A walk away split is exactly what it sounds like. Split the hive in half and walk away. Let the bees do what bees naturally do. Honeybees are predisposed to maintain the species by swarming. A beekeeper can take advantage of this instinct and control the swarming action by creating a split. This keeps the bees in the apiary and increases the number of colonies for the beekeeper.
To set up a walk away split, set a new bottom board a few feet in front of the existing hive. Take the top brood box and place it on the new bottom board facing the old hive. Add a new inner cover and outer cover, add some sugar syrup if you choose. The only thing you need to make note of is that there is open brood in both boxes.
You do not need to worry about where the queen is to make this type of split. The brood box with the old queen will continue on as before. The bees in the box without a queen will quickly realize the need to raise up a new queen. They will choose a 1 to 3-day old egg to raise up as a queen.
Cost savings is the number one advantage. Starting new honeybee colonies from packages or nucs (short for nucleus) can be expensive. Packages of bees in my area go for about $115 including the queen. When you split your own hive, your cost for bees is $0.
Continuing queen traits is another bonus. When you have a colony with a quality that you like, this is a way to maintain that trait without delving too far into bee genetics. For example, we have one colony that has an exceptionally calm disposition. They rarely alarm when we are working the hive. I hope to perpetuate this trait, so have chosen this have to split. When you find a trait in your bees and can have that colony raise up their own queen, there is a good chance that quality is carried over to the new hive.
Another advantage is ease. This type of split is the easiest to do. There is no search for the queen, no buying of a new queen or introducing a new queen to the colony. Most likely you will not need to transfer bees and brood from box to box.
This method takes a little longer for the box with no queen to build up. The bees must raise a new queen when they realize they are without one. They will start feeding a 1 to 3 day old egg a special diet to develop a queen. To facilitate this, make sure as you split the hive that both boxes have some uncapped egg cells. Because of this an additional week or so will be needed as compared to installing a newly purchased queen.
An additional disadvantage is the need for the virgin queen to mate. There must be an ample supply of drones in the area for your new queen. Until the new queen has mated and begins laying, there is no increase of the colony. Without a mated queen, failure of this half of the colony is imminent.
Timing can be tricky. Trying this split too early in the spring will leave your split colonies without enough bees to cover the brood nest and keep them warm at night. You can not do this method until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Too late in the season and the bees do not have enough time to build up adequate numbers to survive winter.
The walkaway split is only one of many ways to increase your honeybee colonies. I believe it is a good way to expand at low cost. This system works with the natural instinct of the bees raise up a new queen. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages for our operation and experience level.
Julia Miller is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm. In addition to honeybees, we are breaking into the local Farmer’s Market with produce, baked goods, and craft items. There is always something going on at the Farm, so check us out on Facebook or our website.