img1

Hive Splitting: Growing Our Honeybees

Part Two in our series, Beekeeping 101.


Honeybee populations naturally rise and fall with the seasons, peaking in summer and bottoming out in winter.

As beekeepers what matters more to us is the number of hives, or colonies, in our apiary. With more hives we can grow more honey for Rogue Farms mead, kolsch, braggot and soda. To grow more hives, we split the ones we already have.

Moving part of a hive to a new spot in the Rogue Farms apiary.
Moving part of a hive to a new spot in the Rogue Farms apiary.

What Is Hive Splitting?

When we split our hives, we remove about half the honeybees along with the queen, and move them to a new location on the farm. The split hive will form two new colonies.

Honeybees do this naturally on their own, it’s called swarming. By splitting hives we have a say on when and where they go.

How Do You Split A Hive?

We split hives that have populations of honeybees large enough to survive on their own after the split. If a hive is on the verge of over crowding – that’s the best time for us to split it.
We split hives that have populations of honeybees large enough to survive on their own after the split. If a hive is on the verge of over crowding – that’s the best time for us to split it.
We look for the queen and move her with the split hive to the new location. She’ll step up egg production to help the colony grow into their new home.
We look for the queen and move her with the split hive to the new location. She’ll step up egg production to help the colony grow into their new home.
We move the split far enough away so that the honeybees don’t try to return to their original hive. Then we place an empty hive box on top so the new colony has room to grow.
We move the split far enough away so that the honeybees don’t try to return to their original hive. Then we place an empty hive box on top so the new colony has room to grow.
We make sure the original colony has eggs. The worker bees who are left behind will feed a special substance called royal jelly to a select group of eggs so that one of them will grow into the new queen.
We make sure the original colony has eggs. The worker bees who are left behind will feed a special substance called royal jelly to a select group of eggs so that one of them will grow into the new queen.
When we split a hive, we smoke the honeybees to help them stay calm. The smoke interferes with their ability to signal each other that something is wrong.
When we split a hive, we smoke the honeybees to help them stay calm. The smoke interferes with their ability to signal each other that something is wrong.

Why Now?

Timing is crucial. We’ve just wrapped up the spring nectar flow at Rogue Farms and our honeybees are well fed. By the time we’re done hive splitting, the summer nectar flow begins. Our honeybees will have an abundance of wild berries, wildflowers and our crops of Dream Pumpkins, Marionberries and Jalapeños waiting for them as they gather the pollen and nectar they need to produce honey.

It takes us about 45 minutes to split just one hive.
It takes us about 45 minutes to split just one hive.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll know that US beekeepers lost 42% of their colonies from April 2014 to April 2015. While beekeepers can make up for some of that by splitting their hives, no one in the business believes these kinds of losses are sustainable.

At Rogue Farms, we do our part by sending our honeybees south during the winter to avoid the chilly and wet Oregon air, by planting a diverse group of crops for them to forage and pollinate, and by planting wildflowers just for our honeybees so they have even more sources of pollen and nectar.

Our honeybees take care of us by producing the honey we use in our beers and sodas. So we do our best to take care of them.

It’ll be a few more days before our Beekeeper Andrew is done splitting our hives. Come out to Rogue Farms and you may still have time to see Andrew at work as he helps us Grow The Revolution.

img9