The Keys to Moving Honey Bees


Honey bee colonies ready to be moved! Photo Courtesy of Tama66 pixabay

Beekeepers move bees for many reasons, either for necessity or to improve colony health. Beekeepers move bees for 3 major reasons:

  1. To improve forage for honey bees
  2. To avoid a pesticide spray or exposure
  3. To move newly split colonies to a new location

These are to just name a few, but regardless of the reasons, moving bees is often inevitable for beekeepers. I have moved bees for many different reasons, but I worked for a commercial operation. As a commercial operation, we annually moved bees across the country for pollination services and back to North Dakota for honey production. Moving bees on a commercial scale is often easier than for hobbyists because these large-scale beekeepers move entire pallets of bees (4 colonies per pallet) onto a truck and ship them to these areas. This requires little lifting or effort. However, hobbyists do not have the luxury of a flatbed truck, forklift or other useful moving equipment. This makes moving bees harder and more time consuming.

Beekeepers can agree that moving bees is an uneventful event, but if done wrong, beekeepers can have a negative experience. Beekeeping should be a fun and enjoyable hobby, so I do not want moving bees to deter the experience! While moving bees can take time and effort, it is relatively easy if done right.


When to move bees?

Beekeepers have 2 major goals when moving honey bee colonies: 1) move the entire colony without leaving bees behind and 2)reduce colony stress as much as possible. Beekeepers can achieve these goals by only moving bees during low activity periods. These low activity periods include:

  • Temperatures below 50 deg. F
  • Evenings or early mornings
  • Cool and rainy weather

Most beekeepers move bees during the evenings because most bees are back in the colony and there is more time to make adjustments if things go wrong. Beekeepers can move bees during the morning, but then these beekeepers have less time to make adjustments before temperatures increase honey bee activity. If anything goes wrong, then a large mess could arise. Thus, I recommend moving bees in the evenings until experience is gained. Beekeepers can move bees during cold and rainy weather, but ensure temperatures are below 50 deg. F. It not, then moving colonies can be more difficult and messier than intended.

One last thing to note about moving bees during the evenings and morning. If beekeepers move bees in complete darkness, which is often the case during evenings and mornings, then beekeepers should be aware of the possible dangers. It is often easy to lose balance, drop a colony, lose equipment during darkness, so be prepared and aware of the surroundings!

What to wear?

“Always be prepared” is a motto beekeepers should abide by. Beekeeping can be painful and injurious if not properly protected. Unlike beekeeping during daylight hours, honey bees crawl during in mornings, evenings and rainy conditions. These small crawlers will find openings and crevices, which may results in unpleasant stings. I believe these night time or rainy stings seem worse, but this may be just me! Anyway, beekeepers should be aware of this and be prepared by using proper beekeeping attire, such as a bee suit, veil, gloves, heavy socks, and boots. Beekeepers should also consider elasticized cuffs to mitigate crawlers into unwanted areas. Beekeepers may bring friends or inexperienced beekeepers to help move colonies, which is great! Always have a helping hand because nothing is worse than getting injured in the bee yard. However, these helping beekeepers may be inexperienced, which may increase a chance for an incidence. Because of this, keep these beekeepers well protected and informed about the moving process. You want these people to help again, right? (unless this is some pity revenge, then I think you need help..) So make it a good experience for everyone.

General guidelines for moving bees?

Moving bees differ depending upon distance, but there are general guidelines for moving colonies.

Ensure bottom board is attached to rest of the colony

The beekeeper needs to secure the colony before moving, which means the bottom board needs to be attached to the bottom brood boxt. This can be done a few different ways:

  • Bottom board is banded or strapped to the brood boxes
  • The bottom board is cleated
  • The bottom board is stapled to the bottom brood boxes (2″ staples are preferred)

Oftentimes, the colony is stuck together because of propolis. However, if colonies begin breaking apart when they are moved, then disaster could ensue. It is often a great management practice to attach bottom board, or even strap the entire colony together. If staples will be used to attached the bottom board, do so several days in advance of the move.


Handle with care

Honey bees are living organisms that can be easily stressed. Because of this, handle the colonies with care! Beekeepers must reduce stress as much as possible for honey bee colonies so they do not suffer long term. Beekeepers should practice good management technique before moving colonies. For example, beekeepers should practice smooth and slow movements over quick and jerking movements. Smooth movements reduce stress, keep the propolis seal attached, and ensures an enjoyable moving experience. Remember, always handle with care!

Use a smoker!

Beekeepers should never be afraid to use a smoker because smoke keeps bees calm during a stressful situation. I often push new beekeepers to use more smoke when they help me move colonies. I do this because new beekeepers often perceive smoke as bad. Smoking colonies does more good than harm, so use generously, especially if bees become roughed up.

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Always use a smoker!

Close all entrances

Beekeepers can close all colony entrances, which makes sure bees are kept within the colony. Beekeepers can use entrance reducers, grass, duct tape, corks, or really an material to close entrances. While closing entrances is not always necessary, especially when moving colonies long distances, closing entrances can be a great management practice for new beekeepers. Closing entrances reduces crawling bees, makes moving bees easier, and limits bees left behind. All positives in my book!

Bind colonies within vehicle

Beekeepers and personnel need to ensure colonies are properly binded to the vehicles. If not, the beekeepers risks losing equipment, but more importantly, their bees. Also,  most regions and States have thorough transportation policies, and many require equipment and bees to be properly binded to the vehicles. Bind to avoid a fine.

