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Re-queening a Hive

Updated: Apr 30

Your hive needs a new queen. No matter how it comes about, your choices in how to ensure your hive gets a healthy new queen will be the same.


Removing a Queen


If your hive is already queenless, then you can proceed to decide which of the options below is your best bet for requesting. If you are trying to replace a living queen, then you need to remove her before you proceed.


As unpleasant as it is, there are a number of cases in which you are doing your hive a huge favour by requeening.

  • When your hive population is dwindling instead of growing through the spring/summer

  • When your hive is producing too many drones (popcorn brood)

  • When your hive has a very patchy brood pattern

  • When your hive has signs of chalk brood or European Foulbrood

  • When your hive has become unpleasant to work (too spicy!)

My favourite and most humane way to remove a queen is to place a small papertowel soaked in isopropyl alcohol in a small jar or container and then place the old queen in there. This is the method used by entomologists to euthanize insects for research. It works very quickly, it removes the queen and her pheromones completely from the hive, and it leaves her intact so that she can be used for education, science, or to preserve in resin.


Now for how to get your bees a new queen...


Option 1: Let the Bees do it


WHEN
  • In spring when there are plenty of drones around (the natural mating season coincides with swarm season).

  • When your hive is producing supercedure or emergency cells (NOT swarm cells!)

  • When you are happy with the genetics of your hive

HOW

This is the one instance where you do not have to remove the old queen. Sit back and let the bees take care of it all.




TIMELINE

Allow the bees 21 days after you first see supercedure cells (make sure there is an egg/larva in the cell - not just empty cups)


Option 2: Give Eggs and Let the Bees do the Rest


WHEN
  • In spring when there are plenty of drones around (natural mating season coincides with swarm season).

  • When your hive has been queenless for more than a week (no eggs or queen spotted on subsequent inspections) but is NOT producing emergency cells of their own.


HOW


Take a frame of eggs and young larvae from another hive and give it to the queenless hive (make sure the queen is not on the frame that you introduce!). If your hive has no more capped brood, it is helpful to also add some capped brood as well so that you will have some nurse bees to help raise the queen.



TIMELINE

Check for queen cells after 5-7 days, then allow another 21 days before you check for signs of your new queen.


Option 3: Install a Mated Queen


WHEN
  • Any time of year, although this is the only option in late summer when the natural mating season is over

  • When you want your bees to maintain brood production without a break

  • When you want to change the genetics of the hive

HOW

The most challenging part of this strategy is sourcing a mated queen. Once you have her in hand, the installation is quite simple:


TIMELINE

After 3 days, check to ensure your queen was released from her cage. After 5-7 days, check to make sure she is laying eggs.


Option 4: Introducing a Queen Cell


Queen producers often sell their extra queen cells for much cheaper than a mated queen.


WHEN
  • In spring when there are plenty of drones around (natural mating season coincides with swarm season).

  • When your hive has been queenless for more than a week (no eggs or queen spotted on subsequent inspections) but is NOT producing emergency cells of their own.

  • When you want to change the genetics of the hive

HOW

Personally, I would install two cells to double your chances of ending up with a viable queen. Press the cell gently into the wax in the top middle of a brood frame, right in the middle of the hive.


TIMELINE

Allow 2 full weeks before you check for signs of your mated queen.


Red Flags


It can be very difficult (I would almost say impossible) to requeen a hive with a laying worker or with an older virgin who has failed to mate (usually due to poor mating weather). I have watched beekeepers waste a lot of money on purchased queens who were killed by bees loyal to unproductive laying workers and virgins. If you suspect you have either one of these, the best course of action is to shake all of the bees out a hundred feet away and then hope that most of them (except the culprits) make it back to the hive before introducing a new queen.


Looking for more?


Looking for more beekeeping education? You can find my virtual, on-demand beginner and intermediate courses at https://courses.rushingriverapiaries.com


Or if you'd prefer a more tailored experience, you can join my mentorship group at https://www.patreon.com/thehivementorship

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