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A photo of Eliese Watson checking for open brood, surrounded by beehives and trees.

How to Make Splits in place Using the Topping Method

If you are planning on making splits in your hives during the spring and early summer, you are going to have a lot of young bees in your parent colony. This is a good time to introduce foundation or foundationless frames to your parent hive. This is also a great way to encourage new wax production, control swarming, and simply grow your apiary in a self-sufficient manner. With this in mind, the topping method, as described to us by Bill Stagg and John Gates, is a method that you can use to make same yard splits and raise queens to replace the parent colony queens later in the season OR you can use the splits to expand. Both options send you in to winter with young and vital queens.

Things to Consider When Making Splits

  • When the queens hatch in the splits will the weather be around 20C by weather and climate expectations?
  • Have you been seeing hatched drones for over 2 weeks in your beehives?

You need to take this into account in order for a queen bee to perform her mating flights, temperatures need to be ideal, otherwise you could end up with a drone laying queen.

What You’ll Need:

  • Equipment needed to house the splits (nuc box, standard-sized box for your brood nest frame size, bottom board, lid, etc)
  • Additional brood boxes to place on the parent hive.
  • One queen excluder per colony being split
Bill Stagg adding a queen excluder to the parent hive before adding the nuc box
Bill Stagg placing a queen excluder over the parent hive before placing the nuc box.

Make Sure You Don’t Lose Splits to Drift

Below are the steps to ensure you don’t lose bees in your splits to drift so that you can have all of your colonies and splits in the same yard. This method is called topping, a system I learned from Bill Stagg and John Gates. The goal of topping is to lure nurse bees through a queen excluder. Nurse bees will cover the open brood moved above the queen excluder overnight. After waiting 24 hours, you will be able to take the frames of open brood that were moved above the queen excluder and place them into your split. Topping your colony ensures that a majority of the bees you are transferring are nurse bees, and hey will not be able to drift back in to the parent colony.

How to Make a Split

  1. Enter your parent hive, inspecting from the bottom up.
  2. Look for the queen, she will remain in the bottom brood boxes that you are inspecting.
  3. Look for frames of open brood that you want to be included in the split you are making up. You will be taking these frames with bees (and no queen) and placing them in a standard box that will go above the queen excluder on the parent colony.
    • Do not backfill this upper box with empty frames or any frames that will not be moving into the split.
    • Do not place a feeder above the queen excluder.
  4. Place the split of bees in the middle of the box above the queen excluder to allow for heat rising from the colony below to keep the open brood warm
  5. Once you have your open brood above the queen excluder, close the colony and wait 24 hours
  6. 24 hours later, enter the top of the colony, remove all of the frames in the top box and place them into the split. If you are using a full-size box (not a nuc box) to make your split, then just lift the box onto another bottom board and set the colony up in your usual preference
  7. Anticipate queen cells starting within the first 24 hours.
A parent hive with frames of open brood already pulled out.
Open brood has already been pulled out of this parent hive.

Tips and Tricks

  • DO NOT TAKE ALL THE OPEN BROOD IN YOUR SPLIT. You want to make sure the parent colony has open brood to provide for healthy population succession, but also that your bees remain busy. Superscedure can occur if the colony has no brood to tend caused by a pheromone imbalance in the hive.
  • Check the split 72 hours after transferring it to the split location, and if you do not see queen cells:
    • See if there are new eggs, you may have inadvertently moved the queen into the split
    • Or add a new frame of eggs from the parent hive again to offer fresh quality eggs for queen production
  • Once your splits are mated, the best way to reintroduce the colonies is to:
    • Pinch the parent queen (old queen)
    • Wait 48 hours
    • Put the newly mated queen from the split into a queen cage
    • Introduce the queen to the parent colony
    • Wait 48 hours
    • Combine the split with the parent hive using newspaper: Queen right parent colony below, queenless split above

If you decide to give this topping method a try when making your splits, let us know how it goes by tagging us on Facebook or Instagram! We always love seeing our beekeeping community in action!