Making One Langstroth Hive from Two

By Howland Blackiston

Keep in mind that it’s better to go into the winter with strong bee colonies — they have a far better chance of making it through the stressful cold months than do weak ones. If you have a weak hive, you can combine it with a stronger colony. If you have two weak hives, you can combine them to create a robust colony.

But you can’t just dump the bees from one hive into another. If you do, all hell will break loose. Two colonies must be combined slowly and systematically so the hive odors merge gradually — little by little. This is best done late in the summer or early in the autumn (it isn’t a good idea to merge two colonies in the middle of the active swarming season).

This favorite method for merging two colonies is the so-called newspaper method. Follow these steps:

  1. Identify the stronger of the two colonies.
    Which colony has the largest population of bees? Its hive should become the home of the combined colonies. The stronger colony stays put right where it’s now located.
  2. Smoke and open the weaker colony.

    Manipulate the frames so you wind up with a single deep-hive body containing ten frames of bees, brood, and honey. In other words, consolidate the bees and the ten best frames into one single deep. The “best” frames are those with the most capped brood, eggs, and/or honey.

  3. Smoke and open the stronger hive.

    Remove the outer and inner covers and put a single sheet of newspaper on the top bars. Make a small slit or poke a few holes in the newspaper with a small nail. This helps hive odors pass back and forth between the strong colony and the weak one that you’re about to place on top.

  4. Take the hive body from the weak colony (it now contains ten consolidated frames of bees and brood) and place it directly on top of the stronger colony’s hive.

    Only the perforated sheet of newspaper separates the two colonies.

  5. Add a hive-top feeder and fill it with sugar syrup.

    The outer cover goes on top of the feeder. No inner cover is used when using a hive-top feeder.

  6. Check the hive in a week.
    The newspaper will have been chewed away, and the two colonies will have happily joined into one whacking strong colony. The weaker queen is now history, and only the stronger queen remains.
  7. Now you have the task of consolidating the three deeps back into two.
    Go through all the frames, selecting the 20 best frames of honey, pollen, and brood. Arrange these in the lower two deeps. Frames with mostly brood go into the bottom deep, and frames with mostly honey go into the upper deep. Shake the bees off the ten surplus frames and into the lower two deeps (save these frames and the third hive body as spares).
beekeeping-weak-colony
Courtesy of Howland Blackiston

A weak colony can be combined with a strong colony by using the newspaper method.