Keep bees close together during transportation

Beekeepers should also keeps bees close together when moving, which improves the transportation process. If bees are further apart, then they tend to move more. This adds more stress to the colonies and decreases their attachment within the vehicle.

 Moving colonies Short distances

Beekeepers may want to move colonies short distances, which I consider 5 feet to 1 mile. These short distances are tricky because bees want to return to their original location. When bees are in a location, they orient themselves in a way that attunes them to a certain location. This orientation helps bees find their way home after a long foraging flight. Because of this, it is difficult to just move a colony 5 feet to a mile away. Bees are attuned to their original location, and have a high propensity to go to that original location. No one wants disoriented bees! Beekeepers are fine moving bees less than 5 feet because bees can easily find their way home. However, beekeepers must move bees a certain way if they want their colonies in a new location 5 feet-1 mile away. They have two options:

Option 1: Beekeepers can move their colonies a few feet at a time several days apart. If colonies only need to be moved a few feet or across the yard, then this is a great option.

Option 2: Beekeepers can initially move the colonies 1 1/2 miles away for at least 10 days, and then, move the colonies to their intended location. This requires more work and time but it is an effective practice. Moreover, it ensures all bees orient to the right colony. Win Win!


Moving colonies long distances

Beekeepers can easily move colonies distances over 1 1/2 miles. Beekeepers across the nation successfully do so as they transport colonies to pollination orchards in other regions. Basically, these beekeepers strap colonies to a flat bed semi (a truck would work for less colonies) and put a net over the colonies. They may cool the colonies with water, but in reality, there is nothing to it. Hobbyists can do the same thing. If bees are moved long distances, place the colonies on a truck, properly strap them, and move them to their new location. These colonies do not need to have net or their entrances shut. I have moved bees these distance by simply strapping them to the back of a truck and driving to the desire location. Obviously these colonies were smoked liberally, and binded together with straps, but it worked sting free! I should not that vehicles must follow traffic requirements and regulations. Also, make sure everything is strapped down. You do not want to lose any equipment!

I hope you enjoyed

Garett Slater

Swarm Management: Preventing Swarms

Beekeepers must manage colonies so they do not swarm. If colonies do swarm, beekeepers may not only lose the swarming colony, but the parent hive is much smaller as summer progresses. This may inhibit honey production and overwintering success. Anyhow, swarming is bad beekeeping practice, and should be avoided at all costs. I have outline preventative and remedial techniques to avoid swarming, which should help you as swarm season pushes on!

Early prevention of swarms

Adequate space for brood and resources

Beekeepers should provide extra space during the spring as colony population drastically increases. If colonies are large entering the spring honey flow, then colonies may need 2 brood boxes and supers to inhibit swarming, but this depends upon the state of the colony. A good rule of thumb is colonies need at least 2 empty frames, but if you check the colonies 2 weeks later, this is often too late. It is often best to provide space extra space to prevent disaster later. Too much space can spread resources, such as nurse bees, but if you cannot check the colonies often, then do provide extra space.

This colony has begun to pack the brood box with honey. I noticed signs of swarming, which is predictable due to congestion.
This colony is bringing in a lot of brood and nectar. Because of this, this colony needs space or it may swarm.

Young queens

Older queens are more likely to swarm than younger queens. However, this does not necessarily mean all old queens will swarm! I have seen colonies headed by 2 year old queens that have not swarmed, so do not worry too much unless signs of swarming exist. But annual requeening may be a great option to lessen that chance. Many beekeepers requeen their colonies annually because colonies with young queens often produce more honey, have a better brood pattern, and are more likely to live through the winter. This does not mean older cannot queens perform as well as younger queens, but it is less likely. If you plan to requeen to prevent swarm, purchase queens bred not to swarm. Obviously swarming is an embedded behavioral trait, but many queen breeders select colonies that do not swarm. Because of this, bees can be selected for their low propensity to swarm.

This is an older queen that is about to fail. Her left wing is tattered and the right is half gone.

Removal of queen cells

This is a swarm queen cell.

Queen cells are a blatant sign of swarming. If these swarm cells have eggs or late-staged larvae, then swarming is far advanced and action must be taken. If the queen cell is open, then the queen has hatched, and the colony might have swarmed already. But if a colony contains swarm queen cells with eggs or late staged larvae, then these cells need to be removed immediately. The colony will swarm if a new queen is available to the colony. If a new queen is not available, then the colony will not swarm. Once queen cells are removed, then other steps need to be followed, such as brood removal or checkerboarding.


Checkerboarding is a useful practice that encourages colony build-up while preventing swarms. Essentially, checkerboarding tricks bees that the brood next is smaller than it actually is. Checkerboarding is the alternation of brood frames with empty frames, which creates a checkerboard pattern (brood, empty, brood, empty). This breaks the brood into multiple brood boxes, and tricks colonies to continue colony build-up. If the colony is packed wall-to-wall with brood, then add an additional brood box or super, and rotate frames between the two boxes. While this may seem like a lot of extra, unnecessary work, checkerboarding does prevent swarms while encouraging colony build-up.



Reversing is a common, yet scientifically unproven technique.

Many beekeepers reverse the top and bottom boxes during the first spring inspection. In theory, this method prevents swarms by lessening congestion. Despite the lack of evidence on reversing, this is a common practice. Many beekeepers believe this practice lessens swarming because  the majoring of the bees are located in the upper box. Because of heat, the bees stay in the upper box without migrating to the lower brood box, and this increases congestion. By reversing, the queen and ~ 1/2 the bees move to the empty box as they migrate up. Both boxes will now contain half the bees, which evenly spreads the bees between the two brood boxes. While not backed by scientific evidence, this is a common swarm management practice.



