Requeening Colonies

Young vigorous queens are essential to successful beekeeping. Good colony management requires the routine replacement of failing, superseded or lost queens. Poor queens never improve. Many beekeepers introduce new young queens into their over-wintered colonies in the spring of the year to insure good egg-laying and population buildup for adequate numbers of foragers, when the major floral sources are in bloom. While it is easier to requeen in the spring because the colonies are smaller and the old queen easier to find, there are also several advantages to doing it in the fall.

Several techniques commonly are used for introducing a new queen into a colony. Unfortunately, there is not one sure way of doing it. The first step in requeening is to find the old queen and kill her. Also check for queen cells and remove them before attempting to introduce the new queen.

Requeening is most successful during a light nectar flow. Bees will more readily accept a new queen in a honey flow because the old worker bees are occupied with other duties. Young worker bees usually do not pose a threat. In the absence of a nectar flow, the colony should be fed. Once a queen arrives, it is important to introduce her as soon as possible using a safe introduction method.

A standard method of introducing a new queen into a dequeened colony is to insert a mailing cage with the new queen between the top bars of two frames and let the bees release the queen from the cage. For the best results, remove attendant bees from the queen cage before introduction. Just before placing the new cage in the hive, take a sharp object such as a small nail and poke a tiny hole through the candy plug that will be present at one end of the mailing cage. Be careful not to injure the queen. Position the queen cage between two frames containing young brood so that the screened side is available to the worker bees and not flush against the comb. If the screened side faces downward (horizontal position), more bees will have contact with the screen and more ready access to the queen and her chemicals, which increases the chances of her acceptance. If the cage is placed in a vertical position, the candy end should be up. Do not disturb the hive for at least a week after introducing the cage. If the queen has not been released when you return to the hive, you may set her free with little danger.

Finding a queen within a colony at the time of requeening is often a very difficult task for many beekeepers. Initially, disturb the colony as little as possible and use a minimal amount of smoke as you open up the hive. Too much smoke may cause the queen to move to the inner walls or down on the bottom board. Do not let excessive smoke drift from your smoker across the frames while you are looking for the queen. Drifting smoke induces the bees to start running.

A queen is much easier to locate if one knows the basic procedures to follow while searching for her. Look for combs with eggs and examine them carefully. Queens are seldom found on the outer-most frames next to the hive wall. If you fail to find her on the brood combs, check the bottom board and sides of the hive body. Queens have the tendency to keep moving down to a lower hive body away from light, disturbance, and smoke. Spring is the ideal time to find queens, as the colony is small at this time of year. The queen is usually found in the upper hive body.

When you are ready to open a colony, place an extra bottom board on the ground to the rear of the hive but on the same side where you are standing while opening the hive. Place the upper brood chamber on the extra bottom board. This will prevent the queen from moving from the top to the bottom brood chamber while you are examining the combs. You will work the colony in a knelling position. Examine the top brood chamber first.

As you begin, gently pry and lift out the frame next to the outer wall of the hive body, at the same time scanning the exposed side from left to right and right to left. Hold the frame out at about three-quarters arm length and at a slight 45º angle for the best viewing. Reverse the frame by twisting it between the forefingers and thumbs to expose the opposite side. The frame will be inverted while viewing this side. If the queen is not present, lean the frame beside the hive body, preferably in the shade. Remove the next frames in the same manner, using a minimum amount of smoke. After the first frame is removed, there will be more space to remove each additional frame and return it.

As you lift each frame to view, look down at the exposed side of the next frame to be removed. You will sometimes spot the queen on this frame because her abdomen extends out over the normal height of the worker bees on the comb. Proceed through all the frames in the upper hive body looking for the queen. If you cannot find her, push all frames back to the original position, leaving the first frame out and proceed to look again. Although at times a failing queen may be present with no eggs showing, as you search for the queen make sure you see eggs in cells to be certain the colony is queenright.

When lifting individual frames to view, one gets accustomed to the normal weight of each. Frames containing all honey are heaviest. Next are those containing honey and sealed brood. Those with empty cells and unsealed brood are the lightest. When lifting the lighter frames, scan with particular care as this is an excellent area in which to find the queen. When looking for queens you must concentrate, do not let your mind wander. If the queen is not found the second time through, repeat the process and look for her in the lower hive body. If you are unable to find her in either hive body, replace all frames to the original position.

If you are unable to locate the queen, put a queen excluder between the brood chambers and close the hive. Return four days later and examine the colony again. The queen will be in the brood chamber that has combs containing eggs. She should be easier to find in a single hive body.

Clarence Collison- Emeritus Professor