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Spring Splits - When Do You Start?

Topics Beekeepers Can't Agree On!

By: Lynne Jones

I started beekeeping in September of 2016 – five full years, and this will be the first year I am planning to do splits for the purpose of increasing my colonies. I’ve done splits for other reasons, but not because I wanted more colonies. On February 1st I asked beekeepers in two Facebook groups, when they start Spring Splits: based on a calendar date or certain conditions? Like everything in beekeeping, it seems there’s no simple answer.

If you have a mated queen and a colony with enough bees to split, you can do so at any time. Suppliers of queens in my area (Texas Hardiness Zone 8b) typically have mated queens available around the third week of March or beginning of April. (To get queens this early, plan to purchase them at least six months prior.

I would love to make my spring splits with mated queens, but that is rather costly, and so I read with great interest the comments with information about colony produced queens. Almost half of the beekeepers who commented, specifically mentioned the need for mature drones. Depending on your location, mature drones can be available as early as February or as late as April. Unfavorable conditions, like a late or extended freeze, can delay or reduce the production of drones. How can a beekeeper determine when drones will be mature in their area? Some beekeeping websites state that drones are mature 10-12 days after emergence; while other websites state it takes 16 days. Likewise, when a queen emerges, it will be a week before she matures and can take mating flights.

Regardless of your location, by knowing the cycle from egg to capped cell to emergence for both drones and queens, you can calculate the day when both drones and queens will be ready to make mating flights.

When plenty of drone eggs are seen, splits can be started in 19 days. If there is plenty of drone larvae, splits can be done in 16 days. With a lot of capped drone brood, make splits in 8 days. These start dates are all contingent on favorable conditions throughout the entire cycle. The safest time to start a split is when numerous drones are seen; even if they are newly emerged, they will be mature by the time queen is ready to mate. Though the queen does not mate with drones from her hive, if there is a healthy number of drones in our hives, it is likely the same in many other hives as well.

Having determined the various dates for making Spring Splits based on the drone cycle, I have decided to follow the advice of respected beekeeper E.T. Ash who said, “For queen cells you do have to

have a good population of sexually mature drones. For College Station [zone 8b] the latter part of March is a good pencil in date.” (E.t. added via text, “…as a guess there may be a 10-day lag between Gulf Coast and College Station and perhaps a 2-week lag between College Station and Dallas.”) For those of you not in zone 8b and planning to make Spring Splits, but not sure when to do them, use the chart above to determine your earliest date, wait until you see plenty of drones, or take the easy way out and follow the advice of a respected beekeeper near you.

Facebook Links:

Central Texas Beekeepers

Texas Friendly Beekeepers

Reference: Anderson, C. (2021, November). A Drone Bee – {Life of the Male Honey Bee}. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from Carolina Honeybees website

Lynne Jones - Owner of
Brazos River Honey
Secretary-Treasurer of the Fort
Bend Beekeepers Association
And
 Advanced level in the Texas Master Beekeeper program
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