Many beekeepers use exchanging as their main method of swarm management, especially if the beekeepers as several colonies.  Exchanging is the practice of switching the locations of a weak and strong colony during mid-day. Once foragers come back, they populate the weak colony, thus alleviating congestion of the stronger one. Many commercial beekeepers exchange colonies because it is a quick swarm management technique. Moreover, it provides a boost for weaker colonies. The colonies may lose queens, so be wary of this.

Exchanging is much easier on a commercial level because these beekepers have 100’s-1000’s of colonies. However, hobbyists can use this technique is they simply have 2 colonies.

Late-stage prevention of swarms

Prevention is the best swarm management practice, but life does happen! Most beekeepers have a swarming colony at some point. In many cases, colonies are in the late stages of swarming and beekeepers must take immediate action. Unlike the previous section, more drastic measures must be taken to prevent swarming

Removal of queen

If the colony is about to swarm, than queen removal is prudent option. Remove the queen for 7-9 days, and requeen once again after all queen cells are removed. The beekeeper may choose to either requeen the colony with the original queen or with a new queen, but this is personal preference. While this technique does impact honey production and population increase, it does inhibit late-staged swarming.

Removal of brood

Beekeepers can remove brood to inhibit swarming. Either the beekeeper use the brood to produce a new colony or place the brood into a weaker colony, but this is a useful swarm management technique. If the beekeeper plans to produce a new colony (nuc), then place 3-5 frame of brood, bees, and a queen in a new brood box. Move the colony to a new location, and whala! A new colony without the swarm.


Separation of queen from the brood

This technique is called Dameering, and is a very common for swarm management among beekeeping circles. Essentially, the beekeeper separates the queen from the brood by rearranging the colony. With this technique, beekeepers place the queen and 1-2 frames of brood in an otherwise empty foundation box. The box is placed in the original location of the colony, and a queen excluder is placed on top. Beekeepers then place a 1-2 supers on top of the queen excluder, followed by the original brood box. This should be repeated 9-10 days later. There are several modifications, such as shaking all the colonies on the ground next to an empty foundation box with a queen excluder, so the bees and the enter the intended box. While many different techniques exist, the basic premise is to separate the queen from the brood.


Swarm Management: The signs of swarming

As the temperature warms, daylight increases and flowers begin to blossom, bees can rapidly increase in size and nutrient storage. Because of this, beekeepers have a major task: managing swarms. Swarming is natural system for reproduction, as colonies split into two separate entities. But swarming can also impact colony health, especially if the swarm is not recovered. For sample, the colony is now half the size, so it is splitting an uphill battle for honey production and winter preparation. Because of this, beekeepers must understand the signs of swarming and prevent it.


Why do bees swarm?

Honey bees swarm for a variety of reasons, which include: 1) colony is crowded, 2)abundance of resources, 3) older queen, and 4) mite infestation and/or disease. Typically, bees swarm during the spring because bees are packed into a single brood box as they pack the colony with brood, pollen and nectar. Beekeepers must understand why bees swarm in order to prevent it.

  • Colony is crowded

Colony can become crowded in the spring. If all the frames a packed with bees, then the colony likely needs space.

During the spring, bees rapidly increase in size. This size is attributed to queen laying, as the queen begins laying ~2000 eggs per day. When these eggs eventually become adults, bees can easily become overcrowded. Populated brood boxes are necessary for proper colony health; however, overcrowding often leads to swarming. 

  • Abundance of resources
Resource allocation can inhibit egg laying area for the queen. This is a picture of bee collected pollen.

During the spring, the colony can easily pack the brood boxes with nectar and pollen. However, this may inhibit brood laying area for the queen. While the queen will lay heavily if resources are brought in, the queen cannot lay eggs if space is not available. As nectar and pollen are brought in, this can eventually eliminate brood laying space. If space is not available, then the colony may swarm

  • Old queen
This queen has begun to fail.

An older queen does not necessarily mean the colony will swarm, but the colony is more likely to swarm with an older queen. The colony can sense an older queen because the queen’s pheromone levels decrease and the brood pattern becomes spotty.

  • Mite infestation or disease
This colony is infested with Parasitic Mite Syndrome, mite transmitted viruses

Colonies may swarm if mite levels, pest, pathogens, and diseases reach an uncontrollable levels. Oftentimes, colonies with high disease or mite load will not just swarm, unless these colonies have a genetic predisposition for swarming. For example, africanize bees will abscond or swarm in the presence of various diseases, pest, and pathogens. The backyard beekeepers often does not need to worry about this cause of swarming.

Signs of Swarming

I stated reasons for swarming above, such as space restrictions, resource abundance and older queens. Most beekeepers can prevent swarming by simply providing space or splitting in the spring, and making sure the colony has a young queen. However, if beekeepers do not inspect colonies regularly, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise: signs of swarming. But what are the signs of swarming. They include: 1)size of brood box, 2)bees outside of entrance, 3)size of queen, and 4)Queen cells.

  • Size of broodnest

The colony may look very small because either the colony swarmed or the colony is preparing to swarm. Thus, the size of broodnest is a useful signal for swarming. If the broodnest is small, inspect the colony for other signals of swarming, such as bees outside the entrance and open queen cells.

