My name is Eddie Muigai, I live in Nairobi, Kenya and I have started with Kenya top bar hives (KTBH) the first is occupied so now I have made 10 more top bar hives and want to set them up, upcountry.

I would like to divide a colony so that I can occupy my 10 hives. I have set them up in a bee hut.

What is your advice, thanks and have a nice day.

Hi Eddie,

Your local weather conditions, temperatures and rainfall, have a lot to do with how well the bees will thrive and multiply. If there are many flowers where you keep the hives obviously they will be able to build up numbers and ultimately provide you with honey more quickly than if the foraging isn’t so good.

Your first priority is to fill your hives with bees. Remember that the bees need to put a lot of work into building up their numbers, making wax combs and then storing honey. If you want to produce more bees you won’t be getting honey for a while because the colony is putting all its effort into raising brood, have patience.

If your one colony is strong, you could split them into two or even three hives in the spring depending on how big the colony is. Take some combs which contain fresh eggs, along with the bees which are on them, in one of the new hives. Be careful not to shake bees off the comb as these should be ‘nurse bees’ which haven’t left the hive yet and so will stay and tend to the developing brood. Once they realize they don’t have a queen, they will use one of the new eggs or larva to create a new queen. It is a good idea to feed the colony with sugar syrup if you can, to help them build up this new colony. The investment in a few gallons of syrup will pay you in the long run.

Put the word out in your locality that you’re looking for swarms of bees. If someone tells you there is a swarm, go and collect it as soon as possible, it’s very disappointing to go to collect a swarm and find it has already flown away. A new swarm is ready to build combs and build up their numbers quickly so this is an excellent way of establishing new hives. After hiving bees it will help things along if you feed them with sugar water.

If there are any wild bee hives in the locality which you could remove, that might be worth trying, perhaps inside someone’s roof. Removing an established colony is not for the faint hearted. See if you can get the house owner to pay you for doing this because it will be quite a difficult thing to do and you will probably get stung. You can see
how I do this. I use a very thin plastic mesh to hold the combs which I cut out. Since you’re using top bar hives, often called the Kenya top bar hives, or KTBH, which don’t have the same type of frames as a Langstroth hive, you might find it more tricky to suspend the combs in your hive.

Perhaps you could make a frame specially for this, to hold the combs in place so you can put then in your top bar hives. The object is to take as much of the comb from the wild hive and put it in your hive in the same configuration as it was in the wild hive. If you don’t have any type of plastic mesh you might be able to use string or rubber bands. Try to do as little damage to the comb as you can, the bees will fix the combs into the frames within a few weeks.

Don’t expect to build up the number of top bar hives you have too quickly, get two established, then four, then eight. If you try to do it too quickly you may end up with many small hives with insufficient stored honey, and none of them will make it through the winter.

Since you’re near the equator I imagine the different seasons don’t really effect the bees very much, but you might bear in mind that the bees will be trying to build up their numbers before the ‘best’ part of the year so they can produce a swarm. The swarm has to be able to move to its new location in time to establish itself and store enough honey to enable it to make it through the worst part of the year, winter.

Click here more information and videos about the management of the top bar hive.

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