How To Do A Walk-Away Split

As the name implies, you can basically walk away. The bees have been doing this for thousands of years and you can just let them do what they do, but before you walk away, you have to at least make sure that they have what they need in both boxes. Here is the way that I do it to make sure they have their best fighting chances to survive and thrive.

You want to choose a colony that is strong enough to split. In my early days of beekeeping, I made some mistakes along the way. I didn’t have a mentor and I had to learn some things the hard way. It isn’t hard to keep bees, you just have to know what they need and give it to them or make sure that it is available for them to use. When doing a walk away split, remember these factors:

  • both colonies must have adequate food stores
  • both colonies must have adequate bees to take care of the brood
  • both colonies must have a queen or a way to make a queen.
  • there should be adequate Drones for the queen to mate with

That’s pretty much it. The bees know what they need, so let’s look at each of these key ingredients to help your bees along…

Adequate Food Stores

If you have multiple hives to aid you in your walk away split, it is just a matter of going through your colonies and getting a frame of pollen and a frame of food for your walk away split. However, if you only have one or two hives, you need to rationalize what is done and why. If the hive doesn’t have enough stores to split, you can always feed them sugar water and pollen patties. I have done this in the past and it works just fine. So if you aren’t going to feed them, make sure that both hives have a frame of honey and a frame of pollen (or mixtures thereof). One more thing to consider is that the hive that remains in it’s current location will have all of the field force of bees ( the bees that are currently out flying and foraging for resources). So if there is pollen and nectar coming in the door, the original hive will have foragers to bring those resources in so you can take more from them and they can rebound. The split that you take away from will lose the field force so they need more stores than the hive that remains at it’s original location (or you will need to feed them). The split you take away currently does not have foragers to fly out and get resources, so you need to make sure that they have plenty to eat or they will starve.

Adequate Bees

As I stated earlier, the colony that you remove from the original position will lose the field force. So this colony will need some extra bees because if any of the bees you have in this colony have ever been out flying, they have oriented themselves with the original position of the hive and will return to it when they go out and fly. As a rule of thumb, I put twice as many bees in it as I need. If you have one frame of brood in the new hive, have two frames of bees. If you have two frames of brood, give them four frames of bees. It isn’t important that they cover every frame, but they do have to cover the brood to keep it warm. And if there is open brood, they need to feed them as well. If possible, I like to give the split that I am taking away from the original spot some emerging brood (bees that are just being born and emerging from their cappings). This way, the nurse bees can graduate to foraging bees sooner. It’s also a good idea to look in on them a day or two later to make sure you have enough bees to cover the brood.

Having A Queen

Obviously, both colonies need a queen. Although each bee has a vital role, the queen is what gives them the ability to make more bees. Actually all of the worker bees can also reproduce, but that is a topic for another discussion. My preference is to remove the queen and allow the hive that is going to make the queen have all of the foraging bees to give the next queen the best nutrition possible. Since the hive you leave doesn’t have a queen, you need to make sure they have what they need to make a new queen. Your best chances are to make sure that the hive has eggs. If you look at the image above you will see a bee on the right with it’s head inside a cell. And if you look three cells to the left from that bee, you will see an egg. It looks like a grain of rice sticking straight up in the bottom of the cell (but it is smaller than a grain of rice). An egg is only an egg for three days and after an egg hatches, it only has three days that it can become a queen. And it usually takes about a day for the bees to determine that they do not have a queen and they need to make one. If you graft queens on a regular basis, you can probably tell which larvae is suitable for a queen, but most beekeepers cannot judge the actual age of a larvae, so it is just best to make sure the hive that needs to rear a queen has eggs. Really, that is all they need along with the other items. The process goes like this, 3 days an egg, capped on day 9, hatch on day 16, and I usually give her about another ten days to build her strength, orient herself to the hive, go off on her mating flights, and return to the colony and start laying eggs. And then you will have two queens in two hives. YAY!

Adequate Drones

Look in your own hives and determine if there are Drones flying. Drones are fatter than worker bees. These are the male bees and without them, the queen cannot be mated. So if you have drones in your hives, most likely, so does every other colony in your area, so it would be safe to do a walk away split.

Additional Thoughts

I want to add that if you do remove the queen, take some capped and preferably emerging brood to allow them to get foragers sooner. Also you need less food this way because capped brood does not need fed like open brood does. Now, although this works, it is a gamble. Sometimes the queen doesn’t return; she was hit by a car, eaten by a dragonfly, or just lost her way. You can save yourself a month of bee producing time by adding a mated queen rather than doing a walk away split. That is what I usually do. We sell queens here as well. Click here: QUEENS. One more thing worth noting: early spring is the best time for queens to return mated to the colony. The longer into the season, the less Drones and the more predators that will eat you queen while on her mating flight. Also, the later in the season, the less time she has to build up for winter. Just a thought…

In Conclusion:

Honey Bees are very forgiving. They already know what to do and how to do it. All you have to do is make sure they have what they need or give them what they need and they will get it done. When you return to the hive to see if your queen has returned, look for eggs. If you see eggs then you know she has returned and started laying. If you do not see eggs, continue looking to see if you see the queen. If you do or don’t see the queen, give her another 3-5 days to see if you see eggs. You should by now. However, if your queen does not come back mated within this amount of time, give that hive a frame with eggs on it again, and they will make another one. Like I said, they are very forgiving…

Good Luck!

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