Late Hive Splits As A Way of Saving Money and Improving The Stock of Bees in the North Central Region

Final Report for FNC02-421

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $2,330.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The current problem for beekeepers is the increasing hive loss caused by winter and disease and the increasing cost of queens and packaged bees to replace them. This increase in loss we believe could be caused by more and more beekeepers relying on the purchase of bees and queens from outside the region to replenish their hive loss. We believe that bees that are raised from queens that have survived Wisconsin winters will produce bees that are better able to survive. The objective of the project is to see if raising queens from proven local queen stock and the splitting of hives in early August using these queens is economical.

The grant will be used to test a method of splitting hives in early August. Splitting hives is a method of increasing hive count by making two hives from one strong hive. Currently this splitting of hives is only done in the spring. This is when hives are historically weak in this area and the number of splitable hives is limited. The grant money would be used to set up test and control yards of bees and to help in the cost of queen production. We will monitor the effects of this method on honey production and winter loss. The reason this is not currently done is that it is felt that the honey production lost by splitting the hive costs more than replacing the hive. The study will last a minimum of two years to get accurate results.

Honey Acres is a 150-year-old honey producer/packer. It is located on 40 acres of land in the town of Ashippn, Wisconsin. We currently have 750 hives (July 18, 2005). We had as many as 1,800 and hope to return to that number. Our plant in Ashippun processes 1.5 million pounds of honey a year, of which 90 to 95 percent comes from the North Central Region.

On July 28, 2003, we prepared hives and supplies to make a queen graft. Queen grafting is the transferring of a young female larva (less than 24 hours old) into a queen cell base. This larva is from a hive heded by a queen with known desirable traits. These cells are placed into a queen-less hive where the bees will nurse and feed the growing larva. After starting in a queen-less hive, they are transferred into a queen right colony for ten days to finish the building of their cells. Due to the fact that I do not practice grafting regularly and my hands are not as steady as they used to be (I am 83 years old), we only had sixteen good queen cells.

With a fellow beekeeper, Bob Domagalski, helping me, we split eight hives on August 6, 2003. Each hive was split with fifty percent brood and fifty percent honey to make two hives, sixteen hives total. We did not look for old queens, but each half received a ready-to-hatch queen cell.

On September 9, 2003, all of the split hives were checked. Fifteen of the hives were found to be queen right and only one was found to be without a queen. Unknown to us, the treatment of the hives last spring with Apistan Strips did not work. The mite had become resistant to the treatment. Some of the bees began to die by mid-September. Within thirty days, all the hives were dead. We lost over 700 hives. This concluded the 2003 test.

Seven hundred packages were installed in spring 2004. On July 27, 2004, we made queen cell grafts. On August 5, 2004, we only had fourteen good cells. We then split seven hives, not looking for former queens, and added a new queen cell to each of the halved hives. On August 16, 2004, the hives were checked and we found that twelve hives were queen right, one did not have a queen, and one became a drone-laying queen. We gained five hives.

Due to the poor quality of the grafted cells and the small number of cells, eighteen queens were purchased at a cost of eleven dollars and twenty-five cents each.

Two-story chambers of brood were excluded on September 11, 2004. On September 16, 2004, the purchased queens arrived. The queen-less brood chamber was moved to a new hive stand and the queen was then introduced to the hive. The hive that contained the old queen on the old stand produced about fifty pounds of honey, which is about the same as an unsplit hive. This may be because all field bees returned to the original hive stand from the split half on the new stand.

All split and non-split hives were then prepared for winter. There was a total count of twenty-three new hives.

On April 25, 2005, all the new hives were checked. Two hives died during the winter months. Twenty-one were OK. The split hives had a nine percent winter loss. The overall winter loss of all hives from 2004 to 2005 was nineteen percent.

The result of the test showed that the split hives winter better than the non-split hives. Therefore, the net gain in the hive count was twenty-one hives. The cost of the labor to split the hives in fall was estimated to be five hours. The value of twenty-one packages in spring of 2005 would range from forty to fifty dollars. The value of twenty-one new split hives was $945, and the cost of the queens in the fall of the year was $202.50. This left us with a grand total value of $742.50 for only five hours of labor this year.

Due to the fact that queen cell grafting is a highly skilled technique, which requires a great deal of practice, we did not do as well as we hoped. Our cells were not of the best quality. The success we experienced with the purchased queens was far better. Having lost most of our hives in September of 2003, we did not and will not have a tested stock for grafting queen cells for many years.

Buying queens and splitting hives in September of 2004 proved to be successful. The split hives wintered well and the cost of queens is lower in the late summer than at other times of year. It proved to be a moneymaker and we are planning on doing it again.

Honey Acres has been a member of the Wisconsin State Beekeepers Association for over ninety years. We will make all the information and results available to all members. This will be passed on at the state meeting or at the regional meeting that is held at Honey Acres each year.

Editor’s note: At the time of this report, Walter Diehnelt was also working on using powdered sugar to control mites.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.