Stronger Hives Are Better Than More Hives
In this lesson, you’ll learn about the second principle of wintering: Combine weak hives to create stronger colonies. You’ll also discover a simple trick for combining hives.
It is never a good idea to cut corners in beekeeping. One of the biggest ways we see beekeepers cut corners is splitting hives when they shouldn’t (usually too late in the season) and not combining hives when they should.
This is a common practice because it allows the beekeeper to have 2 hives instead of just 1. That basically means twice as much honey for only a little more effort, right?
Unfortunately, not quite.
The danger is that splitting your hive too late or failing to combine with another hive leaves your colony vulnerable and susceptible to collapse.
If you split too late in the season (generally anytime after August 1st), your hives won’t have a chance to build up enough honey and wax before winter and it’s likely that you will lose them. Similarly, if you fail to combine weak hives, they won’t have enough strength to last through the winter.
Rather than trying to have more hives going into winter, you should always focus on having stronger hives instead. One strong hive will beat out three weak hives every single time. Keep this in mind as you get ready to winter.
How Do I Know When Should I Combine My Hives?
If you’re just getting started as a beekeeper, it might be tough to know whether or not your hives need to be combined. Here’s an easy, safe rule of thumb:
If you are concerned about a hive, combine it if you can.
However, there are some more definitive signs that you should look for to help you know if you should combine hives. Here's what you should look for:
If you see any of the above, you should seriously think about combining your hives if you can. Chances are, you'll be glad you did.
The Easiest Way to Combine Your Hives
Combining hives is as easy as stacking hive boxes on top of one another so that the bees can integrate from separate hives into a larger, stronger colony.
To prevent the bees from attacking one another, you need to provide some temporary separation until they can acclimate to one another. This acclimation process takes about 2-3 days.
Our favorite method for combining hives is the newspaper method. We like this method because it’s by far the easiest and most effective method for combining hives (hence the reason we teach it to all of our beekeepers).
To implement the newspaper method, simply place a layer of newspaper in between each hive you are combining as shown in this graphic:
*Note: If you are combining more than two hives, you’ll need a layer in between each hive.
The bees will take a few days to chew through the newspaper layer and by that point, they will have acclimated to each other.
As your bees chew through the newspaper layer, they will usually only chew a hole in the middle to allow themselves to move between the different boxes. Leaving the remaining newspaper limits their ability to produce honey.
After the 3rd day of using the newspaper method, be sure to clean out all of the remaining newspaper so your bees can move freely between boxes.
Once you do this, you’re done! The bees will take care of everything else.
Let’s head over to the next lesson to find out more about the last principle of wintering beehives: protecting your hives from the elements.