to point out in the article above.
Deerstalker on July 10, 2017:
This is a great article. I've been learning to graft queens and have finally begun to have some success with the process. However, it has taken me most of the year to master and I was afraid I was too late to make splits. So thank you for the information.
Yoon Sik Kim (author) from Republic of Oklahoma on December 30, 2015:
Thank you very kindly for your insightful comments; should you feel like it, please feel free to visit my honey farm Facebook here:
Robert L. Gifford on December 30, 2015:
This w2as the best discription that I have seen on Fall Splits. I have used them in the past when other bee keepers looked at me and just shook their heads. Usually later they would ask me how I was able to get well over a hundred pounds of honey out of my hives. I would explain to them that I started my spring build up in the fall, which usually didn't satisify their courosity. Funny how something so natural and easy just for some reason doesn't seem to catch on.
Gifford Honey Farm
Robert L. Gifford