  • This empty box was placed next to the swarm on the ground and the bees immediately started to enter.
    This empty box was placed next to the swarm on the ground and the bees immediately started to enter.

    Bees outside entrance

Bees releasing pheromone at the hive entrance to guide the rest of the swam in.
Bees outside the entrance can indicate possible swarming, but not always. Look at this signs!

If bees are bearding, this does not necessarily mean the colony is preparing to swarm. However, if bees are outside the entrance due to swarming reasons, this is often too late. The colony is receiving signals from scout bees about their new location and the hive is preparing to launch! If you see bees outside the entrance, these are signs that the colony is about to swarm:

  1. The bees are making a loud sound, almost like a roaring sound
  2. Bees are not only at the entrance, but flying around the colony. This prerequisite of swarming often looks like a “cloud”.
  3. Swarming mostly occurs during mid-morning, so this is when bees may be at the entrance.

Swarming can be confused with bee bearding, but bee bearding occurs due to different reasons, such as overheating and lack of ventilation. While bees at the entrance can indicated swarming, other signs must be considered.

  • Size of queen

After her initial mating flight, the queen is too large to fly. This is because the queen develops mature ovaries for queen laying. But if a colony swarms, the queen also needs to leave the colony, and many times, the older queen leaves with the swarm. In order to swarm, the queen must become smaller. As the colony prepares to swarm, the queen ceases egg laying and becomes smaller. The workers batter and hit the queen to make her smaller, which is a brutal but necessary process. If the colony is about to swarm, eggs will limited and the queen will be quite small. 

  • Queen cells
Swarm cells
Emergency queen cells
Superscedure cells

Queen cells are an obvious sign of swarming. Swarm cells, however, are different from superscedure cells or emergency cells. Swarm cells are found on the bottom on the comb, whereas superscedure and emergency cells are found in the middle. If a colony is about to swarm, there may be handful of swarm queen cells within the colony. The queen cell(s) may be open, which indicates the queen has already hatched. This means the colony has or is about to swarm.


Swarming has many signs, both early and advance. Beekeepers can prevent swarming by providing space in the spring, which often comes down to understand the colony. I will outline preventative and remedial measures in a later blog, but by understand these signs, hopefully swarms can be prevented!

Garett Slater


Cell Size: Does it matter?

Cell size is a highly heated and debated topic that I, as a former commercial beekeeper, did not know of until recently. As a commercial beekeeper, we would buy foundation in bulk, which had a “standard” cell size (5.2mm to 5.4mm). I had zero concept of small versus standard cell size, and I became curious about why beekeepers would use small cell instead of standard cell. So I did what any eager millennial would do- I googled it. I found Michael Bush’s (  and Randy Oliver’s post ( about small cell size (and I went down a few other rabbit holes), and I instantly became fascinated about small cell size. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it.

In 1857, Johannes Mehring produced the first comb foundation (Graham, 1992). His goal was to provide bees with a template, which would encourage bees to build worker comb in the frames. From that day forward, artificial foundation became a part of beekeeping. However, beekeepers began to experiment with different cell sizes. In 1927, Baudoux hypothesized that larger cell sizes would produce larger bees, and based upon anecdotal evidence from his own colonies, he claimed larger bees produced higher yields of honey. Without scientific evidence, manufacturers in Belgium and France began to produce foundation with larger cells. These manufacturers asserted that bees raised in larger cells produced more honey and this concept took off (Grout, 1935). Those fallacies faded into history as cell size become standardized at 5.2mm-5.4mm.

Natural Worker Comb 4.6 mm to 5.1 mm
Dadant 4.9mm Small Cell  4.9 mm
Honey Super Cell  4.9 mm
Wax dipped PermaComb 4.9 mm
Mann Lake PF100 & PF120 4.94 mm
Dadant 5.1mm Small Cell 5.1 mm
Pierco foundation 5.2 mm
Pierco deep frames 5.25 mm
Pierco medium frames 5.35 mm
RiteCell 5.4 mm
Standard Worker Foundation 5.4 to 5.5mm
7/11 5.6 mm
HoneySuperCell Medium Frames 6.0 mm
Drone 6.4 to 6.6 mm


Natural Comb
Natural Comb


Rite Cell® 5.4 mm
Dadant Normal Brood 5.4 mm
Pierco Medium Sheet 5.2 mm
Pierco Deep Frame 5.25 mm
Mann Lake PF120 Medium Frame
Mann Lake PF100 Deep Frame
Dadant Small Cell 4.9 mm

I decided to see if scientific studies supported Baudoux’s 2 major claims: 1) larger cells=larger bees and 2) larger bees=higher honey yield.


Claim #1-Smaller cells= smaller bees

Honey bees raised in smaller cells did, in fact, become smaller. Apis mellifera mellifera raised in small-cell (5.08mm) comb versus standard-cell (5.48mm) comb became 1% smaller (McMullan & Brown, 2006). Moreover, bees raised in small-cells did have smaller thorax width and head width, morphometrics determined during development (Grout, 1935; Seeley, Griffin, Seeley, & Griffin, 2011). Yes, an 8% reduction in cell size only equated to a 1% reduction in size, and we do not know what these reductions mean on a colony level. However, these experiments show how the rearing environment impacts the individual, and not how it may have colony level impacts. I should note that body size is likely not only impacted by cell size, but also other environmental factors such temperature, nutrition, etc.


