A Newspaper Combine

Here’s a short video that demonstrates a newspaper combine:

A newspaper combine is when two honey bee colonies, one of them usually without a queen, are combined into a single hive as one big colony by using a piece of newspaper to keep them separated for a few days as they get used to the smell of each other. Those are the headlines. Now the details:

1) Some people will cut a slit in the newspaper to help the bees chew through the paper faster. I don’t do that because the bees can chew through the paper quick enough on their own. The bees can often walk right through the slit and start mixing before they’ve gotten used to each other — and the result is death, dead bees everywhere, bees that have fought to the death. I’ve been there. I don’t like it. I’ve had no problems with putting the newspaper on without a slit in it. The newspaper can also bee sprayed down, moistened so the bees can chew through it quicker. I find that unnecessary as well. It seems safer to allow the bees more time to get to know each other.

2) The newspaper method of combining hives is much harder to do on a windy day. The newspaper just blows away. I sometimes have to wrap the paper around the hive box and secure it in place with duct tape. Sometimes I’ll just lay a hive tool on the newspaper to keep it down, but even then, the second I lift the hive tool, the newspaper blows away. So having a little duct tape on standby doesn’t hurt.

3) The hive that’s completely sealed in could overheat in the sun. I often add a ventilation rim to the top to prevent that. Some people just put on an inner cover and block the top entrance with mesh. But if it’s not hot and sunny, in the couple days the bees take to chew through the paper, they won’t suffocate. They could, but it hasn’t happened to any of my combined hives yet.

4) Two queenright colonies — that is, two hives, each with a queen — can be combined using the newspaper method as well. The only difference is a queen excluder is placed beneath or above the newspaper. The colonies, in theory, will combine after a few days, and they’ll have two queens separated by a queen excluder. It can get a little complicated, but I’ve done it twice and it seemed to work out okay.

5) Combining a queenless and a queenright hive can be done without the newspaper. Brood frames from the queenless colony are dropped into the brood nest of the queenright colony (or vice-versa). Then the rest of the frames are dropped in. That can work sometimes without much fighting to the death, but the queen can get caught in the melee and become injured or killed, or at the very least, stressed, and even a stressed queen can be bad news for a colony. As a small scale beekeeper with limited resources, that’s a risk I can’t really afford to take. I find the newspaper method quicker and easier anyway.

Okay then. Here’s the extended director’s cut. It’s 18 minutes long and goes into some finer details of all kinds of things that some beekeepers might find handy.

2 thoughts on “A Newspaper Combine

  1. I’ve been wondering what’s a good shorter # of days to do a newspaper combine? I’ve read and looked at videos on these but they mostly seem to imply you need 3 or 4 days for it. I wonder if its possible to shorten that a bit? But I don’t want to shorten it so much that they fight and die like you mentioned. What’s a shorter range that’s still not risky, as far as time it takes to do this?

    Thought you might have some thoughts on this?

  2. However long it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper — that’s how long it takes. Not just a little hole in the newspaper, but at least a long wide strip chewed through so large numbers of bees can easily pass through.

    I’ve never timed how long that takes. Maybe it only takes a day. Maybe it’s two days.

    Whenever I’ve done a newspaper combine, I just set it and forget it, usually coming back a week later or so. If I see piles of dead bees outside the bottom entrance, I know it probably didn’t work.

    You might get an answer to your question at the beesource.com Beekeeping 101 forum.

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