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How to Create a Second Bee Colony From Your Existing Beehive

9 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Setting Up a Backyard Beehive

You can create a second colony from your existing colony. You don’t even have to order another package of bees! Free bees! Ah, but here’s the dilemma! You’ll need a new queen for your new colony. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to order a new queen. You can let the bees make their own; however, ordering a new queen is simply faster and more foolproof. Or if you want to get really adventurous, you can raise your own queen.

To make two hives from one, you first need a strong, healthy hive. That’s just what you hope your hive will be like at the start of its second season — boiling with lots and lots of busy bees. The procedure is known as dividing or making a divide.

Dividing not only enables you to start a new colony, it’s also considered good bee management; dividing thins out a strong colony and prevents that colony from swarming.

The best time to make a divide is in the early spring about a month before the first major nectar flow. Follow these steps in the order they are given:

  1. Check your existing colony (colonies) to determine whether you have one that’s strong enough to divide.

    Look for lots of bees, and lots of capped brood (six frames of capped brood and/or larvae are ideal). The situation should look crowded.

  2. Order a new hive setup from your bee supplier.

    You’ll want hive bodies, frames, foundation — the works. You need the elements to build a new home for your new family.

  3. Order a new queen from your bee supplier.

    Alternatively, you can allow the new colony to raise its own queen.

    Your new queen doesn’t have to be marked, but having a marked queen is a plus, particularly when you’re looking for her because the mark makes her easier to identify.

  4. Put your new hive equipment where you plan to locate your new family of bees.

    You’ll need only to put out one deep hive body at this point. Remove four of the ten foundation frames and set them aside. You’ll need them later.

  5. When your new marked queen arrives, it’s time to divide!

    Smoke and open your existing colony as usual.

  6. Find the frame with the queen and set it aside in a safe place.

    An extra empty hive body and cover will do just fine. Better yet, use a small “nuc” hive (available from your supplier). These mini-hives contain only five frames.

  7. Now remove three frames of capped brood (frames with cells of developing pupae) plus all the bees that are on each of them.

    Place these three brood frames and bees in the center of the new hive. That still leaves one slot open because your removed four frames of foundation. The extra slot, however, provides the space that you’ll need to hang the new queen cage.

  8. Using two frame nails, fashion a hanging bracket for the new queen cage (candy side up) and hang the cage between brood frames in the middle of the new hive.

    Make sure you have removed the cork stopper or metal disc, revealing the candy plug.

  9. Put a hive-top feeder on your new colony and fill it with sugar syrup.

  10. Turn your attention back to the original hive.

    Carefully put the frame containing the queen back into the colony. Add three of the new foundation frames (to replace the three brood frames that you removed earlier). Place these frames closest to the outer walls of the hive.

  11. Add a hive-top feeder to your original hive and fill it with sugar syrup.

Congratulations, you’re the proud parent of a new colony! But wait, you say, “I’ve got one new frame of foundation left over.” Good. That’s what you’ll use next week to replace what will then be an empty queen cage. If you used the bottom board installation technique, this step is eliminated.

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