My Verdict: Yes, but only to a point


Claim #2-Larger bees=higher honey yield

Let us think about this: larger bees have bigger thoraxes, which possibly means a more profound locomotor function (simply, flight) ( Seeley, & Griffin, 2011). So, do larger bees produce more honey? Well we know that, of 62 bee species analyzed, body size was correlated with how far an insect forages (Greenleaf et al., 2007). For honey bees, worker weight does vary during the season (Levin & Haydak., 1951) so it is possible that larger workers can forage longer distance. But do larger bees produce more honey? The answer seems to be no. Obviously, more studies are needed to support this idea because honey production is dependent upon both genetic and environmental factors. Moreover, these studies did not scientifically compare honey production for colonies raised with small-cell comb (5.08mm) versus standard-comb (5.48mm). However, from what we know in the scientific literature, body size does not impact honey production.

Let us jump from the brood nest to the honey super: can bees store more honey in standard-cell comb versus small-cell comb? From a pure speculative opinion, I would suspect bees would possibly store less (but probably not much less) honey in small-cell comb for 2 reasons: 1) frames would have more cells, but less honey storage/cell and 2) my guess is that colonies can draw out standard cells further than small-cell sized comb. Because of this, bees can store more honey per cell. Like I said, this is pure speculation, so if you have thoughts/experience, please comment below

My Verdict: No

Beekeepers began to implement small cell comb into their colonies as a possible non-chemical varroa mite control in the 1990’s. This hypotheses stemmed from observations of Africanized honey bees (bees that produce smaller cells sizes than European species) whom seemed less prone to becoming harmed from varroa; however, we also know that much of that reduced harm was from swarming when varroa mite levels became too high. While hygienic behavior was also known to explain low mite levels in Africanized honey bees, there was an idea that the smaller cell sizes could control varroa. I decided to see if studies have shown the efficacy of small cell size on varroamanagement


Claim #3-Can small cells actively control varroa

Medina & Martin (1999) hypothesized the use of smaller cell size as a varroa control because they believed smaller cell size inhibited movement of immature varroa, thus reducing the mites’ ability to feed. This idea was tested by Martin & Kryger (2002) whom found evidence for this hypothesis. These researchers reared a subspecies of European honey bees that are similar in size in small celled comb (4.6mm), and they found higher mother mite and male offspring mortality. They also observed the mother mites and male protonymphs appeared to get trapped in in the upper part of the cell, which inhibited their ability to reach feeding site on the developing bee. This evidence was exciting; an easily implement management strategy that could be used to control mites!! But good science required initial claims to be repeated and verified. So five separate studies conducted experiments to test whether small-cells can actively control mites (Berry, Owens, & Delaplane, 2010; Coffey, Breen, Brown, & McMullan, 2010; Ellis, Hayes, & Ellis, 2009; Seeley, & Griffin, 2011; Taylor, Goodwin, McBrydie, & Cox, 2008). These studies have not found evidence to support this point. In one of the studies, Dr. Tom Seeley compared mite loads and mite drops of bees reared in standard comb size (5.4mm) versus small cell size (4.8mm) and found no difference between groups (Seeley, & Griffin, 2011). Moreover, he noticed the volume of the cell filled by a larvae was only slightly larger for a small cell versus large cell. He suggested that Martin & Kryger (2002) possibly found significant differences between bees reared in different cell sizes because the largest subspecies (a non-European race), Apis mellifera capensis, was reared in the smallest possible cell size (4.6mm). Using European races, small cell size did not have a huge impact on colony mite levels.

Small cell size, I found from online forums and posts, is widely believed to actively control varroa. but based upon the literature, it seems small cell size comb cannot actively control for varroa.

 Verdict: No

If you have thoughts/experience, please comment below!  I attached links to Randy Oliver’s post about the topic:


And like I linked before, Michael Bush has information in his post:



Berry, J. A., Owens, W. B., & Delaplane, K. S. (2010). Small-cell comb foundation does not impede Varroa mite population growth in honey bee colonies *. Apidologie41(1), 40–44.

Coffey, M. F., Breen, J., Brown, M. J. F., & McMullan, J. B. (2010). Brood-cell size has no influence on the population dynamics of Varroa destructor mites in the native western honey bee , Apis mellifera mellifera *. Apidologie41(5), 522–530.

Ellis, A. M., Hayes, G. W., & Ellis, J. D. (2009). The efficacy of small cell foundation as a varroa mite (Varroa destructor) control. Experimental and Applied Acarology, (47), 311–316.

Graham, J. M. (Ed.). (1992). The hive and the honey bee. Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons.

Greenleaf, S. S., Williams, N. M., Winfree, R., Kremen, C., Greenleaf, S. S., & Williams, N. M. (2007). Bee Foraging Ranges and Their Relationship to Body Size. International Association for Ecology153(3), 589–596.

Grout, R. A. (1935). Influence of Size of Brood Cell upon Size and Variability of the Honeybee. American Association of Economic Entomologists, 345–354.

Levin, M. D., & Haydak., M. H. (1951). Seasonal Variation in Weight and Ovarian Development. Journal of Economic Entomology44(1), 54–57.

Martin, S. J., & Kryger, P. (2002). Reproduction of Varroa destructor in South African honey bees : does cell space influence Varroa male survivorship ? Apidologie33, 51–61.

McMullan, J. B., & Brown, M. J. F. (2006). The influence of small-cell brood combs on the morphometry of honeybees ( Apis mellifera )*. Apidologie37, 665–672.

Medina, L. M., & Martin, S. J. (1999). A comparative study of Varroa jacobsoni reproduction in worker cells of honey bees ( Apis mellifera ) in England and Africanized bees in Yucatan , Mexico, (September 1994), 659–667.

