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Equalizing Bee Colonies


By Khalil Hamdan

Apelddoorn, The Netherlands


The aim of equalizing bee colonies is to make weak and strong colonies in the apiary of the same strength before the nectar flow, and to boost the weak colony by giving it either some brood or extra bees.

Weak colonies have a low bee population and a few frames of brood. This may be because the queen is poor and not laying many eggs. However, there are many factors that may contribute to weakening of a colony. Weak colonies make little honey and are slow to build up and do not develop into strong units if were left alone.

The advantages of the equalization

        It makes colonies more or less equal in strength

        It boosts weak colonies without effect to strong colonies

        It is an effective method of preventing swarming by reducing congestion in more populous hives

        It can result in more honey yield

        It makes all colonies productive

        It minimizes robbing in the apiary


        There is the risk of disease transmission between colonies in the apiary

Equalizing may be done at any time but is usually done in spring. Start the process in advance of the blooming period. Only the very strong colonies with large amount of brood and large bees population are equalized. Weak colonies that are due to a failing queen are not worthy of equalizing, in this case it is better to be united or requeened.

Great care should be taken not to disturb brood combs and bees from diseased colonies. Always check the colonies for signs of diseases before equalizing them. Do not equalize a weak colony caused by disease.

Methods of Equalizing

There are many ways to strengthen weakened colonies. Here is how:

        Transferring frames of sealed brood from a strong to a weak colony.

Frames of sealed brood without bees are taken from a strong colony and given to a weak colony. The bees on the frames are brushed off before putting them in the middle of the weak hive. Frames of drawn foundation are placed in the strong hive.

Give a weak colony enough frames of brood to bring it up to four frames. A colony being equalized with four frames of brood will develop into strong honey producing colony in time for the nectar flow. Do not give an unsealed brood, as there may be a small number of young bees in the weak colonies to care for the extra brood. Unsealed brood needs maximum care from the colony, whereas sealed brood needs minimum care.

The sealed brood will emerge and help strengthening the weak colony and aids in brood rearing.

        Adding sealed frames of brood with young bees.

        Shaking frames of young bees taken from populous colony into the weak hive.

C A U T I O N: Make sure that the queen is not transferred either with the brood or when shaking out extra bees.

        Exchanging positions of weak colonies with that of strong ones.

Swapping the position of colonies is an easy practice to increase the number of foragers in the weaker colony and alleviate the congestion in the stronger one. A weak colony is removed to the spot occupied by a strong hive and the strong hive is moved to the former position of the weak colony. This is usually done when the foraging bees from a strong colony are out during the middle of the day. When the foragers from the strong colony return to the hive they will enter the weak colony now on this spot. Bees flying back laden with nectar or pollen are welcome and accepted into any colony without fighting.

                           Swapping Hive Positions





             A                           B                       C                     D

1)       Before swapping, hive A & D are very strong. Hive B is medium and hive C is weak.

Hive A swapped with C, and B with D.




             C                         D                      A                       B

     2) After swapping, hive B & C become a lot stronger, hive A & D become a little weaker.

        Adding a package of bees. Packaged bees purchased for the purpose of strengthening weaker beehives in the apiary can be united to another hive with a sheet of newspaper between the two units, and one of the two queens is killed or removed. Read below how to unite two groups of bees by using the newspaper uniting technique.

         Uniting a queenless colony with a queenright colony.

        Combining two weak colonies.

Uniting Honeybees by the newspaper technique

Uniting honeybees by using a sheet of newspaper is the most common method of uniting two different colonies of bees together. The sheet of the newspaper separates the two colonies and allows a slow mingling of the odours of the two colonies, so bees integrate with minimum fighting.

A queenless or weak colony and packaged bees may be united with another by this method. The weaker colony is put on top of the stronger one. If both colonies are queenright, the least desirable or the older queen is removed before uniting.

The process is carried in the evening when the bees are not flying as follows:

-         Open the hive with the queenright or strong colony.

-         Place a one sheet of newspaper over the frames.

-         Punch several holes in the newspaper with a nail or a matchstick to

      make it easier for the bees to chew and remove the paper.

-         Place the hive with bees of the other colony without the bottom board over the newspaper.

-         Close up the hive with the inner and top covers. The bees will remove the paper and be united gradually with little or no fighting.

-         Inspect the colony three days later and rearrange the frames.


When uniting a package of bees, a hive body with combs is placed on the top of the newspaper and all the bees in the cage is shake















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