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How to split a beehive

Updated November 21, 2016

Splitting a beehive serves two purposes. It reduces the bees normal tendency to swarm if the hive becomes too crowded -- and it increases the total number of hives in an apiary. When hives swarm, the old queen and half of the workers leave the hive to establish a new colony, dramatically cutting into honey production. For a beekeeper, the only thing worse than swarms is the death of a hive. Creating a nucleus hive, also called a nuc, reduces congestion in the hive by tricking the bees into believing they have swarmed.

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  1. Put on protective beekeeping gear and light the smoker.

  2. Assemble the nuc hive and place it near the parent hive. Set the inner cover and telescoping hive cover aside for now.

  3. Apply one or two puffs of smoke at the entrance of the parent hive. Gently lift the hive cover and apply one or two puffs of smoke under the lid. Wait a few minutes and then remove the hive outer and inner covers.

  4. Remove the honey supers and set them inside the hive cover. Honey supers are the boxes beekeepers use to collect stored honey. Hives can have one or several honey supers sitting atop the brood chamber.

  5. Remove two frames containing eggs and one frame of capped brood from the parent hive. Place these three frames in the centre of the nuc box.

  6. Remove a frame of honey and pollen from one of the honey supers and put it in the nuc box on one side of the brood frames. Place a frame with wax foundation on the other side.

  7. Place a nuc super containing drawn comb or wax foundation above the new brood chamber.

  8. Fill the hive top feeder with a 1:1 sugar syrup and place on top of the nuc according to manufacturer's directions. Close up the hive and let it sit undisturbed for about 10 days.

  9. Open the nuc and check for queen cells. Remove all but the two or three largest queen cells. Close up the nuc and wait two weeks.

  10. Reopen the nuc box and check for eggs and brood. If there are no signs of eggs and brood, the hive might be queenless. Repeat the process of adding a frame of eggs to the nuc or purchase a queen from a breeder.

  11. Continue to feed both the parent hive and the nuc until the honey flow is established or the parent colony is restored to its pre-split size.

  12. Tip

    Creating nucleus hives is a good way to keep production hives strong. The rule of thumb is one support nucleus hive for each two to three production hives. More than one nuc can be made from a single parent hive, depending on the total amount of available brood.


    Avoid splitting a hive in the fall or winter. Late splits do not allow the hive to collect enough honey to get through the winter. Because of their small size, nucs are susceptible to swarming if allowed to become overcrowded. To prevent this, either transfer the frames into a full-size hive body or remove frames of brood and worker bees and place in one of the production hives. In areas were Africanised honey bees have become endemic, install a purchased queen bee instead of allowing the workers to raise their own queen. Hive and nuc supers come in several depths. Make sure your production hives and nuc hives use the same size frames.

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Things You'll Need

  • Parent hive
  • Bee suit
  • Bee veil
  • Gloves
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Hive bottom board
  • Two hive supers
  • Frames with wax foundation
  • Inner hive cover
  • Hive top feeder
  • Sugar syrup

About the Author

Denise Bowman
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