Seeley, T., Griffin, S., Seeley, T., & Griffin, S. (2011). Small-cell comb does not control Varroa mites in colonies of honeybees of European origin Small-cell comb does not control V arroa mites in colonies of honeybees of European origin. Apidologie, (42), 526–532.

Taylor, M. A., Goodwin, R. M., McBrydie, H. M., & Cox, H. M. (2008). The effect of honey bee worker brood cell size on Varroa destructor infestation and reproduction. Journal of Apicultural Research.

Why do modern colonies have removable frames?


Historically, comb management was virtually non-existent because pre-1850’s beekeeping because colonies did not have removable frames. Beekeepers kept colonies in makeshift enclosures, and oftentimes these colonies were made of local materials found in specific regions. These beekeepers built hives with 3 basic premises: 1) the colonies must be protected from extreme weather, 2) a flight entrance must be provided that is small enough for the colony to defend predators, and 3) the hive must contain an opening to remove honey (Graham,1992). Below are pictures of different colony enclosures:

Figure 1: The four hives in Figure 1-4 are made primarily of straw. Figure 3 is known as a skep, which is a basket placed on an open-ended bottom.  – These pictures are courtesy of University of Minnesota Bee Lab
Figure 2
Figure 3


Figure 4


Figure 5 :This hive is made primarily from clay-This picture is courtesy of the University of Minnesota Bee Lab


These hives protected bees well; however, these hives had one common problem: the comb needed to be cut and destroyed to harvest honey. Post-harvest, bees had to rebuild comb, an energy expensive task. Moreover, these hives offered other challenges, such as colonies were difficult to inspect and bees were easily angered. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth identified this problem in his 1851 diary entry:

“Pondering, as I had so often done before, how I could get rid of the disagreeable necessity of cutting the attachments of the combs from the walls of the hives, and rejecting, for obvious reasons the plan of uprights, close fitting(or nearly so) to these walls, the almost self-evident idea of using the same bee space as in the shallow combs came into my mind, and in a moment the suspended movable frames, kept at a suitable distance from each other and the case containing them, came into being. Seeing by intuition, as it were, the end from the beginning, I could scarcely refrain from shouting out my “Eureka!” in the open streets.”

L.L. Langstroth developed a hive with removable frames, which is called the Langstroth hive today. Frames were easily moved and designed so the frames were spaced properly to overcome bees tendency to propolize in smaller spaces. With the Langstroth colony, beekeepers could now easily inspect colonies for diseases, bees would be disturbed less often, colonies could be easily split, frames with honey could be easily removed without disturbing or destroying brood, and it became easier to compartmentalized queens using queen excluders (Graham,1992). The Langstroth hive changed beekeeping forever and influenced beekeeping today. But L.L. Langstroth’s invention did offer a new challenge: comb management.

Figure 6: Langstroth Hive-This picture is courtesy of Rob Snyder

L.L. Langstroths’s idea of a removable frame was not a novel idea. A blind beekeeper by the name of Francois Huber developed a leaf hive, the first colony with removable frames (Huber, 1821). The leaf hive consists of 12 vertical frames or boxes that are parallel to each other. It is evident that Huber influenced L.L. Langstroth’s idea. In “Langstroth on the hive and the honey bee” (1860), L.L. Langstroth stated:

“The use of the huber hive had satisfied me, that with proper precautions the comb might be removed without enraging the bees, and that these insects were capable of being tamed to a surprising degree. Without knowledge of these facts, I should have regarded a hive permitting the removal of the combs, as quite too dangerous for practical use.”

From this, L.L. Langstroth developed the hive equipment we see today.

Figure 7: Original drawing of the leaf hive (Huber,1921)


Figure 8: L.L. Langstroth’s patent for original Langstroth hive


Improvements have been made to the original Langstroth hive, but the overall idea remains the same. This invention was a major turning point for beekeeping because the Langstroth hives provided the impetus for contemporary beekeeping. Bees became easier to manage, and interest in beekeeping rose. But as beekeeping changed, so did management practices. Today, beekeepers manage comb differently than pre-1850’s beekeepers, and because of this, comb management has become an important management practice.

Garett Slater



Langstroth, L. L. (1859). Langstroth on the hive & honey bee. American bee journal.

Graham, J. M. (Ed.). (1992). The hive and the honey bee (No. 638.12 G7 1992). Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons.

Huber, F. (1821). New observations on the natural history of bees. W. & C. Tait, and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, London


Whether you are a hobbyist, sideliner, or a commercial beekeeper, spring is a busy time for many beekeepers. Of all the spring tasks, splitting colonies may be the most crucial. Whether beekeepers split to expand their operation, to re-queen their colonies or control varroa, splitting is an important, yet time consuming task. In many ways, splitting is a right of passage for beekeepers.

Why Split?

In simplistic terms, splitting is the act of producing two colonies from one. As mentioned earlier, beekeepers want to do this for several reasons:

Expand their numbers

Are beekeepers ever happy with their numbers? As beekeepers gain experience and passion for beekeeping, they likely want to expand their numbers. This is not different for any level of beekeeping. However, bee colonies can be expensive. Splitting colonies is an inexpensive way to expand your numbers.

Maintain numbers

Many beekeepers are not interested in expanding, but they want to maintain the status quo. Whether these beekeepers are satisfied with their numbers or have little room to expand, splitting is an effective practice to maintain numbers. Beekeepers typically split colonies in the spring to replace summer and winter losses.

