How do I unite two colonies?

There are many reasons why we may need to unite two colonies together. It may be that during the season our colonies numbers have increased due to taking in swarms or doing splits/ artificial swarms for swarm prevention or control and now as we head towards winter we want to reduce our colony numbers. It may be that we have a colony that is healthy but very small and the likelihood of it getting through winter is slim so we want to unite it with a stronger colony. It may be that there is shortage of queens at the end of season and you have a queenless colony. You may have performed an artificial swarm and don’t want to leave the bees to raise a new queen due to poor weather. There will be many other reasons why you may want to unite two colonies.

Uniting is a relatively quick and easy process and the only extra equipment you need is newspaper. I have read may blogs that make the process seem quite complicated; it really isn’t.

If the bees you want to unite are in the same apiary but a good distance apart the first thing you will need to do is to move one of the hives a little bit each day until they are within a few feet of each other so the flying bees find the their new home. If you are uniting 2 colonies from different sites then simply site the colony you have moved in to the new apiary next to the one you are going to unite it with.

If both your colonies have queens it is not necessary to remove one of the queens before uniting unless of course you favour one of the queens over the other. If you leave it for the bees to decide they will usually keep the younger queen. Decide which hive you are going to use for the bottom half of the uniting and remove the roof and crown board. Place a couple of sheets of newspaper so that it completely covers the brood box and pierce a few small small holes in it, do not use a hive tool as this will create too big a hole, some say you don’t even need to make any holes. Now place the brood box of the other colony directly onto of the newspaper, put the crown board and roof on and do not disturb them again for a week. The bees, top and bottom will start to nibble through the newspaper, during which their scents will mix. It will take around 24 hours for the bees to nibble through the newspaper, when you return in a week you may see evidence of the newspaper but the majority will have gone.

If one of your colonies is stronger than the other we suggest you leave this at the bottom and put the smaller colony on the top. If you have a honey super on the bees you can leave this in place and put the newspaper on this rather than the brood box and then put your other brood box on top.

It is said that uniting should be done in the evening but we unite during the day with no problems.

If you feel you are not happy with letting your bees decide which queen they want to head their colony or if you are concerned that your queen may get damaged as she fights it out with the other then you can find and remove one of the queens yourself. Some say it’s more natural to let the bees decide however in the wild colonies would not unite so it cannot be a natural process for them. You must go with what you are more comfortable and happiest doing. Obviously if one of the colonies is displaying traits you don’t like then this is the one you will remove the queen from before you unite them. If you do remove a queen it would be normal practice for the queenless colony to be put on top of the queen right colony and not the other way around.

Always go through both colonies and check all is well before you unite them. If you are removing a queen yourself then I would make that my first job so that the pheromones can start to disperse a little before I lifted the brood box onto the newspaper.

If you are uniting a colony because it has struggled all year make sure you check that it is disease free which may be the cause of it struggling. Do not unite any colonies if they have any health concerns, you may be inadvertently spreading disease through your other colonies.

If you decided on your last inspection that you are going to unite two colonies next time you visit your bees, do make sure you go through both colonies and double check they are both queen right, before you start the uniting, just to make sure nothing has changed since you last inspected them.

Happy beekeeping!

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