Dividing a Top Bar Hive into Two Colonies

By Howland Blackiston

After determining the strength of the colony you want to divide (sometimes referred to as a “split”), either purchase or build another hive body and top bars.

With the exception of the length, the hive dimensions — in terms of the width, depth, and side angle — should be the same for all your Top Bar equipment. This way, bars and drawn comb can be exchanged freely between hives.

Then, purchase a new queen that you will use to re-queen the divide.

Next, determine the location of your new colony. You can place it relatively close to the “parent colony” or locate it some distance away.

If you place the new colony close to the parent, vary the compass direction of the entrance by turning it slightly or making it perpendicular to the parent. This will help the returning foraging bees find their colony and avoid their tendency to drift between colonies that are lined up in a row.

Now select the combs you want to transfer to your new hive. Look over the brood nest in your parent colony and select three combs — one with mostly open brood, one with mostly capped brood, and one that is mostly capped honey. The idea is to take enough eggs, brood, and honey to get your new colony started without setting back the parent colony too far.

One by one, bring the selected combs over to the new hive, leaving three or four blank bars between the entrance and where you place the first comb. Do not remove the bees on these combs — just bring them over full of bees. Keep a sharp lookout for the old queen. Knowing the location of the parent colony’s queen is critical, and it means that you must fully inspect each bar before moving it over. If you find the queen on a bar you want to move, put that bar back into the parent colony and select another.

Now, fill in the parent colony’s blank spaces with bars you removed from the new colony.

Install the new queen in the new hive. Fill the feeder and replace the cover.

A quick inspection a few days after the split will help you determine the queen situation. Assuming that’s okay, you’ve made a successful divide and now are the proud owner of a new Top Bar hive and a new colony of bees.

If you end up with the old queen and the caged queen in the same colony, the colony will kill the new queen as soon as she’s released from the cage. You will know this happened because inspections will reveal that the colony without a queen is building emergency queen cells to try to raise a new queen.