Control varroa

Beekeepers biggest challenge for beekeeping is not skill set or management, but controlling varroa. Varroa can devastate colonies and eventually destroy your entire operation. While beekeeper may not split specifically to control mites, splitting can do just this. Beekeepers introduce a brood break when they split, which means capped brood is not found within the colony. Many varroa treatments fail because these treatments are ineffective at killing mites under the brood. Thus, a brood break can improve treatment efficacy. Whether a brood break is introduced by re-queening or caging the old queen, beekeepers can better control varroa during splits.


Older queens can place your colonies at risk for the upcoming season. Whether the queen is older than 1 year or 3 years, re-queening older queens must be considered. If not, these queens may eventually fail, begin producing male drone eggs, lose pheromone capacity, or become tormented by unhappy worker bees before they can replace her. Because of this risk, many beekeeper re-queen colonies with young, prolific queens annually. Benefits of re-queening include more honey production, larger population, more consistent brood pattern, increased foraging, and these are just to name a few.

Prevent swarms

Beekeepers can prevent warming by splitting large colonies into two smaller colonies. While many beekeepers add space to prevent swarming, splitting can be an effective swarm management practice. However, beekeepers must be aware about the stage of swarming. If large colonies have swarm queen cups WITHOUT eggs, these colonies are in the early stages of swarming, and can easily be split. But if these queen cups do contain eggs and the queen is getting smaller, then all queen cells and queen cups must be removed before splitting.

When Can I split?

Beekeepers can split whenever queens are available. Typically, commercial queens become available around April-May, so this is when beekeepers usually split. Furthermore, April-May is before many major honey flows, which can help splits become established. However, I do not want to discourage you from making splits later in the season. If you have queens readily available and a major fall honey flow, than late season splitting can be successful. But if a major fall honey flow does not occur, especially in northern climates, fall splitting may do more harm than good.

I should also mention that you can only split larger colonies. If you split weak colonies, these are less likely to succeed because weaker colonies produce weaker splits. Even if a beekeeper wants to split, they must consider their colony size, brood availability, and number of nurse bees. Typically, you want a strong, double deep colony with at least 9 frames of brood, 6 at a minimum.

How many times can I split?

Beekeepers can split colonies multiple times, but this can depend upon the strength of the colonies and the degree of the honey flow. I have heard reports of beekeepers splitting colonies +5 times, but these colonies were strong and were in an area of a great honey flow. Also, the more times beekeepers split, the less honey they will produce. If I were to provide a guide, have AT LEAST 6 frames of brood before you split. 9 is ideal, but 6 is necessary.

Can splitting help control mites?

Beekeepers can better control mites by splitting their colonies. Certain splitting practices elicit a brood break, which make mite treatments more effective. Moreover, brood breaks make organic treatments, such as oxalic acid, formic acid, and apiguard more effective. If you want to initiate a brood break, you have 3 options:

  1. Requeen both the parent and daughter colony

Splits require requeening just the daughter colony (the split). However, both the parent colony (the colony being split) and the daughter colony can both be requeened at the same time. If you requeen with cells, you will have nearly a 2 week broodless period by the time the queen mates, begins laying eggs, and these juveniles become capped. If inserting cells, this window is shorter (few days if the colony contains open brood), but still long enough to apply an effective treatment.

2. Requeen the daughter colony and cage the parent colonies queen

If you want to keep the queen from the parent colony, you can cage her for 1-2 weeks in order to initiate the same brood break. Queens placed into a queen cage and inserted in a colony are fine 1-2 weeks in a colony. Even though caging the queen can impact colony size, growth and honey production, this can be an effective mite management strategy.

3. Requeen the daughter colony and just pay closer attention to parent colonies. 

The parent colony does not necessarily need to be requeened or have its queen caged. If you know which are the parent colonies, you can easily monitor these colonies throughout the year. These colonies will likely have higher mite levels throughout the year because they did not receive this brood break, but you can manage accordingly.

How far should I move the split?

You can choose to move your splits 4 feet or 4 miles, it does not really matter. You do not need to move the splits to new a new yard miles away, so do not feel the need to. But if you do keep colonies within the same yard, move the daughter colony at least 4 feet away from the parent colony, and make sure the entrance facing a different direction.

How to split?

I will talk about 3 methods for splitting, but please remember that every person has their own method of splitting. I am sure you can find variations of the methods I present below, but these are the methods I typically use. I did not chat about producing nucs, even though nuc production is a form of splitting. I plan to write about producing nucs in a seperate post, so please bear with me!

Method 1:


Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to gauge number of bees transferred between colonies Queen needs to be found
The method requires only 1 day Can be time consuming
No extra equipment needed, other than  the split

1. Finding queen and cage her

Method 1 may be the most time consuming because the method requires finding the queen. For inexperienced beekeepers, this can seem like a daunting task. However, finding the queen is an essential aspect of beekeeping. In order to easily find queens: 1)split double deep colonies before queen inspection so the queen does not run between boxes and 2) limit colony agitation by carefully inspecting frames. Once found, gently grab the queen by the wings or thorax, and place her into a queen cage. Queens are delicate insects, so they should be treated with care. Typically, beekeepers place caged queens next to the colony under shade or in another safe, shaded area.

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2. Add 2-3 frames of capped brood to split

Once queen is caged, you can begin adding frames to the split. You will want to add at least 2-3 frames of brood, preferably 2 frames of capped/emerging brood and 1 frame of open brood such as eggs, young larvae, or older larvae. The new split needs capped/emerging brood  because the capped brood will hatch soon. These newly emerged bees will both repopulate the colony and accept the queen more readily than older bees.

