It's a good idea on any (homestead) farm to always have a back up plan....and the beekeeping saga proves that's usually the case....
We were planning to split the hive that over-wintered, as it appeared strong and a cursory glance inside at the beginning of spring showed an abundance of bees, comb, honey, brood, etc.
But, how to do it? We researched different ideas and plans, and the first important thing we learned (back in early May) was NOT to do it too early in the year. The first brood are ones that were likely laid as soon as temperatures allowed. They hatch to become nursery bees that care for the second wave. They don't have the experience to do anything else, and will never pick up the skill of going out and foraging for pollen, nectar, etc.
So, we waited. After only a week or so, we saw a significant increase in the number of bees coming and going, so we concluded that round one of the brood had hatched, and we were clear for splitting.
The plan was as follows:
Get an empty deep hive body with 6 frames of drawn out comb. Place that on a bottom board, and transfer four frames of brood (with nursery bees attached) to the new hive. Next, a queen excluder, then the two deep supers of the original hive on top of that, their original queen excluder, their honey super, and the hive cover. One big stack.
Wait 24 hours. The nursery bees will stay with the brood. Any other workers will make their way back up into the original hive. (Queen will stay out of the new hive!) After 24 hours, take all parts of the original hive off, and put back in their usual place. Cover the entrance to the new hive with screen, then give them a newly ordered queen (in her box), and cover this new split with the usual hive cover.
After another 24 hour period, take the screen off and place branches in front of the entrance so the bees think they have moved (their "neighborhood" looks different with the branches at the front door so they navigate by smell back to the new queen). Check in a week to make sure the queen has gotten out of her box and begun to lay...viola! TWO HIVES.
Well, when we opened the hive to begin, we discovered we had a laying worker, no queen, no brood, and we moved to Plan B.
We saw an abundance of drone cells:
We saw quite a few queen cells, mostly empty.
So, we scraped off the queen cells we saw in case any were still viable, and gave the newly ordered queen to the original hive. So much for two hives this year....
We go back in a week to make sure she has gotten out of her box, is laying, and we plan to harvest 6 frames of honey from the deep super, replacing them with drawn out comb, and let this hive continue to produce honey in the usual honey supers (they have a very good start on one already). Hopefully, the $$ we make from honey sales will allow us to purchase more bees next spring to expand the yard or replace this hive, should it succumb to mites....