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3. Shake a minimum of 3 brood frames into split

New splits need bees so the capped brood is properly warmed and tended to. I recommend shaking at least 3 brood frames into the split. Shake only brood frames because the new splits will need young, nurse bees to tend the brood. Beekeepers typically shake only 3 frames, but you can can add more depending upon the parent colonies strength and impending recovery.

4. Keep brood together, and replace frames taken away from the parent colony

Make sure the brood is kept together in the split because if not, the nurse bees begin stretching resources. For example, limited nurses can only focus their energy to warm, tend, and feed the brood in a certain area. If brood is spread apart, the nurse bees cannot easily tend all the brood properly. On either side of the brood, you can place honey frames, empty drawn comb frames or foundation frames. Just ensure that foundation frames are at least 1 frame from the edge or else the bees will not draw them out. Once the split is organized, the empty frames can be placed into the parent colony. Organize the parent the same as the split: brood in the middle.

5. Move the split

Move the split to a new location, preferably 4 feet away. Once moved, face the entrance opposite of the parent colony. I face the entrance in the opposite direction, even though it may not be necessary. I want to ensure arriving foragers orient to the parent colony, not the new split. Older foragers will not readily accept a new queen, so foragers can cause splits to fail. Other beekeepers reduce the entrance when they move their colonies. Splits are often weaker and more susceptible to robbers, so entrance reducers can limit robbers, especially during times of dearth.

6. Introduce mated queen or queen cell

Once splits are made, you can now insert the queen. Certain beekeepers wait 24 hours before introducing a mated queen or queen cell, but that is not necessary. I wait 24 hours because I want newly emerged bees to hatch, which may increase likelihood of queen acceptance. But in all reality, it likely does not matter. When introducing a queen cage, place the cage between brood frames and make sure the wire caged is NOT facing the comb.

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Method 2:

Advantages Disadvantages
Do not need to find queen 2 day process
Quick process, despite requiring 2 days Queen excluder needed
Easy to do a large number of colonies Cannot control number of bees transferred

1. Remove 4 frames from empty split

When setting up this split, remove 4 empty frames from the empty split. The empty split now has 4 openings, which is where bee free brood frames will be placed.

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This is how a parent and daughter colony should begin as. The parent colony should have at least 9 frames of brood, 6 at a minimum before splitting. Split strong colonies before a honey flow to ensure success.

2. Add 3 frames of brood and 1 honey frame for feed to the empty split

Similar to method 1, colonies will need 3-4 frames of brood for a successful split. But instead of moving both the frames and bees to split, these frames must be inspected for the queen and shaken before they are moved. This method requires shaking because bees will auto-populate the colony over the next 24 hours. Moreover, inspecting and shaking the colony ensures the split does not have the old queen. If the queen is placed in the split, this adds more work for the beekeeper.

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Add frames of brood to the daughter colony. Preferably, 2 frames of capped brood and at least 1 frame of open brood (eggs, young larvae, older larvae). If the parent colony is very strong, you can add 4 frames of brood.

3. Add queen excluder above parent colony

This method requires a queen excluder so the queen does not travel into the new split. As mentioned earlier, if the queen enters the split, this adds more work and risk for the beekeeper.

4. Place daughter (split) colony above queen excluder. 

The daughter colony should only contain brood, not bees. However, bees will travel to the daughter colony over the next 24 hours so these bees can tend and care for the unattended brood. The bees will control the daughter colonies population, which is an added benefit.

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Add a queen excluder above the parent colony and place daughter colony above queen excluder. The queen excluder ensures that the daughter colony will become populated with bees without the queen moving up.

5. Come 24 hours later and move colony to new location

After 24 hours, the colony should contain plenty of bees, all of which will be young, nurse bees. Move the colony to a new location, preferably 4 feet away as stated in method 1.

6. Requeen colony

After the daughter colony is moved, the queen can be inserted. Similar to method 1, queens can be inserted immediately or 24 hours later, it is really a personal preference.


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This is how the final colony should look (maybe not exactly). This method can be done with singles, but these singles must be strong, full of bees, and packed with brood.

Method 3:

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to split a large number of colonies 7 day proces
Does not require finding the queen Extra queen excluders required
Hard to produce a quality split that has the appropriate amount and type of brood

1. Place excluder between brood boxes

Method 3 is relatively quick and easy, but far less common. Essentially, place a queen excluder between brood boxes. By doing this, it keeps the queen into either the top or bottom box, which limits the time and effort needed to find the queen.

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The daughter and parent colony can be reversed, but it depends upon where the queen is. With this method, you will not know for at least 7 days.

2. Come back in a week, and divide boxes

After a week, it is apparent which brood box contains the queen. Comb through the boxes, and find the frames with eggs. This brood box will contain the queen.

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Divide the colonies, and move daughter colony to new location. Depending upon the state of the daughter colony, you may want to move some brood around.

3. Split colony and move daughter colony to new location

The colony without the queen is the new daughter colony. Move this colony to a new location, preferably 4 feet away. As mentioned earlier in method 1 and 2, you can add an entrance excluder during times of dearth to limit robbing and/or move the entrance in a different direction to ensure foragers do not enter the split.

4. Requeen daughter colony

You can now requeen. Similar to method 1, queens can be inserted immediately or 24 hours later, it is really a personal preference.


Garett Slater